Saturday, December 29, 2007

Polls agree and disagree: Edwards is looking good.

There's no end of polls being offered up these days, and there's a seemingly endless number of conclusions they're offering. My gut feeling is that Edwards is leading on the Democratic side, while Barack Obama is going to wind up melting down. Obama's big problem is that he's relying on younger voters to caucus for him, which never works out—just ask President McGovern. I suspect Obama's not going to be able to recover from a third-place finish in Iowa, with Senator Clinton coming in second and Senator Edwards taking a handy first. For a long time I thought winning Iowa wouldn't matter to results in New Hampshire, but now I'm thinking differently.

There's an old chestnut that says that "New Hampshire is a county in Iowa," which means that Edwards will be looking at a New Hampshire bounce if he wins in Iowa. I think his New Hampshire bounce will be stronger than usual for Iowa winners because Edwards will win over many Obama supporters if he does well in Iowa and Obama does not. Of course, if it turns out that Obama does well in Iowa and Edwards does not, then Edwards' supporters will shift to Obama. It's not likely that Clinton would mop up many supporters from either of these candidates.

If Edwards can come in first in Iowa and New Hampshire—which seems very plausible—he'll be looking good for the general. Clinton will resort to making much hay out of Michigan and Florida, while putting much effort into keeping her strong lead in much-ignored Nevada and into winning South Carolina (which she could very well do.) However, Edwards would have the momentum at this point, and while you certainly couldn't count Clinton out at this point, Edwards would be the favorite à la John Kerry in 2004.

At least, that's how the tarot cards read this time. There'll be attempts at jockeying for position over the next five days, and then it's over. But I'll tell you: I've made up my mind about how this nomination's going to play out so many times, and I have yet to reach the same conclusion twice. We'll just have to keep an eye on Iowa and hope that things turn out the way we want them to.

As to the Republicans: I think Mike Huckabee has peaked, and that Mitt Romney will wind up winning the state—if any Republicans bother to show up to caucus. Don't expect John McCain to do well here. He'll have trouble making up ground in New Hampshire, too, suffice it to say. Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans are unusually unexcited this year, according to reports I've been hearing, and according to these persistent gut feelings I've been getting. (If I turn out to be wrong, though, then I'd better get to a doctor, because these feelings clearly mean something else!)

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

CNN: Space Shuttle traveled 18 times the speed of light

The CNN headline is not necessarily inaccurate because what we accept as the standard speed of light, 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) per second, is more of an average of the speeds of faster and slower lights.

Ordinary light, like what we typically get from the sun, typically sticks to the average speed of light. However, here in Boston it's overcast, so when the light hits the clouds it has to slow down considerably. When the light gets through the clouds it's slowed down, which is why things look grayer right now. On bright days, when there are no clouds to impede the light, it can come rushing right at the earth, and its speed makes it seem brighter. Brightness is relative to the speed of light, which is what the Theory of Relativity is all about. The Space Shuttle, flying on a cloudy day and over a part of the country without a lot of artificial light emanating from it, was flying relatively faster than the light in that area at that time. Since the light was that much slower, it rubbed against the panels on the side of the shuttle, causing it to break up, which is why seatbelts are important, but that's a discussion for another time.

Scientists have pointed out that faster-than-light travel is not possible, but if a craft is surrounded by fast light, it doesn't need to be. Light can be made faster artificially. You've no doubt seen strobe lights, haven't you? That's very fast light. If the Space Shuttle were surrounded by strobe lights, this risk would be averted, but there's a certain controversy about doing this because such flashing light would drive the astronauts nuts. Currently NASA is working on a new Space Shuttle with faster strobe lights on the outside but with slower mood lighting on the inside, which should cancel out the fast-light effect on the inside of the Space Shuttle, making things much more pleasant for the astronauts.

Current strobe light technology can get light moving at as much as six times the speed of ordinary light, and much, much faster than the slow, overcast light of that day of the tragic Space Shuttle accident, so many think this is the solution. However, a faction of NASA scientists who were homeschooled in Intelligent Astrophysics are quick to point out that Relativity is only a theory, and are working on a rival faith-powered version of the shuttle equipped with Gideon Bibles and festooned with St. Christopher statues.

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Competing intelligent design theories in Florida: both lose

It's becoming more and more well known that there is more than one version of intelligent design theory out there. Both could be used with equal efficacity to replace our current notions of science, and both are equally valid. And both recently went to war with each other to wield influence in the Polk County, Florida school board.

The more widely known version of intelligent design holds that life is so miraculously complex that only a supremely intelligent, omniscient and divine mind could have designed it, which is why and how we have all the life there is today. It doesn't specifically state that a particular deity (or deities) created all life, but intelligent design does jibe pretty well with the story of the god of Abraham, who, as the story goes, created all things and all life in just six days, and is the god around whom all sects of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are based. This version of intelligent design was gaining traction in Polk County, where school board members were preparing to vote for it and against the teaching of evolution. Evolution is science and not religion. It makes no reference to any kind of god whatsoever; it just talks about how life came (and comes) to be.

Now this is America, where we respect free worship. And since we obviously will accept substitutes for science that are fueled by the god of Abraham, we need also consider substitutes for science that are fueled by, well, pasta. That's to say, when the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster piped up and insisted that *its* version of intelligent design also be taught in Polk County schools, the school board reacted in a peculiar way: it denied everyone the right to have science taught alongside a particular theology's divine notions and just went with evolution. The ascent of man and the simultaneous descent of the god of Abraham and the descent of pasta. Is it really right that schools should expose children to the notion that the god of Abraham basically *thought* the world into existence in less than a week, while not offering them the equally plausible (if not *more* plausible) explanation that the Flying Spaghetti Monster intelligently designed the entire universe with his noodly appendage? This is easier to believe. After all, if you walk down the aisles of your local supermarket, you'll see spaghetti, but will you see God? Try this some time and find out. Your tired religious convictions might do well to have something of a fresh perspective. One of the school board members who had been pushing for the teaching of the (god of Abraham-style) intelligent design said that when she originally proposed it, she didn't realize she'd be "on the front page of the [Lakeland, Florida] Ledger indicating that I opposed evolution."

So god of Abraham-style intelligent design has gone down to defeat, and so has Flying Spaghetti Monster-style intelligent design. I suppose this is fair, though I'm disappointed in the way children are denied the opportunity to learn about both of these equally valid theories. It's also a bit impractical at the moment to do this. Consider that the revelations of the Flying Spaghetti Monster happened only in 2005. Consider also that they have spread faster and more widely than any of the Abrahamic faiths ever did this early on—this is solid testament to these revelations' intrinsic truths. But the literature about the Flying Spaghetti Monster is pretty sparse. There's the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, available at for thirteen bucks, but there's no textbook out there that teaches both Darwinian evolution and Flying Spaghetti Monsterist intelligent design, much less a text book that also includes that bit from Genesis. Some publisher could no doubt whip one up that teaches all three, should the need arise, but unfortunately this case in Florida ended with the kids being stuck with nothing but science.

I've never seen the Flying Spaghetti Monster's noodly appendage, but I know it's there and is just as real as the hand of God. Let us pray with all the power of the spiciest meatball that Flying Spaghetti Monsterism gets its fair shake in our shaky education system that is closed-minded enough to consider only two possibilities.

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