How cats drink

This was supposed to be the only post (before I heard Dave Barry, that is) for today because with four cats anything and everything about them is fascinating.  We have one cat who plays with water and will drink from any place.  Mr. Bunter, like a dog, has been known to try to drink out of the toilet.  He also drinks out of the fish tank.  He used to drag the water bowl (a large heavy bowl glued to an old dinner plate) around the pantry.  Then we got a fancy waterfall drinking fountain and he tries to move that also.  The other three are more normal.

But now we have the physics of how cats drink.  Delicately without wetting the whiskers.  I went to get my glasses adjusted today at lunch and the optician, who also has cats, asked me if I had seen the story.  So cat lovers everywhere are talking about this discovery.  I always assumed it had something to do with the roughness of the tongue, but that would be wrong.

Cats, both big and little, are so much classier, according to new research by Pedro M. Reis and Roman Stocker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined by Sunghwan Jung of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Jeffrey M. Aristoff of Princeton.

Writing in the Thursday issue of Science, the four engineers report that the cat’s lapping method depends on its instinctive ability to calculate the point at which gravitational force would overcome inertia and cause the water to fall.

What happens is that the cat darts its tongue, curving the upper side downward so that the tip lightly touches the surface of the water.

The tongue is then pulled upward at high speed, drawing a column of water behind it.

Just at the moment that gravity finally overcomes the rush of the water and starts to pull the column down — snap! The cat’s jaws have closed over the jet of water and swallowed it.

The best part of the story is how they calculated the lapping speed based on cat size.  Who knew?  But then, who knew anything about how cats drink before this week?

Dave Barry and the TSA

OK.  I know lots of people will probably post this link, but I couldn’t resist.  I had just come home from work and was in the bedroom getting changed.  I habitually turn on one of the local NPR stations and listen for a few moments.  Tonight, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Dave Barry didn’t pass his x-ray screening (blurry groin) and had to get a pat down.  If you haven’t heard him tell the tale, you are missing funny story.

But the sad thing is that as funny as he makes his experience sound, I think we have gone overboard screening airline passengers.  Yes, I know I wouldn’t say that if I ever found myself on a plane with a person with a bomb, but is all the radiation and the groping worth it?  Are we willing to risk future cancers (especially the airline personnel) and/or humiliation to be safe.  There has to be a better way.

A demonstration of the first Advanced Imaging Technology unit at JFK International Airport

Even Nate Silver is looking at the issue.

My first experience with the full-body scanners, on a flight back to Kennedy Airport from San Diego last month, was also a negative one. I had assumed that, whatever their other faults, the full-body scanners would at least speed up the process of going through the security line; I supposed I imagined something like this scene from the movie Total Recall, in which passengers literally don’t even have to pause to go through security as their bodies are scanned while they walk toward the departure gate.

Instead, the lines were quite slow — possibly because the machines were coming up with a lot of false positives, myself included. As is my usual practice when passing through airport security, I emptied my pants pockets completely — there wasn’t so much as a stick of gum, a penny, or a taxi receipt in there. But the machine nevertheless insisted that that there was something in the back right-hand pocket of my jeans. When the official from the Transportation Security Administration asked me what I had in my pocket, and I told him that there was absolutely nothing, he then performed a pat-down. I was in a chipper enough mood that I wasn’t inclined to make a scene, but I did ask the T.S.A. official whether it was routine for the machines to see things that weren’t there, to which he declined to respond.

Still, it shifted my overall opinion of the technology from positive to negative. This may be something to keep in mind when reviewing polls on the topic.

Silver points out that while polls show overwhelming support fo the new technology, the number of people who fly and have experienced the new screening is relatively low.

The T.S.A. is fond of citing polls which suggest that about 75 or 80 percent of air travelers approve of the new machines. There are a couple of issues having to do with the timing of these surveys, however. Most of them were conducted in January, immediately after the failed attempt last Christmas day by a Nigerian man, who had concealed explosives in his underwear, to blow up a plane travelling from Amsterdam to Detroit — during which time concern about air travel security would naturally have been quite elevated.

What I think we need to know then, is how those who have actually traveled through an airport that uses the full-body scanners feel about them — particularly if they’re people who fly frequently and are therefore going to bear the burden of any inconvenience, embarrassment, invasion of privacy or health risk brought on by the new technology.

My guess is that a majority of such passengers will still approve of them: Americans are willing to tolerate a great number of things at the airport that they would never stand for in other parts of their lives. (Imagine, for instance, if you had to pass through a metal detector on the way into the shopping mall, or were diverted for 15 minutes through a security checkpoint every time that you wanted to drive on the Interstate.)

I haven’t flown since 9/11.  I’ve never been particularly fond of flying anyway and now it seems there will be a choice between being x-rayed and, as Dave Barry pointed out, having the pictures beamed who knows where or being groped.  I think I’ll drive or stay home for a while.

Why the Democrats didn’t have a chance

The Democrats never had a chance at overcoming the non- facts repeated over and over by the Republican-Tea Party coalition.  Tom the Dancing Bug explains.

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If you don’t see Ruben Bolling regularly, check him out.  There is a new one every week.

I find it interesting that, like the infamous Joe the Plumber, Americans worry about what happens to the rich because they may be rich themselves someday.  It is an ingrained part of our national psyche.  Perhaps the President compromise on the tax cuts should be raising the middle class cut from $250,000 to $400,000 or thereabouts.  And we need to work on the tax code if people are making that much as a business and still filling on their personal tax returns.  We probably need some kind of small corporation category for filing added to the tax code. 

The discussion in the Lame Duck Congress should be interesting since the Republican Tea Party did run on reducing the deficit and keeping the tax cuts for those making over the $250,000.  I want to see their math as it seems keeping the cuts for the very top earners adds to the deficit without helping to pay it down.  This will be high on the agenda when Congress returns to session On November 15.  It should be fun.

About November 2nd

Actually the election was better than I thought it would be.  Here in Massachusetts the Democrats swept the Constitutional offices and proved that there was no enthusiasm gap – or if there was one it was on the Republican side.  The Democrats proved that old fashioned shoe leather is still the way to get out the vote.  The turnout was very good for a mid-term election in my precinct where Charlie Baker got all of 19 votes out of 433 voters.  Equally significant the two most important propositions got voted down.  We kept affordable housing laws on the books and didn’t reduce the sales tax.  But remember we also voted for George McGovern.

I have mixed emotions about the scene nationally.  On one hand, it probably means nothing will get done legislatively until after the 2012 Presidential election is over.  We can only hope that Congress musters the votes for a continuing resolution on the budget.  On the hand, it will be very entertaining to watch the Republicans try to deal with dissent in their party as the election of Rand Paul and others means the end to the lockstep voting of Republicans in Congress.  And given what is happening in recent European elections, particularly the Conservative take-over in England (and while we are talking, can someone please explain to me why the Liberal Dems there are in a coalition with them?) we shouldn’t be surprised that the Republican-Tea Party coalition won.  But how bad is it really?

There was a 60 vote swing in the House.  But remember that before the election the Democrats held 255 seats.  After the election the Republicans hold 239.  Even if all 8 still undecided races break Republican, they will hold 247 seats.  So yes, there was a huge swing, the biggest since, I believe since the Truman mid-terms, but even so, the new Republican majority is not as large as the Democratic one before the election.  And I was very sorry to see my old friend, Rick Boucher, lose in Virginia as part of the wave.  

The pre-election talk was a 9 seat pick-up in the Senate for the Republicans.  Pundits on both sides were saying that the Republicans would have had the 10 seats to take over if not for Christine O’Donnell getting the Delaware nomination.  But the gain is only 6 with Alaska still undecided.  The Democrats still hold 53 seats in the Senate.  Maybe Harry Reid can figure out a way to change the Senate rules to a majority instead of 60 votes.

Joshua Holland has a great piece posted on AlterNet titled “It’s Not the End of the World — 7 Things Progressives Need to Keep in Mind about Last Night’s GOP ‘Wave”.

Here are a few of those 7 things.

2. The electorate is hopping mad, but they still dislike Republicans. A month before an election that has swept some rather extreme GOPers into Congress, an Associated Press-GfK Poll found that “60 percent disapprove of the job congressional Democrats are doing — yet 68 percent frown on how Republicans are performing.”

A New York Times/CBS News poll last week found that while a majority of Americans voted GOP yesterday, the electorate “continues to have a more favorable opinion of the Democratic Party than of the Republican Party, with 46 percent favoring Democrats and 41 favoring Republicans.”

This will be the third consecutive year in which the party out of power wins. That’s not a measure of the country’s ideological leanings, it’s a sign that people are hurting and are mad as hell about it (in case one needed such a sign).

3. Blue Dogs took the brunt of it. The loss of Wisconsin’s liberal lion, Russ Feingold, is a blow to the progressive movement. Alan Grayson’s defeat in Florida hurts. Other good lawmakers were booted out of office last night as well. But in many cases, what we saw were conservatives with Ds next to their names replaced with conservatives with Rs.

That’s to be expected after two big Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008. They won in a lot of conservative districts, but as many observers noted at the time, many of those Dems winning in marginally “red” districts were the bluest of dogs, who have not exactly helped advance a progressive agenda.

In his new book, Ari Berman argues that a smaller, more ideologically coherent Democratic party would in fact be good for progressives. Whether or not one agrees, it’s hard to see a bunch of the most corporate-friendly Dems losing their seats as a tragedy for American progressivism.

5.  A wave of low-information voters says more about our media and education system than our politics. In late July, a much discussed poll revealed that only 42 percent of Republican primary voters were confident President Obama was born in the United States. Compare that to 77 percent of the electorate at large.

It’s important to remember that many Tea Partiers are voting in an alternative universe where the decidedly centrist Dems are stealthily pushing the nation toward socialism, trying to enact Sharia law, taking over broad swaths of the economy, setting up “death panels” to decide if grandma lives or dies and plotting to join the United States with Canada and Mexico.

Given those beliefs, it’s really no surprise they’re so animated to “take their country back.” But all of that is a testament to the power of the Right’s mighty Wurlitzer, and says little about the state of our political beliefs.

So right now, I’m going to sit back and watch the Republican Party try to reign in Michele Bachmann and Rand Paul and the expectations of the people who voted for them that the world will now run their way while I hope that the President and the Democrats stick to their principles and don’t compromise them away.  We don’t need them to become the equivalent of the English Liberal Dems.

More on Cameron Todd Willingham

A little over a year ago I wrote about the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.  Mr. Willingham was executed in Texas after being convicted of arson that killed his three small children.  After being on death row for 12 years, he was executed in 2004.  After his execution, evidence emerged that he was, in fact, innocent.  Now Jonathan Alter has written a follow-up story.

Alter begins

“Why would you abolish the death penalty when a majority of the voters support it?” Republican Tom Foley asked Democrat Dan Malloy in a robust debate last week to help determine which man should be Connecticut’s next governor. “Why would you do that? It’s arrogant.”

Foley’s claim that it’s “arrogant” for officeholders to substitute their judgment for the wishes of the majority would, taken to its logical conclusion, mean that government could be run by a computer processing polls. Nice platform. Yet even a pandering argument can be revealing. Capital punishment may feel like abortion or gun control—a tired debate where minds can’t be changed. But there’s a discussion worth having about the hypocritical conservative attitude toward the life-and-death power of the state.

The Hawke-Petit home invasion case is the hot news right now in Connecticut with the jury now considering the death penalty for one of the men convicted of the murder and rape of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and the killing of her two daughters.  Her husband survived to testify.  While based on the evidence reported in the press, I believe that the accused men are likely guilty but should they be executed?  I don’t think so.

Everything that I have read about Willingham indicates that there was forensic evidence of arson which was accepted by the jury.  The evidence must have seem overwhelming, just as in the current Hawke-Petit case.  But in the Willingham case, more evidence emerged.

Alter writes

And yet, just when you start thinking the death penalty isn’t such a bad idea after all, another house-fire murder case comes back into view, this one in Texas. Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murder in 1992 after testimony that the house fire that killed his three young daughters (his wife was elsewhere) had been arson. But the conviction was based on junk science claiming evidence of accelerants where none existed. In the years since, nearly a dozen top fire inspectors have ruled out arson. A jailhouse snitch essentially recanted his testimony.

No matter. Willingham, the subject of a New Yorker piece last year, was executed in 2004. Afterward, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now clinging to a lead in the polls over former Houston mayor Bill White, seemingly did everything he could to cover up evidence clearing Willingham. Instead of allowing an investigation to proceed, Perry last year fired members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission who exposed the “evidence” used to convict him. (Perry felt the commission was biased.)

“The governor’s office had access to an affidavit that it was faulty science, and either ignored it or dismissed it,” says former Texas governor Mark White (no relation to Bill). White, a Democrat who signed off on more than 20 executions as governor in the ’80s (though none as ill founded as Willingham’s), doesn’t oppose the death penalty. But now he says he’s appalled by how dysfunctional Texas’s criminal-justice system has become. The state, White says, has a huge backlog of DNA kits that have never been examined and too many publicity-seeking prosecutors willing to twist facts to win convictions. Texas, with a history of capital cases in which the defense attorney fell asleep at trial or ignored exculpatory evidence, often boasts more executions in a year than the rest of the country combined.

So now the family is left with trying to clear Cameron Todd Willingham’s name.

The flip side of the Lone Star honor culture is an unusual legal process for people to reclaim their reputations, even posthumously. The Willingham family won a hearing in a special court of inquiry. This week Mark White will deliver the summation in that court. He plans to argue that there’s “compelling evidence” the forensic evidence of arson was nonexistent. “The whole foundation of the case was arson,” White told me. “If there’s no arson, there’s no crime, and, therefore, he is innocent.” Innocent and dead.

I wish them the best.  And I hope the jury in the Hawke-Petit case understands that their decision can be irrevocable.