Political mud slinging … not from Chicago

July 27, 2010

http://www.donotvoteformydad.com

The website pretty much speaks for itself …. a judicial candidate in Oklahoma has at least one relative who won’t be voting for him.

Actually, it appears to stem from a longstanding family feud, so in and of itself, that is not too surprising, but looking at the website, it is hard to not look at it and smirk.

This isn’t without precedence … Chicago alderman Richard Mell eventually turned on his own son-in-law ….. though in that case, Rod Blagojevich kind of made it too easy to do that!

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Food safety and your sports stadium

July 26, 2010

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/otl/news/story?id=5401646

2009 food inspections are in for the stadia, arenas, and parks home to the major sports teams. Having good food is a key factor to having a great sporting facility. Of course, if you get sick from the food, that’s an epic fail. The percent refers to the number of food vendors cited for critical violations by the respective food inspection service. Examples are given.

The worst:

Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays) — 100% (Several violations addressed dirty countertops, utensils and equipment).

Verizon Center (Washington Wizards & Capitals) — 100% (Mice droppings, a critical violation in Washington, were found at at least 10 vendors).

American Airlines Arena (Miami Heat) — 93% (several safety issues related to electrical wiring and such equipment as gas boilers).

Sun Life Stadium (Florida Marlins/Miami Dolphins) — 93% (In June 2009, an employee complained anonymously that small insects and other debris were blended into frozen alcoholic beverages at a stand where equipment wasn’t being cleaned. When inspectors checked, they issued a critical violation for a buildup of slime inside the frozen drinks machine).

St. Pete Times Forum (Tampa Bay Lightning) — 88% (an inspector saw an employee handle dirty dishes and then put away clean dishes without washing his/her hands or changing gloves. The same location lacked soap at a hand sink).

Raymond James Stadium (Tamp Bay Buccaneers) — 84% (Inspectors found chicken tenders not being cooked to the required 165 degrees).

Jacksonville Municipal Stadium (Jacksonville Jaguars) — 77% (At least 11 locations cited for holding hot food at temperatures below 135 degrees, causing potential bacterial growth).

Amway Arena (Orlando Magic) — 75% (At a location that sells fish, inspectors found potentially hazardous ready-to-eat food not consumed/sold within a week of opening/preparation).

Time Warner Cable Arena (Charlotte Bobcats) — 73% (At one location, inspectors found debris under a slicer blade and pulled three pans that needed to be cleaned again).

Cowboys Stadium (Dallas Cowboys) — 72% (n its first season, Cowboys Stadium had a relatively high percentage of critical violations, including several for inadequate hand-washing facilities. At one kiosk, hot dogs were 71 degrees, almost half the required holding temperature of 135 degrees).

Ford Field (Detroit Lions) — 70% (Inspectors cited one location 11 times in the past six years after seeing employees who didn’t wash their hands. At another stand, they found an employee’s half-eaten hamburger in a warming unit).

Bank Atlantic Center (Florida Panthers) — 67% (Inspectors issued several violations for soiled ice bins and coolers).

Pepsi Center (Denver Nugges/Colorado Avalanche) — 67% (At one bar, inspectors found phorid flies, sometimes called coffin flies, in a bottle of cognac).

RBC Center (Carolina Hurricanes) — 67% (Inspectors cited one vendor after watching employees handle raw, breaded chicken while loading fryers and then handling cooked food without changing gloves or washing hands. The employees placed cooked chicken back in the same container used to pre-portion raw chicken before cooking).

Coors Field (Colorado Rockies) — 62% (Inspectors discovered a refrigerator keeping cheese and sour cream at 52 degrees overnight, which is too warm).

LP Field (Tennessee Titans) — 62% (none).

Heinz Field (Pittsburgh Steelers) — 61% (Inspectors found employees lacking in overall food-safety knowledge after observing one worker washing his hands with his gloves on. Another location had a gallon of milk that had expired 10 days prior).

Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium (Denver Broncos) — 61% (At three bars, inspectors found fruit flies in bottles of whiskey).

Madison Square Garden (New York Knicks & Rangers) — 61% (At one stand, inspectors found “53 mouse excreta”; 38 on top of a metal box underneath the cash registers in the front food-prep/service area and 15 on top of a carbonated-beverage dispensing unit).

Are there any safe places to take in a game and eat as well?

Soldier Field (Chicago Bears) — 12% (Almost all violations were due to a lack of hot water). —- You mean no hot water in Chicago … in the middle of winter?????

United Center (Chicago Blackhawks and Bulls) — 0%

U.S. Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox) — 0%

There are two sidebars to Chicago’s miraculous lack of violations:

1. Chicago food inspectors don’t make inspections during a game … therefore they never see the employees in action (oops!)

2. Low violations may be a good sign, or may be a sign of lower standards. Who knows?


Movie Review: Moon

July 15, 2010

While I think that 2010 has been a really bad year for film, 2009 was, IMO, a banner year. In science fiction especially you had the Star Trek reboot which was pretty good. You had the well written District 9 which was good enough as a foreign film to get an Oscar nod for Best Picture … an unheard of accomplishment. Avatar, which like so many of James Cameron’s work was as much a technological experiment (and a highly successful one at that) as it was a film event. Flying under the radar was Moon, which I finally got out to see (I don’t believe it was ever in wide distribution, or if it was it did not last long. In my opinion it easily earns the right to not only stand with those other three stand outs, but surpasses at least one or two of them.

Moon is not your standard scifi fare. There certainly is a science aspect to it, and according to one story when it was screened by the director at NASA’s Houston facility, several of the scientists gave positive marks for realistic scientific depictions. However, it is really not a film about science at all. It is a film that deals with a lot of emotion … at first about isolation and loneliness. The musical score echoes a feeling of melancholy that permeates the idea of living for three years alone. The film also deals with the idea of human identity and mortality.

As usual … there are spoilers … go see this film first. It is worth your time.

You’ll never guess where this film takes place! The film opens on a lunar mining outpost, and we meet its single employee, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell). Sam is nearing the end of his 3 year contract with the company that owns the outpost. the outpost keeps an eye on four massive rovers that mine the moon for Helium-3. Every so often, Sam goes out and collects the Helium-3, and arranges for it to be shipped back to Earth, where it is used as an ultra clean source of energy. Sam has a beautiful wife and daughter. Communication is a problem since a solar flare has wiped out the only direct satellite link to Earth, so communication is relayed through a Jupiter satellite …. thus real time communication with Earth is not possible.

Sam is starting to have problems …. hallucinations …. and one strikes him while out servicing a large rover. There is an accident.

He awakens in the infirmary. There is a computer that helps Sam run the facility named Gertie (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Gerty informs him that there was an accident, and that he is still in need of some tests, but that he will be OK. Sam gets out of bed at one point, and overhears Gerty talking directly to Earth …. the suspicion grows that not all is what it seems. Gerty has been ordered to keep Sam in the station and on bed rest until he completely recovers. Sam’s suspicion leads him to sabotage the life support system so that Gerty has to let him outside to look for meteorite damage. Once outside, Sam jumps in one of the mini-rovers and comes upon the accident site where he was injured. He climbs into the damaged mini-rover …. and finds that he is still in there in his space suit, and very much alive.

What follows is the real story of Moon. Is this another hallucination, and if not, why are there two Sam Bells? When he receives messages from his wife on Earth, who is it? To ramp up the tension, the company is sending a rescue team to help Sam get the facility working again after the accident, giving the Sams 14 hours to find out the secrets of their lunar outpost.

I first remember seeing Sam Rockwell in Galaxy Quest where he played Guy Fleegman, the crazed actor who appeared as a security guard on one episode of the show and is convinced he will die as a result. He also played Zaphod Beeblebrod in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but I was really impressed with him the George Clooney film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, where he played game show host/CIA assassin Chuck Barris. Here, Rockwell gets an amazing opportunity for an actor of his talent: a film where he is essentially the only actor seen on screen. For those who remember the long stretches of film in I Am Legend, where Will Smith had to carry the whole film as the only actor on screen, imagine an entire film like this, except that for much of the film, Rockwell plays two characters who are the same man. Kind of like Edward Norton, it is nearly impossible for Rockwell to give a poor performance it seems, and here he really gets a unique opportunity to shine. It is a worthy performance that will no doubt go down as one of the better ones in his already notable career.

To finish up, I need to note that Gerty, as will be obvious, is a cinematic descendant of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was undoubtedly done on purpose, right down to using Kevin Spacey to provide an emotionless voice, though with an interesting twist: Gertie has a small monitor on its roving interface which displaces a yellow face which displays various emotions so that the audience really knows what is going on … it removes some of the mystery that existed with HAL (and made HAL such an effective character), but in this case, I applaud the decision because in this film, it is more important to know where Gertie stands because, unlike in 2001, the focus needs to stay on the human, and not on the hardware.


Gravity and the Matrix ….

July 13, 2010

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/science/13gravity.html?no_interstitial

It has also been a long time since I posted anything about physics …. ironically during the school year I read very little about trends in physics, while over the summer I tend to read a lot more. This article caught my attention. A physics professor in the Netherlands is joining a growing list of physicists who are asserting that gravity is greatly misunderstood.

Kids learn in introductory physics that gravity is a force, a pull of attraction between masses. Newton demonstrated this, Cavendish eloquently measured its fundamental constant, and we have used that information to send men to the moon and steer space probes to the edge of our solar system. The description of gravity is understood fairly well. As a matter of fact, today we more or less recognize gravity as one of four fundamental forces in the universe along with electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.

What has long been missing is the “why”. Newton wrote of his embarrassment to propose the universal law of gravity absent an explanation. 300 years later, physics is still at that stage of waiting. Einstein took an excellent shot at it in proposing the General Theory of Relativity which proposed that gravity is a consequence of curved space-time; famously demonstrated by holding out a spread bed sheet and placing a ball in the center. Rolling marbles across the sheet at various speeds will behave similar to objects moving in real space near massive objects.

However, for most of the past 100 years, physics has been able to mathematically unite thee of the four forces: electromagnetism and the nuclear forces. Gravity, it would seem, was the black sheep of the family of forces. Some figured it would be just a matter of time before we found some way to unite them.

But time has passed, and so far that connection is still missing. While scientists continue to search, at some point one has to ask some very fundamental questions: are we searching in vain? Is there in fact no connection between gravity and the other forces … if there isn’t, is it then proper to postulate that maybe gravity isn’t a force, and is instead some other phenomenon?

The above article discusses how there is an emerging belief that gravity is more related to thermodynamics and entropy than force and motion. The link between these two has existed for many decades with Stephen Hawking (the world famous guy in the wheelchair who talks with a computer), having been involved in some of the ground work in his studies of black holes and thermodynamics back in the 1970s.

I, without having done any research, have long suspected that the day was coming when something regarding gravity being something wholly different and unique from what we thought it was, would be coming. I cannot say this is what I thought it would be …. and certainly this idea has a long way to go before it gains universal acceptance. But it appears that some very old ideas may be coming in for some kind of reassessment soon.


Effin’ American League Central … how does it work?

July 11, 2010

It has been a very, very long time since I talked about the White Sox. Frankly, the events of the last five weeks or so have been surreal to say the least.

The White Sox had an off day on June 7. They had just finished dropping 2 out of 3 to both Texas and Cleveland at home. The White Sox were mired in third place at 24-33 … nine games under .500, and for all intents and purposes done with their season. The White Sox GM had publicly stated he would start shopping players. Word was that Ozzie Guillen would not survive the season as manager, and would likely leave for Atlanta to take over for retiring manager and Guillen mentor Bobby Cox. The good players were for the most part under achieving, the starting pitching was not producing, the hitting was flat.

On June 8, the Sox opened a three gam series with the Tigers … at the time far ahead of the Sox in second place, but just a few games back of the Minnesota Twins whom just about everyone was anointing the division champions. The Sox lost on June 8, but took the next two from the Tigers. They then went into Wrigley Field and beat the Cubs 2-out-of-3, with the one loss being a gem of a game: a double no hitter into the seventh before the Sox surrendered the only run of the game. Then it was off to Pittsburgh and Washington for two three game sweeps (OK … the Pirates and Nationals are the Pirates and Nationals) … but then they came home and swept the NL leading Atlanta Braves … then took two-out-of-three from the Cubs …

The often wrong talking heads moped that the Sox were playing over their heads … these were all wins against the sad National League. Once they got back to the American League, they would be back to losing.

Then it was two-out-of-three in Kansas City … then to the AL West leading Rangers and took another two-out-of-three. The crowning moment came this last week as the Sox came home and swept a four game series from the Angels (the first time they had done that since 1983) and swept the Royals to complete only their third 7 game or more homestead sweep in 110 years! When the dust had settled …. the dead and forgotten White Sox in distant third place come into the All-Star Break one-half game ahead of the Tigers for the AL Central lead. A 30 game run of 25-5 for an unbelievable .800 winning percentage!

Certainly, the starting pitching came around ….27 of the last 31 starts were deemed “quality starts” … I doubt they had that many in the preceding 27 games. The hitting also finally started to come around. Paul Konerko and Alex Rios were already having good seasons, but it was good to see the likes of Gordon Beckahm, Carlos Quentin, A.J. Pierzynski, and Alexi Ramirez start hitting … not to mention a bench that has been contributing when called upon.

I have no idea why this started … that is one of the funny things about baseball … sometimes there are these miraculous occurrences that are difficult to easily explain.


When mathematicians cry …

July 10, 2010

Quote of the week:

All these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.

–The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, in an interview with the Daily Mirror this week.

Yet another person we can add to the list of “people we should not be listening to”.


World Police

July 10, 2010

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100710/ap_on_re_eu/eu_bosnia_pillar_of_shame

A new memorial is being erected in honor of those who were massacred at Srebrebnica, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 during the war there. Some 8,000 mostly Muslims were killed by Bosnian Serbs, making it the largest mass killing in Europe since the Holocaust.

What makes this memorial interesting, is that it will be made of shoes (16,000, one pair per person killed), and will spell out “UN” as a way to represent whom the artist (and others) hold responsible for the killings. At the time of the massacre, a 450 man Dutch military contingent working for the UN was safeguarding Srebernica. The Dutch did nothing to stop the massacre … the UN and the Dutch government later accepted some measure of blame for this. At least one source claimed that the issue was a mixture of the Dutch military being wholly unprepared for combat or duty of this nature, and mixed signals coming from above to establish peace (meaning do everything you can to not actually fire).

In the United States, there is a lot of widespread distrust when it comes to the UN (ranging from whacked out conspiracy theorists who claim it is some kind of new world order to those who simply see it as ineffective). This may be one of the few things that more and more of the world is having in common with the US. The recent handling of North Korea some have called embarrassing; akin to a kid threatening to beat up his brother if he gets punished, causing the parents to withhold punishment (not sure I buy that since most brothers wouldn’t use nukes to go after their siblings).

Nonetheless, this event should shed light on American history of the last 60 years or so. The world would do well to look at this and gain a better understanding of the United States.

Prior to WWII (heck even into WWII), the United States was a more or less neutral nation … never wanted to get involved in European affairs or anyone else’s affairs (barring the occasional take over of places like Hawaii or the west coast). After World War II, things changed. The US realized as a people that not getting involved in the war was bad …. earlier involvement could have ended the war sooner …. saved the lives of not only soldiers but civilians that were being massacred. We learned the lesson that appeasement in the name of prolonging peace does no one any good. Thus, the US learned: sending in the troops quicker is a good thing. The US led the charge in Korea …. and went it alone in Vietnam trying to defend an ally when it was in trouble. Vietnam was a lesson for the US …. sometimes this doesn’t always work. I think it caused the US to rethink and realize that deploying troops every time someone is in help will not be politically acceptable at home. Sending the army with clearcut orders to get Iraq out of Kuwait worked. Everyone was happy. Sending the troops with a list of “rules of engagement” orders that did nothing into Somalia was a waste of human life … it killed Americans and saved no one. That was bad. I think too many Americans are definitely seeing the same thing in Iraq, and are starting to wonder if things in Afghanistan are heading that way.

In short: if you are sending in the troops, send them in to eliminate the enemy; destroy them or drive them out of “X”. If that is not possible, then don’t use them. If you send them in to protect someone, allow them to use bullets, rockets, grenades, etc to kill those trying to kill those whom you protect.

With the modern media, that’s difficult. Imagine if US troops in Somalia had been given “weapons free” orders, and daily pictures of little Somali kids (the rifles conveniently removed from their hands) showing up dead on TV. The US would have been racist barbarians!

This is the reality of our world: the world calls out for someone to stop massacres like what happened in Nazi Germany and Srebernica and Darfur, but that same world is poised ready to damn those who stood by and did nothing, and damn those who jumped in to do something. If history is a guide, the damnation on those who jumped in to do something tends to be harsher, so it is politically better to stand aside and let the mayhem run its course and put whoever was in charge of the massacre on trial after the fact.

There is a simple reality with the use of the military: it is messy. People die. Often times, the wrong people die. An army is not a scalpel for finely removing a tumor and leaving healthy tissue behind …. it is more like that blast of radiation that tries to kill the tumor and often takes some healthy tissue with it. If a doctor said “lets let the tumor run its course, and I’ll make sure to blame it for your death”, you would get a new doctor. Yet too often we come down on the use of the military when it tries to remove tumors from the world.

Until the world decides that sometimes war in fact very much IS the answer, the western world will be content to keep their armies at home while genocide occurs, and cast stones at those more willing to get involved.