Tuesday, July 31, 2007

From the Giuliani Campaign Trail

I'm in New Hampshire this week, and one of the cool things about New Hampshire this summer is the fact that all the presidential canidates show up if you wait long enough! So today my family and I decided to act on a moment of opportunity and went to the nearby town of Rochester, New Hampshire to a campain stop for Mr. Rudy Giuliani.

As covered in The New York Times (man, it's always so cool to say you were somewhere the Times was!), his main speech at this stop was covering the issue of health care. It ends up- and I didn't realize it until I went online and searched for what reporters were saying- that this was Giuliani's unveiling of his plans for national health care in the United States, which explains the seemingly disproportionately large amount of media present!
You can't see it, but the back rows were completely filled with important-looking journalists typing away on laptops and the whole room was standing room only- it reminded me quite a bit of the 2004 Vice-Presidential Debates at CWRU.

Essentially, Giuliani's health care plan comes down to arguing that American health care is one of the greatest in the world (which I agree with- no one can argue the great quality of health care in this country for those who have insurance) and the main problem is the fact that there are people who can't afford insurance since truly poor people qualify for Medicaid. So he decided that the "American way" to do all this was to get more people to buy into health care plans on an indavidual basis (read: no longer through companies, and with tax incentives on it) so they could choose what plans they want, and the economy would thus make the prices decrease and make it more affordable. He also said he wanted to go through with tort reform (read: get rid of rediculous lawsuits) which excited me more than anything else he said today because I hate, hate, hate the current ligitous system in the United States for reasons that merit their own blog post in the future.

(Complete aside here, what's with the candidates referring to themselves by their first names this year? You know, "Rudy," "Hillary," etc. Yeah, it took me awhile to figure out how to spell Giuliani, but I already know that in the voting booth it's going to say "Rudolph Giuliani" and then where will all the "Rudy" supporters be?)

After the health care speech, Giuliani then had a "town hall" style forum in New England tradition, in which he took questions from members of the audience. I didn't get my own question out despite practically waving my hand around (I had a great question on civil liberties lined up too, hmph!), but the posed questions were all quite interesting and ranged from topics such as education and immigration and legalizing pot and whatever else you can think of... it's kind of hard to summarize such things, but the best I can do is by saying he got ovations from the (slightly para-)phrases "education should be in the hands of the parents, not the government" "we need to stop illegal immigration," and "I am for legal immigration, but assimilation of new immigrants should require the ability to read and speak English." Tort reform earlier also got an ovation, just to give you an idea of what ideas were successful.

Oh, and then afterwards Giuliani walked through the crowd a bit in order to shake hands and kiss babies and all that stuff politicians do. The thing is though, my sister and I stood right in front of him for a good minute, but he never shook our hands once! This was even after we sucked up a bit and thanked him for speaking and all that... hmph, the meanie. Let it be noted that the blogger is not amused.
In conclusion, I guess I should say something about what I think of Giuliani right? Well I must admit I was impressed- the man spoke very well and very rationally, something you don't often hear from politicians and thus made a good impression. Further, he took a very nice, libertarian stance on most things and I rather liked that as well... so I guess a good way of summing things up at this point is Giuliani is my favorite Republican because he really harks back to the Barry Goldwater type of Republican (you know, what the party is supposed to be when not taken over by religious nuts), but I can't act on it as I am a registered Independent, meaning I can't vote in party primaries in Ohio. Ah well, these things happen, but it was nonetheless interesting to go check out.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Kiwi Humor

Oh come on, you didn't think I was going to stop talking about New Zealand just because I'm no longer there, did you?

If you're luckier than me and have HBO, you might have come across a show Sunday nights known as Flight of the Conchords, which follows a Kiwi band of the same name ("New Zealand's fourth most popular folk parody duo") trying to make the big time in New York City. They are, thus far, my primary way to curb accent withdrawal symptoms and laugh at a good bit of Kiwi humor along the way. The following (titled Jenny) is my favorite-

In case you are too lazy to search YouTube yourself but still want to do some procrastination, check out The Humans Are Dead or Frodo, Don't Wear The Ring. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My New Wheels

Isn't it just gorgeous?

For those of you who don't know, I have been in the market for a new bicycle ever since I came back from New Zealand. This is because the old one was distinctly non-ridable when I left last winter: I'd bought it at Toys 'R Us for ~$100 when I was thirteen years old, and the lack of working breaks and plentiful amounts of rust sort of deemed that bike a public health hazard. I mean, it's borderline-excusable for college students to have bike a bike audible a block away due to five individual noises, but it's probably not so cool when you start realizing your legs are more efficient at helping you stop than the breaks.

So then I started looking into what sort of bicycle I wanted, I decided that I wanted one with style. I don't have a car, meaning my bicycle is my primary mode of transportation, so why not spring for a pretty one so long as it can get you to class or the grocery? And why not get one that's fun to ride while you're at it? Many bicycle stores and catalog-searches later, I finally found a bicycle store on the West Side that had a Raleigh Retroglide 7, which is a cruiser bike that looks lovely and has seven speeds to boot to tackle the primarily flat terrain of Cleveland. Hooray!

But anyway, I am in complete love with this bike, as is is the sort of bicycle that makes you feel like you can conquer the world while riding it, or at least the hill on the southern side of campus. You know how Plato had his idea that everything in the universe is an attempt at a perfect idealized object, and the ones we find most pleasing are the ones that approximate this idealized object the best? Well I am fairly certain that this bike is the "idea bicycle" of Plato's world, as it's just perfect. Now all I need to do is get my bicycle bell and basket out of storage...

Save the Kangaroos! Oh, wait...

The California Supreme Court issued a ruling Monday making it illegal for Adidas to sell kangaroo leather shoes in the state of California. These shoes are favored amongst soccer players (including LA Galaxy's David Beckham) but trading kangaroo skin was made illegal in California in 1971 because kangaroos were facing extinction at the time, and it is this state ban that the California courts upheld.

If you know much of anything about Australia or kangaroos, though, you will figure out very quickly that upholding a ban on kangaroo leather does not make much sense. Yes, the kangaroos were in a pretty bad state a few decades ago, but they have rebounded admirably thanks to the increase of cattle farms in the Australian bush (which provides nice grassy areas for the kangaroos to nibble). It is estimated that there are over 50 million kangaroos in Australia today, meaning they are so plentiful that you can order kangaroo in many an Australian restaurant (I've had it, it's similar to beef). In fact, the Australians need to cull several million kangaroos a year lest they destroy the ecosystem or die of starvation.

Noble as the efforts of the California courts are to save animal species, I am a little skeptical if they need to protect animal species that are culled by the millions each year to keep the population in check. Would it not be more useful to divert the funds which will be used to regulate the kangaroo skin ban to protect legitimately endangered species instead? I know most animals are not as cute and cuddly as the kangaroo, but if we are serious about conservation our attentions should focus more on the ones that legitimately need it.

(Thanks to Linda for the kangaroo picture!)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Research in High-Energy Astrophysics

I have finally finished the process of moving and returned to Cleveland, the land of old industry and flat terrain, but not all is lost because I have begun working on my senior project! Hooray! I am working with the High-Energy Astrophysics (HEA) group on campus that I started working on last summer, and while the project is not quite looking for aliens, it should be fun.

The (main) current focus in HEA has to do with high energy cosmic rays. In the early 90s, a group in Utah detected a subatomic particle from deep space (aka a cosmic ray) which had energies greater than fifty Joules. (For comparison, 50 J is about the amount of energy used in pitching a 60 mph baseball. Except a baseball is a lot bigger!) This discovery excited everyone greatly because it was theoretically impossible for such energies to be observed, and no one was really sure how these particles were given such huge energies or where they came from. As it is estimated that only one of these particles hits a square kilometer in a century, this did not really help in figuring out these questions much either.

In order to figure out what on Earth is going on, the Pierre Auger Observatory was built down in a remote corner of Argentina. The thing is huge: it covers an area the size of Rhode Island and consists of over a thousand detectors in an attempt to get a sizable amount of data. (One of these detectors is in the picture on the left.) They're collecting data as we speak, but in order to get a full scope of the sky there are plans underway to build a northern component to the observatory, which would be built in Colorado.

Anyway, the point of my project is to see if there's a cost-effective way of building a Cherenkov light detectors for the northern Auger. Cherenkov light this bluish radiation you see whenever something is moving faster than the speed of light in a medium- light doesn't travel as fast through air as it does through space, so if a high-velocity cosmic ray plows through the atmosphere faster than it should be going you see radiation as a result. This radiation can help you pinpoint how much energy your cosmic ray had in the first place, so if you could distribute weatherproof, cost-effective Cherenkov light detectors in the field would be really cool.

Two other seniors have had this as their project already which has proven to be both a good and a bad thing: good because a lot of the design is already taken care of (leaving me primarily with tying up loose ends, testing, and analysis), but the bad news is these past seniors did not leave much by way of documentation! Yeah, ends up there's a reason they're such sticklers about you keeping your lab notebook tidy... also, as the third person to have this project it's sort of on my shoulders to finally conclude if a detector of this nature is feasible, and I need to say something by November so no pressure or anything.

I will say though, I am excited about this: it's the sort of project that lets you get your hands dirty and actually accomplish something, which is unfortunately not something you'll hear about in all senior thesis projects. Plus the nature of cosmic rays is one of the biggest mysteries in astrophysics right now and it's very, very exciting to think that your work might help find an answer! Either way, saying you spent your summer working in a High-Energy Astrophysics laboratory sounds a lot cooler than saying you worked some anonymous internship, doesn't it?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Voldemort Can't Stop The Rock

In just under twenty-four hours, the entire world over will finally know the ending of Harry Potter. I am kind of in shock about this: from here on out, no one will ever have to be plagued with torment over years of wondering if Harry will survive or if Snape is really evil. Subsequent generations will never understand this and will likely give us odd looks when we describe things like midnight releases at bookstores or the complete secrecy the publisher tried to maintain during distribution. After all these years, it will all be over.

For me, it’s odd to think that tomorrow will bring about the end of an affiliation that began nearly a decade ago. I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the early summer of 1999 when I was thirteen and the series was still an underground phenomenon no one knew about, save thirteen-year-old girls of bookish persuasion. After tearing through it, I passed the two books (yes, there were only two books then) onto my siblings, Linda and Patrick, and we spent that summer rereading those two books and speculating to no end as to what would happen next. We cursed our luck in nearly every way imaginable too: there was no such thing as simultaneous release at the time, so while the British kids already knew what happened in Book 3 we were forced to wait until the American release date in the fall. The concept that we would later need to wait years for the next book instead of just a mere few months was, at the time, inconceivable.

The years passed, and as we were growing up Harry aged alongside us. And while I was never really obsessed with Harry Potter or anything, there is no denying that Harry kept creeping into what I was doing. He showed up when I visited Hungary after eighth grade and my cousin and I compared our copies, wondering who on Earth decided that “Roxfort” is the proper Hungarian translation of “Hogwarts” or how exactly “Hugrabug” became the equivalent of “Hufflepuff.” Harry made an appearance in one of the very first editorials I wrote, which appeared in the high school paper around the release of the first movie and lambasted movie producers for turning perfectly wonderful books into perfectly terrible movies. He even showed up in Wellington, New Zealand a few months ago when I learned during the course of conversation that one of my British friends in the hostel had been cast as a Slytherin in the first two films.

There is no denying that it’s been fun growing up along with one of the most prominent cultural icons of my generation. And yet here’s the thing: while others might be impatiently waiting to see what will happen, I personally do not want Harry Potter to end. How could I? From here on out there will never again be the magic of opening a new Harry Potter book for the first time, and Harry will make the subtle but important transition from someone I grew up with to someone I knew while growing up. It just won’t be the same anymore.

So as we finish the finally countdown, I’d just like to say thank you, Harry. It’s been an exciting eight years. And be sure to give Voldemort hell tomorrow, will you?