• New scientific paper explores the ways that Mario Kart can help reduce poverty and improve global sustainability

    From Phys.org (emphasis added):

    In his new paper, Andrew Bell, a Boston University College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of earth and environment argues that policies that directly provide assistance to farmers in the world's poorest developing regions could help reduce poverty overall, while increasing sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. Bell says the idea is a lot like the way that Mario Kart gives players falling behind in the race the best power-ups, designed to bump them towards the front of the pack and keep them in the race. Meanwhile, faster players in the front don't get these same boosts, and instead typically get weaker powers, such as banana peels to trip up a racer behind them or an ink splat to disrupt the other players' screens. This boosting principle is called "rubber banding," and it's what keeps the game fun and interesting, Bell says, since there is always a chance for you to get ahead.

    In the video game world, rubber banding is simple, since there are no real-world obstacles. But in the real world, the concept of rubber banding to extend financial resources to agricultural families and communities who need it the most is extremely complicated.

    […]

    Those opportunities might look like this, Bell says: governments could set up a program so that a third party—such as a hydropower company—would pay farmers to adopt agricultural practices to help prevent erosion, so that the company can build a dam to provide electricity. It is a complicated transaction that has worked under very specific circumstances, Bell says, but systems like this—known as Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES)—have been successful in benefitting both the farmers and the environment. A major challenge is finding private companies that are willing to pay for ecosystem services, and connecting them with farmers who are willing to change their agricultural practices. The good news about rubber banding, though, is that the more people participate in such economic programs, the more other people will join in as well; a concept Bell calls "crowding in," in his analysis.

    I always knew that Blue Shell could save us.

    Could Mario Kart teach us how to reduce world poverty and improve sustainability? [Jessica Colarossi / Phys.org]

    Image: Public Domain via NeedPIx

  • See the stunning moment when a murmuration of starlings join together to form an even larger bird

    This stunning footage was captured by Colin Hogg, a Geophysics Fieldwork Technician at the Geophysics Section of Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, over Lough Ennell in Co. Westmeath in the Republic of Ireland.

    Apparently, it's a thing that starlings are known to do. As NPR explained in 2017:

    A few years ago, George F. Young and his colleagues investigated starlings' "remarkable ability to maintain cohesion as a group in highly uncertain environments and with limited, noisy information" — a nice description of what goes on in a murmuration.

    Going in, Young et al. already knew that starlings pay attention to a fixed number of their neighbors in the flock, regardless of flock density — seven, to be exact. Their new contribution was to figure out that "when uncertainty in sensing is present, interacting with six or seven neighbors optimizes the balance between group cohesiveness and individual effort."

    Young et al. analyzed still shots from videos of starlings in flight (flock size ranging from 440 to 2,600), then used a highly mathematical approach and systems theory to reach their conclusion. Focusing on the birds' ability to manage uncertainty while also maintaining consensus, they discovered that birds accomplish this (with the least effort) when each bird attends to seven neighbors.

    Previously:

  • "This Belongs To Us" is a new documentary about the African women in beer making

    There's still a little bit of time to support the Seed&Spark campaign for This Belongs To Us, a new documentary film that aims to decolonize the beer industry. From the campaign page:

    If one were to distill white American masculinity into a single beverage, it's hard not to imagine a silver can plucked from an ice-thick cooler, beads of condensation glistening down its length — or a sturdy, frosted mug, brimming with an amber draught whose foamy head streams golden down its side. When it comes to embodying white, male, American identity, as far as beverages go, beer has set the bar. But the practice of brewing beer is as old as human civilization. And while a look at the modern craft brewing industry in the U.S. wouldn't suggest it, brewing beer began with women, who originated the practice in the parts of the world we now refer to as Africa and the East.

    Director Atinuke Akintola Diver adds:

    In my work as a Community Organizer in Durham, NC, I grew to recognize breweries as reliable canaries in the coal mine of gentrification. Many breweries are located in, or in close proximity to, historically Black and Brown communities experiencing rapid growth and economic exclusion. And they attract a customer base that looks very different from their surrounding community. So I began to wonder: "How did this happen? This tradition is so Black…how did it get so white? And why do Black folks have to fight for recognition and legitiamcy in a space that's been theirs all along?"

    This Belongs To Us will tell the history of Black women in beer through the lens of Briana Brake, CEO of Spaceway Brewing in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

    I only recently learned about Rhythm Brewing in New Haven, which is the first brewery owned by a Black woman in Connecticut. Porch Drinking has a list of some more Black- (though not necessarily women-)-owned breweries across the country — which, according to some estimates, make up a depressing 1 percent of the entire industry. Hop Culture has recommendations for about 40 women-owned breweries

    This Belongs To Us [Atinuke Akintola Diver / Seed & Spark]

  • Watch Taika Waititi as a rabbit in a new stop-motion short film about animal testing

    From the official blurb:

    While Ralph is animated, the miseries he endures in the short film are far from made up. As Spencer Susser, the director of Save Ralph, says, "It's so important that Ralph feels real because he represents countless real animals who suffer every day." Susser, known for his film Hesher, is among a slate of powerhouse celebrities and influencers who collaborated with Humane Society International on the making of Save Ralph. In addition to Waititi as Ralph and Gervais as the interviewer, the film has Zac Efron as Bobby, Olivia Munn as Marshmallow, Pom Klementieff as Cinnamon and Tricia Helfer as Cottonballs.

    Producer Jeff Vespa (Voices of Parkland) teamed up with the Arch Model studio of puppet maker supreme Andy Gent (Isle of Dogs, The Grand Budapest Hotel) on the production. https://hsi.global/SaveRalph

    You can learn more about the Save Ralph campaign from the Humane Society International website.

  • Place telepathic bets with "Uber for psychics"

    From Vice:

    Now, anyone can expedite their own extra-sensory education and test their abilities with an app called Remote Viewing Tournament, which pits contestants against each other in a psychic battle royale for cold, hard cash. Not only that, but the app's creator is running an experiment predicting stocks with users' answers to test his theories, and has ideas for a gig economy platform where paying clients could tap into his army of remote viewers to unravel the mysteries of the future on-demand; Uber, but for psychics.

    […]

    Here's how it works: the app instructs you to meditate on a set of numbers and begin sketching impressions. The next screen prompts you to compare your drawing with two images, and select the closest-looking one. The "correct" image is revealed the next day, and at the end of the month, points are tallied on a global leaderboard where the top 10 monthly and all-time winners take home a $10 cash prize each. So far, $3,360 has been awarded in total.

    The money is straight from developer Michael Ferrier's own pocket. 

    An article on Medium's Remote Viewing Community Magazine adds:

    ARV investing groups such as those participating with the venerable Applied Precognition Project have long used the technique to inform market trades. An astute member of our online community had intuited that daily RV Tournament results came after the stock markets closed in the United States, and they wondered whether RV Tournament's data was informing trades.

    […]

    It turns out that yes, Ferrier has experimented with predicting stock market moves. Predictions from better-performing sub-groups have informed trades, testing techniques for financial investment that make up much of RV's reputation for real-world usefulness.

    At least the funding for this isn't coming out of taxpayer pockets through CIA, right? Or at least, not that we know of. Yet.

    The Guy Predicting Stocks With An Army of App-Based Psychics [Tamlin Magee / Vice]

    A Deep Dive Into Remote Viewing Tournament, the Psychic Competition App with Real Prizes [Grin Spickett / Medium]

    Image: Gibbermagash / Sketchport (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

  • Why it's harder for neurodivergent people to break into publishing

    I'm a neurodivergent person, which is to say, my cognitive functions don't exactly fit into the expected box of what's deemed as "normal." I'm also a full-time writer. There are many ways in which my neurodivergent brain has helped to make me a better writer — my interest span is different than neurotypical people, and I often have an easier time finding the off-beat or more unique perspectives on a story.

    There are parts of the writer life that I'm not so good at, however, that have made my career difficult. One of those biggest barriers starts at the ground level: It is tremendously difficult for me to distill things down into "pitch" form. I either deliver something too short that it doesn't grab the editor, or too long and nuanced that it still doesn't grab the editor. Editors who are familiar with me and my work are much more capable — and willing — to see through the fog, and trust that I can articulate the direction of my story when I am actually articulating the full direction of my story.

    But that first requires building trust with an editor. Which is hard to do if my neurodivergent brain makes it hard to open that first door into establishing a relationship. (I've only gotten as far as I have because of some very fortunate networking serendipity.)

    Recently, Eric Smith — an author and literary agent (I reviewed his recent novel here) and all around good dude who is also the father of an neurodivergent child — put out an ask about ways to make things easier for us cognitively trapezoidal pegs who struggle to fit into round publishing holes.

    Smith rounded up the comments he heard from people in a comprehensive blogpost that's extremely helpful, and really resonated with my own experiences. Also: it's awesome when someone says "Diversity matters!" and then actually follows up with it by saying "What can I do so I can actively aid in the cause of representation that I claim to believe in."

    You can click through to that post, which is a comprehensive repository of lots of different perspectives affecting people with autism, ADHD, et cetera. It's hard to sum up the specific suggestions and observations that Smith rounds up, because so many of them are unique to different neurodivergent conditions. Suffice to say, reflecting on internalized ableism and unintentional barrier building are two recurring themes. But Smith also — rightly — linked out to some other great blogs from neurodivergent people that articulate things from an even more immediate perspective.

    One of those pieces was this fantastic Medium post by Matthew Broberg-Moffitt, which I think summed up the issues perfectly:

    I'm not asking Literary Agents to make an offer of representation to someone simply because they are Autistic or ND. It is also not meant to be an all inclusive or de facto system. The range of neuro-diversity is a vast and voluminous umbrella.

    […]

    If you are issuing the call for Own Voices neuro-diverse writers, you are openly saying that you want to see work that breaks the mold from writers that aren't mainstream. If you issue such a call, but then use the same process that you apply to all queries and proposals, you're being unintentionally disingenuous. You are, in effect, saying that you want rhomboid pegs created by dodecahedron artists when you will only accept square pegs fashioned by the spherical.

    […]

    Attempt to be mindful of what it means to be ND. There is a very strong chance that the person querying that self-identifies has been treated with a lack of empathy and understanding for much of their life. By very definition this person sees the world differently than other people.

    […]

    While there are a number of Autistic and ND authors who have found success in the querying process, think of what has been lost because the stress of the process was too much for another. It's "survivor's bias." Yes, there are a number of trials of publishing beyond that of querying and it might serve as a stress test to see if they can endure what comes next. However, when you've spent so much of your life being misunderstood and feeling like you've never been seen, being signed can serve as an inoculation to the additional rigors. "I've finally got someone on my side. I have been seen. I can handle what comes next."

    There's lots of things to reflect on here, and it relates to neurodivergent experiences outside of the publishing industry as well. (Again: read the whole post)

    Related, I have been shopping for a new literary agent for several months now and it is a hellish experience and if anyone reading this is genuinely looking to work with a neurodiverse writer with multiple polished manuscripts, hit me up.

    Suggestions for improving querying for Autistic and Neuro-Diverse writers [Matthew Broberg-Moffitt / Medium]

    Discussing Barriers in Querying and Pitching for Neurodivergent Writers [Eric Smith Rocks]

    Image: MissLunaRose12 / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

  • Watch a once-lost silent neorealist gangster movie made by the Clash

    In the summer of 1983, Clash frontman Joe Strummer decided to make a movie. The band had recently parted ways with drummer Topper Headon, and tensions were boiling between the remaining members of the band — so why not have them all act in a black-and-white improvisational gangster film inspired by Italian neorealism?

    As Far Out Magazine recently wrote:

    "Let's make a film," said Mick Jones who, during an interview in 2005, was recalling the events of Hell W10's creation. "We had no other agenda there than that. Everyone put in their time without thinking about it. That was what we did on our time off; we worked! It was totally Joe [Strummer]'s idea. He directed it, he shot it, he did it. And then it was gone. It didn't even come out."

    The final film remained locked away for years until Strummer, who was contemplating a new career in the world of cinema, let slip of his directing debut as part of an interview in 1987. "I have directed a film myself, a black and white 16mm silent movie and it was a disaster," he said. "Luckily the laboratory that held all the negative went bankrupt and destroyed all the stock, so the world can breathe again. I shot without a script. God knows what it was about. I'm the only other one that knew, and I'm not telling."

    While the punk-noir project had people gossiping, Strummer never released the project. In 2002 however, the year that he passed away, the film was discovered on a VHS tape and handed over to long-time Clash collaborator Don Letts who re-edited the film and added a Clash-infused soundtrack.

    Bassist Paul Simonon appears as Earl, a musician and general low-level thug who gets into trouble with a crime boss named Socrates, played by guitarist Mick Jones in a sleek white tux. Strummer himself shows up as a corrupt and as a racist policeman. It's got all the elements!…It's just really hard to follow, and not very good. But weirdly fascinating nonetheless!

    Image: John Coffey / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • The fascinating free speech history of American license plates

    You know how US states have "official birds" and "official trees" and other arbitrary "official [insert thing]" accolades, which are mostly just meaningless marketing tactics? As the podcast 99% Invisible explained in a recent episode, the same is true for license plates.

    The rise of the road trip in the 1920s created a huge new tourist market. People on the road needed services that hadn't existed in the age of steam-powered travel. Gas stations, food, roadside motels — from the states' perspectives, all those new tourist dollars were up for grabs. States began letting the world know what they had to offer. Arizona had the Grand Canyon. Minnesota had its lakes. In this war for tourists, states promoted themselves anywhere they could, but no one thought to advertise on a license plate until 1928 when Idahoans realized that their plates were too valuable to waste on just a registration number.

    Idaho's potato plates centered on agriculture, rather than tourism. But still, Rick Just says once Idaho staked its "starchy flag" on the license plate, the rush was on. "License plates became a different thing because of that potato." States spent the middle of the century transforming their plates from austere government documents into colorful boosters of tourism and industry. In 1940, Arizona stamped "Grand Canyon State" on its plates and never looked back. In 1950 Minnesota went with 'Land of 10,000 Lakes." Some states went with a classic slogan and stuck with it, like New York's "Empire State." Other states couldn't make up their minds.

    But this tourism marketing tactic also opened up a whole new can of worms around free speech issues. In the famously libertarian state of New Hampshire in the 1970s, a Jehovah's Witness named George Maynard took a religious issue with the state's "Live Free or Die" slogan — which was of course displayed on his license plate.

    As a Jehovah's Witness, Maynard actually believed that god-given life was more important than freedom and he didn't appreciate the government telling him what to die over. So Maynard covered the slogan up with some tape. But when he erased the state's message, George Maynard marched to the front lines of the license plate wars.

    Covering up the slogan was a violation of state law, and one day Maynard and his wife were coming back to their car after doing some shopping, and they saw a police officer writing them a ticket. Maynard refused to pay the $25 ticket and also kept the tape over the slogan. The tickets piled up. Finally, his consistent refusal to pay them landed him in court. The judge ended up putting him in jail for fifteen days, "And so if you don't want to live free or die, you go to jail in New Hampshire," says Maynard.

    And, like most things in America, the free speech battle over license plates would later boil to a new conflict relating to … Confederate flags and racism. In Texas, of all places, where a legal battle came down to the question of: what right does a government registration display have to express moral positions on other peoples' properties?

    All in all: it's a fascinating episode, about two seemingly disparate issues that I had personally never though about before.

    Episode 434: Artistic License [99% Invisible]

    Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

  • A new audio anthology of free horror stories from Tor Nightfire

    In October 2019, acclaimed sci-fi/fantasy publisher Tor released an audio anthology of 35 short stories to celebrate the launch of its new horror imprint, Nightfire.

    And now, they've done again — though unlike last year's anthology, this one is available through more services than just Google Play. Here's the official blurb for it:

    Come Join Us by the Fire Season 2 is the second installment of Nightfire's audio horror anthology, featuring a wide collection of short stories from emerging voices in the horror genre as well as longtime fan favorites. The collection showcases the breadth of talent writing in the horror genre today, with contributions from a wide range of genre luminaries like Seanan McGuire, T. Kingfisher, and Caitlín R. Kiernan; it includes stories from Nightfire's own Cassandra Khaw (Nothing But Blackened Teeth) and Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Certain Dark Things); and from rising stars like Nibedita Sen, Matthew Lyons, and Jessica Guess. Plus, it has Nick Antosca's "The Quiet Boy," soon to be a major motion picture, Antlers, starring Keri Russell.

    You can listen for free via Apple, Google Play, Kobo, Libro.fm, or Spotify.

    Come Join Us By The Fire, Season 2 [Tor / Nightfire]

    Image: Public Domain via PxHere

  • Meet the man who spent 2 years on house arrest after suing an oil company.

    I first heard the story of Steven Donziger on the fifth season Amy Westervelt's brilliant true crime climate change podcast Drilled! But Esquire also recently published an excellent story about him as well. As of that article's publication, he'd been under house arrest for 590 days after being slapped with an ankle bracelet for the civil misdemeanor of … not turning his laptop over to a corporation he'd defeated in court, because it would be a violation of attorney-client privilege.

    Doniger had represented a group of Indigenous peoples and rural farmers in Ecuador in a lawsuit against Texaco, who was accused of dumping some 16 billion gallons of toxic waste in what would become known as the "Amazon Chernobyl." That lawsuit began in 1993, and after being bounced between US and Ecuadorian courts, as well as dealing with the acquisition of Texaco by its now-parent company of Chevron, the plaintiffs represented by Donziger won the case, forcing Chevron to pay a $9.8 billion dollar settlement.

    So how did he go from kicking some corporate oil lobby ass, to spending 2 years on house arrest? Well, Chevron retaliated by suing Doniger for a non-criminal violation the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. And then, as Drilled News succinctly summarizes:

    As part of a 2014 judgement against him, Donziger was barred from profiting from the collection of the damages in the Ecuadorian judgement. When Chevron suspected him of breaking that ban, the firm asked the court to investigate, and Donziger was asked to hand over his computer and cell phone to the court, along with any communications related to the case.

    When Donziger refused, arguing that the request violated attorney-client privilege and potentially endangered the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, Judge Kaplan charged him with criminal contempt.

    In August 2019, Judge Preska ruled that Donziger, a husband and father who has lived in New York for decades, was a flight risk, placed him under house arrest and ordered him to post an $800,000 bond and surrender his passport.

    If you want to know just how deep the corruption goes, Esquire has you covered:

    Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, a former corporate lawyer whose clients included tobacco companies, became Donziger's judge-and-jury in the RICO case. He heard from 31 witnesses, but based his ruling in significant part on the testimony of Albert Guerra, a former Ecuadorian judge whom Chevron relocated to the U.S. at an overall cost of $2 million. Guerra alleged there was a bribe involved in the Ecuadorian court's judgement against Chevron. He has since retracted some of his testimony, admitting it was false. 

    But Kaplan, who refused to look at the scientific evidence in the original case, ruled the initial verdict was the result of fraud. And he didn't stop there. He ordered Donziger to pay millions in attorneys fees to Chevron and eventually ordered him to turn over decades of client communications, even going after his phone and computer. Donziger considered this a threat to attorney-client privilege and appealed the ruling, but while that appeal was pending, Kaplan slapped him with a contempt of court charge for refusing to give up the devices. When the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York declined to prosecute the case, Kaplan took the extraordinary step of appointing a private law firm to prosecute Donziger in the name of the U.S. government. The firm, Seward & Kissel, has had a number of oil-and-gas clients, including, in 2018… Chevron. Kaplan bypassed the usual random case-assignment procedure of the federal judiciary and handpicked a judge to hear the contempt case: Loretta Preska, a member of the Federalist Society, among whose major donors is… Chevron. Preska has, like Kaplan, rejected Donziger's requests to have his trial heard by a jury of his peers. Both judges declined Esquire's request for comment on Donziger's cases, citing court policy.

    And that's just part of the story. Check out Esquire or Drilled! for the rest, if your blood pressure has a high enough tolerance for such high levels of corrupt corporate fuckery.

    'I've Been Targeted With Probably the Most Vicious Corporate Counterattack in American History' [Jack Holmes / Esquire]

    Drilled, Season 5, Episode 1: Lockdown [Amy Westervelt]

    Oil Industry Links In Donziger Contempt Trial [Karen Savage / Drilled News]

    Image: Cancillería Ecuador / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • The New York Times explores the radical history of police unions

    In March 2021, the New York Times posted an in-depth look at the life of Ron DeLord, a former Texas police officer who became a labor organizer and helped to spearhead the growth and influence of police unions across the country. It explains how and why he found a way for local police to start taking power — largely by learning the lessons of activists who were more often associated with Leftist movements, like Saul Alinsky and Frederick Douglass. And it also explores how DeLord is beginning to recognize that he may have made a monster, and how, in the wake of so much police brutality, the union model he established may have too much power after all.

    Ron DeLord, a fiery former Texas cop turned labor organizer, has long taught union leaders how to gain power and not let go. He has likened a police union going after an elected official to a cheetah devouring a wildebeest, and suggested that taking down just one would make others fall in line.

    He helped write the playbook that police unions nationwide — seeking better pay, perks and protections from discipline — have followed for decades. Build a war chest. Support your friends. Smear your enemies. Even scare citizens with the threat of crime. One radio spot in El Paso warned residents to support their local police or face "the alternative," as the sound of gunshots rang out.

    "We took weak, underpaid organizations and built them into what everyone today says are powerful police unions," Mr. DeLord said in a recent interview. "You may say we went too far. I say you don't know how far you've gone until you're at the edge of the envelope."

    That moment may be now.

    This isn't to say that DeLord regrets what he did, or that he believes there are any inherent or systemic problems with policing as it currently exists. But at least, he recognizes that police unions may need to loosen their iron grip, just a little.

    Police Unions Won Power Using His Playbook. Now He's Negotiating the Backlash. [Michael H. Keller and Kim Barker / The New York Times]

    Image: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza (Public Domain)

  • How the language of special education denigrates kids with disabilities

    Growing up in the 90s, I remember the phrase "differently-abled" being upheld as a synecdoche for the absurdity of "PC language." And as a kid, I almost certainly fell in line with accepting that it was all a bunch of silly stuffy rules.

    Of course, as I've gotten older, I have come to understand how the way that we refer to people can really affect the way we view them. While "differently-abled" is probably not the most helpful terminology, things like person-first language do make a difference (and in the case of autism, that difference might be rejected by some people, for equally valid reasons). Unfortunately, even as our language around these things has changed and evolved since the 90s, the ways we classify and categorize certain types of people can still be harmful in unintended ways.

    Over at The Nation, journalist David M. Perry discusses his own experience as the father of a kid with Down's Syndrome, and how the system designed to help his child is largely built on putting him down (emphasis added):

    Thanks to Part C of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, disabled children can access quite astounding levels of support if they qualify, and one of the benefits of our son's Down syndrome (as opposed to other disabilities) is that no one has ever questioned whether he qualified. So therapists come to our apartment in suburban Chicago and work with him on his gross and fine motor skills, speech, and overall development. We pay nothing. There's money in the program for medical expenses that our health care plan doesn't cover, and the state will even pay for durable medical equipment—braces for his ankles, a speech device that will say words when he presses an icon, the rental of a mini-treadmill to help him learn to walk. And all we have to do is to sit there, annually, while these kind therapists write out how far behind our son has fallen from "normal" developmental milestones. They've been praising him for so long, telling us what good parents we are and how great he's doing. But the team leader, a social worker, explains that the piece of paper has to be a record of delay and struggle; otherwise we'll receive less help. When they leave, my wife and I are quiet for a long time and don't really talk about it until late at night, when we cry.

    […]

    The first social worker came over to assess our son, and we cheerfully talked about how great he was, then later were told we qualified for very little. Yet every other parent and teacher kept talking about "waivers" that we should qualify for—but a waiver from what? What service or requirement was getting waived? We struggled through form after form, lost in the bureaucratic hurdles that stood between us and help.

    Eventually we found out that a social worker had used "mild" for my son's developmental disability on his first assessment, so we had to argue with the state that, in fact, his disabilities were not mild. Someone at a local nonprofit advised us to create a spreadsheet that detailed every minute of every day that we had to do something for him that we might not have to do for a typical kid. I tried for 15 minutes, characterizing difference as struggle, then deleted the spreadsheet. I didn't like the way it was making me look at my son. I went to a mandatory training from the county at a local library, where a well-intentioned employee advised us to describe our "child's worst day" in our application. We gritted our teeth. We argued for "severe" instead of "mild." We dehumanized our son in the paperwork but got support.

    There's more, of course. More and more examples where Perry was essentially given a choice between insulting his child, or losing the support that his family depends on. Whatever language you want to use — there's got to be a better way than that.

    See also: autism.

    I Shouldn't Have to Dehumanize My Son to Get Him Support [David M. Perry / The Nation]

    Image via Public Domain Photos

  • A Pulitzer Prize-winning nation security reporter explains why Magneto was right

    In Grant Morrison's 2003 X-Men storyline Riot at Xavier's, an angry adolescent mutant named Quentin Quire rallies a few other outcasts and foments a student-led revolution at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. Morrison used the story to riff on teenage rebellion, and specifically pokes fun at the Che Guevara t-shirt trend by depicting Quire in a t-shirt emblazoned with the visage of OG X-Men arch-nemesis, Magneto.

    I myself bought one of these Magneto Was Right t-shirts in my late teens, because it was both nerdy, and provocative, which has pretty much always been my aesthetic. In other words, I wasn't thinking very hard about the actual message or political implications; it just filled that perfect niche of nihilistic irony.

    As an adult, I can assure you I have thought about it: Magneto was right. But no one has ever articulated why as well as Spencer Ackerman, senior national security correspondent for The Daily Beast as well as the author of the upcoming book Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump. Ackerman was also part of the team at The Guardian that received a Pulitzer for public service journalism for reporting on the Snowden revelations. So he's clearly someone who understands the long arc of history, conflict, and geopolitics.

    Ackerman explains his reasoning on Magneto's rightness on episode of the podcast Cerebro. Hosted by Connor Goldsmith, each longform episode focuses on a different X-Men character — and just in time for this past Hanukkah, he had Ackerman on to dive into the radical Jewishness of the man once known as Max Eisenhardt and Erik Lensherr but most commonly called Magneto.

    It's a fascinating — if sprawling — conversation that covers both the diagetic history of Magneto, as well as the sociopolitical implications around his changing character throughout the years. Magneto wasn't always canonically Jewish, but Ackerman and Goldsmith discuss how the character's history as a Holocaust survivor shapes his story. In both the comics and the podcast, this ties into the Roma experience as well, and Ackerman acutely examines the differences in each of those survivor experiences, through the lens of Magneto. The podcast also articulately touches on issues relating to Zionism and colonialism, as it relates to the current X-Men storyline which began with a scene set in Jerusalem and features the X-Men building an independent island nation with its own language as a home for all mutants (including his recent visit to Davos).

    Through it all, Ackerman makes clear: Magneto was right (although he is certainly not above criticism, and has made many mistakes that he owns). In the global theatre of war, there are certain marginalized groups who will always be hated and hunted by those in power. Assimilation is presented as the path of least resistance by those like Charles Xavier, but it can never truly erase the threat. But perhaps more importantly is that Magneto has demonstrated a capacity for change, without ever losing sight of his convictions, and his steadfast defense of his people, whom he hopes to never see suffer again.

    He also does a really great impression of Magneto as Bernie Sanders.

    Ackerman is also a guest on the Cerebro podcast episode on Hank McCoy, also known as Beast, which takes a similarly political perspective and examines Beast's role as the perpetual outside who nonetheless perpetually aspires to neoliberal assimilationism, and how this causes all his problems. (There are lots of other great episodes, too, but I realize that not everyone is interested in a 3 hour discussion on the convoluted queerness of Stryfe.)

    Cerebro Podcast

    Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump [Spencer Ackerman]

    Image via YouTube

  • How to build a cryogenic Ark that could survive inside of lunar lava tubes

    Researchers at the University of Arizona plan to save humanity with a lunar ark that can withstand moon lava. Think of it as Noah's Ark. In space. With lava. Which is also the plot of a sci-fi movie I would put on in the background and half-pay-attention-to while doing other things.

    Earth faces many dire threats of nuclear war, accelerated climate change, environmental poisoning, and natural disasters such as super-volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, asteroid impacts and solar storms. These threats can topple human civilization and have a major negative cascading effect on the Earth's environment leading to mass-extinctions or even total annihilation. A plan to backup Earth's biodiversity is desperately needed in the event of a major Earthly catastrophe! Without such a backup we move loose some of our rich ecosystems forever and potentially threaten humanity's food supply and its future existence.

    You can read the research on their site, or check out the video above, which they describe as such:

    We propose development of a modern day Ark to be housed inside lunar lava tubes. The Ark would house eggs, sperms, seeds and other DNA matter from all of the endangered species on Earth. It would serve as a global insurance policy. Earth faces probability of peril from various natural disasters and human threats such as global nuclear war that could wipe out a large number of species in a short time. Lunar lava tubes were discovered in 2013 and are likely to have remained pristine for 3-4 billion years. They are only 4-5 days from Earth. They are an excellent shelter against lunar surface temperature swings, cosmic radiation and micro-meteorites. The Ark would house these endangered species in cryo-conditions of -180 C and colder. Our research shows that new technologies are need to make this initiative possible. It will require substantial investments and advances in robotics to operate under cryo-conditions.

    Lunar Ark: Saving Life on Earth from a Future Catastrophe [University of Arizona]

    Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons