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Russians hiding another nuclear catastrophe?

‘Greenpeace has called for an investigation into a potential cover-up of a nuclear accident after Russia’s nuclear agency had denied European reports of increased ruthenium-106 levels. Rosgidromet, the weather monitoring service, released test data on Monday that showed levels were indeed much higher than normal. The most potent site was Argayash in the south Urals, where levels were 986 times the norm.

Argayash is about 20 miles from Mayak, a facility that reprocesses spent nuclear fuel. The plant facility issued a denial on Tuesday. “The contamination of the atmosphere with ruthenium-106 isotope registered by Rosgidromet is not linked to the activity of Mayak,” a statement said…’

via The Guardian

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Are We Two Glaciers Away From Apocalypse?

pineislandcalvingfront‘In a remote region of Antarctica known as Pine Island Bay, 2,500 miles from the tip of South America, two glaciers hold human civilization hostage.

Stretching across a frozen plain more than 150 miles long, these glaciers, named Pine Island and Thwaites, have marched steadily for millennia toward the Amundsen Sea, part of the vast Southern Ocean. Further inland, the glaciers widen into a two-mile-thick reserve of ice covering an area the size of Texas.

There’s no doubt this ice will melt as the world warms. The vital question is when.

The glaciers of Pine Island Bay are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica. (A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites “The Doomsday Glacier.”) Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour 11 feet of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans — an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today.

To figure that out, scientists have been looking back to the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago, when global temperatures stood at roughly their current levels. The bad news? There’s growing evidence that the Pine Island Bay glaciers collapsed rapidly back then, flooding the world’s coastlines — partially the result of something called “marine ice-cliff instability.”

The ocean floor gets deeper toward the center of this part of Antarctica, so each new iceberg that breaks away exposes taller and taller cliffs. Ice gets so heavy that these taller cliffs can’t support their own weight. Once they start to crumble, the destruction would be unstoppable…’

via Grist

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Here’s How the End of Net Neutrality Will Change the Internet

‘INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS like Comcast and Verizon may soon be free to block content, slow video-streaming services from rivals, and offer “fast lanes” to preferred partners. For a glimpse of how the internet experience may change, look at what broadband providers are doing under the existing “net neutrality” rules.

When AT&T customers access its DirecTV Now video-streaming service, the data doesn’t count against their plan’s data limits. Verizon, likewise, exempts its Go90 service from its customers’ data plans. T-Mobile allows multiple video and music streaming services to bypass its data limits, essentially allowing it to pick winners and losers in those categories.

Consumers will likely see more arrangements like these, granting or blocking access to specific content, if the Federal Communications Commission next month repeals Obama-era net neutrality rules that ban broadband providers from discriminating against lawful content providers. The commission outlined its proposed changes on Tuesday, and plans to publish them Wednesday. The proposal would also ban states from passing their own versions of the old rules. Because Republicans have a majority in the agency, the proposal will likely pass and take effect early next year.

Because many internet services for mobile devices include limits on data use, the changes will be visible there first. In one dramatic scenario, internet services would begin to resemble cable-TV packages, where subscriptions could be limited to a few dozen sites and services. Or, for big spenders, a few hundred. Fortunately, that’s not a likely scenario. Instead, expect a gradual shift towards subscriptions that provide unlimited access to certain preferred providers while charging extra for everything else…’

via WIRED

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We Can’t Trust Facebook to Regulate Itself

Sandy Parakilas worked as an operations manager on the platform team at Sandy Parakilas, operations manager on the platform team at Facebook in 2011 and 2012, writes:

‘I led Facebook’s efforts to fix privacy problems on its developer platform in advance of its 2012 initial public offering. What I saw from the inside was a company that prioritized data collection from its users over protecting them from abuse. As the world contemplates what to do about Facebook in the wake of its role in Russia’s election meddling, it must consider this history. Lawmakers shouldn’t allow Facebook to regulate itself. Because it won’t.

Facebook knows what you look like, your location, who your friends are, your interests, if you’re in a relationship or not, and what other pages you look at on the web. This data allows advertisers to target the more than one billion Facebook visitors a day. It’s no wonder the company has ballooned in size to a $500 billion behemoth in the five years since its I.P.O…’

via New York Times

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McMaster to Oracle CEO: Trump Has Intelligence of a ‘Kindergartner’

hmxbrxul5miiml29on45‘Citing “five sources with knowledge of the conversation,” Buzzfeed News reports that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster called his commander-in-chief an “idiot” and a “dope” during a private dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz. Catz has had a notably close relationship with the Trump administration and denied the comments when asked by Buzzfeed…’

via Gizmodo

‘…[And he] isn’t the only member of Trump’s war cabinet who seems to feel that way.

via Vox

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FmH Turns 18

Thanks for all your support through the years.  We began eighteen years ago, in a galaxy far away.  “I am the world crier, & this is my dangerous career… I am the one to call your bluff, & this is my climate.” —Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972)

Please write to offer suggestions or criticisms. What would you like to see more of, less of in the coming eighteen years here?

(Please do not write to inquire about advertising on this weblog or to offer to submit thinly-disguised advertisements as if they were weblog posts. Also, please do not write to let me know you wish I go easier on the Boy King in the White House.)

Happy to continue to send these missives your way, but remember:

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This unqualified nominee is just the beginning of Trump’s efforts to remake the courts

gettyimages_460183416-0Brett Talley…, 36, a Trump nominee for the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama has never tried a case in his life (he has written more horror novels than he’s tried cases). In fact, he has only practiced law for three years, spending the bulk of his time since law school as a clerk or working for Republican campaigns. The American Bar Association unanimously ruled him “unqualified,” only the fourth such rating since 1989 (and the second under President Donald Trump). He pledged his “support to the NRA [National Rifle Association]; financially, politically, and intellectually” in a 2013 blog post and told the Senate Judiciary Committee that despite the pledge, he would not commit to recuse himself from gun control cases. Talley declined to disclose to Congress, when asked for potential conflicts of interests, that his wife, Ann Donaldson, is not only a White House staffer but chief of staff to the White House counsel, whose office is in charge of picking judicial nominees.

via Vox

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How to Lock Down Your Facebook Privacy Settings

]

Facebook deserves a lot of the flack it gets, be it for providing Russian propaganda with a platform or gradually eroding privacy norms. Still, it has some genuine usefulness. And while the single best way to keep your privacy safe on Facebook is to delete your account, taking these simple steps in the settings is the next best thing.

Remember, it’s not just friends of friends you need to think about hiding from; it’s an army of advertisers looking to target you not just on Facebook itself, but around the web, using Facebook’s ad platform. …[W]e’ll show you how to deal with both.

via WIRED

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New Research: It’s Fructan, Not Gluten, That’s Causing Stomach Problems

The gluten protein may not be the real reason for why many people experience bloating after eating wheat-containing food. Instead, a new study proposes fructan as the potential culprit for the sensitivity some are exhibiting.

As much as 13% of the population have bloating after eating gluten-containing foods and seek out alternatives. But perhaps, they should be looking for fructan-free products instead, say researchers from the University of Oslo in Norway and Monash University in Australia.

via Big Think

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The Idea of Creating a New Universe in the Lab Is No Joke

wormholecropped‘Physicists aren’t often reprimanded for using risqué humour in their academic writings, but in 1991 that is exactly what happened to the cosmologist Andrei Linde at Stanford University. He had submitted a draft article entitled ‘Hard Art of the Universe Creation’ to the journal Nuclear Physics B. In it, he outlined the possibility of creating a universe in a laboratory: a whole new cosmos that might one day evolve its own stars, planets and intelligent life. Near the end, Linde made a seemingly flippant suggestion that our Universe itself might have been knocked together by an alien ‘physicist hacker’. The paper’s referees objected to this ‘dirty joke’; religious people might be offended that scientists were aiming to steal the feat of universe-making out of the hands of God, they worried. Linde changed the paper’s title and abstract but held firm over the line that our Universe could have been made by an alien scientist. ‘I am not so sure that this is just a joke,’ he told me.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century, and the notion of universe-making – or ‘cosmogenesis’ as I dub it – seems less comical than ever. I’ve travelled the world talking to physicists who take the concept seriously, and who have even sketched out rough blueprints for how humanity might one day achieve it.’

via Big Think

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What Do Aliens Look Like? Oxford Astrobiologists Base Picture on Evolution

 

oxford-alien-drawings‘When Charles Darwin laid out his theory of natural selection in 1859, little could he have imagined that, a good 150 years later, this cornerstone of evolutionary theory might help us form a mental picture of what alien life looks like. But that’s precisely how a group of researchers from Oxford University have done: In a research paper called “Darwin’s Aliens,” they’ve applied Darwin’s theory to alien life, positing that aliens–like humans–adapt to their environment, undergo natural selection, and move from simple to complex life forms. And, by the end, they could plausibly look something like a “colony of Ewoks from Star Wars or the Octomite” pictured above.’

via Open Culture

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You’ve come a long way, baby brain

brainorganoidhopkins-1024x576‘Minuscule blobs of human brain tissue have come a long way in the four years since scientists in Vienna discovered how to create them from stem cells.

The most advanced of these human brain organoids — no bigger than a lentil and, until now, existing only in test tubes — pulse with the kind of electrical activity that animates actual brains. They give birth to new neurons, much like full-blown brains. And they develop the six layers of the human cortex, the region responsible for thought, speech, judgment, and other advanced cognitive functions.

These micro quasi-brains are revolutionizing research on human brain development and diseases from Alzheimer’s to Zika, but the headlong rush to grow the most realistic, most highly developed brain organoids has thrown researchers into uncharted ethical waters. Like virtually all experts in the field, neuroscientist Hongjun Song of the University of Pennsylvania doesn’t “believe an organoid in a dish can think,” he said, “but it’s an issue we need to discuss.” …’

via Stat News

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Modern physics: ‘Mass ain’t what it used to be…’

13617_88fce63f42b8b78770aae2e70ccb67bc‘…We’ve certainly come a long way since the ancient Greek atomists speculated about the nature of material substance, 2,500 years ago. But for much of this time we’ve held to the conviction that matter is a fundamental part of our physical universe. We’ve been convinced that it is matter that has energy. And, although matter may be reducible to microscopic constituents, for a long time we believed that these would still be recognizable as matter—they would still possess the primary quality of mass.

Modern physics teaches us something rather different, and deeply counter-intuitive. As we worked our way ever inward—matter into atoms, atoms into sub-atomic particles, sub-atomic particles into quantum fields and forces—we lost sight of matter completely. Matter lost its tangibility. It lost its primacy as mass became a secondary quality, the result of interactions between intangible quantum fields. What we recognize as mass is a behavior of these quantum fields; it is not a property that belongs or is necessarily intrinsic to them.

Despite the fact that our physical world is filled with hard and heavy things, it is instead the energy of quantum fields that reigns supreme. Mass becomes simply a physical manifestation of that energy, rather than the other way around.’

via Nautilus

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Was there really a big bang?

keating_brianCosmologist Brian Keating:

‘You can’t prove a theory, but you can falsify alternatives to it. What’s raging right now in cosmology is the question of whether inflation is a theory. Is it science? Is it falsifiable? There are many eminent cosmologists and theoreticians, from Roger Penrose, Paul Steinhardt, and many others who are just as eminent as a physicist working on inflationary cosmology, who claim that not only is it not provable, it’s not even science because it cannot in principal be falsified.’

via Edge.org

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Gene Therapy Restores Seven-Year-Old Boy’s Skin in ‘Major Biomedical Triumph’

Junctional epidermolysis bullosa is the sort of rare disease you are probably lucky to have never heard of. An often lethal genetic condition, from infancy it plagues its victim with painful blisters all over the body that causes the skin to become extremely fragile.

In a major medical breakthrough, on Wednesday Italian researchers announced that they were able to almost entirely reconstruct the skin of a seven-year-old boy afflicted with JED—and they used gene therapy to do it.

It is a breakthrough that not only signals a potential curative treatment for a painful, heartbreaking disease, but demonstrates the great power that new technologies like gene therapy and stem cells may hold to address genetic conditions previously written off as hopeless.

via Gizmodo

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Texas Gunman Once Escaped From Mental Health Facility

‘The gunman behind the worst mass shooting in Texas history escaped from a psychiatric hospital while he was in the Air Force, and was caught a few miles away by the local police, who were told that he had made death threats against his superiors and tried to smuggle weapons onto his base, a 2012 police report showed.

That episode, which came to light on Tuesday, was another in a series of red flags about the threat the gunman, Devin P. Kelley, posed to those around him. But none of the warnings stopped Mr. Kelley from legally purchasing several firearms, including the rifle he used to kill 26 people at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Sunday…’

via New York Times

But this is not an anomaly! I work in a psychiatric hospital and it is not the exception but the rule that there is no mechanism through which the fact of someone’s admission, or the determination that they are dangerous, is conveyed to any authority who might flag them if they later attempted to purchase a firearm!

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Brain Imaging Reveals ADHD as a Collection of Different Disorders

A new study sheds light on ADHD, reporting teens with the disorder fit into one of three specific subgroups with distinct brain impairments and no common abnormalities between them.

via Neuroscience News

I have long decried the maniacal overdiagnosis of ADHD by my colleagues. Of course, this leads to massive overprescribing of stimulant medication. In a bit of circular reasoning, the fact that someone’s mood or functioning often improves when they take stimulants is taken as confirmation of the diagnosis, ignoring the fact that almost anyone feels better when they take these medications. Furthermore, if a diagnosis represents a heterogeneous category, a medication which helps one subgroup may be seen as beneficial overall just by a statistical effect. It has long been clear to me that the ADHD diagnosis is used to explain a variety of unrelated difficulties in very different individuals; now there is some empirical confirmation. And let this stand as a broader challenge to one-size-fits-all diagnosis in psychiatry!

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There’s really been only one mass shooting in US history

Each shooting supplants the previous one almost completely in media attention, memory and public discussion and we act as if it has been the only one. With the Texas church massacre, we have already lost sight of Las Vegas, and so on and so on. We act as if each of these incidents should be analyzed in its own terms. In so doing, no one asks why this has become nearly a weekly occurrence in the US and what the meaning of or explanation for the underlying generic phenomenon might be.

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“Voted for Trump? I have only one plea”

Here’s what I am saying: You’ve said all along that you disagree with the ‘inelegant’ things Trump says about all kinds of groups of people. You’ve agreed that his statements about women are abhorrent. You say you like him because he gets stuff done, not because of the way he speaks. And I believe to my core that you agree that all people should be treated with decency.
So, now you get to prove it. It’s actually so simple: Demand that it end. Demand that he finally, vociferously reject the KKK and other white supremacist groups. Every single time he or his surrogates says something over-generalized about any group of people — “all Black people live in inner cities and their lives are hell”; “all/most/many refugees/immigrants/Muslims/whatever are dangerous”; “that woman is only a 7” — hold him to the highest standard you have. Contact him and tell him, “I support you, I voted for you, and I demand that you stop saying these things.”

Source: Medium