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  INCOMING! AUGUST 8, 2005.  


The space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth early this morning. Let's hope NASA's billion dollar baby was equipped with enough bubble gum so spacewalking astronauts could fix the damage caused to the shuttle during takeoff. When (and if) the astronauts return safely, it'd make for a good special edition of "Extreme Home Makeover: How'd They Do That?"

KLUNK! If that's the sound of your head hitting your desk this morning because you're worn out from last Friday -- Work Like a Dog Day -- this oughta get a rise outta ya. While you continue to bust your ass, lawmakers will be taking their longest break of the year -- five weeks, until September 5. Supposedly, this is a time for "progress reports to constituents." I don't know about you, but I've never received a "progress report" from any local congressman or senator in my entire life. All I get is letters all year long from one snooty Senator to whom I've sent mass e-mails courtesy of the ACLU, saying she has voted against my wishes.

"Elvis Week" kicks off today in Memphis and stretches into the early morning hours of August 17 -- the date in 1977 the King died on the throne at age 42. Drown your sorrows every evening at Happy Hour at Heartbreak Hotel, or join other teary-eyed, mascara-streaked, shitfaced Elvis fans in Sing Like A King karaoke, a Tupelo tour, a Rock-A-Hula Girls Benefit Dinner, an Elvis Film Festival, or Elvis Bingo. Had he not worn that jewel-encrusted belt so tight, the King would have turned the big 7-0 this year.

Sci-fi buffs will not want to miss the last day of the The Worldcon, or World Science Fiction Convention, the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society, held this year in Glasgow. The 2005 Hugo Awards, the leading awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy, will be given out. My vote goes to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (whose screenplay was written by Charlie Kaufman of "Being John Malkovitch" and "Adaptation" fame) for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form.

Also on this day in 1974, President Richard Nixon announced his resignation as president of the United States -- the first man to ever do so. "Tricky Dicky" got the hell out of Dodge in the face of an imminent impeachment trial and possible removal from office because of the Watergate affair.






After July's mad cow disease scare and the new epidemic of pig fever in China, I'm going vegetarian. Although the Agriculture Department said that 67 cows culled from the herd of a Texas animal infected with the disease tested negative for mad cow, I'm not taking any chances. PETA is proud of me.

Sixty years ago today, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. About 30 percent of the city was blown to smithereens and, in all, nearly 150,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were killed or injured.

In 1173, construction of the (Leaning) Tower of Pisa began, and it took two freakin' centuries to complete. And we think the Big Dig has gone over-schedule! If you want to see the view from the Tower of Pisa, lean over sideways and watch the Tower of Pisa webcam.






Now is the perfect time to cash in on those unused vacation days before kiss them goodbye. Think the beach sounds better than terrorist-plagued London or Sharm Al Shaikh? Ha! Water quality was so poor at beaches across the United States last year that authorities ordered a record number of health warnings, according to the latest annual report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Dubya's backyard is a real cesspool. Texas beach health warnings were up 1,000% from last year. What does "poor water quality" mean? Let me spell it out for you: human waste.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is scheduled for launch this morning at 7:53:58 EDT. NASA says the large robotic spacecraft is key to ultimately sending human explorers to Mars and beyond. For the next five years, NASA will study lots of weird-ass red planet stuff and evaluate possible sites for future landings.

Happy birthday to ex X-Files star Gillian Anderson, who turns 38 today, whose career seems to have disappeared like David Duchovny's vanishing act the last season of the show. However, we know the truth is out there. Others extinguishing blazes on birthday cakes include Rosanna Arquette (46), Antonio Banderas (47), and Betsey Johnson (62).

On this day in 1977, a 24-year-old postal employee David Berkowitz was arrested and charged with being the "Son of Sam," the serial killer who terrorized New York City for more than a year.

In 1821, Missouri -- "The Show Me State'" -- was admitted as the 24th U.S. state.

In 1970, Jim Morrison's trial for "allegedly" displaying his member onstage in Miami began. The Lizard King showed 'em alright, just not in the "Show Me State."





Today is the last day of the JSM (the Joint Statistical Meetings), the largest gathering of statisticians held in North America. Courses cover a range of topics including subjects you may have missed in graduate school, such as survival analysis or categorical data analysis, or more current ones, such as data mining and computational aspects of Bayesian data analysis. This year's selection highlights one of the hottest areas in biostatistics: statistical applications in bioinformatics and the analysis of gene expression data in particular. Scientists can measure the expression of thousands of genes or short segments of genes simultaneously. Conference organizers say some background in genetics is helpful …. uhh, yeah.

This was a big day in Beatle history. On this day in 1966, the group arrived at Chicago O'Hare's airport to start a tour of the U.S. John Lennon held a press conference in Chicago apologizing for the hoohah that erupted after he proclaimed that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." Although the Beatles would remain together for four more years, the American tour that followed the Jesus deal would be their last.

On this day in 1999, 350 million people saw the last total eclipse of that century. The total solar eclipse was visible from Europe and Asia. The 1999 total eclipse was the first over mainland Britain since 1927 -- the next will not be until 2090.

On this day in 1984, President Ronald Reagan, who invented Alzheimer's, royally pissed off the Russians. During a thought-to-be-off-the-record voice level test, instead of counting, the president said, "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes." The statement was picked up by live television cameras, was heard by millions worldwide, setting off a semi-comic "War of the Worlds"-like scenario.






Happy birthday, Erwin Schrodinger! The Nobel-prize-winning physicist died in 1961, but not before coming up with the famous thought experiment called "Schrodinger's cat." As Steve Martin in Pure Drivel describes it: "A cat is placed in a box, together with a radioactive atom. If the atom decays, a hammer kills the cat; if the atom doesn't decay, the cat lives. As the atom is considered to be in either state before the observer opens the box, the cat must thus be considered to be simultaneously dead and alive." Although this isn't quite what Schrodinger purported, the experiment is seemingly paradoxical and quite delightful, even to those of us who are scientifically challenged.

On this day in 1981, IBM introduced the Personal Computer. Compared to room-hogging mainframes, this relatively petite machine could sit atop desktops in homes and schools. IBM's new machine was rigged with an Intel processing chip and an operating system developed by that evil corporate giant, Microsoft. Scholars in ivory towers were using Usenet, and the Internet was more than just a gleam in Tim Berner's eye.

This weekend marks the commemoration of Tisha B'Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, a day of mourning to remember the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. It is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, because of the incredible series of tragedies that occurred on that date throughout Jewish history. The time between sunset Saturday to nightfall on Sunday marks the most intense peak of a three-week mourning period.

Now here's a scary thought: National Kool-Aid Days are today through Sunday. Celebrate with the big, happy, condensation-dripping mascot, but as they say, don't drink the Kool-Aid.







INCOMING! runs every Monday on The Black Table.