Discussion Post: Week 11
Presentation II is in the books! After viewing your presentation video, how do you feel about your performance? Did you see an improvement from Presentation I? What adaptations will you be planning for our next set of presentations?
Let’s start this week’s post with some local news. On Thursday afternoon, a helicopter crash in a central Indiana cornfield resulted in minor injuries for the aircraft’s six passengers. Foul weather forced the pilot to divert from the planned Indianapolis-Fort Wayne route and attempt to make it to Noblesville Airport, but the helicopter crashed on its side before reaching its destination. No one, thankfully, was seriously hurt, as everyone escaped before the helicopter burst into flames. On the political front, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller says that a new federal bill would void the state’s Do Not Call registry. According to Zoeller, House Resolution 3035, also known as the Mobile Information Call Act, would permit recorded message phone calls (or “robo-calls”) that are currently barred by the Do Not Call list and represent some of the most aggravating forms of phone solicitation. In better news for the state, Indiana’s new voucher program is officially the most successful first-year school voucher program in America’s history, and the state also holds the sixth-best business climate in the nation despite projections of tepid job growth over the next few years. Finally, Simon Property Group Inc. is suing the state of Indiana for failing to collect state taxes on online sales through sites like Amazon.com, saying that the state’s inaction gives online retailers an unfair advantage over traditional businesses, like Simon’s many malls. The lawsuit may have no effect, though, since a 1992 Supreme Court ruling “effectively bars states from collecting taxes from most online operations.”
A Japanese official gave frightening new meaning to the phrase “don’t drink the water” this week. On March 11, as you’ll recall, the Fukushima power plant failed, resulting in severe nuclear contamination throughout the region. After several months of decontamination work, Yasuhiro Sonoda, the parliamentary spokesman for the cabinet office, tried to convince journalists that contamination levels around the plant were back to low levels during a Tuesday press conference. The reporters asked him to prove it. With nervousness evident in his shaking hands, Sonoda drank a glass of water taken from pools around the plant. Time will tell if the water was indeed as clean as Sonoda’s figures indicated, but video of his water-drinking experience is proving worthy entertainment for millions in the meantime. It’s hardly the first time a politician has engaged in a public-relations stunt to allay public fears. We’ll see how well this one works, particularly given the discovery of xenon gases near the plant on Tuesday. (Officials insist that the plant has not gone into a critical state, but say instead that the xenon resulted from “natural” nuclear fission.) In any case, the Tokyo Electric Power Company plans to dispose of the water by pumping it into the sea, hence why the public is so concerned about whether it’s really as clean as officials say. We’ll have plenty of time to assess the decontamination efforts as they progress, since the full project is expected to take decades.
Climate change skeptics were handed a bit more ammunition for their arguments this week, as a new book claims that many key papers in the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), which largely dictates environmental policy in governments around the world, were written “not by the foremost experts in the field, but by graduate students with little or no experience in their field of study.” The book’s author, Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise, said that “We’ve been told that [the IPCC] is a responsible business man in a three-piece suit, but it turns out it’s a sloppily dressed teenager — a spoiled brat that can’t be trusted.” According to the expose, many of the authors lacked so much as a Master’s degree, and some had never even been published through a peer-reviewed outlet. (In contrast, both of your COM 315 instructors hold Master’s degrees and have long since seen their names in peer-reviewed print.) As critics of the theory have gone on the offensive, other scientists, journalists, and politicians are sticking to their conclusions, noting environmental changes like the birth of a gigantic iceberg while working to broker an international policy agreement to combat greenhouse gases.
Okay, let’s step away from these tense topics for a bit and consider something a bit more fun… and a bit more otherworldly. Science fiction buffs may recognize the term “tractor beam” from its ostensible origins in E. E. Smith’s Skylark of Space book series and from novels, comics, movies, and television shows ever since. Well, NASA is working to make it a reality. A team of NASA scientists won a $100,000 grant to study three experimental means of creating just such a device. One wonders long will it be until we can just beam into class. While we wait, we may also want to keep an eye out for the asteroid due to zip past the earth this Tuesday. It’s not supposed to hit the planet, but it will be inside the orbit of the moon, close enough for some rare observation. To be fair, asteroids come this close to the earth this frequently, but this one is particularly large, at around 400 meters in diameter. That’s roughly the size of an aircraft carrier. The last time an asteroid that big came this close to earth was in 1976, and it’s not expected to happen again until 2028. Of course, there are plenty of things out there that we can’t as easily see, like the “invisible” stars that some NASA scientists claim to have found. They’ve also been observing stellar phenomena a little closer to home: in particular, the recent solar flares from our own sun have them fascinated. On the other side of the solar system, scientists are claiming that if life ever existed on Mars, it was likely underground, which would explain why the Mars rovers haven’t found any clear signs of sentient life. Perhaps they went underground for the water. In any case, Russia’s space program is continuing to move forward, as the country’s new robot cargo ship docked at the International Space Station on Wednesday. A group of Russian volunteer astronauts staged a mock return to earth on Friday after a 520-day isolation period designed as a mock mission to Mars. Who knows, maybe Boeing will provide the means to actually take us to the red planet one day. Perhaps we should just be thankful to be alive, though. While some scientists are celebrating the apparent discovery of complex organic matter in the universe, others are speculating that life may only exist on earth because of irregularities in the laws of physics — in other words, they conjecture that the “laws” are not constant across the universe, and that we only happen to exist in a region where those laws are especially suited to support life. If true, that conjecture would break virtually every scientific principle ever accepted as fact.
Once the World Series was over, I planned to stop bringing up the St. Louis Cardinals on the blog for awhile. Really, I did. Then Tony La Russa announced that he was leaving on a high note, becoming the first manager in Major League Baseball history to end his career by winning it all. For La Russa, who won three titles as a manager, this retirement was not a snap decision — St. Louis General Manager John Mozeliak, among other team executives, knew about it since August. Apparently La Russa’s plan was to announce his retirement to the team as soon as they were eliminated from contention, which of course never quite happened. With that said, St. Louis’ decisive Game 7 win might not be La Russa’s final game as a big-league manager. As you may know, tradition dictates that the managers of the two World Series competitors face off once again during the following season’s All-Star Game, so La Russa may represent the National League against the Texas Rangers’ Ron Washington and the American League in 2012. While the Cardinals began their search for a new manager on Thursday, their 67-year-old former leader may have already found his next calling… as an elephant keeper, of all things.
That’s plenty for this week. Have at it!
Other articles of interest:
Dutch social psychologist found to have faked data
Robot created to test chemical weapons gear
Protesters rally in Oakland, shut port operations
Oakland protests turn violent, 80 arrests
Kim Kardashian: “Intuition” led to divorce
Justin Bieber denies paternity claim
With no labor talks scheduled, NBA owners, players remain quiet
During NBA lockout, only battles are happening in wrong kind of court
Dodgers Headed to Bankruptcy Court Auction
Cops probe Texas judge seen beating daughter in YouTube video
Judge Says Daughter’s Beating was ‘Discipline’
Anger over Palestinian prisoner swap escalates
US Report Blasts China, Russia for Cybercrime
Duqu worm looms as ‘next big cyber threat’
Apple’s iTV, Steve Jobs’s last project, may transform home entertainment
Apple says iOS 5 causes battery problems, fix promised
Ballmer didn’t kill tablets at Microsoft; the truth is much worse than that
Microsoft to patch critical Windows 7 bug in ‘upside down’ update next week
Google Keeps Searches Fresh With Algorithm Update
“Do a Barrel Roll” on Google, and You Won’t Be Disappointed
Removing Deadbeat Cells Slows Aging in Mice and May Spare Humans
Loneliness linked to restlessness, disruptive sleep
One million people without power in Northeast storm aftermath
Lawyers: Not all Indiana stage collapse claims will be paid
Tags: All-Star Game, Amazon, American League, Boeing, COM 315, Do Not Call, Donna Laframboise, E. E. Smith, Fort Wayne, Fukushima, Greg Zoeller, Indiana, Indianapolis, Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, International Space Station, Japan, John Mozeliak, Major League Baseball, Mars, Mobile Information Call Act, NASA, National League, Noblesville, Presentation I, Presentation II, Ron Washington, Russia, Simon Property Group, Skylark of Space, solar flares, St. Louis Cardinals, Supreme Court, Texas Rangers, Tokyo Electric Power Company, Tony La Russa, tractor beam, United Nations, World Series, Yasuhiro Sonoda