Republican lawmaker wants return of firing squad

Saying it’s time to stop letting convicted killers “get off that easy,” a Florida state lawmaker wants to use firing squads or the electric chair for those on death row.

Rep. Brad Drake filed a bill this week that would end the use of lethal injection in Florida executions. Instead, those with a death sentence would choose between electrocution or a firing squad.

Drake, a Republican, said the idea came to him after having a conversation with a constituent at a Waffle House over the legal battles associated with the Sept. 28 execution of Manuel Valle.

Valle’s lawyers tried to stop the execution by arguing that a new lethal drug cocktail would cause him pain and therefore constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Courts, however, rejected that argument and let the execution go forward.

..The GOP-controlled Florida Legislature will consider the bill during the 2012 session that starts in January.

He said government is spending too much time listening to advocacy groups and instead should put in place a death sentence that forces convicted murderers to contemplate their fates…

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said Drake’s legislation would just cause embarrassment for Florida if it were adopted. “Just when you thought that public policy in Florida couldn’t get worse, along comes a state rep who develops proposed legislation from what he overhears at the Waffle House.”

Simon said, “Given all that former members of the Florida Supreme Court and the American Bar Association have said about Florida’s broken death penalty system, including the nation’s highest number of exonerations, this would be embarrassing – if our legislature were capable of embarrassment.”

Like most of the fools who pass for Republicans nowadays, Drake is another fossil whose brain is trapped somewhere mid-way through the 19th Century.

Since he’s trying for the macho vote in a state that still doesn’t really approve of chest hair – I wonder when he’ll offer a bill to upgrade Florida’s death penalty to larger scale executions. They would save the state money and we all know how important that is to Republicans.

He could bring in IG Farben to build mass gas chambers. They probably still have the plans.

Marathon runner turns in personal best – aided by bus ride!

“I stole this medal”

A marathon runner was stripped of his third place medal after catching a bus to complete the last six miles of the race held in northern England last Sunday.

Organizers of the event said Rob Sloan, 31, withdrew 20 miles into the race, caught a spectator bus, then completed the final section of the course and crossed the finish line in third place with a personal-best time.

“He’s the only runner in the whole of the race who ran the second half of the race quicker than the first half,” Kielder Marathon event director Steve Cram, an Olympic medal-winning former runner, told BBC television Wednesday.

He either turned into an Olympic athlete over the last eight miles … or he used some other method to get to the finish line,” Cram said.

Sloan had originally dismissed as “laughable” the allegation that he had cheated, but later admitted to skipping part of the circuit in Northumberland when Organizers began an investigation into claims he hitched a ride.

If something is too good to be true — it usually is.

Using an infernal combustion engine to aid your performance as an athlete certainly does plumb the depths of cheating.

Scientists crack the genetic code of the Black Death plague

Skeletons of the plague dead in London’s East Smithfield Cemetery
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Scientists have mapped out the entire genetic map of the Black Death, a 14th century bubonic plague that killed 50 million Europeans in one of the most devastating epidemics in history.

The work, which involved extracting and purifying DNA from the remains of Black death victims buried in London’s “plague pits,” is the first time scientists have been able to draft a reconstructed genome of any ancient pathogen.

Their result — a full draft of the entire Black Death genome — should allow researchers to track changes in the disease’s evolution and virulence, and lead to better understanding of modern-day infectious diseases.

Building on previous research which showed that a specific variant of the Yersinia pestis bacterium was responsible for the plague that ravaged Europe between 1347 and 1351, a team of German, Canadian and American scientists went on to “capture” and sequence the entire genome of the disease.

“The genomic data show that this bacterial strain, or variant, is the ancestor of all modern plagues we have today worldwide. Every outbreak across the globe today stems from a descendant of the medieval plague,” said Hendrik Poinar, of Canada’s McMaster University, who worked with the team…

For this study Poinar’s team analysed skeletal remains from Black Death victims buried in London’s East Smithfield “plague pits,” which are located under what is now the Royal Mint…

Poinar, whose work was published in the journal Nature, said the team found that in 660 years of evolution, the genetic map of the ancient organism had only barely changed. “The next step is to determine why this was so deadly,” he said.

Pathogens and pandemics aren’t about to disappear. Levels of preparedness afforded by modern medicine, vaccination and hygiene are constantly challenged by ignorance and superstition. Indeed, in the United States significant resistance to well-proven methods flows like a river of political pus from the combination of religious nutballs and opportunist populists.

Living in a state that confronts deaths from plague every year, there is currency to the contemplation of historic tragedy. Living in a state where parents can refuse a vaccine for their children on religious grounds thereby endangering other children by the hundreds – research that supports greater depth of response to the dangers of pandemic is a necessity.

I’m not a pushover – either!

The AARP rolled over for the Bush/Cheney corrupt-athon on what’s called the donut hole in drug benefits. They caved on the issue of negotiating drug costs the way the Pentagon and Congress both do. For those reasons and more, thousands of senior citizens left the AARP. Including me.

I belong, now, to the ARA, Alliance of Retired Americans – which gets most of its sponsorship from the AFL-CIO. Another stodgy organization getting off their duff after decades of coasting downstream.

However, I would be a fool if I didn’t compliment and endorse the series of commercials which the AARP is producing to fight against the alliance between the Party of NO and cowardly blue dog Democrats that is trying to cut benefits we worked and paid for over the years while they kiss butt for corporate America.

The commercials are accurate, strong and show some of the spunk missing for a number of years from a once-principled organization.


The Singularity ain’t even close — says Paul Allen

Futurists like Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil have argued that the world is rapidly approaching a tipping point, where the accelerating pace of smarter and smarter machines will soon outrun all human capabilities. They call this tipping point the singularity, because they believe it is impossible to predict how the human future might unfold after this point. Once these machines exist, Kurzweil and Vinge claim, they’ll possess a superhuman intelligence that is so incomprehensible to us that we cannot even rationally guess how our life experiences would be altered…Kurzweil, who is a bit more optimistic, envisions a future in which developments in medical nanotechnology will allow us to download a copy of our individual brains into these superhuman machines, leave our bodies behind, and, in a sense, live forever. It’s heady stuff.

While we suppose this kind of singularity might one day occur, we don’t think it is near. In fact, we think it will be a very long time coming. Kurzweil disagrees, based on his extrapolations about the rate of relevant scientific and technical progress. He reasons that the rate of progress toward the singularity isn’t just a progression of steadily increasing capability, but is in fact exponentially accelerating—what Kurzweil calls the “Law of Accelerating Returns…”

By working through a set of models and historical data, Kurzweil famously calculates that the singularity will arrive around 2045.

This prediction seems to us quite far-fetched. Of course, we are aware that the history of science and technology is littered with people who confidently assert that some event can’t happen, only to be later proven wrong—often in spectacular fashion. We acknowledge that it is possible but highly unlikely that Kurzweil will eventually be vindicated. An adult brain is a finite thing, so its basic workings can ultimately be known through sustained human effort. But if the singularity is to arrive by 2045, it will take unforeseeable and fundamentally unpredictable breakthroughs, and not because the Law of Accelerating Returns made it the inevitable result of a specific exponential rate of progress…

The amazing intricacy of human cognition should serve as a caution to those who claim the singularity is close. Without having a scientifically deep understanding of cognition, we can’t create the software that could spark the singularity. Rather than the ever-accelerating advancement predicted by Kurzweil, we believe that progress toward this understanding is fundamentally slowed by the complexity brake.

In between the beginning and end of this post is a great deal of well thought-out reasoning. Like his peer, Ray Kurzweil, Paul Allen is one of the critical spurs to the march of technology over recent decades. The debate between the two – in print and in person – is stirring. One which only time and progress shall decide.

Meanwhile, RTFA for much more detail on Paul Allen’s analysis. I happen to hope for Kurzweil to win because that might give me some life extension – old geek that I am. But, I’m only a spectator to this contest.

Sony TV production suffers fresh blow with melting sets

Electronics giant Sony Corp has suffered a fresh blow after several of its Bravia LCD televisions sets emitted smoke or parts began to melt. Sony said it will offer free inspection and repairs available to 1.6 million of the TV sets.

Sony’s television unit is already heading for its eighth straight year of losses, as it battles fierce competition from Samsung and LG of South Korea.

The 11 overheating incidents all took place in Japan, but the faulty parts may affect TV sets sold around the world, the company said in a news release.

There have been no reports of injuries or damage to anything other than the televisions, Sony said.

Sony hasn’t figured out, yet, whether to compete head-to-head in a commoditized market – or try to come up with a product sufficiently advanced to survive as an upper end niche.

The fact that Howard Stringer shut down most of their R&D as one of his earliest decisions in just another symptom of the incompetence he brought to leadership of that once-great company.