February 11, 2018 in 4,378 words



Gin is having a moment in the UK. Supermarkets can’t keep hipster micro-distilled brands on their shelves, and tourists are flocking to themed spas and hotels that celebrate the liquor’s long history. And what a history it is: Gin was long a societal scourge, blamed for addiction and depredation, until it began its slow march toward respectability—helped in large part by being paired with a bitter antimalarial drug.

Even today, most people have high-proof opinions about the liquor once known to Brits as “mother’s ruin.” Enthusiasts cite its sophisticated botanical notes; the less enthused claim that it tastes like a Christmas tree.

The haters aren’t wrong about the flavor. The word “gin” is derived from the Dutch “jenever,” a liquor made of juniper berries, which come from a conifer tree in the cypress family.

All gin is flavored with juniper berries. The other ingredients—from rye, barley, wheat, and corn to cinnamon, ginger, anise, and coriander—are optional. But a neutral opinion on the complex and controversial spirit known as “Madame Geneva” is not.


Bill Maher Goes Off on ‘F*cking Fragile’ Millennials in #MeToo Movement

THANKS to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher for making this program available on YouTube.

Bill Maher tonight spoke with The New York Times‘ Bari Weiss about their shared concerns about the #MeToo movement.

Maher has previously warned about the movement turning McCarthyistic, and tonight he told Weiss he’s concerned about certain behaviors being conflated.

Weiss––who recently wrote “Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader.”––agreed and cited examples of innocuous behavior she feels people are more alarmed about now because of the current cultural climate.

Maher cited Matt Damon specifically and how he came under fire for his comments about the “spectrum of behavior,” arguing he said nothing wrong and was getting a lot of undeserved criticism.

A Better Way to Look at Most Every Political Issue

Americans would be less alienated from one another and solve problems more easily if they recognized one little-noticed distinction in policy debates.

We sometimes think of political issues in binary terms. Is someone pro-life or pro-choice? But most individuals hold views that are more complicated than a binary can capture.

An alternative is to describe a given position on a spectrum. On abortion, an outright ban sits at one extreme; at the other is the elimination of all restrictions on the procedure. In between are a staggering array of coherently distinguishable positions.

Politicians seeking to win votes express their stances either in terms of a binary or as a spot on a spectrum, depending on where they see the greatest advantage. Though their beliefs don’t change, how they frames them makes a political difference.

* * *

There’s a different set of frames, though, that are as relevant as binaries and spectrums, though they are less familiar and less discussed: equilibriums and limits.

Most political stances can be understood in terms of an equilibrium. For instance, some people might believe that access to abortion in a conservative state is too restricted under the status quo, and favor relaxing the rules regulating abortion clinics. That is, they might favor shifting the equilibrium in a “pro-choice” direction.

But ask those same voters, “Should there be any limits on legal abortion?” and they might declare that the procedure should be banned in the last trimester of pregnancy unless the mother’s health is threatened. Insofar as the abortion debate is framed around the equilibrium, they will align with the pro-choice movement; but insofar as it is framed around limits, they will align with the pro-life movement.

From the Green Book to Facebook, how black people still need to outwit racists in rural America

A historical travel guide once listed safe pit stops for black motorists in Jim Crow America. When a family sought similar advice on Facebook last year, they were deluged with replies.

A group of migrant workers from Florida stop in Sawboro, North Carolina, on their way to Cranberry, New Jersey, to pick potatoes in July 1940. The Green Book gave advice on safe places for black travellers to eat, get petrol and sleep.

Over a barbecue grill last summer in a park in Springfield, Missouri, Jonathan Herbert and his friend Marlin Barber fell to ruminating about the challenges they faced as African Americans when driving across the country.

Barber, who teaches history at Missouri State University, was planning a road trip to Arkansas with his white wife and two young children, and was apprehensive about what they might encounter in the rural backwaters. Herbert had an idea – why not float the dilemma to friends on Facebook and see what came back?

“Sadly, it’s 2017,” Herbert went ahead and posted, “and we still have to consider the racial climate of some of the most beautiful places in this country before we decide to vacation there with our families.”

The comment sparked intense Facebook reaction. A black friend divulged the fact that he had been called the N-word in Oklahoma and had run into the KKK in Texas. “I remember not taking our kids through parts of Missouri or Arkansas out of fear,” he said.

A white woman lamented that, in this day and age, her black friends still had to think twice about where they could go. “This knocks the breath out of me. Your beautiful family has to consider factors mine doesn’t. WTF, America?”

Here’s what happened the last time the living things in our oceans and lakes died


Worth saving?

On January 5, 2018, a paper published in the journal Science delivered a sobering message: The oxygenation of open oceans and coastal seas has been steadily declining during the past half century. The volume of ocean with no oxygen at all has quadrupled, and the volume where oxygen levels are falling dangerously low has increased even more.

We’re seeing the same thing happen in major lakes.

The main culprits are warming and—especially in coastal seas and lakes—eutrophication caused by enhanced nutrient loads in runoff. The findings reaffirm that we urgently need to address global warming, and that we are in need of an updated Clean Water Act. We only need to look to the Mediterranean Sea and, more recently, the North American Great Lakes region for dramatic illustrations of what lies in store if we don’t act now.

Around 8,000 years ago, the entire eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea became severely oxygen-starved between 300 and 1,500 meters, and lost all oxygen, or became ‘anoxic,’ below that. It wasn’t warming that caused the oxygen decline then, as is happening in today’s oceans, but the amplification of the African monsoon, which drove intense flooding of the Nile River, full of nutrients from decomposing organic matter. The freshwater itself inhibited deep-water formation, while its nutrient-load led to wild-growth of algae, cyanobacteria, and animals grazing on them. Upon their death, decomposition sapped oxygen from the water, rapidly turning it oxygen-starved, anoxic, and in extreme cases rendered it ‘euxinic’ (containing hydrogen sulfide, infamous for its rotten-eggs smell).

The conditions wiped out virtually the entire ecosystem from a few hundred meters below the surface of the water to the seafloor. A devastating 4,000-year period of anoxic ‘dead zone’ conditions ensued, which all started within a century of the flooding.

We took the world’s most scientific personality test—and discovered unexpectedly sexist results


Scientific personality tests are being used to tell women they’re more disagreeable than men.

Personality tests are both incredibly popular and largely bogus. BuzzFeed made its name in part by publishing quizzes telling readers which ‘90s kid they are, which Friends character they are, which Disney princess they are, and… well… which Disney princess they are, really. None of these have any scientific basis. Then there’s the somewhat more reputable Myers-Briggs test, inspired by Jungian theories about personality types. Some 2.5 million people take it every year, and 88% of Fortune 500 companies use it. Despite its reputation, however, the Myers-Briggs has poor scientific validity.

There is one personality test that is far and away more scientifically valid than any of the others: the “Big Five.”

The Big Five evaluates personality by measuring—as the name suggests—five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, each on a continuous scale. Studies have shown it that it effectively predicts behavior, and the test is often used in academic psychological personality research. People who score higher in conscientiousness tend to work harder, for example, while more neurotic personalities are more prone to anxiety and depression.

Despite its scientific validity, and even with the contemporary fascination with personality tests, the Big Five is relatively unpopular outside of academia. A recent FiveThirtyEight article on the subject suggested that personality scientists haven’t effectively marketed the one credible personality test.

7 Serious Problems That Had Hilarious Cartoon Solutions

As weird monkeys with too much imagination, we humans generally like some outside-the-box thinking. Whether it’s a time-saving lifehack or a crazy new potato chip flavor, we’re all about being creative and doing the unexpected. However, when it comes to solving big issues, we tend to be more reserved, carefully weighing options and making rational decisions. Not everyone, though. Let us tip our hats to the wonderfully insane people who dreamed up terrifyingly cartoon-like solutions to very serious problems.

#7. Guam Targeted An Invasive Snake Species By Dive-Bombing Them With Poisoned Mouse Assassins

Sometime during World War II, a cargo ship arrived in one of Guam’s ports. But unbeknownst to anyone at the time, a host of brown tree snakes had stowed away on the vessel, and it slipped the snakes into the island like a reptilian STD. And while everyone was a bit preoccupied with the ongoing world war, the snakes multiplied. Exponentially.

Exactly what every island paradise needs: a serpent plague.

Since Guam has no indigenous snakes, this invader from Australia had zero competition for groceries. As a result, the brown tree snake has spent the last half century severely depleting several of Guam’s native species. It wasn’t long before the USDA and EPA reached the same conclusion: The snake had to go. But besides shipping in a trained army of mongooses, poison would be the only solution. But how do you poison an entire species out of a region without seriously damaging the other fauna and flora in the process? Three words: skydiving mice assassins.

As it turns out, acetaminophen (better known as Tylenol) does more than relieve pain and lower your fever; it’s a tailor-made poison for snakes. The drug prevents their blood from carrying oxygen, and despite looking like demon spawn from hell, brown tree snakes need oxygen to live just like the rest of us. When it came to finding a way to deliver the acetaminophen to snakes quick enough that there would still be some birds left, the people of Guam came up with an ingenious solution: They stuffed the acetaminophen inside dead mice and sent them parachuting into the treetops.

Like fuzzy wuzzy Green Berets

The setup is fairly simple. A dead mouse is stuffed with acetaminophen and attached to a small piece of cardboard and streamer. This tiny parachute is then dropped from a helicopter and gets entangled in the trees. By keeping the mice up in the trees rather than on the forest floor, scientists are able to get the poison directly to the tree snakes, who will never realize that their new Amazon mice delivery service is actually a lethal trap.

Semiosis is a first contact novel about coexistence with intelligent plants

Learning to not only survive, but to thrive on an alien world

Throughout its history, science fiction has imagined how humanity might meet its cosmic neighbors. How would the first contact with aliens go? Authors have imagined a variety of scenarios, from the desire for amicable partnership between humanoid species, to genocidal hostility between lifeforms that we barely recognize. In Sue Burke’s debut novel Semiosis, she imagines contact in a unique way: first contact not with animal-like life, but between humans and a planet full of intelligent plants.

Some spoilers ahead for the novel.

When Semiosis opens, a human colonial expedition — which left Earth in the 2060s — is headed for a distant star. Disturbed by environmental degradation and war on Earth, their mission was to hit the reset button for humanity on a virgin world. After traveling for 158 years through space, they come to a star called HIP30815f, around which orbits a habitable world, which they name Pax to signify their peaceful intentions. It’s slightly larger than Earth, and there’s copious plant life on the surface. It’s almost a perfect place for a new human civilization.

But there are some bumps along the way. The colonists’ pods crash in the planet’s heavier gravity, resulting in the deaths of several people and the destruction of irreplaceable equipment. They’re entering a vastly different biome, which has its own complications: a number of colonists contract illnesses or die from injuries, and before long, they realize that some of the plant species are intelligent.


Clinically, we understand death to mean the state that takes hold after our hearts stop beating. Blood circulation comes to a halt, we don’t breathe, our brains shut down—and that’s what divides the states we occupy from one moment (alive) to the next (dead). Philosophically, though, our definition of death hinges on something else: the point past which we’re no longer able to return. Those two were more or less the same until about 50 years ago, when we saw the advent of CPR. Today, someone’s heart can stop and they can be dead, and then they can come back.

Modern resuscitation was a game-changer for emergency care, but it also blew apart our understanding of what it means to be dead. Without many people returning from the dead to show us otherwise, it was natural to assume, from a scientific perspective, that our consciousness dies at the same time as our bodies. Over the last few years, though, scientists have seen repeated evidence that once you die, your brain cells take days, potentially longer, to reach the point past which they’ve degraded too far to ever be viable again. This does not mean you’re not dead; you are dead. Your brain cells, however, may not be.

“What’s fascinating is that there is a time, only after you and I die, that the cells inside our bodies start to gradually go toward their own process of death,” Dr. Sam Parnia, director of critical care and resuscitation research at New York University Langone Medical Center, told Newsweek. “I’m not saying the brain still works, or any part of you still works once you’ve died. But the cells don’t instantly switch from alive to dead. Actually, the cells are much more resilient to the heart stopping—to the person dying—than we used to understand.”

Scientists working on human cadavers have from time to time observed genes that are active after death, according to University of Washington microbiology professor Peter Noble. For a 2017 study published in Open Biology, Noble and his colleagues tested mice and zebrafish and found not just a handful, but a combined total of 1,063 genes that remained active, in some cases for up to four days after the subject had died. Not only did their activity not dissipate—it spiked.

World Leaders Have Decided: The Next Step in AI is Augmenting Humans

Think that human augmentation is still decades away? Think again.

This week, government leaders met with experts and innovators ahead of the World Government Summit in Dubai. Their goal? To determine the future of artificial intelligence.

It was an event that attracted some of the biggest names in AI. Representatives from IEEE, OECD, the U.N., and AAAI. Managers from IBM Watson, Microsoft, Facebook, OpenAI, Nest, Drive.ai, and Amazon AI. Governing officials from Italy, France, Estonia, Canada, Russia, Singapore, Australia, the UAE. The list goes on and on.

Click to View Full Infographic

Futurism got exclusive access to the closed-door roundtable, which was organized by the AI Initiative from the Future Society at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and H.E. Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, the UAE’s Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence.

The whirlwind conversation covered everything from how long it will take to develop a sentient AI to how algorithms invade our privacy. During one of the most intriguing parts of the roundtable, the attendees discussed the most immediate way artificial intelligence should be utilized to benefit humanity.

The group’s answer? Augmenting humans.

Brazil carnival revellers warned that all that glitters is not good for the planet

Rio’s vast annual street celebration features copious amounts of sparkling microplastics that find their way into the marine food chain.

A reveler performs during the ‘Escravos da Maua’ block party as part of pre-Carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 4 February.

With Rio’s enormous carnival in full swing, the streets are full of revellers in colourful fancy dress, thronging the city’s many samba street parties. And among the looks, there is one carnival constant: multicoloured glitter smeared over bare skin.

But now worries over glitter’s damaging environmental impact are dampening the mood at the world’s biggest party.

Concern is growing about the impact the tiny pieces of plastic – called microplastics – have on marine life. Last year the UK’s Tops Days Nurseries Group banned glitter in a pre-Christmas drive and scientists called for it to be banned.

But while new “sustainable glitter” products are finding favour in Brazil with environmentally conscious carnival-goers, poorer Brazilians complain they are too expensive. Other carnival-goers say they are reducing their glitter consumption – but not cutting it out.

At a Rio street party, known as a bloco, Angelica Nobrega, 37, wore non-sustainable glitter on her cheeks and said she was skeptical about environmental concerns.

“It is just one more thing to make the lives of Brazilians more difficult,” she said. “I think they are making it up.”

Desperate scientists created a Match.com profile for a frog who may be the last of his species


Romeo is lonely.

There’s a chance a frog who lives in a tank in a Bolivian museum is the last of his species. But he reportedly hasn’t given up hope, if one can ascribe hope to a frog. The male Sehuencas water frog continues to make mating calls from within his confinement at Bolivia’s Cochabamba Natural History Museum.

Conservation biologists haven’t given up hope either. They tend to hate watching species they study go extinct. So a group of local scientists have named him Romeo and created a dating profile for the frog on website Match.com, in hopes of endearing him and his plight to the masses.

“Not to start this off super heavy or anything, but I’m literally the last of my species,” the profile reads.

Match.com is matching donations to fund the effort to scour habitats for Romeo’s mate through Valentine’s day, February 14, 2018.

Scientists are currently searching streams and rivers in Bolivia for a female with whom Romeo can mate, before it’s too late. Sehuencas water frogs normally live around 15 years; the 10-year-old Romeo probably has about another five years to reproduce before he dies.

Why millennials are making memes about wanting to die

As a downwardly-mobile generation, Dadaist jokes about death by Tide Pod is a form of catharsis for us millennials

Why would anyone willingly risk their health to eat a toxic Tide laundry detergent pod? Most adults are probably baffled by a viral Internet meme that has inspired dozens of young people to ingest the colorful capsules filled with laundry detergent for internet laughs. Indeed, both the Tide brand and health professionals have urged the public not to eat the pods, as even a small amount of the detergent can cause diarrhea, vomiting, breathing issues and, at worst, death.

Yet if you were perplexed, even baffled, by the staying power of internet jokes about absurd, brand-inspired forms of suicide, there’s a simple explanation. Millennials — who were born and raised on the internet and produce and consume much of their culture there — have had our whole lives characterized by economic anxiety. We have a dismal economic outlook, the worst of any generation born since the Great Depression. And our own culture-making — this kind of nihilistic, cynical humor epitomized in memes like eating Tide Pods — is merely a reflection of our worldview. It is cathartic in a sense. And it’s not the first time in history a generation has behaved this way in response to the world they were brought up in.

Generational jokes about death via consumer goods aren’t new. Before the Tide Pod meme there was the “drinking bleach” meme, a joke about committing suicide by (obviously) drinking bleach. Social media subcultures like Weird Facebook and Black Twitter share images of bleach in response to undesirable content or to self-deprecate about their mental health. Building on the Tide Pod meme, the Forbidden Snacks meme includes ingesting other household objects that resemble edible treats such as Dungeons and Dragons dice, bath bombs and Himalayan Salt Lamps to name a few.

What makes millennial humor so nihilistic and absurdist? I think the best way to understand memes like these is to analogize them to a century-old movement: Dadaism. The Dada movement evolved in reaction to World War I and disillusionment over war, violence, capitalism and nationalism. The original Dadaists were European radical leftists who traded the reason, rationale and aestheticism of the warmongering status quo for absurdity, irrationality and anti-capitalism. They rejected conventional notions of art, in turn creating anti-art with no clear purpose that mirrored the senselessness of war.

Later, in the Cold War era, Neo-Dada arose in response to the consumer culture and mass media of the 1950s. See any parallels today?



Joel Taylor died on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas.

One of the cardinal rules of cruise ship life is that the fun never stops. This is true both as a PR slogan, and as a business strategy. After all, cruise ships don’t make money if they’re sitting in port.

But the death of the American reality TV star Joel Taylor has shone a light on an open secret in this non-stop fun atmosphere: party drugs. For some, it has raised questions about whether certain cruise lines and charters are doing everything they can to reduce party drug use at sea—and to ensure the proper care to those who have potentially overdosed.

The results of Taylor’s autopsy have not yet been released, but the FBI handed their investigation back to local authorities in Puerto Rico where the ship docked, noting no signs of foul play. Law enforcement have been quoted as saying the death appeared to be due to an accidental overdose. Media reports and comment boards cite two other reportedly fatal overdoses on Atlantis cruises since 2009 (though accounts differ regarding the causes of death), as well as an arrest in 2011 for a massive quantity of drugs sold onboard.

That’s been enough for some people to speculate that Royal Caribbean and Atlantis Events—which bills itself as the “world’s largest producer of gay and lesbian cruises and resort vacations” and regularly charters Royal Caribbean’s mega ships for its party-centric cruises—have not adequately addressed the issue of drug use on their cruises.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Jacqui Kenny is a travel photographer who doesn’t travel. Because she’s agoraphobic, she found an alternative way to explore the world: Google Street View.

At VICE News, chronicling Trump’s various physical and linguistic ticks is somewhere between a hobby and an obsession. These Trump quirks are sometimes informative, sometimes absurd, always entertaining.

The latest trend we noticed is Trump’s “hands-on” approach. This POTUS seems unable to stop physically patting everything — and everyone — around him. Watch a compilation of Trump’s presidential pat-downs below.

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

Seth’s favorite jokes from the week of February 5.

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

Roper desperately wants to play with Eugene the cat, but in typical cat fashion he isn’t having it. She ends just giving him a sweet kiss before giving up. So cute!

Max and I just being crazy together.


This Student Is Getting Death Threats over a Gnarly Hand Dryer Experiment

Apparently, this is what’s growing in your office’s bathroom dryers.

Researchers tried to warn us back in 2016 about the disgusting number of germs fancy Dyson hand dryers actually spread—apparently 1,300 times more than paper towels. But now one microbiology student has uncovered just how disgusting the dryers actually are.

According to the New York Times, Nichole Ward and her classmates were tasked with finding out just how much bacteria would grow in various unsterilized locations after setting down a petri dish there for three minutes. Ward decided she’d put hers inside a Dyson hand dryer in the women’s bathroom and quickly discovered her spot was much grosser than all her other classmates’. In a viral Facebook post, the California woman displayed a photo of the truly horrifying arrangement of fungi that was apparently lurking inside the ubiquitous machines.

“DO NOT EVER dry your hands in those things again,” she wrote. “This is the several strains of possible pathogenic fungi and bacteria that you’re swirling around your hands, and you think you’re walking out with clean hands. You’re welcome.”

The swarm of commenters seemed either vindicated or completely outraged by the post, with some blaming the dryers for making people sick and others claiming that Ward is being deceptive or unscientific. Ward told the Times she’s even received some death threats.

But mostly, the post has tapped into a years-long war between the paper towel and hand dryer industry about which product is more sanitary.

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