October 4, 2017 in 4,867 words


A graphic depiction of a Hyperloop One system.

What Needs to Happen for Hyperloop to Break Ground by 2021


After Hyperloop One announced that the Rocky Mountain Hyperloop project was among the winners of the Elon Musk-affiliated transportation company’s Global Challenge to “identify the strongest new Hyperloop routes in the world,” and revealed a new public-private partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation to launch a feasibility study, questions arose about how quickly this dream could become a reality in these parts. CDOT’s Amy Ford says four years is a goal, albeit one that can only be achieved if a lot of things go right.

“Hyperloop would love to start building in 2021, whether it’s our route or someone else’s,” says Ford, a CDOT spokesperson. “But it’s important to understand that we are very early in the process. If it’s a 100-step process, we’re on step five.”

We first told you about Hyperloop in August 2013, describing the proposed system as a “large-scale variation on pneumatic tubes used at banks” that held “the potential of transporting people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in thirty minutes.”

How is it supposed to work? “Passengers and cargo are loaded into a pod, and accelerate gradually via electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube,” the company maintains. “The pod quickly lifts above the track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline sp

The Onion’s Las Vegas Shooting Headline Is Painfully Familiar


“We believe the satire speaks for itself,” said David Ford, a spokesman for The Onion.

The satirical website The Onion published a headline on Monday that echoed the thoughts of many Americans who were, once again, processing a horrific mass shooting.

“‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

The headline was not new. It was the fifth time The Onion had published it.

Most jokes, when repeated, lose their power. Yet each time The Onion publishes this particular headline, it seems to rocket around the internet with more force. A tweet with the headline from The Onion’s account on Monday had, by Tuesday afternoon, been retweeted more than 55,000 times.

The headline — and the accompanying article, which is always the same save for some minor details to reflect the latest location and the number of victims — has, with each use, seemed to turn from cheeky political commentary on gun control into a reverberation of despair.

“This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” the article quotes a fictional person as saying. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep these individuals from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what they really wanted.”

Call for ban on ‘bump stocks’ – owned by Las Vegas shooter – that boost rate of fire

Bump stocks were a novelty popular with YouTube gun enthusiasts wanting to simulate machine gun fire. Then they were found in a mass shooter’s arsenal


An employee of North Raleigh Guns demonstrates how a ‘bump’ stock works at the North Carolina shop.

Gun control advocates are calling for a ban on “bump stocks”, the largely unregulated novelty devices which Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock may have used to convert a semi-automatic rifle into a weapon that mimics the continuous fire of a fully automatic weapon.

At least two bump stocks were recovered in Paddock’s hotel room, the Associated Press reported on Monday night, citing law enforcement sources. It is not yet clear whether they were used in his attack.

Bump stocks attach to semi-automatic weapons and harness the recoil of the gun to allow a shooter to fire much faster than they could do if they repeatedly pulled the trigger – as the rifle recoils, the trigger bumps forward into the shooter’s finger to speed up the rate of fire.

As one company that sells the devices, Bump Fire Systems, put it on its website, “Did you know that you can do simulated full-auto firing and it is absolutely legal?” It listed the price of one stock at $99.99.

Watch The Daily Show Make Fun of Sean Hannity’s Army Man Fantasies

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

Ah, another mass shooting! For most of the nation, it’s a time of sadness, reflection, and anger. But for a very specific type of person, it’s a time to dream about being a superhero, to loudly fantasize about how you would save the day if you found yourself in a mass shooting, unlike those other poor saps who probably weren’t as good and smart and brave as you are, you just know it, plus you know a lot about guns. Not surprisingly, Fox News hires a lot of those people, because even more of those people like watching Fox News. And one of those people is Sean Hannity, who had this to say about Las Vegas:


This guy’s got a machine gun, okay? How are they gonna take him on without a weapon? Or if it’s happening within a crowd, if it were in San Bernardino, do you want Sean Hannity, who’s trained in the safety and use of a firearm, in that room, so when they drop the clip and they start to reload, you got a shot, you got a chance?

I think I speak for most of America when I say that nobody wants Sean Hannity or a murderer with a machine gun in any room right now, thanks, much less both of them. But the amazing thing, as Noah points out, is that not even other Fox News hosts have the patience for his pathetic hero fantasies anymore:


It wouldn’t have done much good at the Mandalay, it’s the 32nd floor. Unless you had a high-powered rifle to take him out. But your point is well taken.

“You couldn’t even protect women from being sexually harassed in your own building, and now you’re Batman?” Noah adds. “Calm down.” Of course, it’s Fox, so although Hannity’s sad sack dreams of glory were embarrassing to listen to, they were far from the vilest trial balloon the network floated in their effort to avoid talking about bump stocks.

Google and Facebook Failed Us

The world’s most powerful information gatekeepers neglected their duties in Las Vegas. Again.


People wait in a medical staging area after Sunday night’s mass shooting.

In the crucial early hours after the Las Vegas mass shooting, it happened again: Hoaxes, completely unverified rumors, failed witch hunts, and blatant falsehoods spread across the internet.

But they did not do so by themselves: They used the infrastructure that Google and Facebook and YouTube have built to achieve wide distribution. These companies are the most powerful information gatekeepers that the world has ever known, and yet they refuse to take responsibility for their active role in damaging the quality of information reaching the public.

BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick found that Google’s “top stories” results surfaced 4chan forum posts about a man that right-wing amateur sleuths had incorrectly identified as the Las Vegas shooter.

4chan is a known source not just of racism, but hoaxes and deliberate misinformation. In any list a human might make of sites to exclude from being labeled as “news,” 4chan would be near the very top.

Puerto Rico Needs More Than Relief—It Needs Reconstruction

Recovering from the devastation of two hurricanes raises tough questions about the legacy of American colonialism.

Right now, it’s hard to tell in what direction Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands are heading after sustaining hits from Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria in September. The picture of the damage in Puerto Rico verges on the apocalyptic now, and much of the situation is currently deteriorating. Millions are still without power, fuel, food, and water are running out, hospitals are overwhelmed and mostly inoperable, and bodies are “piling up” in morgues. Struggles in the Virgin Islands are less documented, but no less real: Power is still tenuous, flooding is still rampant, most of the hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, and many roads are ruined.

Federal aid is arriving to help deal with the onslaught of disasters, but even if that aid were adequate and weren’t heavily criticized by residents for being late or ineffective, aid alone won’t lead to recovery. Existing challenges that plagued the territories before Irma and Maria multiply the effects of the storms, and must themselves be dealt with in order for recovery to be a reality. But dealing with those issues will require examining the legacies of colonialism, racism, and erratic federal policy in shaping the destinies of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and how those forces contributed to the destruction on display today.

resident Trump has—if nothing else—outlined just how deeply those legacies run in his direction of the federal response. When Trump attacked San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz on Twitter last weekend, his remarks that the relief effort was hampered by “poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help” and that “they want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” played on similar themes as an 1899 colonial governor bemoaning the lack of “Anglo-Saxon energy to face a gloomy outlook” among his black and brown constituents on the island, which had just been taken from Spain as the United States built its own empire.

When Trump expanded on his comments Tuesday, just hours before his first trip to San Juan, he paired praise to federal responders for “the great job we’ve done” with criticism of the efforts of local officials. It was a contrast that recalled the opinion of Justice Henry Billings Brown in the 1901 Downes v. Bidwell case—one of the so-called “Insular Cases” that now form the basis of governance over the U.S. territories, and helped create the status quo where residents of the territories are citizens who pay taxes and serve in the military, but have neither representation in Congress nor sovereignty. There, Brown said that for the “alien races … the administration of government and justice, according to Anglo-Saxon principles, may for a time be impossible.”

Too poor to vote: how Alabama’s ‘new poll tax’ bars thousands of people from voting

In Alabama, money keeps thousands of people away from the ballot box – and the state’s felon disenfranchisement policies are probably unconstitutional.


Randi Lynn Williams: her debt, known as legal financial obligations, total more than $11,500.

Randi Lynn Williams assumes she will never be able to afford to vote again.

The 38-year-old resident of Dothan, Alabama, lost her right to vote in 2008, when she was convicted of fraudulent use of a credit card. She was on probation for over two years, then served a few months behind bars ending in early 2011, at which point she would have been eligible to vote in most states.

In Maine and Vermont, she would have never lost that right in the first place. But in Alabama and eight other states from Nevada to Tennessee, anyone who has lost the franchise cannot regain it until they pay off any outstanding court fines, legal fees and victim restitution.

In Alabama, that requirement has fostered an underclass of thousands of people who are unable to vote because they do not have enough money.

For folks like Williams, who said she regularly voted before her conviction in 2008, poverty is the only remaining obstacle to participation in the electoral process.

“When all this started, the county told me I lost my right to vote and I don’t get my vote back until I pay all my fines and costs and get off probation and all that,” she said.

My Job Was Killing People: 3 Soldiers Tell Us Everything​


What is it like to kill a person? When you meet a soldier or a police officer who’s seen some shit, that question at least crosses your mind. But it’s also something you’re unlikely to ask. There’s no real polite way to bring it up. So on today’s episode of Cracked Gets Personal, Robert Evans and Brandon Johnson ask three sources that question so you don’t have to. We talk to a former Navy SEAL sniper, a man who helped organize drone strikes, and a current doctor and former soldier who stabbed a man in the head with a damn knife. If you want to know what Hollywood gets wrong about killing, how it really feels and so much more, listen on.


Forget Killer Robots—Bias Is the Real AI Danger

John Giannandrea, who leads AI at Google, is worried about intelligent systems learning human prejudices.


John Giannandrea.

Google’s AI chief isn’t fretting about super-intelligent killer robots. Instead, John Giannandrea is concerned about the danger that may be lurking inside the machine-learning algorithms used to make millions of decisions every minute.

“The real safety question, if you want to call it that, is that if we give these systems biased data, they will be biased,” Giannandrea said before a recent Google conference on the relationship between humans and AI systems.

The problem of bias in machine learning is likely to become more significant as the technology spreads to critical areas like medicine and law, and as more people without a deep technical understanding are tasked with deploying it. Some experts warn that algorithmic bias is already pervasive in many industries, and that almost no one is making an effort to identify or correct it (see “Biased Algorithms Are Everywhere, and No One Seems to Care”).

“It’s important that we be transparent about the training data that we are using, and are looking for hidden biases in it, otherwise we are building biased systems,” Giannandrea added. “If someone is trying to sell you a black box system for medical decision support, and you don’t know how it works or what data was used to train it, then I wouldn’t trust it.”

Denmark’s biggest energy company is completely abandoning fossil fuels

Ding Dong


Stop!

How could you tell if there’s an energy transition underway? Just ask Dong Energy. The $154 billion fossil-fuel company is abandoning all fossil fuels and changing its name to Ørsted, to honor the discoverer of electromagnetism.

Dong once stood for Danish Oil and Natural Gas. On Feb. 2, the company announced it will stop all use of coal by 2023. On Sep. 29, Dong sold all its oil and gas business. On Oct. 2, the company called for an extraordinary general meeting to ask for approval of the change of name. “This is no longer who we are,” said Thomas Thune Andersen, chairman of Dong’s board of directors. “Now is the right time to change our name.”

“Our vision is a world that runs entirely on green energy. Climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing the world today, and to avoid causing serious harm to the global ecosystems, we need to fundamentally change the way we power the world by switching from black to green energy,” Andersen said.

Its new name comes from the Danish physicist and chemist Charles Hans Ørsted, who in 1820 found that electric current produces magnetic fields. The discovery would prove key in understanding how to generate and transport electricity, and thus make electricity commercially available. The new name is also a nod to a key part of how wind turbines work: mechanical movement causes changes in the magnetic field which produces electricity.

What Happens if Oil Companies Are Forced to Pay for Climate Damage

Successful lawsuits cost the tobacco industry hundreds of billions. We asked experts about the likelihood of energy giants meeting the same fate.

When the cities of San Francisco and Oakland sued five of the world’s biggest oil companies in late September for radically altering Earth’s climate, raising sea levels, and causing billions of dollars in potential damage to each city, it was hard to tell how seriously to take the whole thing. Was the lawsuit simply political theater designed to shame fossil fuel overlords, or could it actually drive profound legal change?

The stakes are astoundingly huge. The cost of rebuilding from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma— disasters many scientists agree were made more destructive from climate change—could top $190 billion in the US. And Puerto Rico is in the middle of a $72 billion humanitarian crisis caused by Hurricane Maria. San Francisco and Oakland now belong to a growing wave of plaintiffs alleging that big oil—a group including such companies as Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, and ConocoPhillips—is legally liable for these costs, as well as future damages its industry wreaks upon the world.

No lawsuit of this type has yet succeeded. The legal requirements are too complex. The fossil fuel industry is too strong. Political leaders like Donald Trump don’t even recognize climate change exists. This June, Exxon dismissed an investigation into its efforts to block climate action by New York’s Attorney General as a “political witch hunt.” Litigation is a potential nuisance for Exxon, but not an existential danger.

Yet some observers think that could soon change. They believe there are new and powerful strategies for suing big oil to be explored. US state courts could pass legislation making oil companies legally liable for the atmospheric chaos caused by their profit model. Or they could wait for an oil company to lose a legal battle in a foreign country and then enforce the ruling in the US.

The Real Message of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine


The year’s first Nobel went to three Americans who pioneered the study of the biological clock. What does it mean?

Shortly after Labor Day, the temperature begins to rise in research laboratories around the world, a symptom of what one of my mentors used to call “Nobel fever.” This morning, the fever broke with the news that Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash, of Brandeis University, and Michael Young, of Rockefeller University, will share the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on the circadian rhythm, commonly known as the biological clock. Speaking from Karolinska Institutet, in Stockholm, Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the prize committee, praised the scientists for helping to “explain how plants, animals, and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.”

Like last year’s solo laureate—Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese biologist who studies autophagy, the process by which cells dispose of their garbage—2017’s winning trio came as something of a surprise. The three Americans’ names did not appear on any of the major Nobel prediction lists, and when Rosbash was awakened by the phone call from Sweden, early this morning, he reportedly said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” Prior to Perlmann’s announcement, the smart money had been on either immunotherapy, which uses the body’s defenses to fight cancer, or crispr, the revolutionary gene-editing technique. (Both remain strong candidates for a future Nobel.) Compared with advances like these, the circadian rhythm is decidedly less in vogue right now—so fundamental, perhaps, that many handicappers forgot about it. Hall, Rosbash, and Young’s work in the field stretches back to 1984, when they isolated a gene that controls the rhythm in fruit flies. In 1990, Hall and Rosbash co-wrote a study with one of Rosbash’s postdoctoral students, Paul Hardin, demonstrating that the protein encoded by that gene fluctuates over a twenty-four-hour period, rising at night and falling during the day. Four years later, Young and his colleagues at Rockefeller discovered another crucial circadian gene; they named it “timeless.”

The deliberations of the prize committee are cloaked in secrecy, but years ago I crossed paths with one of its members, who happened to come from the same region in Eastern Europe as my grandmother. After he had shared reminiscences of that vanished life, he described in general terms how the committee selects the winners. Nominations flow in from across the world, and there is considerable debate about who ought to get credit for which discovery. But there is also discussion, he said, about what message is sent by choosing to honor one scientist or discovery over another. My read of today’s announcement, and last year’s, is that both are about the divide between basic research—the pursuit of scientific knowledge for its own sake—and applied research, which focusses on work with obvious, immediate effects. (The latter is typified by the prize given, in 2008, to Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, for the discovery of H.I.V.)

This year’s Nobel Prize winners are changing everything we know about medicine and biology

TICK TICK BOOM


Custodian Ray Keen checks the time on a clock face after changing the time on the 97-year-old clock atop the Clay County Courthouse, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010, in Clay Center, Kan. Keen was setting time back an hour in advance of the end of daylight savings time which occurs at 2 a.m. on Sunday.

The time has come for circadian rhythms.

Yesterday (Oct. 2), three scientists—Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young—were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work on circadian biology, which is the field of science dedicated to the internal clock on which our bodies run. The ticking of this 24-hour cycle determines when we get tired and hungry, as well as controlling everything from the (very real) phenomena of jet lag to female ovulation, when we’re more likely to have a heart attack, and the time of day we learn best.

“Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions,” said the Nobel jury.

As a chronobiologist myself—quite literally a time biologist—this was an extremely exciting announcement. Too often I try to explain what I do and how foundational the field is, only to be met with the “OK, he’s crazy” look. (After all, the phrases “biological structures in time” and “oscillating internal cellular network” just don’t translate easily.) This award finally brings circadian rhythms into the broader conversation, where people can begin to recognize what an integral part they play in even the smallest parts of our lives.

How Nature Creates Uncannily Spherical Boulders

There’s a geological phenomenon behind exceptionally round rocks.


An exceptionally round concretion in the Moeraki Boulders cluster in New Zealand.

Large boulders shaled like nearly perfect spheres can be found in a handful of places around the world. Perched amid craggy, sandy landscapes, these curious orbs have been confounding onlookers for centuries. Some are so superbly round they appear to defy nature, which has led to wild speculation as to their origins: Ancient gods? Alien eggs? Evidence of giants?

In fact, spherical boulders are molded over millions or even billions of years by a natural but long-misunderstood geological phenomenon called concretion. The concretion process occurs when sediment that has not yet hardened into rock accumulates around some sort of hard nucleus, such as a fossil or shell, and then binds together with a cementing mineral such as calcite. A natural concrete then forms in the space between sediment grains, banding the layers of sand together around the core, often in a spherical shape.


A ball-like concretion on Bowling Ball Beach in California.

These balls of bounded sediment can later become embedded in a rock of a different composition, such as sandstone or shale. But since the cemented material is often harder and more resistant to weathering than the host rock, over millions of years the surrounding rock is eroded away, leaving just the concretion exposed, standing on its own like an otherworldly orb.

THE STRANGE FATE OF BENITO MUSSOLINI JR.

Bad news: We have no control over who our parents are. Good news: Most of us did a lot better than Benito Mussolini Jr. did.

OUT OF WORK

In 1912, a 20-year-old political activist named Benito Mussolini became the editor of Avanti! (“Forward!”), the Italian Socialist Party’s newspaper. He held the post until World War I in 1914, when he split with the party over whether Italy, then neutral, should enter the war. Mussolini favored entry, but the Party wanted the country to stay out. Mussolini resigned from Avanti! over the issue and made plans to start his own newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia (“The People of Italy”).

But that required money, and Mussolini didn’t have any. Luckily for him, he was involved with a woman who did—Ida Dalser, who owned a beauty salon in Milan. The pair were soon married; Dalser sold her salon and pawned her jewelry to give Mussolini the money he needed to launch his newspaper. In 1915, she gave birth to a son, Benito Albino Mussolini.

By the time Benito Jr. was just one month old, Benito Sr. had already abandoned the family. He married another woman—Rachele Guidi—apparently without divorcing Ida.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

The dead, the dying, the displaced—they are now, to quote Trump, “politically motivated ingrates”.

Public health experts say that one of the best ways to curb overdose deaths is by establishing safe injection sites—places where people can use heroin and other drugs under medical supervision. They are one pillar in a harm-reduction approach, and there’s evidence that they not only save lives, but are also a cost-effective way to reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission risks, reduce public injections, and increase the number of people who enter drug treatment.

Despite these benefits, not everyone agrees that officially-sanctioned drug-use is a good thing. So far, US cities that have pushed for the idea have been shot down.

Toronto got farther: in 2016, its city council approved three safe injection sites. Like the rest of North America, the city is reeling from the opioid crisis (Ontario reported a record 865 fatal overdoses last year). But by this August, none of the sites had opened. So a group of harm reduction workers decided to open one on their own, even though they had to break the law to do it.

This is the third installment for our series “World of Hurt,” which examines the ways different regions are impacted by the opioid crisis. If you or anyone you know would like to share their story as part of our ongoing coverage, please email Seth Dalton and Cassandra Giraldo at seth.dalton@vice.com and cassandra.giraldo@vice.com.

VICE News’ Rachel Browne contributed to this report and has ongoing coverage of Toronto’s safe injection sites.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.

President Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico quickly shifted from providing relief for hurricane victims to practicing his jump shot.

Days after the Las Vegas massacre, Republicans are dusting off their favorite excuse for why they can’t discuss gun laws.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds an impromptu press briefing to answer burning questions, like what role is Eric Trump playing in his father’s administration?

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.

We like to mock movies for lacking creativity these days. Yet some films hide important details so well that we wouldn’t have picked up on them even with a dozen repeat viewings.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Me commentary on more destination eff’d moments in the world. Cheers to Asle and Hriday for your direct submissions. If ya wanna send a video to me then the best email is: submit@ozzyman.com cheers!

Let Max show you.
This was filmed last week at the peak of grumpiness.

FINALLY . . .

State Uses Pot Revenue to Fund Sims-Style Drug Conversations


Meet Jordan. He parties too much. Don’t be like Jordan.


Using tax revenue from the sale of legal cannabis to fight substance abuse might seem a little ironic, but health professionals are happy to accept the money for the public good. With its new, pot-funded program that creates simulated conversations about alcohol and drug abuse, a Denver nonprofit hopes the public will be able to help itself.

Peer Assistance has been providing interventional services for Colorado communities battling substance abuse for over thirty years. It recently received $200,000 from the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing for its newest project, One Degree: Shift the Influence, which includes Sims-style computer exercises designed to create a role-playing atmosphere for users, simulating two lifelike situations. Each One Degree character faces relatable problems shared by demographics across the state: Donna recently went through a divorce and is using alcohol to cope with the stress and mental anguish; Jordan, a younger man, is partying too much with alcohol and cannabis to the point of struggling at work.

Users play the role of Phil, a concerned cousin of Donna’s or a co-worker of Jordan’s, to talk to each character about their issues. Each simulation lasts only a few minutes, and the approaches and skills in the segments can be used in conversations with an adolescent or much older adult, according to Peer. “We wanted to build a confidence about bringing up a topic that can be uncomfortable,” says Peer training and consultation manager Carolyn Swenson. “It’s about helping people find out what can make a conversation like this successful or unsuccessful.”

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?