Saturday, September 5, 2009

This Week in Science

Evolution is apparently so scary to some parents that they went apeshit -- pun intended -- over a t-shirt intended for a local school band:

The shirts, which were designed to promote the band’s fall program, are light gray and feature an image of a monkey progressing through stages and eventually emerging as a man. Each figure holds a brass instrument.

I imagine if someone did a poll checking for overlap between these parents and those that plan to keep their kids home to avoid Obama's school pep talk next week, the intersection would be impressively full.

* A new study finds that the climatic effects of greenhouse has emissions may have overwhelmed a gentle 2000 year Arctic cooling trend.

* My colleague Jean Williams cataloged a sample of the crazy from the usual suspects, which is a nice segue to this rewrite of an old Republican joke with a more modern and relevant science-y twist.

* Scientists have isolated two antibodies that disrupt replication of HIV by hitting the virus in a section of its genome that is relatively stable over many iterations. The work may pave the way at last for an effective vaccine.

* The Station Fire in southern California not only threatens homes and businesses, it's putting the famous Mt. Wilson Observatory in jeopardy. It's little consolation, but Antarctic researchers have found the world's best replacement location for earth bound telescopes.

Williams sisters cruise into U.S. Open last 16

Serena Williams moved a step closer to defending her U.S. Open title, although she had to produce her best tennis to see off Spain’s Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

The 27-year-old American won 6-3 7-5 to secure a fourth-round showdown with Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova, who eased past another American, Vania King, 6-2 6-2.

Second seed Williams had to fight back from 1-3 down in the final set to claim victory and praised her opponent afterwards. “She was serving really well especially in the second set, but I just kept on fighting,” the American told reporters.

“It’s not often that I play someone that serves and volleys like that.

“Playing doubles here helped with that. I got super-pumped when 1-3 down in the second set as I knew I had to recharge my batteries”.

Serena will be joined by sister Venus, who survived a tough challenge from Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia, 6-2 7-5.

Venus Williams next faces former world number one, Kim Clijsters. The Belgian ace continued her fine run on her grand slam comeback on Friday, brushing aside compatriot Kirsten Flipkens, 6-0 6-2.

In-form Italian Flavia Pennetta is also through to the last 16 after crushing Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak 6-1 6-1.

The 27-year-old 10th seed, who has now lost just six games in three rounds, was joined by compatriot Francesca Schiavone, who upset eighth seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 4-6 6-2 6-2.

Pennetta won titles at Palermo in July and Los Angeles last month and comes into New York in the best form of her career.

She defeated Romania’s Edina Gallovits 6-0 6-4 in the first round and then whitewashed India’s Sania Mirza 6-0 6-0 in the second round. Pennetta will next play seventh seed Vera Zvonereva for a place in the quarterfinals, where she could run into favorite Williams.

Another View on Obama's School Speech

hanks to Dan for another stint at Prawfs. Paul Horowitz raises the interesting question of the reaction to the President's upcoming speech to school children. I see it a bit differently.

I am certainly a political conservative, but I have no objection to the President addressing school children and talking about the importance of education. Indeed, I think that an African American President addressing poor and minority children on the value of education could be a powerful and positive message. I have no problem with the President using his bully pulpit for that.

But, in a world in which the next campaign begins as soon as the last vote is counted, it does not surprise me that a President's unprecedented choice to address a captive audience of millions of school children would create controversy. I think there would be have been much the same reaction if George W. Bush (who a number of people seemed to consider a theocratic fascist war criminal) had proposed the same thing. In fact, when George H.W. Bush addressed students at a D.C. school in a live broadcast that schools across the nation were encouraged to show to students, Democrats cried foul.

In our country, the President is the head of state but he is also a politician. When he wishes to invoke his status as the head of state and ask the rest of us to put politics aside, he must put it aside as well. In the context of a speech to school children, this means avoiding references to disputed matters of policy and the President's agenda - even at the simple level that one would use to speak to school children. It means avoiding the slogans of his campaign. It means that the speech cannot be about the President himself.

Many conservatives don't trust the President to do this. Part of the reason for that is our political culture in which we routinely assume either bad faith or ignorance on the part of our opponents. (We see that in one response to Paul's post calling reaction to the President's speech "racist.") Part of it is that conservatives, fairly or not, have come to see the President's eternal campaign (and all Presidents have them) as rooted more in personality and the elevation of the person of the candidate than has generally been the case in American politics. We can, depending on our perspective, lament, dispute or sympathize with these reasons for the negative reaction of many to the proposed speech.

But part of the reason is the administration's own fault. Lesson plans that called on children to write to the President about how they could "help him" either played into the hands of conservative critics or created anxiety in the minds of those who would otherwise not have been concerned.

Want a Wiretap Warrant? No Problem, Court Says

Despite refusing to “endorse” the government’s tactics in securing a warrant for a wiretap, a federal appeals court is ruling that authorities could use the fruits of their questionable eavesdropping in prosecuting an alleged drug dealer.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower-court judge who last year suppressed the 50 grams of crack cocaine that was evidence in the case against a man originally suspected of plotting terrorism against the United States. The lower court said a magistrate judge erroneously issued the warrant, breaching the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, which was designed to strike a balance between law enforcement and “the privacy rights of the individual.”

REPORT: Cash for Clunkers leads to shortage of destruction derby cars. Oh, the humanity!

With 690,000 vehicles sentenced to one final gargle of sodium silicate, thanks to the now-defunct Cash for Clunkers program, demolition-derby drivers seem to have been left holding the short end of the driveshaft. What the government seems to have forgotten is that many cars, hobbling and sputtering as they near death, prefer to make one final trip to the local county fair (assuming they escape a 24 Hours of LeMons team). There, stripped of glass and with fuel tanks moved safely inward, the clunkers die an honorable death smashed gloriously to pieces in front of large (and often well-hydrated), cheering crowds.

"Obama is an anti-demo-derby guy," says Tory Schutte, head of the Demolition Derby Drivers Association. "He's targeting the cars we've been using." (But let's not just blame the President. Scrap metal prices have skyrocketed in the past two years, so many last-leg heaps are heading straight to the junkyard for recycling.) According to those who keep track of such things, there were 3,500 demolition derbies in the U.S. last year. The orchestrated pageantry of bent steel, blown radiators, and dislodged wheels is often the main draw at local county fairs... and the drivers prefer to keep it that way.

When in Doubt, Fire Your Offensive Coordinator in a Hurry

There could be two schools of thought on the pre-season firings of Chan Gailey, Jeff Jagodozinski and Turk Schonert, the offensive coordinators of the Chiefs, Bucs and Bills, respectively.

The first is that their head coaches are decisive men; they see that they've made mistakes, and they worked quickly to correct them by firing their offensive coordinators and showing a willingness to go into a grueling season with an understaffed (and perhaps under-experienced) group of coaches to run the offense.

The second is that they're not all that secure or patient, that they're not good at judging who their assistant coaches should be, so they are gambling, took a stab, tried to do something, perhaps if only to mask the fact that they blundered badly in picking the particular coach in the first place. By doing so, they might be misreading how bad their coordinators really were and could be compounding the initial blunder by leaving a gap in their organization bigger than the problem that the now-fired coordinator created.

Of course, we're not close enough to the situation to know whether these three coordinators failed miserably, don't fit in with the head coach, or whether the head coach is shifting blame from himself to a key coordinator. But it's curious that there have been three such firings in a league where more time is spent on personnel decisions than perhaps any other and where more goof-ups seemingly get made than in any other too (you can read an academic study of the NFL draft which demonstrated last year how badly teams have erred using the early picks in the first round of the NFL draft). You would have thought that the head coaches would have picked their coordinators carefully and would have made their changes before the first organized team activity took place after the season ended, as opposed to within a few weeks (in the case of Gailey) or days (in the case of Jagodozinski and Schonert) of the final cutdown day (which is today).

Management faces tough decisions when key people at the top are struggling. On the one hand, you don't want to let a bad situation fester. After all, the person in the position could do more damage by remaining, and morale could sink if the top leaders fail to address a bad situation in the ranks. On the other hand, you should have a solid pyramid of performers underneath your top deputies so that if a top deputy were to depart or falter, you'll have someone to replace him. All of this holds true, of course, if the problem really was with the coordinator and not the head coach. The lateness of the firings seems to suggest -- at least in two instances -- that rookie head coaches made poor decisions early on (at least as to compatability) and to a degree are either being very decisive or are panicking. Few are that close to the situation to tell. The Buffalo situation is more puzzling because Dick Jauron has been a head coach for a while.

It's hard to believe that the Chiefs, Bucs or Bills will have good seasons with all of the turmoil. Major changes like this should occur after the regular season, so that there is plenty of time to plan a new offense, and not right before the season and after much or all of training camp has concluded. Even if these head coaches thought they had little choice, the decisions they found themselves making don't bode well for this season -- for their teams or themselves.

Favre to pay for block

NFL fines Vikings quarterback $10,000

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was fined $10,000 by the NFL on Friday for his crack-back block on Houston defensive back Eugene Wilson in a preseason game.

The play happened on Monday night at Houston in Favre's first extensive action since he signed with the Vikings on Aug. 18.

The 39-year-old lined up at receiver in Minnesota's version of the wildcat offense. Rookie receiver Percy Harvin took the snap and started running around the left end in Favre's direction. Despite playing with sore ribs, the quarterback crouched and threw his body at Wilson's legs to cut him down.
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The game was televised nationally, and the block caused an uproar in Houston and elsewhere around the league. Wilson injured his left knee on the play, and defensive players have long considered that type of block a dirty play.

"What was up with that?" Wilson said after the game when asked about the block. "Seriously, what was up with that?"

Steelers secretive about cuts: The Pittsburgh Steelers have cut their roster to the 53-man limit without saying who was released.

Saying he didn't want other NFL teams to learn in advance who was let go, coach Mike Tomlin said the final cuts won't be announced until today, when all NFL teams must firm up their 53-man rosters.

Ex-Raven Orlando Brown arrested: Court documents show that former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown was arrested and charged with third-degree burglary and destruction of property Friday and released on his own recognizance. A preliminary hearing has been set for Oct. 2.

Broncos slaying suspect's trial delayed: A trial for the suspect in the slaying of Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams will be held after the NFL season to give defense attorneys time to interview NFL players who are witnesses in the case.

Denver District Judge Christina Habas made her ruling Friday. The defendant, Willie Clark, faces first-degree murder charges in the shooting death of Williams on New Year's Day 2007.

Bills fire offensive coordinator: Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Turk Schonert has been fired after the offense's dismal performance in the preseason.

Bears RB Jones out for season: Chicago Bears running back Kevin Jones will miss the season after tearing ligaments in his left ankle in the preseason finale Thursday against the Cleveland Browns.

Friday's results

Texans 27, Buccaneers 20: Former Chicago Bears starter Rex Grossman threw two touchdown passes and also produced a pair of field goals, pacing Houston's exhibition victory over host Tampa Bay, possibly earning a backup job behind Matt Schaub and Dan Orlovsky.

Cowboys 35, Vikings 31: The Minnesota Vikings' preseason finale did nothing to help coach Brad Childress clear up his murky backup quarterback situation.

Tarvaris Jackson played well but attempted just four passes, and Sage Rosenfels threw an ugly interception in a loss to the visiting Dallas Cowboys.

Jacksons Furious At Funeral Coverage

Randy Jackson has hit out at the media after some outlets deployed helicopters to cover his brother Michael's private funeral ceremony -- demanding they pull the footage from any future broadcasts.

The King of Pop was laid to rest at the Glendale Forest Lawn Memorial Park on Thursday evening, more than two months after his tragic demise in June.

Following the star-studded public memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in July, only a select group of family and close friends was allowed to the outdoor ceremony.

Macaulay Culkin, actor Chris Tucker, and best friend Elizabeth Taylor were some of the attendees at the outdoor ceremony, which saw around 200 guests pay their last respects to the "Thriller" hitmaker.

But despite allowing cameras in to record the guests arriving at the ceremony, the Jacksons are furious that some press organizations sent helicopters to film the funeral.

The late superstar's brother Randy has spoken out -- insisting a private family gathering was no place for the world's media.

In a statement, he says, "As a family, we are all aware of how Michael's life, and his death, touched so many around the world. It is why we held a public memorial in my brother's honor. And it is the reason we chose to release a small amount of footage leading up to yesterday's ceremony at Forest Lawn.

"I was dismayed last night and again today at the coverage I saw on television of our ceremony for Michael. We had asked the media to respect the privacy and the sanctity of this event; to give us one moment of privacy to mourn as a family out of the public spotlight.

"Unfortunately, despite a no-fly zone around Forest Lawn, many media organizations decided to ignore our wishes. They employed helicopters that not only surreptitiously recorded our private family ceremony, but also severely disrupted it."

"I therefore ask today that media organizations airing helicopter footage of the ceremony we held for my brother immediately pull that footage from their air and refrain from airing it in the future."

Republicans: 'Reset' health-care button

by Mark Silva

As President Barack Obama prepares for a rare address to a joint session of Congress next week to focus his appeal for an overhaul of health care in America, Republicans are maintaining that "it is time to press the re-set button.''

Rep. John Kline, a Minnesota Republican delivering the GOP's weekly address today, says people are confused and frightened about the changes Congress is eyeing.

"Health care reform is being imposed upon them, rather than developed with them, and the potential costs are far too high,'' Kline says in today's address. "And, sadly, monetary costs are only part of the picture.''

The congressman goes on to warn of implications in the legislation which Democratic leaders are crafting that both they and the White House maintain are not true:

" Many are concerned that Democrats' plans may cost patients the right to see their family doctor or have any input into a life-altering - if not life-saving medical treatment. They also fear -- and rightly so -- that it may cost them their jobs - a devastating prospect in an economy that has already lost 6.7 million jobs since this recession began.''

And Kline accuses the Democrats of writing the plans without Republican input: "Democrats have crafted this legislation behind closed doors, creating a partisan blueprint that - at last count - clocked in at more than 1,000 pages. It's complicated, it's convoluted and it's quite simply not going to work.''

See the Republican address above and read it below:

Here is the text of the Republican address:

"Hello, I'm Congressman John Kline from Minnesota's Second Congressional District. I serve as the Senior Republican on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, a panel that represents the intersection between families, jobs and health care.

I've spent a lot of time these last few weeks meeting with workers, small business owners, health care professionals, and hardworking families from rural and suburban Minnesota. What I hear from them is what my colleagues are hearing from Americans all across this great nation - a sense of uncertainty about the health care legislation moving through Congress like a runaway freight train.

They ask: What will happen to my coverage, and my choice of doctors? Will I have to stand in line to receive treatment? Or get approval from someone in Washington before getting a knee replacement or filling a prescription for the latest diabetes medication?

Access to quality care and the comfort of a familiar physician isn't the only thing on my constituents' minds. With trillion dollar price tags becoming almost commonplace in Democrat-controlled Washington, American families are worried about what all this spending means for their jobs - and their children - and their children's children.

One report from the National Federation of Independent Business Research Foundation estimated that a national health care mandate would eliminate 1.6 million jobs over a five-year period. To add insult to injury, two out of three of those jobs would be shed from the small businesses that drive our economy.

If you think that's frightening, I'm sorry to say it could get even worse. Using a model developed by Dr. Christina Romer, the head of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, it is estimated that 4.7 million jobs could be lost as a result of health-related taxes most businesses simply cannot afford to pay.

No wonder Americans are scared. Health care reform is being imposed upon them, rather than developed with them, and the potential costs are far too high. And, sadly, monetary costs are only part of the picture.

Many are concerned that Democrats' plans may cost patients the right to see their family doctor or have any input into a life-altering - if not life-saving medical treatment. They also fear -- and rightly so -- that it may cost them their jobs - a devastating prospect in an economy that has already lost 6.7 million jobs since this recession began.

Democrats have crafted this legislation behind closed doors, creating a partisan blueprint that - at last count - clocked in at more than 1,000 pages. It's complicated, it's convoluted and it's quite simply not going to work.

It's time to press the 'reset' button.

Health care reform doesn't have to be a partisan battle. It doesn't have to take away coverage from Americans who like what they have. It doesn't have to put federal bureaucrats in charge of what procedure is covered and what medication is not.

Our goal must be to fix what's broken in our health care system while preserving those features that work well. We can drive down costs without sacrificing quality. We can expand coverage without orchestrating a government takeover. And we can do all of these things without squeezing small businesses and destroying more jobs at a time when our economy needs them most.

In June, Republicans introduced a plan that would do exactly that. Our plan is designed to make health care more affordable, reduce the number of uninsured Americans, and increase quality at a price our country can afford.

We'll make sure Americans who like their health care coverage can keep it - a stark contrast with the Democrats' plan, which the Congressional Budget Office has said will shift millions of Americans out of their current coverage.

Unfortunately, Democrats have rejected our overtures and decided to go it alone. But it doesn't have to be that way. It could be, and should be, a bipartisan solution.

It's not too late to start over. It's not too late to do better. This Labor Day, the folks running Washington should honor American workers by hitting the 'reset' button on health care reform and stopping the government takeover that threatens American jobs. I'm Congressman John Kline, and I want to thank you for listening.''