if it can happen, it will happen

Capt John Paul StappCapt John Paul Stapp endures enormous deceleration forces in tests that lead to far reaching improvements in transportation safety, including the adoption of automobile seat belts Murphy’s Law is a wonderful thing, and so is this article about it by Nick T. Spark. Learn why everything you think you know about Murphy’s Law is wrong, and what rocket sleds have to do with it, and how the fearless and deeply human medic who made it popular may, with Ralph Nader’s help, have saved your life.
The article is from the Annals of Improbable Research (which has its own blog) by way of this AIR column in the Guardian. (via Sisyphus Shrugged; scroll down) The photos, which I swiped from the AIR article, belong to Edwards Air Force Base and show Capt John Paul Stapp, who turns out to be rather more interesting than Ed Murphy.

file under “sure would be nice”

I thought this an appropriate time to recycle something that made the rounds a while back: Open Debates is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to reforming the presidential debate process. Presidential debates have been a part of the campaign cycle since 1976. They were originally run by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, who pulled out in 1988 in protest over attempts by both parties to control every aspect of the debates, saying

…It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.

Sounds about right, given what I’ve seen of this year’s “debates”. No follow-up questions, no public questions, no willingness whatsoever to face even their opponents, let alone the people. Spineless and disgusting. In the wake of LoWV’s principled withdrawal, the two major parties put together the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is essentially a way for them to maintain secret control over every detail of the debates. Worse, there appears to be a significant degree of input from corporate interests. The best democracy money can buy, indeed.
Open Debates supports the Citizens’ Debate Commission, who describe themselves as “a nonpartisan organization that was established to sponsor future general election presidential debates [and] consists of national civic leaders from the left, center and right of the political spectrum who are committed to maximizing voter education”. The Commission has seventeen members and an Advisory Board of over fifty community organisations. The proposed structure of future debates is as follows:
1. Participants to be selected according to criteria developed by the Appleseed Citizens’ Task Force on Fair Debates, part of the Appleseed Electoral Reform Project at American University’s Washington College of Law: third party candidates will be included if they make enough state ballots to win an electoral college majority and either register at five percent in national polls (designed to match eligibility for federal campaign funding) or register a majority in national polls asking eligible voters who should participate. The idea is to allow third party candidates with a reasonable level of support to take part, without drowning out majority candidates.
2. Schedule: five 90-minute presidential debates and one 90-minute vice-presidential debate at colleges and universities across the country.
3. Rules:

  1. Follow-up questions must be permitted in every debate.
  2. At least one debate must include candidate-to-candidate questioning.
  3. At least two debates must include rebuttals and surrebuttals.
  4. Response times must not be overly restrictive.
  5. Candidates may only exercise a limited number of vetoes concerning the selection of moderators and panelists.

4. Formats:

  1. Two single moderator debates, at least one to feature direct candidate-to-candidate questioning, loose time restrictions and minimal interference from the moderator.
  2. Authentic town-hall debate: no screening of questions, audience to be a valid cross-section of America.
  3. Youth debate: selbstverständlich.
  4. Panel debate: questions from a panel of academic, civic, artistic, religious, media, labor and business leaders/experts.

Elected leaders should be accountable. Run properly, the presidential debates could force the major parties to face the people on every issue, not just the comfortable ones. It’s not enough — a good hard look at the presidential candidates once every four years — but it’s a start. Go here to see what you can do to make it happen. If nothing else, at least sign the petition.

sunlight on a wall

Edward Hopper once said that all he ever really wanted to paint was sunlight on a wall, a comment that affected me powerfully when I first read it and has remained with me ever since. I think of it often, particularly when I see something simple and beautiful. This is sunlight in the corridor at work.

round two: bleah

Online polls at about 8:00 – 8:30 pm:
CNN.com: Edwards 82%, Cheney 14%, tie 4% (54524 votes)
Orlando Sentinel: Edwards 75%, Cheney 25% (30004 votes)
MSNBC: Edwards 76%, Cheney 24% (186952 votes)
Akron Beacon-Journal: Edwards 98%, Cheney 2% (19843 votes)
Fox News: Edwards 57%, Cheney 41%, didn’t watch 1%, nota 1% (39639 votes)
Wall Street Journal: Edwards 95%, Cheney 4%, tie 1% (6152 votes)
Newsday.com: Edwards 96%, Cheney 4% (22666 votes)
CBS News: Edwards 78%, Cheney 21%, tie 2% (no numbers available)
CBS03 Philadelphia: Edwards 83%, Cheney 17% (2591 votes)
Houston Chronicle: Edwards 90%, Cheney 10% (1737 votes)
Detroit News: Edwards 89%, Cheney 11% (no numbers available)
Campaign Online: Edwards 95%, Cheney 5% (no numbers available)
Boston.com: Edwards 84%, Cheney 11%, tie 4%, both poor 1% (3982 votes)
Huh. I’d have thought this one would have tipped to Cheney. Not that the mendacious moneygrub didn’t lie through his teeth more or less constantly, but to my mind Edwards let him get away with it. To illustrate, here’s one of the few Edwards got right:
C: Kerry has voted 98 times to raise taxes
E: yes, and he’s voted over six hundred times to cut them
That is exactly the sort of misleading cherry-picking of data that Cheney did all night, and I wish Edwards had nailed him for it every time and pointed out what Cheney was up to. Alternet predicted many of Cheney’s lies, and provides the facts that Edwards should have had at his fingertips. For instance, Cheney claimed never to have met Edwards; it shouldn’t have taken Edwards more than ten seconds to point out that lie. That was in reference to Edwards’ attendance record, to which Bush’s record-breaking holiday habit was a readymade reply that Edwards didn’t bother with. I could go on, but it’s too depressing.
The spousal unit made another depressing observation: perhaps Cheney’s wonk act turned people off — the wonkiness, that is, not the fact that it was a carefully scripted series of deceptions. Gah. I’d hate to think Edwards could win by spouting generalities and generally being handsome, but I guess I’ll take it if it gets Apocalypse Inc out of the White House.
Two upbeat points before bed. First, in light of recent polls showing that up to 40% of Americans still think there is/was some link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, Edwards’ insistence on the truth in that instance makes more sense, and may have done some real swaying of votes. Second, spousal unit reports that the post-debate factchecking on CNN was harsh on Cheney’s lies, so maybe there’s a wider awareness of his deceitful nature than I’d thought.

hippo birdies

I missed most of your first four decades,
which is probably just as well —
I was kind of an asshole
and you had your own brand of hell;
but all of that stuff about “sunshine through clouds”
and “so happy I’m almost in tears”
is as true as it’s gauche — so you’re stuck with me now,
and here’s to the next forty years!

Happy birthday, spousal unit.

Posted in joy