Reflecting the views of many of his colleagues on a matter affecting all Americans, J.C. Anderson of Calgary, Alberta, said, "We are going to have to drill the pants off this basin. Then, we are going to have to go north." What does he do for a living?
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Friday's Question (No. 440)—"Science Friction":
In his new book, Voodoo Science, Robert Park writes that Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran once contemplated legislation to force the government to issue a patent on a new invention. What invention?
"Condoleezza Rice."—Greg Diamond
"Fire-resistant hoods."—Cliff Schoenberg (Mark Romoser had a similar answer.)
"That would be the 'Perpetual Floor Motion' so they won't have to bother with actually filibustering."—Steven Davis
"A word processing program that substitutes the word 'Mississippi' for any state name in military appropriations bills. Wait a minute, they've been using that for years, haven't they?"—Jim O'Grady
"Some kind of toy that prevents sex, I'm thinking. Some kind of sex-preventing, promoting-tax-breaks-for-the-rich, destroying-the-environment toy. You know, like Yahtzee."—Francis Heaney
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To us, science and government means two things, each championed by President Clinton—an expensive, unworkable, and dangerously destabilizing anti-missile system; and the curious conviction that parking second-graders in front of computers is educational and far more progressive than relying on old-fashioned teachers, books, and talking. But for the Soviets, science and government mean Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, 1898-1976, the head of the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Science, who almost single-handedly destroyed Soviet agriculture and instituted a bold new era of mass starvation. (And some people think one man can't make a difference.) Lysenko believed in the inheritability of acquired characteristics, which essentially means that if you buy an Armani jacket, your offspring will be born wearing Armani jackets. Stalin found this theory charming—well, consider the unattractive sport jackets of the era—and anointed it as Marxist doctrine, much as the state of Kansas does with creationism. It was only after Stalin's death that Lysenko's ideas were openly criticized and widespread hunger was seen as just not hip anymore. Among the charges, Lysenko was accused of falsifying his experiments by injecting frogs with dye, but this could have been merely his idea of fun, something that was in short supply at the time, what with the mass starvation. Lysenko owed his ideas to the work of Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck (but you can just call him Larmarck), a French naturalist who lived from 1744-1829, when these sort of ideas didn't seem nearly as odd, perhaps because Darwin hadn't gotten up to much in those days. Indeed, by the time of Lamarck's death, Darwin had accomplished little more than turning 20 years old, hardly enough to ensure him the immortal glory he would eventually earn. (I don't mean to diminish Darwin's accomplishment; more than a century would pass before I turned 20.) Say what you will about Lysenko, he was not the sort of man to whom you'd entrust a frog you cared about, even a well-dressed frog in a tiny little Armani jacket.
Second Law of Thermodynamics? We Don't Need No Stinking Second Law of Thermodynamics Answer
A perpetual motion machine.
An amateur inventor named Joe Newman approached the senators about his "energy machine," a 500-pound device he and his wife built in their kitchen, which he claimed could power his car forever on a single flashlight battery. It converts matter into energy, don't you know.
On July 30, 1986, Newman testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, by all accounts a collection of credulous boobs, with the sparkling exception of John Glenn. "It is a simple enough problem," Glenn said. "You measure the input and you measure the output and you see which is larger." Newman declined to permit such measurements and congressional support evaporated.
Eight months later, Dan Rather presented a flattering segment on the inventor on the CBS Evening News.
It is the policy of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office not to consider such devices unless a working model runs in their offices for at least a year. It has no official policy on Dan Rather.
Paternal Presents Extra
The most frequently touted Father's Day gift in Sunday's New York Times? The wristwatch. Which of the following is an actual model of an actual watch advertised in a single actual section of Sunday's paper, and which is a smirking simulacrum. (In the sense that I smirked when devising it and hope it induces a pleasurable smirk in the reader, not in the sense of it being an actual smirk-enabled wristwatch, although Dad might enjoy that. "Honey, look, my new watch—it's smirking!")
- Crosswind Special
- Vizio Sport
- Amande Suchreé
- New Venture
- XRT Covert
- Jimmy V
(All are from that same section of the Times. All are watches unless otherwise noted.)
- Torneau, $4,075
- Movado, $995
- Movado wine carafe, $145, promoted as a Father's Day gift. Imagine the look on Dad's face when he says, "What is this thing?"
- Guess, $65
- Raymond Weil, $1,495
- Rado, $1,790
- Rouge Absolu lipstick by Lancôme, price a little vague. Not explicitly pushed for Dad, but we know what they're thinking, and what's the harm? It's his special day.
- EDQ, $495
- Nike, $89
- Neckties "inspired by the artwork of legendary coach Jim Valvano," $27.99. At last Dad can look locker-room sophisticated!
Paradise Lost Ongoing Extra
Once seen as an Eden in the South Pacific, Fiji is in the midst of a coup with an ugly undercurrent of hostility toward ethnic Indians. Perhaps the island's official tourist slogan, "Fiji—the way the world should be," needs to be updated. Participants are invited to suggest a replacement. Best slogans to run Friday.
Al Gore and the Internet. Which reminds me, if he loses the election and he has to earn some money, he could put out a book of pithy sayings about science called Al Gore Rhythms. Maybe the pithy sayings should be in verse form so the title made more sense. Al Gore Rhythms. Get it? Al Gore Rhythms?