Thursday Evening Open Thread: Crowning Glory of the Ubermensch

I too can remember when Burt Reynolds slayed with that ‘I paid for it, so it’s my hair’ line… back on Johnny Carson’s show in the 1970s. Gawker performs a public service with its deeply researched investigative report on the possible roots of That Urine-Colored Thing on Donnie’s Head:

Is Donald Trump’s Hair a $60,000 Weave? A Gawker Investigation
A tipster who claimed knowledge of Trump’s hair recently came to Gawker with a potential solution to the enigma: Trump’s hair is not his own, costs tens of thousands of dollars for installation and upkeep, and comes from a man as mysterious as Trump is bombastic.

This solution that Trump, our tipster says, sought for his hair woes is a little-known, patented hair restoration treatment called a “microcylinder intervention.” It’s only performed by one clinic that we know of—Ivari International—where our source once sought treatment, and where he says he learned of Trump’s apparent patronage. What’s more, Ivari’s New York location was inside Trump Tower—on the private floor reserved for Donald Trump’s own office…

Srsly, this is good political work, because it’s much more likely to get under Deadbeat Donald’s extremely thin skin — and thereby damage his credibility with low-info voters — than respectable sercon reporting like TPM‘s “Trump Unites Generations Of White Nationalists”:

Tucked away in the woods of middle Tennessee’s Montgomery Bell State Park, 300 “white advocates” gathered over the weekend at the fourteenth American Renaissance conference to reflect on just how much fuel Trump has added to their movement this election cycle.

“I’ve never felt this sense of energy in our movement,” the conference host, Jared Taylor, said in his opening remarks. “I’ve never been more optimistic.”

For the conference, American Renaissance, a white nationalist publication, brought advocates for a white ethno-state together with Holocaust deniers, eugenicists and confederate sympathizers. American Renaissance and many of the groups the conference speakers are associated with are designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center…

Trump’s candidacy and the proliferation of white nationalist media online have put the old guard of white advocacy in touch with the new. At the conference, anti-immigrant, pro-Confederate old-timers rubbed shoulders with the young men of the “alt-right”—a loosely defined amalgam of isolationist white nationalists who crusade against political correctness and thrive on the Internet…

Repeat along with me: “It’s about ethics in gaming political journalism… “



We Had a Good Run…

Prolly no real need to worry about Trump, anyway:

For the first time, researchers have found a person in the United States carrying bacteria resistant to antibiotics of last resort, an alarming development that the top U.S. public health official says could signal “the end of the road” for antibiotics.

The antibiotic-resistant strain was found last month in the urine of a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman. Defense Department researchers determined that she carried a strain of E. coli resistant to the antibiotic colistin, according to a study published Thursday in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology. The authors wrote that the discovery “heralds the emergence of a truly pan-drug resistant bacteria.”

Colistin is the antibiotic of last resort for particularly dangerous types of superbugs, including a family of bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which health officials have dubbed “nightmare bacteria.” In some instances, these superbugs kill up to 50 percent of patients who become infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called CRE among the country’s most urgent public health threats.

Health officials said the case in Pennsylvania, by itself, is not cause for panic. The strain found in the woman is treatable with some other antibiotics. But researchers worry that the antibiotic-resistant gene found in the bacteria, known as mcr-1, could spread to other types of bacteria that can already evade other types of antibiotics.

This is very, very, very serious.








Late Night Horrorshow: Zika Is Coming, Ready or Not

I’m probably gonna get dinged for chicken-littling, because hey, no Ebola outbreak happened in America, right? And yet… “White House Ebola response coordinator from 2014 to 2015” Klain’s Washington Post article:

The good news is that both the House and Senate have finally passed bills that would provide some funding to combat the Zika virus. The bad news is that this action comes more than three months after President Obama requested the aid. Moreover, the House bill provides only one-third of the response needed; pays for this limited, ineffective response by diverting money allocated to fight other infectious diseases; and necessitates a conference committee to resolve differences with the Senate bill, meaning we still do not know when any money will finally get through Congress to fund the response…

As befuddling as Congress’ refusal to approve funds for the Zika response is, perhaps even more of a mystery is why such approval is needed in the first place. If nature was threatening us with serious injury and evacuations via fire, flood or hurricane, the president could use his authority under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to provide immediate aid without waiting for Congress to act. The fact that epidemic “natural disasters” are the result of disease and not an earthquake or tornado should not constrain the federal government’s ability to provide a timely, comprehensive response…

Speaking of those damaged babies? Once the Zika virus gets established in “our” mosquitos, microcephaly is going to become yet another standard prenatal test for women in the afflicted areas. Or who’ve visited those areas. Or whose male partners were exposed to Zika, even months before the pregnancy. And by the time microcephaly can be diagnosed, it’s too late for a quiet ‘medical abortion‘ — women will need full surgical services, and most will have been visibly pregnant. It’s not going to be easy for ‘fundamentalist’ anti-choicers to find reasons to blame good married Christian white ladies in the Sunbelt for having been bitten by the wrong mosquito… but I’m sure they’re gonna try their damndest.
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Saturday Evening Open Thread: Sparklies!

Yeah, I know, dangerous, wasteful, and generally problematic even if the Olympics weren’t such a scam. But still

Tokyo based start-up Star-ALE is is designing a man-made meteor shower over the Japanese capital city , which will serve as the highlight of the 2020 Olympics opening ceremony. The meteor shower is expected to have an audience of 30,000,000 people and would be viewable from the ground in an area 120 miles across.

As a first step of the project named “Sky Canvas,” the company would launch a micro-satellite into space (the first is scheduled for the year 2017 ) that’s loaded up with 500 to 1,000 proprietary pellets containing various elements. The combustible pellets are made from various metals and elements so that they burn with different colors when ignited at an altitude of between 35 to 50 miles above Earth…

***********
Apart from fireworks, what’s on the agenda for the evening?



Sports-Adjacent Open Thread: Has the Fourth Horseman Just Shown Up in Rio?

There will never be an Olympic Games that doesn’t involve some kind of unseemly political tradeoffs (like Russia’s anti-LGTB terrorism pre-Sochi) and unfortunate aftereffects (“Bombshell Report Details Elaborate State-Run Russian Doping Program During Sochi Olympics”). But the upcoming Summer Games in Rio have scored an especially depressing hat trick, as described in Foreign Policy:

Imagine trying to throw a giant party while going through an ugly divorce — and as disease-bearing mosquitoes swarm around your badly damaged house. That, essentially, is what Brazil is trying to do as it barrels toward this summer’s Olympic Games during an impeachment crisis and an as-yet uncontrolled Zika outbreak.

On Wednesday night, the Brazilian Senate voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. The political crisis that has rocked the country since Rousseff was first accused of manipulating government funds during her 2014 reelection campaign has only worsened the public health crisis caused by the explosive spread of a particularly dangerous strain of Zika virus…

And now, the Olympics could help a dangerous strain of Zika go global. [Amir] Attaran, who has served as an advisor to Brazil’s Ministry of Health, argued in the Harvard Public Health Review that Zika in Brazil is much more serious than previously acknowledged, and that allowing Rio to host the 2016 Olympics will speed up a global health crisis.

Rio has the highest number of probable Zika cases in the country, and the virus is more dangerous than previously thought — and not just for pregnant women, Attaran said.

“The effects on the adult nervous system are only beginning to be studied, but the preliminary findings are not good, and suggest that exposure to the virus is linked to Guillain-Barré disease, increasing the odds 60-fold,” he wrote.

In addition, new evidence seems to demonstrate both that Zika is clearly a cause of microcephaly, which shrinks babies’ brains, and that the virus can spread through sexual contact…
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Brave New Worlds

ETA: Sorry about the bigfoot (proof, once again, that the front-pagers really don’t collude). But I’ve got to run, so I’m just going to leave this here on the theory that this community can handle more than one topic at a time.

You may have caught this news, but today Nature published a report on the discovery of three earth-scale planets in orbit around just about the least impressive star it’s possible to be.

Edvard_Munch_-_Starry_Night_(1922–24)

What’s most intriguing is that the dimness of that parent star — now known as TRAPPIST-1, after the instrument at the heart of this discovery — makes it just possible (if you squint just right) to glimpse a possible opening for life on its planets.

It’s tricky, because the two better-characterized planets are terribly close to their sun, with orbits of 1.5 and 2.4 days.  But TRAPPIST-1 is what’s called an “ultracool dwarf” — and even at that distances, the two planets would have equilibrium temperatures that are pretty damn hot.  But — if everything broke just right, there would be some locations that could be cool enough to support liquid water on the surface.

That’s one of the big pre-conditions exobiology researchers/dreamers imagine would be valuable/necessary for the emergence of life beyond earth.  Given how many ways we can imagine (and all the ways we can’t) that those circumstances might not pan out, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a signal from our new friends on a distant world.

But the real juice behind this finding comes from the fact that these planets are decent candidates for transmission spectroscopic analysis of their atmospheres (if they have them) during their transits across the face of their star.  All it will take is the next generation of large, infrared-capable telescopes:  the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2018, and instruments like the Giant Magellan Telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, both now starting construction in Chile, and the Thirty-Meter-Telescope, now stalled in Hawaii.

I write more about this over at The Atlantic. It’s a fun tale — a small team pursuing a hunch that has led to a significant (or at least enticing and delicious) advance in our grasp of the possible out there.

So — if you’re tired of terrestrial politics, have some fun contemplating possible home worlds for the Lectroid going by the name of Cruz.

Image:  Edvard Munch, Starry Night, 1922-24








Only The Government Deserves Privacy

This is disturbing:

The government hacking into phones and seizing computers remotely? It’s not the plot of a dystopian blockbuster summer movie. It’s a proposal from an obscure committee that proposes changes to court procedures—and if we do nothing, it will go into effect in December.

The proposal comes from the advisory committee on criminal rules for the Judicial Conference of the United States. The amendment would update Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, creating a sweeping expansion of law enforcement’s ability to engage in hacking and surveillance. The Supreme Court just passed the proposal to Congress, which has until December 1 to disavow the change or it becomes the rule governing every federal court across the country. This is part of a statutory process through which federal courts may create new procedural rules, after giving public notice and allowing time for comment, under a “rules enabling act.”1

The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure set the ground rules for federal criminal prosecutions. The rules cover everything from correcting clerical errors in a judgment to which holidays a court will be closed on—all the day-to-day procedural details that come with running a judicial system.

The key word here is “procedural.” By law, the rules and proposals are supposed to be procedural and must not change substantive rights.

But the amendment to Rule 41 isn’t procedural at all. It creates new avenues for government hacking that were never approved by Congress.

The proposal would grant a judge the ability to issue a warrant to remotely access, search, seize, or copy data when “the district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means” or when the media are on protected computers that have been “damaged without authorization and are located in five or more districts.” It would grant this authority to any judge in any district where activities related to the crime may have occurred.

This is not how this is supposed to work. Using a VPN does not make someone a criminal, and certainly shouldn’t void one’s constitutional rights.