Monday, July 27, 2009

Steering Wheel Use Found To Be Associated With Traffic Accidents

by Benjo

I'm posting this article for the benefit of any of you who might be drivers. These days, people will use their steering wheel without a second thought, leaving neither hand free. Be careful out there.

Distractions from steering wheels cause tens of thousands of car accidents each year, according to a new study by statisticians Richard French and Ainsley Waring. Their research, which will be published in next month's issue of Science, finds that steering wheels are a factor in 95 percent or more of traffic accidents.

The study found that hands-free steering wheel use is not any better, as drivers may become complacent, with the expectation that their car will steer itself.

Despite the study's findings, many have continued to use their steering wheel, angering public-safety advocates. “It is not fair to the other drivers on the road for you to put their lives at risk so you can have a few seconds of convenience,” said highway patroller Mike Cary. “You need to use your steering wheel? Fine. But pull over before you do it.”

However, any choice regarding steering-wheel use is likely to leave the public's hands soon—literally. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has scheduled hearings on a steering-wheel ban for just after the August recess, and are expected to pass legislation by the end of the year.

But some public-safety advocates complain that a steering-wheel ban does not go far enough. “Engines, ignitions, gas pedals, and drivers' seats provide just as much of a hazard to drivers,” said Terry McCourt, of Car Safety Now. “Not until these features are removed is a car really safe.”

The study is posed to reopen other long-closed issues of car safety as well. An analysis published in the Economist this week shows that nearly all deaths previously assumed to be alcohol-related appear also to have included a steering wheel, raising questions about whether it was the alcohol or the steering wheel that caused the accident.

Despite the overwhelming evidence supporting its conclusions, the study continues to face some skepticism. "I've been driving for thirty years and using a steering wheel that whole time," said Florette Watkins, 42. "It sure doesn't seem dangerous to me." However, French, one of the co-authors of the study, attributed Watkins's statement to a common logical fallacy. "Causation does not imply correlation," French pointed out.

French and Waring are best-known for their landmark 2006 study that proved that the administration of last rites was the leading cause of death in Catholics. Waring is currently working on the follow-up to his 2008 bestseller, Those Who Breathe, Die.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Army Developing Unmanned Targets For Use In Afghanistan

by Benjo

I was as devastated as you were by the news that Congress halted production of the F-22. Thankfully, we have ourselves an Army that's incredibly diligent about coming up with urgent new technologies that require our funding, so we don't have to worry about the government ending up with extraneous cash. Here's an excerpt of an article about one such innovation:
Following the success of unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Predator, the U.S. Army has been developing a high-tech unmanned target. Called the Prey, the targets are expected to be deployed in the treacherous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan as early as December.

The drone targets will be self-powered, requiring no human control, but will otherwise function identically to traditional targets.

“They will be spotted, targeted, attacked, and destroyed in exactly the same way as if they were manned; however, there will be no casualties,” said Jackson Wallace of Raytheon, the defense contractor developing the Prey.

When asked what the practical purpose of the drone targets will be, an Army spokesperson pointed out that that was a good question.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Judge Sentenced To 2 Years After Defendant Invokes “I'm Rubber, You're Glue” Provision

by Benjo

My thoughts are with the judge's family:
Judge Harold S. Marsh of Prescott, Minnesota, was sentenced to two years in prison yesterday after defendant Michael Holcomb invoked the “I'm rubber, you're glue” provision, which allows a statement to bounce off of a listener and stick to its speaker. Holcomb, whose trial had previously been suspended due to an inflagration of a witness's pants believed to have been caused by a lie told on the witness stand, was released shortly after the sentence was announced. Authorities say he will face no further prosecution for his crime of stealing the cookies from the cookie jar.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chief Justice Roberts To Break Up Supreme Court, Pursue Solo Career

by Benjo

I'm devastated--the Supreme Court was always my favorite court, but I've never gotten a chance to see them live. I'll definitely go check out Roberts, but without Justices Breyer and Scalia on backing questions, it just won't be the same.
The Supreme Court of the United States will break up at the end of the term, allowing front man and Chief Justice John Roberts to pursue a solo career, sources say.

“John has felt like the Court has really been holding him back creatively,” said Edward Stapleton, a former clerk for Roberts who is close to the Chief Justice. “He does believe there are a lot of strong justices on the Court, don't get me wrong; but he is clearly the most talented. And he's definitely got the star power to make it as a solo justice.”

The Supreme Court has been together for 220 years, and has had rotating lineups throughout that time. Indeed, the Court currently includes none of its founding members, but has nonetheless continued to adjudicate under the original Supreme Court name.

According to law professor James Wicket, “They're like Santana in that way: you might have a new keyboardist, or Associate Justice, or what have you, but the ethos is the same.” Wicket noted that “The group Santana does have that guy Carlos Santana, who's been with them the whole time. Now there is no Carlos Supreme. But if there was, it would be Roberts, no question. He is the Court's backbone.”

Stapleton, the former clerk, and others have confirmed that Roberts has considered adjudicating under the moniker Carlos Supreme. As for what he will adjudicate, Stapleton said that Roberts is not opposed to re-adjudicating some of the classic cases from his days with the Court, but he will focus on new material.

According to Stapleton, Chief Justice Roberts had been pondering the decision to go solo since the Morse v. Frederick case in 2007. “He wrote the majority opinion, and thought the case was going to be huge,” Stapleton said. “But in the end, he felt that Justice Stevens's dissent prevented the case from becoming the huge hit that it could have been.”

Since joining the Court in 2005, Roberts has steered it in a direction that distinguished it from the Courts of preceding decades. “He was never interested in the synthesized stuff in the Court's opinions from the 80s—he found it, frankly, cheesy,” Stapleton said. “Ditto the grunge Court of the 90s. He's always been an independent guy, so it makes perfect sense that the Roberts Court has been the indie court.”

Despite the increased independence that Roberts will now enjoy, many question the wisdom of the breakup. Legal historian Linus Loriander points out that other justices have pursued solo careers in the past, only to find that their formulas did not work as well without their backing justices.

“They often find their courthouses empty within a few years. When you're accustomed to the roar of the giant crowds in the Supreme Court Chamber, that's hard to take,” Loriander said, noting that over half of justices who pursue solo careers end up reuniting with their original Court within a few years.

But some claim that visibility has nothing to do with the breakup. According to one Supreme Court clerk, Roberts's reasons for quitting are related more to his personal habits.

“It's the partying, period,” said the clerk. “Having been backstage at the Court, I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it. The celebrities, the intoxication, the groupies—all of whom flock to Roberts.” The clerk continued, “When his wife left him, that was a blow. When he had to go to rehab, it hurt, for certain. But I think the moment when it became crystal clear that the Roberts train had to stop was when the Chief Justice found himself blowing lines off Ruth Bader Ginsburg's tits.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

Spearmint-Filled Cigarette Helps Gum Addicts Beat Their Habit

by Benjo

I'm not a gum chewer, but this will surely be welcome news for some of you. Now if they'd only make a cigarette that will help me beat my addiction to Gossip Girls!

In an effort to wean heavy chewers off of gum, Philip Morris has recently introduced Bubbarette, a cigarette filled with spearmint leaves and other gum-flavored fillings.

“In months of testing, Bubbarette helped over 95% of chewers beat their addiction,” said company spokesman Donald Middlecross. “The cigarettes are safe, they're tasty, and they leave your clothes smelling minty-fresh. And best of all, they won't rot the teeth like gum, so even kids can smoke them.”

Indeed, as some of the most dedicated gum chewers, children are expected to be some of the heaviest Bubbarette smokers.

Pediatrician Jay Gorman says this is a good thing. “If kids smoke Bubbarettes, it's probably the most effective way to ensure that they don't develop a lifelong dependency on one of the most harmful habits out there: chewing gum.”

Third-grade teacher Dina Withers says that Bubbarettes will also help keep order in her classroom. “I'm thrilled. I'm never going to have to get on my knees and pick a cigarette off the bottom of a desk, because they don't stick. Plus, Bubbarettes have made my classroom smell delicious.”

Critics warn of the dangers of second-hand mint. Studies have shown that being in the same room as someone who has smoked seven Bubbarettes will leave an individual's breath just as minty as if she had smoked one Bubbarette herself.

Such criticisms have not derailed Philip Morris's efforts, however. Bubbarette (formerly known as Ciga Yum) currently exists in just spearmint and peppermint, but the company will soon add three more flavors: Cotton Candy; FruitStripe, which is a striped cigarette; and Sour Blueberry, which colors the tongue blue when smoked.

Bubbarettes work by gradually weaning chewers off of gum over the course of 12 weeks. While the first cigarettes are 100% mint leaves, mint is gradually removed and replaced by tobacco. By the twelfth week, the cigarettes are pure tobacco. Philip Morris recommends that chewers continue to smoke even after the twelfth week to prevent relapses.

“The gradual nature of the Bubbarette system has been key to my efforts to quit chewing,” said Darren Leonard of Wabash. “I tried to quit cold-turkey once, but the withdrawals were too intense. Now, I'm only two weeks away from the end of my program, and it feels great. I've never sat in the non-chewing section at a restaurant before. Now I'll finally have my chance.”

Leonard mentioned that, as the cigarettes have become filled with less mint and more tobacco, he has begun craving the cigarettes. “I don't know why that's happening, but it's fine with me,” Leonard said with a laugh. “Whatever it takes to get me off this nasty gum kick.”

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Congress To Be Renamed After Corporate Sponsors

by Benjo

I've always been a proponent of spicing up the names of the houses of Congress. To that effect, I might have preferred something like the Tabasco Senate, or Dave's Insanity Senate. But this is a step in the right direction. An excerpt of the article:
Amid continuing financial woes, President Barack Obama signed into law the Congressional Nomenclature Amendment Act, which will provide corporate sponsorship for both houses of Congress.

In accordance with the new law, when Congress reconvenes on July 6 following their Independence Day recess, they will do so as the Verizon Senate and the International House of Representatives, or IHOR.

The bill, which will not directly plug spending holes in any government programs, but will instead provide $12.2 million to finance pay increases for members of Congress, passed the Senate last week by a 98-0 margin.

The move brought criticism from government watchdog groups, who worried about conflicts of interest. “Is a Senator going to be able to vote on a telecom bill that hurts Verizon?” asked Congress Watch spokesman Brian Levin. “We think not.”

Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona, a member of the Dunkin' Donuts Republican Party, disagreed. “Voters elected us in part because they know we have integrity. Why should the name of the building we're in change that?”

John Kerry, the USAir Junior Senator from Massachusetts, agreed with Franks. “Saying my legislation will be favorable to telecoms because I'm working in the Verizon Senate is like saying that Carlos Pena's home runs will be favorable to orange juice because he plays in Tropicana Field. It just doesn't make sense,” Senator Kerry said. “Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go hold a hearing on airline subsidies.”

Already, some conflicts have arisen. The General Motors Corporation is said to be interested in sponsoring its main subsidiary, Government Motors, which the federal government took over and renamed earlier this year. If that and GM's proposed sponsorship of the Department of Motor Vehicles move forward, sources say that the latter will be renamed the General Motors Government Motors Department of Motor Vehicles.

The sponsoring companies saw the deal as a major boost for business. "We project this will lead to millions in additional annual revenues," said IHOP spokesman James Schwenker. Schwenker denied reports of remaining tension from an earlier version of the deal that fell through, saying, "Sure, in an ideal world, we would have liked them to take the name International House of Representative-cakes. But all in all, we are very happy with how things have ended up."