Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Parsing English for vagueness's sake

The Texas Ethics Commission has made an embarrassing admission: The English language says what we want it to say. Because that makes corruption easier.

The editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News weighs in:

The Texas Ethics Commission in the past year has twice displayed an appalling ignorance of the written word in its interpretation of state law.

For the official watchdog of the Texas Election Code, the third time wasn't a redemptive charm, it was a disgraceful embarrassment.

At issue is a statute that requires state officers to provide "the identification of a person or other organization from which the individual or the individual's spouse or dependent children received a gift of anything of value in excess of $250 and a description of each gift."

Most practitioners of the English language understand this section of the Government Code to mean that an officeholder or candidate must identify who gives them anything worth more than $250. ...

In March and again in September, a majority of the commission ruled that what the code says isn't what it really means. Disclosure in Texas merely requires the
acknowledgement of a gift in the most vague terms. ...

Even if some uncertainty did exist, the Government Code allows the commission to adopt rules to administer the disclosure statute, such as establishing that the precise value of a gift must accompany its description.

The linguistically challenged commissioners have called on the Legislature to provide a law with more clarity. Lawmakers should do more. They should clear out commissioners and staff who have such a fundamentally flawed understanding of ethics laws.

There are many times I do not agree with what the editorial board says, but this time I heartily concur. It's a shame that the watchdog that is supposed to keep state politicians somewhat honest is helping their corruption, and it's sad that they sacrifice the English language for that complicity.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Denigrating the bravest among us

I don't normally wade into the politics pond on this blog, but I am an ardent supporter of the U.S. armed forces, and it irks me quite a bit to hear them denigrated. Especially when the one uttering an insult is a blow-hard politician.

Which is why I wish I could live in New York just long enough to vote against Representative Charles Rangel, who recently said that the only people who enlist in our military are those who don't have good job prospects.

I can't say much more insightful other than I think Rangel's opinion of our troops is offensive. Big time. But James Taranto of the Opinion Journal has a good sample of the responses from people who are close to the military. And they aren't too happy with Rangel.

It's nice to see the troops and those who love them standing up to this windbag.

UPDATE: Taranto has more of the military response to Rangel.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"NASA Auditions Robots for Lunar Exploration Missions"

This sounds like fun.

In September, several such robots and an autonomous Moon buggy called Scout were put through their paces in the rough desert terrain. During a two-week campaign conducted by NASA's Desert Research and Technology Studies team -- a collection of government, university and industry scientists and engineers known as the Desert Rats -- the robots demonstrated their ability to work side-by-side with space-suited researchers, helping with the kinds of tasks that actual astronauts will have to perform as they begin exploring the Moon and establishing outposts. ...

In addition to Scout, NASA's current line up of field assistants includes a nimble six-legged rover called Athlete, a dexterous humanoid torso on wheels called Centaur, and K-10, a boxy little rover specially equipped for site survey work. ...

"The interaction between robots and humans is very important to me," [NASA Johnson Space Center engineer in charge of the Human Robotic Systems program Chris] Culbert said. "Industrial robots are typically behind barriers and big alarms ring if humans come within 10 feet. Our robots live with the humans."

Wish I could be there.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fighting panda extinction ...

... with their own poop.

Not to be outdone, Thailand has come up with yet another, seemingly unlikely way to capitalize on this globally loved, bamboo-munching animal — panda poop.

When keepers of the country's panda couple — Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui — got tired of disposing the 55 pounds of feces daily produced by the duo, Prasertsak Buntragulpoontawee came up with the idea of turning it all into notebooks, fans, bookmarks and key chains.

"At first the Chinese were very skeptical," says the head of Chiang Mai Zoo's panda unit, referring to the proprietary attitude China takes toward its iconic animal.

But the multicolored paper products have proved hot selling-items at the zoo, with the 300,000 baht (US $8,200) earned to date helping balance the accounts of panda keeping.

Egads! And the first step in the process is cleaning the poop! What, exactly, is left when they're done cleaning the poop?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Expletive inserted"

Geoffrey Pullum comments on cussing in The New Yorker:
It's puzzling to me why, when The New Yorker can risk dropping the prime obscene expletive of the English language in mid fucking idiom in a feature article about turkeys, so many newspapers are so astonishingly coy that they can't mention shit without at least a couple of asterisks. (I guess I mean that last clause in both its literal and idiomatic senses.)

Haw haw!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

This should make the lovers of the endangered panda quite happy: "China enjoying baby boom in artificially bred pandas"

Hooray! Maybe the little buggers have finally learned to breed on their ow--- oh, I see.

A total of 30 pandas were born in China this year through artificial insemination, including 11 sets of twins, Zhang Zhihe, director of the China Giant Panda Breeding Technical Committee told Xinhua news agency on Tuesday.

Although three died shortly after being born, the number of new pandas this year is the most since Chinese biologists began artificially breeding the endangered species in 1960, the report said. [emphases added]

They haven't learned, then. Oh well, I guess porn couldn't hurt.
BANGKOK (AFP) - A Thai zoo will show its star residents, a pair of young giant pandas, "porn" videos to teach the famously sexually-inactive animals how to mate.

Monday, November 13, 2006

""Sexist" urinals sell out"

And just who complained about it?

VIENNA (Reuters) - Four urinals shaped like a woman's lips were sold on eBay Sunday for a total of 5,343 euros ($6,877) after their owner removed them from a public toilet in Vienna following protests that they were sexist.

Designed by Austrian artist Rudolf Scheffel for the "toilet-bar Vienna" next to the National Opera, the urinals featured lips covered in red, orange or blue lipstick, a bright red tongue and gleaming white teeth.

The urinals were in the toilets for three years but raised an outcry in the run-up to Austria's October 1 parliamentary election when they were used by political party
supporters attending rallies nearby.

What happens in Austrian mens rooms stays in Austrian mens rooms.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Learning to spell on the job.

This is the worst spelling of the word "amateur" I have seen.

From the WOAI Web site:

"Suarez’ Controversial Win Tops Night of Phenomenal Armature Fighting"

Somebody get that headline writer a good dictionary. Or just get him to click here.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Honoring them on this day

On this Veterans Day, let's not forget who it is that works so hard to make sure our enemies do not defeat us.

It is these guys and their fellow soldiers and sailors.

Happy Veterans Day. Thanks for the sacrifice.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

Friday, November 10, 2006

Imaging the great eye of Saturn

What do you get when you point your spacecraft over the south pole of Saturn? A great picture like this.

Read more about what this image means here. (And there's a cool animation of this feature, too.)

Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Death of a Spacecraft: The Unknown Fate of Cassini"

An interesting discussion is going on about what to do with the Cassini spacecraft when it has fulfilled its mission.

Sometime around 2012, Cassini, like the ocean-going ships of old, will need to be decommissioned. However, the spacecraft cannot be towed to some nearby shore to be dismantled; she must either drop anchor, be scuttled, or cast off her gravitational moorings altogether.

NASA is considering several options, including:

  • Leaving the craft in an orbit that doesn't pose a danger (a likely option)
  • Crashing it into Saturn (an intriguing option)
  • Crashing it, gently, onto one of Saturn's moons
  • Escaping Saturn to drift off into deep space or to possibly visit Jupiter

I say land Cassini onto one of the moons, Iapetus preferably. That strange, duotoned moon needs some close scrutiny, and think of the wonderful close-up images we could get as Cassini nears its final target. Just like when Deep Impact crashed into Tempel 1.

That would be great stuff, though I think NASA will probably choose the first option. Even if they do, Cassini has served us well in her journey.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Getting the job done

This image is truly sublime.

[Photo courtesy of U.S. Army. Original caption: "Pfc. Raymond Purtee, from the 561st Military Police Company, attached to the 10th Mountain Division, provides convoy security during a patrol near Bagram, Afghanistan."]

Saving the ruins

Not sure what to think about this story: "Experts: Global warming threatens ruins"
NAIROBI, Kenya - From ancient ruins in Thailand to a 12th-century settlement off Africa's eastern coast, prized sites around the world have withstood centuries of wars, looting and natural disasters. But experts say they might not survive a more recent menace: a swiftly warming planet. [emphasis added]
Well, if they are considered ruins, it seems as if they haven't "withstood" very well at all.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Spotting a retronym

I noticed an interesting retronym the other day. On a soap bottle.

A retronym in the English language is a new term formed out of an old one because the original term is obsolete or no longer completely accurate (Wikipedia's entry here). The reason for the rise of a retronym is usually due to advances in technology, and a classic example is the term "acoustic guitar". Before the advent of household electricity, all guitars were acoustic, and they were just called "guitars". After the invention of the "electric" guitar, it was necessary to add the qualifier "acoustic" to differentiate the older musical instrument from its new brother. Thus, a retronym.

The other day, I bought a new bottle of dish soap. Joy. In the good old days of hand-washing the dishes, there was just "Joy". My previous purchase had been the new, improved version of the soap, "Ultra Concentrated Joy".

My latest purchase, however, was the original Joy, or so I thought. To my great interest (because I am an amateur etymologist!), I noticed that Procter & Gamble had seen fit to put a retronym on the label.

To wit:

Now, we no longer have Joy and Ultra Concentrated Joy; we have Ultra Concentrated Joy and Non-Ultra Joy!

But, at least it still offers great cleaning at a great price.