Poll: 7/5 of Americans Don’t Bother To Do The Math

A new poll shows that seven out of every five of Americans don't bother to do the math. "When asked, 53% percent said that, when reading or hearing anything that involves two or more numbers, they don't even try to do the math," said lead pollster Bradley Noel. "Another 49% said they will often think about doing the math but ultimately decide against it. Only 19% said they will actually add things up to see if the report makes sense." The results were greeted with elation from the 47 Republicans and 38 Democrats in the 100-member Senate. "This is great news," said Senate Majority Leader Pam Crader(D). "When discussing budgets or taxes, we can pretty much make stuff up: millions, trillions, deficits, surpluses -- it's all the same to them." Advertisers were equally enthusiastic. "This will allow us to offer consumers 1500 free hours of service during their first month of membership," said AOL marketer Ted Rawlins. Only the Department of Education has expressed misgivings about the findings. "Mathematical apathy is one of the top three educational problems this nation faces," DOE Chairman David Kahn warned. "The other one is illiteracy."

The Trent Lott Controversy Must Go!

It’s not often that I disagree with Joshua Micah Marshall, but this whole “Trent Lott has got to go!” thing is a total crock.

Let me preface all this by pointing out that I rank Trent Lott right up there with athlete’s foot on the list of admirable organisms. And no one would be happier than I to see him resign in disgrace. But what’s this donnybrook about, anyway? It’s about a single sentence, muttered at a birthday party, filtered through the reinterpretation engine of the nation’s pundits.

For the record, here’s exactly what Lott said. He observed that, when Strom Thurman ran for president in 1948, Lott’s home state, Mississippi, voted for him. “We’re proud of it,” Lott continued. “And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years.”

God alone know what he meant by “these problems,” but note that there no mention of race. Pundits, though, have been quick to point out that Thurmond ran on a platform of segregation. Some have therefore concluded that Lott’s remarks were tantamount to an endorsement of the segregationist policies of the 40’s.

That’s quite a stretch, if you ask me. What’s much more likely is that Lott was engaging in a little bit of birthday hyperbole, stating that Thurmond is a good guy and therefore he would have made a good president. You and I and the American constituency of 1948 all agree that Thurmond would have been a terrible president, but lionizing a birthday boy is hardly unusual for any of us. Apparently Lott made a statement almost identical to this (“if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.”) at a 1980 Thurmond rally. Some have seized on this a proof that Lott meant what he said this time. I’d argue just the opposite. I’d say it proves that he was just pulling stock phrases out of a hat and tossing them at the Senator willy-nilly.

But, okay, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Lott does support segregation, and chose to reveal this in a cryptic, off-the-cuff remark made at a birthday party. Where does that leave you? Does the revelation that Lott is a Good Ol’ Boy shock anyone? Are there people saying “Jeeze, up until last week I though Trent Lott was a tireless crusader for racial equality and civil rights, but this utterance has completely turned me around!” No, of course not. Democrats aren’t seizing on this because it changes their opinion of Lott one iota, but simply because they can.

And that’s exactly what happened to Clinton, you’ll recall. I bunch of people disliked him, they caught him making ambiguous statements, and they raked him over the coals. Remember, Clinton wasn’t impeached because he had sex with that woman, but because he lied about it. There, as here, the issue wasn’t what he’d done, or what he believed, but simply what he had said.

Few people are criticing Lott for actually embracing segregation policies; they are instead criticing him for saying something that could be construed as approbation for segregation. “Any suggestion that a segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive and it is wrong,” Bush said today. That’s right: Lott’s suggestion is wrong, but no comment on whether it would be wrong for Lott to actually believe that a segregated past was acceptable. The same goes for the Democrats. Lieberman said “Senator Lott’s recent comments about Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign were hurtful, divisive, and fundamentally un-American.” The comments, the comments.

At what point did we all become more concerned about what people accidentally say than what they actually believe or do? Lott says something stupid and folks want to run him out on a rail; meanwhile, not a single person in the government has lost their job over the intelligence failures which culminated in the WTC attacks, despite the fact that 9/11 was a very real event (as opposed to mere words) and that some people are clearly culpable, of negligence if nothing more.

Besides, if Lott supports segregation, I’d rather he tell us outright that keep it secret. Furthermore, we have no shortage of idiots in office, and they are as free to express their opinions, no matter how asinine, as the rest of us are. It’s odd how liberals drop their stalwart defense of the first amendment whenever race becomes a factor.

The Republican National Committee and George Bush have every right to can Lott if they feel that he has become a political liability. But the rest of us can’t just demand he be unseated because of a jumble of words that may or may not express some view we find reprehensible. If you believe in democracy — and I do — then you have to face the fact that sometimes people you don’t like wind up in office, and it’s not your place to overturn the will of the voters, no matter how wrongheaded you think those voters might be.

Children Should Be Neither Seen Nor Heard

As The Queen and I watched Solaris, we couldn’t help but notice that the teenage couple sitting behind us was in dire need of a garroting. The girl yammered through pretty much the entire thing. Occasionally someone would glare at her and she’d say “oops, sorry!” and then remain silent for the shortest possible length of human-perceptable time before launching into a verbatium account of the great AIM session she’d enjoyed that afternoon.

The guy was quiet throughout most of the movie, except during the three or four scenes which prominently featured George Clooney’s ass. The kid apparently had some sort of logorrheic post-hypnotic suggestion that the sight of Clooney’s ass would trigger.

[Scene prominently featuring George Clooney’s ass begins] Uh, whoa, uh, hah hah, man, this is a long movie. I know it’s long because I, uh, I am looking at my watch right now, and notice what a long movie this is. I mean long as in uninteresting. There’s a lot of stuff in this, uh, movie that I’m not interested in, like, uh, the dialog, and George Clooney’s ass, and other things that I’m totally not interested in looking at, like George Clooney’s ass, which I don’t even know is in this movie because I am looking at my watch at the moment, but I’m just giving that as an example as something which may or may not be in this movie that I, personally, would have no interest in looking at. Have you ever been to SeaWorld? My favorite part of SeaWorld is [Scene prominently featuring George Clooney’s ass ends] the, uh … hah hah, uh, hmmmm, penguins, hm.

Movies: Solaris

I was quite the Sci-Fi buff in high school. Not to the point of learning Klingon or memorizing the serial number on the Star Wars trash compactor (3263827), but I would rent any video that had anything remotely futuristic or astronomical on i’s box. It was this lack of discrimination that led me to one day rent the original Solaris, a film hailed by critics as “Russia’s answer to 2001” and hailed by me as “unbelievably boring”. No lasers, no acid-blooded aliens, no Carrie Fisher in a bikini — what’s to like?

Now, as an adult, 2001: A Space Odyssey is my favorite movie of all time. So I was eager to give the film another chance, especially since this new version was by one of my favorite directors (Steven Soderbergh) and starring one of my favorite actors (George Clooney). And what’s the verdict? Solaris is a beautiful film, full of interesting characters, engaging ideas, and philosophical quandaries around every turn. And it’s a little boring.

As the film opens, it’s unclear when the film is set — it certainly doesn’t look like the far future. But just as the viewer gets comfortable watching Clooney live his early-21st-century life, a couple of guys show up and ask him to go visit a space station. Something screwy is going on up yonder, and Dr. Chris Kelvin, as a profession psychologist, has been chosen to go straighten things out.

So the next thing you know, Clooney is in a space suit, tramping around space station Prometheus, and discovering things to be in complete disarray. One guy has committed suicide, another was killed by security; the remaining crewmen are loopy, paranoid, and unwilling to explain what’s going on; there’s even a kid running around the ship, a kid who shouldn’t be there at all. It becomes immediately clear that whatever is causing the mayhem is as much physical as it is psychological. Worse still, Clooney becomes another victim of the — whatever — even before his first day is through.

Solaris is a ponderous film: every event and speech is pregnant with meaning, and Soderbergh gives you plenty of long, quiet pauses to mull things over. It’s also, thankfully, a movie devoid of Good Guys and easy solutions: Clooney, for example, rapidly becomes as screwed up as everyone else on board, and even ups the ante a bit. This isn’t one of those stories where the characters know what’s going on but the audience doesn’t, or vice versa; everyone seems to be stumbling around in the same fog. At no point does a scientist in a white lab coat announce “we’ve figured out the source of the problem, and I shall now explain it in layman’s terms”. If you like your films cryptic — and I do — Solaris is a must-see.

And Clooney is terrific, of course. Can we all just agree that he’s a fine, fine actor? Yes, I know all about E.R. and that godawful Batman movie, but look at Three Kings, look at Out of Sight, look at Thin Red Line. And if you remain unconvinced, look at this film, which he (and along with co-star Natascha McElhone) pretty much carries. When Clooney acts confused and terrified in Solaris, the entire audience feels confused and terrified.

Solaris is a riveting film, mostly. I must admit that the final fourth of the film (that’s secret code for “The Ending”) left me cold, although I can’t put my finger on why. Perhaps simply because the director had to provide resolution to a story that was so aggressively open-ended. As Soderbergh chose some threads to tie up and left others dangling, it was if I could hear the grinding as he tried to downshift the movie to the point where he could put it in park. But even so, this is one of the finest science-fiction flicks to come down the pike in a while, and I recommend it to anyone in the mood for goregous special effects and some deep, deep thoughts.

Tis The Season For Insomnia

The lobby of my work building contains a small cafe, and for several hours yesterday a barbershop quartet stood outside its entrance and belted out holiday tunes. People entering the lobby reacted to the singers as they would to a cloud of chlorine gas.

This morning I ducked into the cafe to get coffee, and couldn’t help but notice that the young lady behind the till looked exhausted. I’m not one to make small talk with strangers, but this woman looked so wretched that my sympathy was aroused. “Jeeze, ” I remarked, “Rough night?”

“Couldn’t sleep,” she mumbled. “Nightmares. Christmas carols.”

Friday Afternoon Scratchpad

Thing That I am Sure Exists Even Before I Conduct a Google Search To Try and Find It

Freeway Karaoke Machine: A microphone / headphones / headset device that you can plug into your car radio and sing into while you drive. It strips the vocal track out of songs and puts your own voice in it’s place.

Google says …?

Still searching …

Holy shit, that’s a million dollar idea! I thought of it first!

Links

Advert Calendar.

Finally, the exciting and challenging sport of curling has been faithfully ported to the PC home computer!

A brief history of Hoax Photographs.

Browbeaten

The Queen announced yesterday that I am getting “old man eyebrows.” Oh great — more hallmarks of my own mortality, that’s what I need. Like I wasn’t already freaked out about the fact that I now know the words to each and every song played over my local grocery store’s “Shopping Music Network”.

Actually, I can kinda shrug this one off. If you ask me, this sounds like one of those things that companies make up and then insist you have and then try and sell you a cure for, like halitosis and panty lines and cholera.

Guy: What’s wrong, Other Guy?

Other Guy: I didn’t get that promotion — again! And my wife is having an affair with you.

Guy: It must be your O.M.E.

Other Guy: My what?

Guy: Your Old Man Eyebrows, Chet. Why aren’t you using The Brow Plow?

Cthulhu T’yota!!

Dear Toyota,

Please stop making cars in colors that don't exist. They are driving (ha!) me crazy. I am specifically referring to that new ECHO in the shade of goldish silvery blueish brownish yellow. I'm pretty sure that color isn't even on the spectrum. It's like somewhere between ultraviolet and Channel 7. It's like some intelligent color from an H. P. Lovecraft story that slowly takes over your mind until your main hobbies become chanting and being eldritch. I wouldn't mind so much, but trying to figure out why someone would buy a car in this alleged "color" makes my head hurt. Haven't they noticed that their vehicle is covered in paint from Dimension G? It like those days in college when you would get really stoned and start wondering how you could know for sure that what you saw as "red" is also what everyone else saw as "red". I am like that all the time now.

Three Cliches That Never Really Caught On

  • Making mountains out of mashed potatoes.
  • I’m so hungry I could eat a sandwich.
  • Cutting off Michael Jackson’s nose to spite his face.

FBI: Further Rob Schneider Films May Be Imminent

The FBI issued a strongly worded bulletin today, warning Americans that one or more Rob Schneider films could be released in the next few weeks. "We're seeing a significant uptick in Rob Schneider 'chatter' similar to what we saw just prior to June 3," FBI Coordinator Jean McCloskey said, referring to the date in 2001 when "The Animal" was released. "We'retherefore asking all citizens to be extra vigilent." Earlier this morning the White House raised the Rob Schneider Alert System to Code Orange -- the second highest threat level possible -- and tightened security around theaters nationwide. The Justice Department, meanwhile, announced that they would be freezing the assets of "Touchstone Pictures" and other organizations suspected of funding Rob Schneider-related operations. Touchstone is believed to be behind the series of video spots recently broadcast on network television that ominously promise that a new Rob Schneider film will soon open "everywhere".

Science Groove

A few weeks ago I went to see my coworker’s band Science Groove. Founder Do Peterson had a background in music, so decided to put his PhD Dissertation in verse and take his show on the road. As the topic of his studies (and music) is the distribution theory for the sibling recurrence risk ratio, this makes for an interesting and remarkably erudite show.

Science Groove is just one of a number of bands who, following in the footsteps of Schoolhouse Rock, blend music and education into a seamless web of, um, edumusication, or something.

(Jeezum crow, lookit all these links. What is this, MemePool? I mean: “MemePool?”)

The concert was great fun. Everyone who wore a lab coat got in free, and the opening act sang a bunch of original and parody songs about muscle development (such as a tune entitled “Microfibrils” sung to the music of “My Sharona”). And Science Groove proved themselves to be more than just a gimmick — the songs were well written and rockin’. Listen to the first two tracks, Performance and Title Slide (both mp3 links), or check out the entire show here.

I was so inspired by the concert that I went home that evening and wrote this.

Dead and Alive

(Primer on Schrodinger’s Cat)

(Primer on Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive)

Erwin Schrodinger
In 1926
Published several papers
On wave mechanics

The theories he proposed
Turned science on its head
When asked about his findings
This is what he said:

There’s a chamber
With a kitty inside
And the cat’s both
Dead and alive

In the subatomic world
The particles you’ll find
Can be in many states
All at a single time

It doesn’t make much sense
To folks like you and me
And that’s why Schrodinger
Used this analogy:

There’s a chamber
With a kitty inside
And the cat’s both
Dead and alive

Lock a kitten in a box
With a vial of cyanide
Until you let it out again
You don’t know if it survived.

Now at a quantum level
The cat’s completely free from harm
At exactly the same time
It’s already bought the farm.

There’s a chamber
With a kitty inside
And the cat’s both
Dead and alive
There’s a chamber
With a kitty inside
And Schrodinger’s cat
Is dead and alive

According to the Science Groove calendar page, their next concert is on February 22nd in Seattle.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I recently saw the live action Scooby Doo movie on DVD. And although I generally don’t write about DVDs here on the yeti, this is how I would review it:

I didn’t have high hopes for this movie, and it lived down to my expectations. The hero and his friends have a mystery to solve, and do so by tracking down a series of clues scattered throughout an exotic location. Unfortunately, the films is entirely too linear — the gang simply waltz from one adventure to the next until they crack the case and reach the Big Finale. The director apparently assumed you are already so familiar with the characters that further development is unnecessary. But the real problem with the film is that it can’t decide if it’s for adults of for kids, and its attempts to please folks of all ages make it a mess of contradictions. And the occasionally great CGI effects do little to prevent the picture from becoming a crashing bore. I have no doubt that another film in the series is already in the works, but, as of now, I have little interest in seeing this franchise continue.

And hey look: I just reviewed Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as well!

At least Scooby Doo had the good sense to keep its running time below an hour and a half — at 161 minutes Chamber of Secrets is too long by an hour. This is mostly due to the fact that, like the first Potter picture, Chamber of Secrets isn’t so much a movie as it is a book-on-film. In other words, rather than taking the essence of the novel and making a movie out of it (as Peter Jackson did so masterfully with The Fellowship Of The Ring), writer Steven Kloves seemingly loaded the book up in Microsoft Word and then selected “Save As [Screenplay]”.

No doubt the reason they opted to preserve nearly every paragraph of the book is because kids would howl if any major scene was omitted, even those irrelevant to the overall story (as many are). But this is essentially my beef with both the Potter films and books: they can’t decide if they are for kids or adults. J.K. Rowling fills her stories with tons of backstory and exposition to lend credibility to the narrative, but then resorts to cartoon logic at seemingly random moments. (In one scene, Harry and his friends encounter a seemingly bottomless pit and gamely leap into it without a second thought.) Now, I have no objection to “cartoon logic” movies — heck, Iron Giant is one of my favorite flicks — but inconsistency drives me crazy. Rowling oscillates between the historical style of J.R.R. Tolkien and and logic-free style of Lewis Carroll.

Also! (I’m on a roll, now.) At one point I swear Harry Potter said “I only know one spell!”. And Ron Weasley goes through the entire year with a wand that doesn’t function. I thought American schools had gotten lax, but apparently in England you can be in your second year of a Witchcraft and Wizardy School and still not know your ass from a leaky cauldron.

(Okay, I think I’m done ranting now.)

(Nope, apparently not.)

And another thing! What the hell kind of middle name is ‘Marvolo’?!! Funny how we never heard it until Rowling needed to do some ridiculous anagram mumbo-gumbo!

(I’m done.)

Many critics have said that Chamber of Secrets is “Better than the first film”. That’s true, but also damning with faint praise. I liked the first Potter movie, but that was largely because it was the first film — like Star Wars: A New Hope, The Sorcerer’s Stone is not great, but at least it’s new. But Chamber of Secrets ain’t no Empire Strikes Back, that’s for sure.

The third Potter book is my favorite, so perhaps there’s hope for this series yet. But Prisoner of Azkaban has 435 pages, so if they film #3 as they have #1 and #2 (i.e., using the novel as the screenplay) the film is going to be seven weeks long. Frankly I doubt I’ll see it and find out, since I found this film to be such a yawner. Chamber of Secrets isn’t terrible, but it’s about as far from spellbinding as a movie about magic can be.