Glenn Miller’s death plane, Robert Durst’s cannibal appetites, and exploding heads in this week’s dubious tabloids

There are trace elements of facts in many of this week’s tabloids stories, but that hasn’t stopped the rags’ alchemists from spinning gold out of these barely-detectable sub-atomic particles.

George Clooney and wife Amal have purchased an estate on the Italian isle of Sardinia, but because she’s there with their twins and George is away, the National Enquirer cover story proclaims: “Clooney Divorce Explodes – Amal Moves Out!” She has reportedly “fled their marital home in England” and “furious George has begged Amal to come back." Except Clooney isn’t in England. He has been working in Los Angeles, as the most cursory investigation would have told the Enquirer. But if Amal is in Sardinia and George isn’t there, they must be getting divorced. Right?

"Glenn Miller Death Plane Found!” reports the Globe. Well, not exactly. The unidentified wreckage of a WWII-era plane was found off the south coast of England. So the Globe figures this must be the big band leader’s plane, because no other planes went down in the sea during WWII, did they?

Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton is the target of terrorists as “ISIS Plants Poison in Kate’s Grocery Store,” claims the Globe. Or at least, a post on an extremist website suggested that someone should poison her groceries, which means it’s as good as happened.

Jennifer Aniston is adopting a baby girl from a Mexican orphanage, the Globe reports under the happy headline: “Jen Aniston’s Mom At Last!" Apparently she has made a donation to a Mexican orphanage, so it stands to reason she must be taking one of the kids home. Don’t you get one free child for every $10,000 you donate?

The gloved one’s daughter Paris Jackson is “in rehab over Jacko pedo film!” claims the Enquirer. Yes, the 20-year-old has confirmed that she is taking some time off "to prioritize her physical and emotional health,” and for the Enquirer that can only mean one thing: she’s devastated by the new documentary Leaving Neverland, which probes allegations of child sex abuse against her father Michael Jackson. The Globe apparently thinks that’s shocking news for Paris, who clearly has never heard such allegations before. Right.

And then of course the tabloids bring us a host of stories which seem to lack even the faintest evanescence of a fact having once been in the vicinity. Accused killer Robert Durst “ate his victim,” claims an alleged friend hiding behind the pseudonym William Steel, according to the Enquirer. Millionaire Durst allegedly told his pal how he disposed of wife Kathleen: “I tortured her, strangled her and ate her.” Sadly there’s no recipe included in this story.

Chanteuse Celine Dion gets the fantasy treatment from the Globe, which shows a photo of the singer “slumped on a gurney in Las Vegas” beside the headline “Fears For Celine After Backstage Collapse!” In reality, Dion had been dancing wildly at a Lady Gaga concert, and then jokingly lay down on the gurney, to the delight of all around her. She must be so happy that the Globe has a sense of humor and didn’t misinterpret the playful photo.

“Money-hungry mistress chased …read the rest

The Office documentary reportedly confirmed by Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration

Robert Ray Shafer who played Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration on the US version of The Office apparently posted the below to his Facebook page confirming a documentary in production about the beloved show. Of course this will be a documentary about a mockumentary. According to this Facebook post, the documentary "That's What She Said (And They Said Too)" is expected to be premiere on the show's 15th anniversary in 2020. (via r/DunderMifflin)

Shapeshifting microrobots to travel through your bloodstream

Continuing the quest to design robots that could travel through our bodies to deliver drugs and cure disease, researchers at EPFL and ETH Zurich demonstrated tiny shape-shifting microrobots that swim through blood vessels. Made from hydrogel nanocomposites, the microbots can fold into various shapes for easy travel through tight spaces and flowing with dense, viscous, or fast-moving liquids. The microbots are peppered with magnetic nanoparticles so that they can be "steered" with an external magnetic field. From EPFL:

“Our robots have a special composition and structure that allow them to adapt to the characteristics of the fluid they are moving through. For instance, if they encounter a change in viscosity or osmotic concentration, they modify their shape to maintain their speed and maneuverability without losing control of the direction of motion,” says (EPFL researcher Selman) Sakar.

These deformations can be “programmed” in advance so as to maximize performance without the use of cumbersome sensors or actuators. The robots can be either controlled using an electromagnetic field or left to navigate on their own through cavities by utilizing fluid flow. Either way, they will automatically morph into the most efficient shape.

"Smart microrobots that can adapt to their surroundings" (EPFL)

A psychotic rogue Japanese otter mascot concerns city officials

Susaki is a city in Japan. They have a cute otter named Shinjokun with nearly 500k Twitter followers, and who serves as an honorary tourism ambassador. But then someone created a Twitter account for Chiitan, a mascot based on the otter, and started posting short videos of the otter misbehaving -- tipping over a car, burgling a house, recklessly swinging a weed whacker in the air. Chiitan now has over twice as many followers as Shinjokun, and some people think Chiitan is a sanctioned mascot. They complained to Susaki officials, who, for some reason, decided the way to quell the controversy was to fire Shinjokun. That seems to have been a mistake. From the New York Times:

After receiving more than 100 calls from around Japan about Chiitan’s behavior, the city declined last week to renew the real otter’s honorary tourism ambassador contract. But posts about Chiitan being “fired” (the mascot and the real otter have the same name) have since gone viral on social media, incorrectly implying that the city had officially sanctioned the rogue mascot’s cheeky antics.


[Takashi Moritoki, a Susaki city official] said Susaki officials had initially turned a “blind eye” to Chiitan because they hoped the rogue mascot would help improve the city’s image. But the city is now consulting a lawyer, he said, because it worries that Charando, the design company — which still owns a copyright for Chiitan — is earning money from its viral antics that might otherwise have gone to city coffers.何でも避けれるってちぃたん☆が言うから見せてもらったで🐢

— カメちゃん🐢 (@macegem) January 23, 2019


— ちぃたん☆ (@love2chiitan) June 2, 2018

Chiitan is a Superman?

— Chiitan🏅 (@ogecebel) October 22, 2018

Chiitan going to visit your house

— Chiitan🏅 (@ogecebel) December 3, 2018

Chinese scientist who edited babies' genes has been fired and may face criminal charges

An investigation by the health ministry in Guangdong, China determined that scientist He Jiankui broke national laws when he used the CRISPR gene-editing technique to engineer human embryos with resistance to HIV and then implanted the embryos into women who then birthed the babies. Based on the probe, the Southern University of Science and Technology has fired He from his position as a researcher and teacher there. According to an article in the Chinese state media outlet Xinhua, police may also explore charges against He and his colleagues. From Nature:

The Xinhua article confirms many details of the case for the first time: starting in June 2016, it says, He put together a team that, from March 2017, recruited eight couples consisting of an HIV-positive father and an HIV-negative mother. He’s team edited the genes of embryos from at least two couples. (The Xinhua article does not specify what type of gene editing was done, although He claims that the embryos were edited to remove a gene that enables HIV to enter cells.) In addition to the woman who already gave birth, one other woman involved in the experiment is currently pregnant with a gene-edited embryo. Five other couples are not pregnant, the article reports, and one couple dropped out of the experiment.

The article says that He’s gene-editing activities were “clearly prohibited by the state”, but it doesn’t mention which specific laws or regulations the researcher broke.

To do in Boston Mar 23/24: The Free Software Foundation's Libreplanet conference

The Free Software Foundation has announced the keynotes for its 2019 Libreplanet conference: Debian pioneer Bdale Garbee; Micky Metts from the MayFirst People Link Leadership Committee, Solidarity Economy Network and Agaric; Shuttleworth fellow Tarek Loubani who develops open source hardware, 3D printed medical equipment used in Gazan hospitals; and FSF founder Richard Stallman.

US residents who went to Mexico for surgery returned with deadly superbug

An alarming story in the Washington Post about US residents going to Mexico for more affordable surgery and then contracting a deadly microbial infection.

Tamika Capone thought she was making a smart call by traveling to Mexico for bariatric surgery. Her doctor had urged her to have the procedure to reduce her out-of-control weight and blood pressure. But her husband’s health insurance would not cover the $17,500 bill. After a friend got the surgery in Tijuana for $4,000, Capone decided to do the same. Nearly four months later, the Arkansas woman is one of at least a dozen U.S. residents who returned from surgeries in Tijuana with a rare and potentially deadly strain of bacteria resistant to virtually all antibiotics, say federal health officials. Some in the group recovered, but Capone, 40, remains seriously ill despite being treated with a barrage of drugs.

Image: Nadia Buravleva/Shutterstock

Limits to trickle-down: Trump's tax-cut "boom" fizzles

Trump's multi-trillion-dollar giveaway to the richest Americans and largest US corporations led to a rise in GDP, but it was a short-lived sugar-high: the major effect was a trillion dollars in stock buybacks that padded the bottom lines of super-rich investors who barely touch the real economy (you can only own so many super-yachts and operating costs are funneled through offshore flags-of-convenience anyway).

Corporate America projects giant profits from climate disasters

Though firms may worry about profits now that Trump's decision to let the world boil in its own juices rather than offend the hydrocarbon lobby (Coke may run out of water, Disney may run out of themepark-goers), the latest report from UK nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project shows that companies are also privately exulting in the new possibilities opened up by climate catastrophes and the ensuing hidden misery.

Trailer for "Beach Bum," Harmony Korine's new weirdo stoner comedy

Writer/director Harmony Korine (Kids, Gummo, Spring Breakers) is back at the shore for Beach Bum, a stoner burnout comedy starring Matthew McConaughey with Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Zac Efron, Jimmy Buffett, Martin Lawrence and Jonah Hill. The trailer reminds me a bit of Pee-wee's Big Adventure if the weirdo protagonist was on Sour Diesel instead of Purple Microdot.

Beach Bum will premiere at SXSW and hit theaters March 22.

Passenger confronts Republican Congressman sitting in first class on plane during government shutdown

While 57,000 TSA employees are expected to work without pay during the government shutdown, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), a government worker himself, thinks it's just dandy to travel first class. While sitting in his plush seat on a flight from Chicago to Washinton, D.C., a fellow traveler confronted him.

“Congressman, do you think it’s appropriate to fly first class while 57 TSA agents aren’t being paid?”"

Davis is as silent as a church mouse.

“Taking that as a yes...Taxpayers paid for this flight? Fair enough,” the passenger says.

A GOP congressman flew first class today on a taxpayer-funded flight* on day 32 of the shutdown. A fellow passenger wasn't thrilled.

*(The office bought him a coach ticket but he got upgraded for free because of how frequently he flies--on taxpayer dime)

— Akbar Shahid Ahmed (@AkbarSAhmed) January 22, 2019

Apparently, Davis bought a coach ticket and upgraded to first class using frequent flier points. But the optics are ugly, to say the least.

Via Huffington Post, who first obtained the video from the unidentified passenger.

A surprise meteorite hit the moon during Monday's total lunar eclipse

During Monday's super wolf blood moon lunar eclipse, some observers noticed a tiny flash on the surface. Turns out that was a football-sized meteorite smashing into the western surface of the moon. This was the first time a meteorite impact was spotted during a total lunar eclipse. Now, scientists will study images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to hopefully find the new crater, perhaps as large as 33 feet across. From National Geographic:

An eagle-eyed viewer on Reddit spotted the potential impact during the eclipse and reached out to the r/space community to see if others could weigh in. The news spread quickly on social media, as people from across the path of totality posted their images and video of this tiny flicker of light...

“The Earth and the moon are in such close proximity that observing the impacts on the moon can help us learn a lot more about the frequency of impacts on Earth,” explains (University of Toronto planetary scientist Sara) Mazrouei, who recently authored a study detailing an ancient spike in large meteor bombardment on the moon, and thus on our planet.

...Seeing the aftermath of smaller impacts on airless worlds like the moon can help scientists learn about the effects of larger strikes on all kinds of worlds—including our own, Madiedo says.

“By knowing what happens with smaller impacts, you could know what could happen with larger impacts without really studying a large impact on Earth.”

After six days, LA teachers settle their strike, wringing huge concessions out of the school district

After six school days on the picket line, more then 30,000 LA public school teachers voted to accept an offer from the nation's second-largest school district that amounted to a near-total capitulation by management in favor of the teachers' broad demands: smaller classes; more aides, librarians and counselors; better school maintenance; support for a statewide moratorium on new charter schools; and releasing the cost-of-living-allowances that the state had paid to the LA Unified School District, but which the district had not passed on to the workers for several years, giving every teacher a real-terms pay-cut every year.

Winners Take All: the Davos Edition (how elites launder looting with phoney philanthropy)

With the World Economic Forum kicking off in Davos, Switzerland -- where the super-rich are already decrying Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's massively popular 70% tax-rate on earning over $10,000,000 -- it's a great time to revisit Anand Giridharadas's must-read 2018 book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, in which the former McKinsey consultant and Aspen Institute fellow catalogs the way that the super-rich have starved their host-nations of the funds needed to operate a functional civilization, and then laundered their reputations by dribbling back some of that looted booty in the form of "philanthropic donations" that always seem to redound to their personal benefit.

Make a RetroPie tabletop arcade game player with the help of a Glowforge laser cutter

[This post is sponsored by Glowforge. To get $100 off a Glowforge Basic, $250 off a Glowforge Plus, or $500 off a Glowforge Pro use the link]

My 15-year-old daughter and I love retro video games. We often go a retro video game arcade in Pasadena, California, and we also play a lot of computer games from the 1980s and 1990s. We thought it would be fun to build a dedicated machine at home that we could use to play these retro games.

After a bit of online searching, we found out it’s easy to use a Raspberry Pi, which is a $35 single board computer the size of a credit card, along with a free Linux based operating system called RetroPie that has emulators for every arcade and console imaginable. We could use a Raspberry Pi and RetroPie to play every arcade game we want. And with our Glowforge laser cutter, we could easily make an arcade cabinet for ourselves as well quickly make them for friends and family.

In this 2-part video series, which was underwritten by our friends at Glowforge, I’m going to show you how we did it.

Parts and Materials

First, we bought all the parts and materials we needed to make the cabinet. We got a Raspberry Pi Model 3 B+, a 32GB MicroSD card, a power supply, a 10-inch HDMI monitor, a set of arcade buttons and a joystick, a pair of speakers, some cables and a box of various machine screws and nuts and standoffs.

Tools One of the most important tools we needed was a pair of digital calipers. You can buy these measuring tools online for cheap online. We used these to measure the dimensions of the different parts, such as the button diameter and mounting hole dimensions. The coolest tool we used was the Glowforge, which we used to cut the wooden sides and see-through acrylic top of the cabinet.

The cabinet was one of the first things we made on the Glowforge, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to set up the Glowforge. Just 30 minutes after pulling it out of the box, I was cutting out shapes and making engravings. With a Glowforge, the possibilities are endless - it cuts plastic, wood, acrylic, and even leather, and can be used to engrave almost anything. I’ve included links to a couple of other videos we made that showcase everything the Glowforge can make.

Design For inspiration, we went to Pinterest and took a look at a bunch of different DIY game cabinets. We ended up going with a minimalistic design because I like the look of mid-century designer Dieter Rams.

To design the cabinet, we used a free web application called TinkerCad. This is a very easy-to-use computer-aided design app that kids and adults can use to design parts for 3D printers and laser cutters.

The next step was to laser cut the design we made. We used our Glowforge, which is incredibly easy to use, because it has …read the rest

Free game: What Remains of Edith Finch

What Remains of Edith Finch is free this month from the Epic store. I downloaded it last night and couldn't stop playing until I was done. It's a detailed, polished walking simulator that clocks in at 3 hours, so tightly orchestrated it feels like a genuinely interactive movie.

It centers on Edith, a high schooler and the last surviving child of a family "cursed" by generations of tragedy. After her mother's death, she inherits the cosy yet unsettling manse she grew up in and sets out to uncover the family's secrets. This is to say, she wants to know why so many Finches died young and why her mother didn't want the stories told.

It's obviously from the outset that something is deeply wrong with the family even as it is clearly a family full of love. The wrongness hovers at the margins of reason. It's reflected in the house, normal at the ground level but an alarming mass of ramshackle additions up top. Surely that would be dangerous, you ask yourself.

Some of the family death vignettes really got under my skin. They're all elaborated in the telling to the point of magic realism and beyond, but when you sit and think about what was shown they unravel to mundane parenting failures, one after another after another. The elaborations thereby become part of the problem. But now I'm in danger of spoiling the game's secrets.

Edith Finch maintains a tension between modern gothic mystery and the suggestion of a damaged family that mythologizes its subtly self-destructive currents. It does such a good job of this, though, that when the ending comes it can't close the balance, choosing instead a too-easy way out. Still, that's often just how it goes, with families that aren't quite right.

In 1979 two families sought to escape East Germany in a hot-air balloon

In 1978 two families hatched a daring plan to escape East Germany: They would build a hot-air balloon and sail it by night across the border. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow their struggles to evade the authorities and realize their dream of a new life in the West.

We'll also shuffle some vehicles and puzzle over a perplexing worker.

Show notes

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Senator Mark Warner's Stop STUPIDITY Act would protect federal employees' pay during shutdowns

Senator Mark Warner [D-VA] has introduced the Stop STUPIDITY (Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage In The Coming Years) Act, which would "keep the government running in the case of a lapse in funding by automatically renewing government funding at the same levels as the previous year," while continuing to leave the the legislative branch and the Executive Office of the President unfunded, which "will force Congress and the White House to come to the negotiating table without putting at risk the economy or hurting the American public."

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