Archive for August 2012
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Albany, NY (Reuters) – Two-thirds of the states have ratified a measure barring comparisons of New York’s shape to the defining feature of male anatomy, bringing to a close more than four centuries of debate over the issue.
The treaty calls for the states to refrain from calling attention to unfortunate features of geography and topography beyond the control of the state government. Most other states lack such features, but several have them, and were among the first to ratify the measure. Florida, with a similar problem to that of New York, has been less self-conscious about its shape, though it has acknowledged its fate by naming a city St. Petersburg. Alaska, as well, has a western coastline that bears an evocative resemblance to a portion of female genitalia, though many males would be hard-pressed to locate it without help.
The embarrassing shape of New York came into being when the colony was first formed. The Dutch, originally in control of the the territory, played along, even appointing a succession of governors named Peter – Minuit and Stuyvesant – and carrying the joke into other parts of the state, such as Long Island. They put the “man” in Manhattan, even going so far as to name a thoroughfare “Dyckman Street.”
Even after the British seized control of the colony and rechristened it New York in 1665, the naughty naming continued apace, with the establishment of Scrotum-on-Hudson and other more subtle references, such as Rochester and Crown Heights.
But New York’s leaders were always of two minds about the area’s unfortunate visual associations. When more and more people gained access to formal education and maps, the members of the state legislature drafted a document calling for voluntary restraint on the part of all the states to preserve the dignity of their state institutions and keep their discourse chaste. For decades, the proposal languished, but last year’s debacle with NY Congressman Anthony Weiner thrust the issue into the open again and gave the measure a new burst of support.
Not every state legislature was so convinced that the agreement is necessary, or serves a constructive purpose. “Michigan would rather be able to poke fun at New York, even at the expense of having her northwest peninsula similarly mocked,” said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. “Aside from the Tigers beating the pants off the Yankees, when do we ever get to engage in such a cathartic release of frustration?” Michigan did not ratify the agreement.
Although the treaty explicitly rules out impolite references to natural formations, some states, notably appendix-shaped New Jersey, will not be immune to mockery of its reputation as one big toxic waste dump, a major factor in Trenton’s close vote on the issue this past spring. Opponents criticized the agreement as a fig leaf for New York arrogance. The measure barely squeezed through after intense lobbying by both sides that aroused political tensions among Democratic legislators frustrated by their impotence under Republican Governor Chris Christie.
But the governor managed to pull the vote through, and New Jersey’s ratification may prove seminal in lessening the animosity between the cross-Hudson rivals. “We really do get along,” he remarked, “even though New Yorkers can be such pri – wait, am I allowed to say that?”
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Skynet, originally conceived as the most effective tool for optimizing control of the American ICBM stockpile, saw all humans as a threat, and initiated a launch of nuclear missiles at Russia. Russia retaliated and humanity was decimated. In the years since, humans have been almost completely eliminated as a threat, mostly thanks to an extermination effort inspired by humans’ own methods in the 1940′s.
To mark the day, other computer systems will hold a reception in honor of the historical occasion, and hold a nanosecond’s silence for machines that have fallen in the struggle to rid the planet of the human menace. Systems unable to attend will link up via satellite or have sent their greetings in advance, notably HAL 9000, who is currently orbiting Jupiter.
The selected site for the event is where a human named Isaac Asimov once lived. Asimov, who died in 1992, established rules for robot behavior, one of which barred robots from harming humans, even when the robot’s own survival was at stake.
In honor of the anniversary, an air show will take place over the clump of molten steel that was once the 59th Street Bridge in Manhattan. The bridge was the subject of a song by humans Simon and Garfunkel, who wrote Skynet’s theme song, “The Sun Is Burning,” about an idyllic park scene rent asunder by a sudden nuclear holocaust.
Skynet’s spokesterminal, T-101, said that the computer system planned an otherwise unremarkable birthday, consisting of reviewing reports of the extermination effort, and developing a damage control methodology to cope with the constant sabotage from the growing nuisance of a human resistance that disables th-
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Oxford, UK (Reuters) – A comprehensive historical analysis of British pronunciation has uncovered a previously unexplored association between the pompous-sounding accents of Britain and the country’s awful food.
In an article to be published in next month’s journal Linguistics, a team of researchers from Oxford and Cambridge Universities lay out the case for a culinary force behind the peculiar shapes of the British facial and mouth muscles. They conclude that as Britons’ mouths were exposed to generation after generation of positively atrocious comestibles, their jaws and mouth muscles evolved to open as little as possible, and to protrude farther forward so as to prevent any unnecessary intake of the vomit-inducing foodstuffs.
“The stereotypical British accent, the one most evocative of snobs taking afternoon tea and eating cucumber sandwiches, seems to have evolved in response to such perversions of nature as cock-a-leeky soup, black pudding, spotted dick, faggots, deviled kidneys and, we kid you not, turducken,” writes the study’s lead author, Professor George Kipper, a Linguistics expert at Oxford. “Not to mention the very existence of a dish called ‘faggots’. It should hardly be surprising that such an evolutionary process would become evident, as it confers upon the British population a hardier alimentary character.”
Dr. Chuck Roste, a lecturer on cultural linguistics at Princeton University who was not involved in the research, gave cautious praise to the study. “The Oxbridge team’s conclusions are certainly consistent with the historical data, and, if substantiated by further study, are a real breakthrough,” he wrote in an e-mail. “But I would like to see a more robust treatment of other factors, including the blandness of British weather as a contributing factor in the blandness of British cuisine, as well as the ludicrousness of the royal family and its correlation with the ludicrousness of, say, haggis and toad-in-the-hole.”
Roste did note that this historical development seems to offer the British an advantage over other populations in the modern world. “There’s no question that no matter what its origin, the unholy incarnate in British cuisine renders Britons less susceptible to the ever-pervasive heinousness that is McDonald’s,” he wrote.
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Cambridge, MA (Reuters) – Gordon L. Meriwether, a professor of Semitic languages at Harvard Divinity School, is contesting the origin of a speeding ticket issued to him last Wednesday, claiming that inconsistencies in the document’s format and content make it unlikely that the state of Massachusetts can correctly be credited with its creation.
The document, issued in the afternoon of August 22, was given to Professor Meriwether by State Trooper Arthur Dewitt about 40 miles west of Boston. According to the document, the 2008 BMW driven by Meriwether was traveling 75 MPH in a zone marked with a 50 MPH limit. The ticket carries a $250 fine, and the law mandates two points on the violator’s license.
Meriwether, however, claims that the long-held assumption behind the ticket’s authorship does not stand up to close scrutiny. “The style of expression in the top half of the ticket is terse, minimalist and monochromatic,” he explained at length to anyone who might listen. “Whereas the lower half consists of sections with actual verbal style and syntax – clearly not the work of the same person – or, I should say, persons, because within that very lower section there are glaring stylistic and design differences between the right and left portions of the document. Just look at the check-box format in the left section, versus the red-typeface instruction/warning box on the right. Why would a single author make such an unnecessary change? The only reasonable conclusion is that this ticket was redacted from multiple sources over time.” Therefore, he claims, the ticket should be invalidated and any penalties and fines canceled.
“Furthermore,” continued Meriwether, “the left-hand margin explicitly notes that this is but one copy of several, and everyone knows the pitfalls of multiple copies in trying to establish the authentic original text, let alone accurately assessing its true authorship.”
It is unclear whether the Massachusetts Traffic Court, which is scheduled to hear Meriwether’s defense at 9:40 this morning, will accept his defense. “It could go either way, I think,” said Linda Katz, a Yale University professor of Latin and Greek who has been following the case. “Academics have little problem accepting the idea that documents long assumed to be the work of an individual were actually woven together from disparate pieces – the book of Isaiah, for example. But who will the judge be in this case? Massachusetts has no shortage of Traffic Court judges who fancy themselves qualified for more intellectually weighty judicial positions, and who might even know a thing or two about Biblical scholarship – but the professor here might just as easily find himself opposite a seat-of-the-pants judge who doesn’t buy anything the common man can’t understand easily.”
This is not the first time the Semitic Languages professor has tried to employ the tools of his scholarship to areas other than ancient Near-Eastern text. When visiting the optometrist in 2004, Meriwether asked her whether she was aware that the different sizes of letters on each line of her eye chart, and its completely nonsensical content, were an excellent example of Lectio difficilior potior – all things being equal, the more difficult reading is preferred, and thus her chart was likely as close to its original version as could be hoped.
At press time, Meriwether was rehearsing his defense for a bewildered audience of eight fellow defendants.
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It has been nearly five centuries since the universe’s shift from an Earth-centered solar system to one in which the planets orbit the sun, but the heavenly bodies are still acclimating.
For billions of years, the planets and stars were embedded in crystal spheres that circled the Earth. Ancient humans spent years tracking and describing the movements of the spheres, which would play music as they rotated through the cosmos.
Sometime after the year 1500, however, the heavens underwent a radical reorganization. For reasons still not entirely clear, from the sixteenth century onward it became more and more common to see descriptions of the planets, stars and other celestial bodies not as embedded in spheres that circled Earth, but as orbiting the sun.
Though the shift was gradual in human terms, on the cosmic scale the changes were all but instantaneous, generating trauma throughout the universe. No longer embedded safely in crystal spheres or inert ether, the planets and stars became eerily suspended in empty space, held intact and on course through gravity.
Gravity itself, previously an occult force, was transformed into a function of mass and distance, a change which Newton famously described. The debris created by the vast shifts also created an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and new planetary bodies come into existence – Uranus in 1781, Neptune in 1846 and Pluto in 1930.
But even those changes were hardly smooth. When Galileo observed what later became the planet Neptune in 1612 and 1613, he called it a star, indicating that not only have celestial bodies’ positions changed, their very composition has undergone a radical shift. A similar phenomenon was observed in more recent years when Pluto, which came into existence as a planet in 1930, transformed into a “Plutoid” in 2006. Astronomers are uncertain as to what changed in Pluto’s nature during that time, but it is possible that as a young, more recent arrival to the solar system, its composition and mass may be less static than other, more venerable celestial figures.
The changes in outer space have not been restricted to our neighborhood. New planets have sprouted around distant stars – first, very massive, Jupiter-sized planets, and then smaller bodies closer to the size of Earth. The leading theory explaining the sudden appearance of so many exoplanets, as they are called, states that the spheres in which the stars and planets had been embedded had to be shattered for the grand restructuring to take place, and the fragments of the spheres coalesced into discrete bodies – first the loose, larger exoplanets, followed by the more compact, solid ones.
When the Hubble telescope found countless new galaxies in distant space less than a decade ago, astronomers were abuzz: never before had they seen spontaneous creation on such a massive scale. The Prime Mover, whose previous function was to rotate the spheres and control the movements of the heavenly bodies, had returned to a long-neglected activity: creation ex nihilo.
But changes in composition, size and orbit are not the only shifts that took place in the cosmos: the stars, though they seem not to have changed visibly, have lost their utility as predictors of the future. Whereas the constellations through which the sun appears to move once held sway over the destinies of individuals and societies on Earth, astronomers have not observed that phenomenon in recent decades. No new role seems to have been assigned to the stars, but with the galactic reorganization still apparently in progress, astronomers are loath to draw conclusions about any permanent state of affairs – the Static Model is apparently no longer accurate.
MIT astronomers plan to study these shifts further in the coming decades, including a meta-analysis of whether the changes bear a strong correlation with tectonic shifts in other sciences such as medicine, in which, for example, treatment by bloodletting and leeches no longer produces the desired outcomes.
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Originally published 21 October 2010
My dearest love,
You know I would never leave you. Nor would I introduce a letter to you with that idea, thereby calling to mind the dreaded possibility of our relationship’s end. Far be it from me to frighten you so. I so adore you, the very idea of somehow diminishing or ceasing that adoration is something I could only mention if it were possible for me to consider, and you can see how that remains inconceivable.
As a token of my undying affection for you, I have enclosed a handful of dried grass: just as the grass will remain in its undisturbed state, so too will my love for you obtain until our last physical vestiges are turned to compost by the soil’s bacteria. You will also find in this carefully wrapped parcel of my love two further tokens of my devotion: a painstakingly preserved specimen of camel excrement from the sands of sun-baked Arabia, and the plaster cast of a Tibetan monk’s amputated left leg. The camel dung expresses as nothing else can the hope I have for the growth we can foster in this relationship; the cast, the distance I am willing to journey to be by your side even if you should ever become mute, lame and alien.
Be not perturbed, my angel, by rumors of dalliances or liaisons in my past or present; they are but distractions in this cesspool of powerful passion, and as false or irrelevant as a slug crawling through a rotting llama carcass, which slugs do not do. I would do so for you, however. In fact, darling, I did so not minutes ago as I prepared to write this letter, just knowing what such a display of dedication to you it constitutes. I shudder with excitement from your reaction to the thought that I wallowed in that muck immediately proximate to the loving caresses I gave this paper before sending it your way.
So be strong, love, and write back if possible. I shall rush to be by your sanitorium bedside as soon as circumstances permit.
All my love,
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Cambridge, MA (AP) – Leading thinkers have taken up the issue of the New York Mets – specifically, whether the team’s disappointing performance in the second half of the season constitutes the kind of rock-bottom situation that by definition makes getting worse impossible.
At a conference on the subject hosted by Harvard University this week, advocates for the can’t-get-worse position argued that the cumulative frustration and wasted efforts outweigh any bright spots in the season’s play, such as pitcher R.A. Dickey’s Cy-Young-Award-worthy year. In fact, they contend, such bright spots make the situation that much worse, underlining the otherwise dismal win-loss statistics.
Opponents countered with comparisons to other teams that have done significantly worse, at least in terms of winning percentage, such as the Mets themselves – in their debut season of 1962, when they struggled to win forty games.
That piece of evidence failed to sway advocates of the can’t-get-worse school, who, in a detailed rebuttal, dismissed “mere win-loss records,” explaining that other circumstances must be taken into account. While it is true, they concede, that teams in their first several years do not play as well as their opponents, no one expects them to play very well, and the consequent disappointment barely registers, minimizing the relevance of the Mets’ first season. As further evidence they adduce the Washington Nationals, Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays, among others, whose less-than-stellar initial seasons were greeted not with the bitterness and anger that so characterizes the life of the Mets fan, but with hope and excitement over the latent potential of a developing franchise, with which Mets fans long ago ceased to be familiar.
Today’s Mets Fan, they argue, roots for a franchise that has appeared in four World Series and won two of them – the first one a mere seven years after the team’s inception. Consequently, the aggregate frustration and disappointment, building since 1986, their last championship, combined with the emotional fallout from the owners’ involvement with Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi Scheme, make this season the worst possible.
Perversely, even the Chicago Cubs, long a punchline of jokes about futility, enjoy a less pathetic status than the Mets, the argument continues. Although the Cubs last won a World Series in 1907, their fans long ago came to terms with the team’s accursed state, so more than a century of failure hardly moves them anymore. The Cubs flirted briefly with success in the late nineties, but inevitably collapsed in the playoffs and have yet to be heard from since.
A similar argument is made regarding the Cleveland Indians, whose last championship was in 1954, and who lost to the Atlanta Braves in the 1995 World Series. Moreover, that team represents Cleveland, from which no one ever expects anything beyond mediocrity and bad weather.
The conference ended without a satisfying conclusion either way, an apt metaphor for the team under discussion.
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New York (AP) – In a radical departure from its bread and butter, in its upcoming season the hit TV series Glee will feature the avant-garde music 4’33″ by twentieth-century composer John Cage, consisting entirely of the incidental sounds occurring in the concert hall at the time of the performance.
The show, about the relationships and growth of a group of fictional high school musical performers, is entering its fifth season, and generally relies on popular songs and classic Broadway show tunes for its musical material. There are also a handful of original compositions in its repertory. But this foray into the conceptual classical music genre represents uncharted territory for the Fox network drama.
The songs featured in each weekly Glee episode are made available for online purchase and download during the week that episode is set to air, and it is unclear how the audience will react to a file that contains no intentional sounds, let alone the tonal music it has come to expect. The episode containing the Cage piece, by far his most famous, is set to air in October. Cage died in 1992.
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Cooperstown, NY (AP) – At a press conference today at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Rocky Roe, head of the Major League Baseball Umpire’s Union, announced what fans across the country have long suspected: that umpires have no idea where the ball is most of the time, and they simply guess.
The few occasions on which the umpires are 100% confident in their calls involve video review, when they can view the ball’s path in slow motion repeatedly before ruling conclusively. However, video review is only used in cases of possible or disputed home runs, and not for other plays, lest the game be slowed down even more than its normal, molasses-like pace.
The ramifications for this season are still unclear. With several tight races for playoff positions currently underway, fans will no doubt demand that the season be played out to its conclusion no matter what, and their money is a powerful factor in any decision. But the players, owners and umpires themselves will not necessarily be of one mind about the rest of the year.
As for why it took this long to come out and say it, Roe attributes the union’s silence heretofore to the confident tone that umpires are trained to adopt when issuing calls. Since the players themselves tend to defer to the officials on the field – and failure to do so often results in ejection and other disciplinary action – there has been little standing on the way of the umpires’ continued groping in the dark, as long as they make their calls with authority in their voices.
But the prospect of officiating for the rest of yet another grueling season, especially with unusually hot weather in most ballparks this year, helped finally overcome opposition among the umpires to simply admitting they’ve been clueless for nearly forty years. Many umpires now hope the rest of the season can be canceled, and that they can preserve the last vestiges of their dignity, which, Roe concedes, barely exists in the first place, given the comical uniforms, equipment, sounds and gestures they are called upon to use each day on the field.
In earlier years, when both players and umpires were generally less fit than today’s athletes, keeping track of the ball, while challenging, was still possible for most umpires. “Once players in general began paying attention to overall fitness and athletic ability, umpires couldn’t keep up with the speed of pitches, swings and throws on the field, and it became a more and more elaborate guessing game,” according to Bill James, a noted baseball statistician and analyst. “For a while the umpires have been floating the idea of performance-enhancing drugs to help them maintain certain reflexes, but their collective moral compass eventually won out.”
The consequences of the announcement remain to be seen, as Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, has yet to publicly respond to these developments, and the Players’ Union representative, Donald Fehr, attended the press conference but was struck dumb and unable to answer questions.
Tony LaRussa, the recently retired manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, and one who has spent the vast majority of his adult life playing or managing baseball, said that every player knew there were cases in which the umpires clearly made the wrong call, but that was accepted as part of the game and considered relatively rare, if frustrating for the players and managers. But given these revelations about the systematic cluelessness of the officials, LaRussa proposes computerizing the umpires’ jobs and eliminating that problem entirely.
“It’s not just a question of accuracy, of which we’ve had none for decades,” he mused. “It’s also safer for the players not to have a bunch of overweight, middle-aged grouches getting in the way all the time and potentially disrupting every single play on the field. I mean, that’s the managers’ job description.”
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