Saturday, April 9, 2011

Last Call

It's almost fitting that on a weekend that proves the vast majority of Americans are nothing but regurgitating media zombies, that the director of the movie that predicted our FOX-ified news media, Sidney Lumet, (his brilliant and prophetic film "Network" stands as a must watch even today) has passed away at the age of 86.

Sidney Lumet, the American film director known for inspiring top-notch performances from actors in a stream of classic films including "12 Angry Men," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Network" and "Fail-Safe," died on Saturday at age 86, the New York Times said.

His stepdaughter, Leslie Gimbel, said Lumet died of lymphoma at his home inManhattan, the newspaper said.

Lumet was one of the leading film directors of the second half of the 20th century. He was prolific, directing more than 40 movies, and versatile, dabbling in many different film genres. Lumet often shot his movies in his native New York.

Do yourself a favor and watch Network, or Dog Day Afternoon, or especially 12 Angry Men.  Lumet's "what if" stories about our media, our working class, and our legal system are all too true today.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Perspective time.

Tea Party Republicans will now be trying to shut the government down again and again.  We live in an America where this is acceptable and seen as the normal, most likely course of events.

Republicans wish to rule by hostage edicts?  OK.  Then it's our job at every turn to call them on it.  That their vision of America is one where mob rule by the angriest segment of the populace while the rest of us cower is not acceptable in a democracy.  Passive-aggressive simpering is not going to cut it.

Time to find something to fight for, folks.  Time to get it together.  Stakes are a lot higher now, and the serial abusers know they can keep playing the same game.

Unless we stop them.

Good Morning, Yale! Here Is Your Wake-Up Call

(CNN) -- Universities in the United States rarely expel students for sexual assault, according to an investigation by the federal government. And in the 42 years since it began admitting women, Yale University has not been an exception.

Because of the way universities handle sexual misconduct, it is often the victim who drops out of school. In fact, a survey I conducted of female students transferring into Brown University in the early 1990s revealed that one of the top reasons women may transfer colleges is because they've been sexually assaulted on their campus.

What's new here is that Yale received a 26-page Title IX complaint March 31, filed by 16 students and alumni, charging that its campus is a sexually hostile environment. The federal Department of Education has reportedly launched an investigation. One of the incidents the group described that was particularly offensive involved men who were pledging a fraternity; they gathered in a public spot on campus and started chanting, "No means yes, yes means anal."

The Obama administration, which had been working on sexual assault issues for some time, released a report Monday telling colleges and universities that they need to do a better job preventing and investigating sexual violence.

The article goes on to give some excellent insight into the problems on campuses around the country.  There have been problems everywhere, and the answer has been the same, to pretend nothing has happened and this pretty little campus won't let your darling child be unsafe, not even for a moment.  This system has worked out great for everyone but the victims.

There are a lot of common-sense safety measures that could be put into place, and have not.  Why?  Why actually take steps to avoid the discussion of sexual assault when an acknowledgement and preventative steps would go much further in reassuring parents?  The victims lose twice, once when they are attacked and again when they find no justice.  It is impossible to promise this can't or won't happen to a young student.  What is possible is to promise it will be handled properly when it does.  Education, participation and understanding go a long way.  Letting students know what to look out for and how to protect friends is empowering.  Covering up sexual assaults and helping the offenders relocate without a blip on their records is encouraging the act. 

It should not have taken this long for them to see this, or take action.

Let's Define Discrimination, Shall We?

Church to school: You should distribute material and send it home to every single student for us, or it's discrimination.

School to church: Actually, no.  We don't do that for anyone, not even clubs like YMCA or Boys and Girls Club.  We have a perfectly fair compromise by putting out this here community table, where you can leave information and people can pick it up if they choose.

Church: Discrimination, I say!

It's a bad week for churches in the press.  This week's religijerk, the Child Evangelism Fellowship Suncoast Chapter, has recruited help in making a group of Florida elementary schools send home material advertising after school Bible study programs.  The school is balking, and refers to a long-enforced policy in which they do not send material home unless it is for another government agency.  It's a sound policy, and should keep them safe from idiocy like this.

In a letter to district officials, Liberty Counsel lawyer David M. Corry demanded "immediate approval" of the fellowship's fliers in the methods regularly available to nonreligious groups. He also demanded changes to the "unconstitutional district policy" that he said banned wider distribution of the fliers.

"Equal access means equal treatment," Corry wrote. "Discrimination in any form between secular and religious organization messages is unconstitutional."

He's correct in theory.  His mistake is that the school doesn't endorse any activities, so there is no discrimination.  The school is treating them like others of their kind, which is the exact opposite of what he is claiming.

The district rejects similar appeals from such groups as the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs, she said. Instead, schools provide community tables, where organizations may leave pamphlets, brochures and fliers for students and parents to pick up if they wish. Those tables generally are in school offices.

"We are very uniform in the application of that policy," Romagnoli said.
A representative of the Boys and Girls Club of West Pasco confirmed that practice.

Rogers acknowledged that schools have let his group place information in the office. But he'd like to be able to spread the word about the club, which has operated at Richey, Cypress, Connerton and Chasco elementary schools, to more people than those who stop to grab a flier.

It's not discrimination that he "would like" to have more exposure than he can get.  So why get the legal strong arm out?  The school is in the right.  This policy was planned carefully to make sure they could not be accused in any way of endorsing one activity over another, while giving kids access to worthwhile programs they are interested in.  They gave this same privilege to the CEFSC. This group has no right to ask for special rights and then go crazy and try to force it when denied their request. His overreaction is in direct conflict with the facts, which tell an entirely different story.

Going Through The Brownian Motions

Now this is some relatively cool stuff here.

The seemingly random movement of Brownian motion just got a little more classical. Scientists have been able to image the ultrafast motions of a trapped particle, revealing the underlining trajectories causing Brownian motion. This is the first time inertial Brownian motion of a particle in a fluid have been measured.

In 60 BC, the poet Lucretius described the motions of dust in a dark room and speculated on the existence of atoms. In 1827, Robert Brown described the random motions of pollen in water, the motion which now bears his name. It took until 1905 for Einstein to fully describe how Brownian motion arises from instantaneous imbalances in the forces from collisions with water molecules.

At its heart, Brownian motion is still described by classical Newtonian physics, even if we cannot define a classical velocity and can only measure mean square displacement. Einstein said, "It is therefore impossible... to ascertain the root mean square velocity by observation" because the timescales of the instantaneous velocity are vanishingly short. Einstein calculated that the time for a particle to decelerate significantly is about ~100ns, impossibly fast to measure at the time.

But that was then. Now researchers have been able to probe time scales an order of magnitude faster. By holding a micron-sized sphere in a optical trap and measuring the scattered light with a high speed position detector (75MHz), a team was able to measure the motion of the spheres with a resolution of 0.2 angstroms and a temporal resolution of ~10ns. At these resolutions, they were able to track the inertial Brownian motion of the sphere. 

A little more understanding about how the universe works every day.

Shutdown Countdown: The Morning After

Having slept on it, this morning I'm looking at the results of last night's deal and I'm shaking my head.  Yes, Obama and the Democrats came away preventing a shutdown and looked like the adults in the room.  The deal they struck was a bad deal, but it was the only deal available.  Neither side is happy with it.  Billions in social spending were removed from the budget during a faltering economy, meanwhile Tea Party types are screaming for blood, because they wanted a hundred billion in cuts and the elimination of funding for People They Hate.

The problem continues to be two larger, uglier battles ahead.

In waiting until the 11th hour to act as referee, Obama cast himself as the closer, the grown-up in the room who is not interested in flinging mud but instead reaching consensus and middle ground -- and most of all -- averting a government shutdown. And his advisers are counting on that leadership to transcend partisan politics and appeal to the average American fed up with the ways of Washington.

"In the final hours, leaders in both parties reached an agreement that allowed families to get the mortgage they applied for...and hundreds of thousands of people to show up to work Monday and get their paycheck on time, including our military," Obama said.

Yet, if Boehner was the happy warrior, as he told reporters with a smile Friday, Obama was a reluctant one. Throughout the week, Obama groused about his job as "referee" in talks between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, but also has acquiesced to playing the role of disappointed parent, the "grown-up" in the room, as he likes to say.

Earlier this week, he scolded Republicans and Democrats for not being able to play nicely and work things out themselves, and Thursday night he instructed Boehner and Reid to work through the night and get back to him on the morning on any progress.

Obama now gets to take credit for helping to avert a crisis, but the measure funding government for the rest of the year makes deep cuts in some of liberals' most beloved spending programs and exacts $6 billion in cuts than Senate Democrats said they would tolerate only days earlier. The recriminations on those issues will no doubt continue for weeks.

At the same time, Obama's leading role in achieving a compromise would likely win over a large swath of independent voters -- who desperately wanted the partisan bickering in Washington to end and preferred an imperfect deal rather than allow the government to shutdown, according to a recent national opinion survey by the Pew Research Center

So, Obama went all pragmatic instead of all cowboy, and a deal was reached.  A shutdown was averted, and Obama does look, well, presidential.  They say a deal that everybody hates is a fair one.

But the stakes in the next few months will have a hell of a lot more zeroes attached to them.  We get to go through all this again heading into the summer.

[UPDATE]  BooMan's take is excellent.

I notice a lot of commenters here are taking the position that the Republicans came out ahead in these negotiations. In a certain basic sense, they did. But most of that was baked in the cake the moment they took over the House by gaining an historic 63 seats. Despite all the angst over the slashing of discretionary spending (this was the biggest one-year cut in history), this battle was over a tiny sliver of the overall budget. The big battles over entitlement spending loom on the horizon, and the Republicans expended a tremendous amount of political capital to get a very small victory. You can count on them to threaten a government shutdown at least two more times this year. First, they'll threaten to default on our debt, and then they'll threaten "no deal" on the 2012 budget. They were wise enough not to close the government on the first and smallest fight, but they'll pay a higher political price every time they hold the government hostage.

We all complain about the Democrats' lack of unity and fighting spirit, but they finished these negotiations completely unified and on message. Yesterday was the best performance by the Democrats that I've seen in years. They blistered the Republicans for wanting to shut down the government to prevent cancer screenings and breast exams, and they did it in a very bold and coordinated way. It showed the power of the presidency when he decides to draw a line and he actually has the undivided support of his party. They were well-prepared for a government shutdown, and that bodes well for later battles.

And that is a very fair argument.  But if we're calling cutting government social spending in a recession and it taking Republicans threatening to shut the government down before the Dems can finally be unified and on message as the "best performance in years" we're in deep and abiding fecal matter.

[UPDATE 2]  To clarify, the argument in Washington is not "How do we strengthen our economy with the government as spender of last resort" but "How much government spending do we feed to the Tea Party wolves to make it through to the 2012 elections."  There's nobody talking about how to pull us out of the hole we're in.  It's only how much the American people are going to have to tighten their belts again to give tax cuts to the people at the top.

We have decisively lost the "spend or cut" argument.  The argument is now how much we will lose.  Obama will be blamed for that loss even as Republicans call for more sacrifice from 95% of Americans in the name of the wealthy at the top.


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