April 11, 2018 in 3,899 words

The improbable story of the cranberry’s path to global domination


Pictured above: Cranberries are an unlikely pawn in the US-China trade war.

The secret of the cranberry’s success has always been stealth. After two centuries of cranberry-free Thanksgivings, the fruit quietly became a holiday staple thanks to US general Ulysses S. Grant’s 1864 holiday feast. It slipped into lunch sacks across America by pioneering juice boxes, and craftily came to dominate the juice aisles by commingling with apple juice. In the 1990s, a little shape-shifting allowed dried cranberries to infiltrate baked goods and trail mixes. In recent years, it crept its cranberry creep over to China, nestling into the palms of health-conscious young people across the Middle Kingdom.

And now, the bitter red bog-berry finds itself in the midst of the burgeoning US-China trade war. According to the latest list of items on which China is considering slapping duties, the duty on Chinese imports of American dried cranberries will total 40% if the proposal goes into effect.

America’s cranberry-growers are upset—and they should be. “Overall, exports represent about 31% of annual cranberry sales,” says Terry Humfeld, executive director of the Cranberry Institute, a nonprofit industry group based in Massachusetts. “As a result of significant investments by the US cranberry industry, the Chinese market has been grown over the last several years to represent about 7% of those exports or about $45 million annually.”

The industry’s angst is illustrative of a much bigger problem. As sipping and snacking sensations go, the cranberry is an unlikely one. It’s managed to succeed with marketing innovation—which includes taking advantage of the forces of globalization.

Paul Ryan Makes His Exit

The speaker of the House has decided not to run for reelection, setting off a succession fight—and perhaps yet another wave of retirements.

For months, House Republicans and Democrats alike have traded bets on whether Speaker Paul Ryan would run for reelection. Now, it seems, they have their answer.

At a House Republican conference meeting on Wednesday morning, Ryan informed colleagues that he will not seek reelection in his Wisconsin district, according to multiple House Republican sources. A source with direct knowledge said that Ryan told his staff just before the gathering, at approximately 8:45 a.m. ET.

“I’ve become a Sunday Dad,” Ryan told members in the closed-door session, according to two Republicans inside the room. He said that after 20 years in Congress he is anxious to spend more time with his family. Looking “subdued” and “respectful”—as one Republican put it—Ryan added that he’s satisfied with his accomplishments, including tax reform and an increased defense budget.

“Members are thankful to Paul,” one member texted me. “It’s his decision, so everyone seems okay and understanding.” (Lawmakers cited in this story spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could speak freely.)

POINT OF REFLECTION: We have a blue wave in November, impeach Trump in early 2019, followed by impeaching Pence and, shazam we have a path away from the disasterous presidency of America’s Shithole.

The idea that everyone should have a job is so common we forget to question it


The idea that everyone should have a job is not often challenged.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “We must create full employment or we must create [basic, guaranteed] incomes.” More than 40 years later, we talk a lot about the last half of that statement: Technology entrepreneurs like Y Combinator’s Sam Altman and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes have campaigned for universal basic income (UBI)—the idea that everyone should receive a regular, unconditional, government-issued stipend that would be sufficient to cover one’s material needs—to the point at which it’s become a trendy topic.

There is much less talk about the philosophical underpinnings of King’s other idea—“full employment.”

This view that every able-bodied and able-minded adult should have—and, what’s more, should want to have—a job has become so widespread that it is almost invisible. In our work-obsessed society, most people would say that of course everyone should have a job.

But the claim, I believe, warrants just as much debate as UBI.

After we decouple the claim that “having a job” is an unalloyed good from the desires to survive, to leave some traces on the world, and to make a reasonable contribution to the lives of others, we might see that having a job is at least a sacrifice, if not a Faustian bargain.

SF scientists erase Alzheimer-causing gene in human brain

In this May 19, 2015, file photo, R. Scott Turner, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Memory Disorder Center at Georgetown University Hospital, points to PET scan results that are part of a study on Alzheimer’s disease at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington.

Scientists in San Francisco may be close to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The key to their success was looking not at the brains of mice – a standard practice in scientific research – but of men.

Researchers at Gladstone Institutes, an independent biomedical research institution in San Francisco, have discovered the cause of the primary genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and they may have found a solution to erase its damaging effects.

Their findings, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Medicine, are especially important because they conducted tests not on the brains of mice, but that of humans.

The scientists found human brains that possess even one copy of a gene, called apoE4, are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease in their lifetimes. Having two copies increases the risk twelvefold.

ApoE4 in the human brain increases production of the amyloid beta protein, the researchers discovered. This revelation was especially surprising because past studies found that the apoE4 gene in mouse brains did not lead to an increase in amyloid beta. Excessive amyloid beta in the brain can clump together and create plaques, which can disrupt neuron firing and lead to symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s.

My Grandmother Is Donating Her Brain to Science

… so I visited a brain bank to find out what will happen to it.

I remember the bag from my childhood. Transparent and oblong, just large enough to fit a handful of papers, a few essentials, and a plastic brain.

My 93-year-old grandmother, Marjorie Pearlson, once loved this bag, filling it with conversation starters. She was a woman who could talk to any stranger and pull an organ replica out of her purse with a straight face. Growing up, I would witness this scene at the supermarket, in a post office, out at dinner between salad and the main course. It was brilliant performance art. She was passionate about her decision to donate her brain to science, following in the footsteps of her mother, who survived multiple brain surgeries, and her older brother. She spoke about the decision—visual aid in tow—matter-of-factly to anyone.

At her 90th-birthday tea party, we sat around my grandparents’ dining table with two of her childhood friends and my mother. My grandmother flipped through a handmade scrapbook of photographs, effortlessly recalling the first and last names of grade-school classmates, one of whom is my 92-year-old grandfather. Today, it’s far rarer to see her smile, much less get a glimpse of her past or quirky personality. A shield of advanced dementia has limited her mobility and dissolved her memories.

There’s an Indian death euphemism I’ve been dwelling on since the last time I saw my grandmother: “To be no more.” But even after she dies, my grandmother’s brain will, in a way, live on, joining the thousands of Americans who donate each year. After undergoing an autopsy, her brain’s tissue will be stored and researched. It may travel to banks with specialized grants and niche experts. Someone will look at her under a microscope.

The more I thought about the trajectory of my grandmother’s life, the more the line between brain and grandmother blurred. What will come of her after life? That question led me to the place where her brain will end up.

Antarctica is turning into a snow globe because the Earth is warming


Thick, stable sea ice is becoming a thing of the past.

The world has been warming for at least two centuries, and it’s turning Antarctica into a veritable snow globe.

Scientists this week (April 9) announced new evidence (pdf) showing the amount of snowfall on the Great White Continent has grown over time. The findings were presented (pdf) at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, where researchers revealed that annual snowfall has increased by about 10% since the early 1800s.

That’s a lot of snow. About 272 metric gigatons more snow fell in Antarctica each year between 2001 and 2010 than in the years between 1801 and 1810, according to researchers. That’s enough to fill the Dead Sea two times.

It may sound odd to hear news of more snow during a time when scientists keep uncovering more evidence that polar ice caps are melting, raising sea levels around the world. But it makes sense, and it’s not a good sign for the Earth. Warmer temperatures mean more moisture in the air, which creates better conditions for snow over Antarctica. So really, this is a sign of the same climate problems causing droughts, storms, and floods.

The findings may help answer a question scientists have had about the impact of snowfall on rapid climate change. Plainly put, would more snowfall in Antarctica slow the rise of sea levels by trapping water in the form of snow?

We’re running out of time to stop killer robot weapons

The fully autonomous AI weapons now being developed could disastrously transform warfare. The UN must act fast.

Mock killer robot in central London. ‘Countries that recognise the dangers cannot wait another five years to prevent such weapons from becoming a reality.’

five years this month since the launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a global coalition of non-governmental groups calling for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. This month also marks the fifth time that countries have convened at the United Nations in Geneva to address the problems these weapons would pose if they were developed and put into use.

The countries meeting in Geneva this week are party to a major disarmament treaty called the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. While some diplomatic progress has been made under that treaty’s auspices since 2013, the pace needs to pick up dramatically. Countries that recognise the dangers of fully autonomous weapons cannot wait another five years if they are to prevent the weapons from becoming a reality.

Fully autonomous weapons, which would select and engage targets without meaningful human control, do not yet exist, but scientists have warned they soon could. Precursors have already been developed or deployed as autonomy has become increasingly common on the battlefield. Hi-tech military powers, including China, Israel, Russia, South Korea, the UK and the US, have invested heavily in the development of autonomous weapons. So far there is no specific international law to halt this trend.

Experts have sounded the alarm, emphasising that fully autonomous weapons raise a host of concerns. For many people, allowing machines that cannot appreciate the value of human life to make life-and-death decisions crosses a moral red line.

5 Horrifying Real Medical Situations That Sound Made Up

Illness can appear out of the blue and turn your life upside-down, like a Zooey Deschanel character in a rom-com. But as much as you’d like to try to mentally gird yourself for any medical disaster, it’s not so easy when you’re stricken by something David Cronenberg jotted down in a notebook after a particularly intense nightmare. Just look at what happened in these cases.

5. A Man Gets A Brain Scan And Finds Out That Most Of His Brain Is Missing

Imagine your left leg has been feeling kind of weak lately. You’ve had a similar problem before, and the doctors fixed you right up then. Why is this time any different? You head on down to the hospital, they do a brain scan, and they find the problem: Your brain’s missing. Well, most of it.

“This might also explain the rattling sound you’ve been hearing whenever you move your head.”

As reported in The Lancet, that’s exactly what happened to a 44-year-old French civil servant who had been living a completely normal life until the day he found out he was a Simpsons plot. He was married with two kids, and while his IQ was below average, it wasn’t in the range of someone with a mental disability. He was also, as you might have gathered by now, not as dead as you’d expect someone without most of their brain to be (that is to say, fully dead).

It turned out that as a kid, the man had been diagnosed with hydrocephalus, which meant that his brain had a buildup of excess fluid. The fluid had been drained, but it was now back with a vengeance, having taken up most of the space where his cerebral cortex should have been. Only a thin layer of brain tissue remained. But because the displacement happened over the course of several years, experts believe his brain tissue either adapted to take on new functions or had been compressed into that thin layer. Note, however, that when the fluid was drained again, his brain didn’t magically spring back into place. But hey, the leg thing was fixed, so there’s a win.

Raising eyebrows: how evolution gave us expressive faces

Humans lost their strong brow ridges as social communication became more important, researchers say.

As humans developed flatter, smoother brows, their faces became more expressive, a study suggests.

Modern humans might never have raised a quizzical eyebrow had Homo sapiens not lost the thick, bony brows of its ancient ancestors in favour of smoother facial features, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of York believe early humans bore prominent brow ridges as a mark of physical dominance, and as the human face evolved to become smaller and flatter, it became a canvas on which the eyebrows could portray a much richer range of emotions.

“We traded dominance or aggression for a wider palette of expression,” said Paul O’Higgins, a professor of anatomy and lead author on the study. “As the face became smaller and the forehead flattened, the muscles in the face could move the eyebrows up and down and we could express all these subtler feelings.”

The York team stress their conclusions are speculative, but if they are right, the evolution of smaller, flatter faces may have unleashed the social power of the eyebrow, allowing humans to communicate at a distance in more complex and nuanced ways.

You now have to pay the government over $900 a year to be a blogger in Tanzania


We are watching you.

The internet has long been lauded as a marketplace for the free exchange of ideas, but not in Tanzania, where it will now cost you $930 to license a blog.

As part of new online regulations, the government will certify all bloggers in the country and charge them an annual fee before they start any operations online. The new provisions also encompass online radio and television streaming services and affect online forums and social media users.

To be authorized as an online content provider, applicants are expected to fill a form detailing the estimated cost of investment, the number of directors and stakeholders in the platform, their share of capital, staff qualifications, expected dates of commencing operations, besides future growth plans.

But even after providing this documentation, authorities still reserve the right to revoke a permit if a site publishes content that “causes annoyance, threatens harm or evil, encourages or incites crimes” or jeopardizes “national security or public health and safety.” Officials could also force managers to remove “prohibited content” within 12 hours or face fines not less than five million shillings ($2,210) or a year in prison.

World’s largest brewer develops greener way to put bubbles in beer

Gas bubbles will be generated without boiling, which AB InBev says will cut its CO2 emissions.

Bottles of beer and cider produced by AB InBev. Bubbles are said to be crucial in determining the taste of a beer.

The world’s largest brewer is rolling out what it claims is a greener way to put bubbles in beer and reduce its CO2 emissions by 5%.

The Belgium-based company AB InBev says it has developed a technique to generate gas bubbles needed for the malting of grains before fermentation without the need to boil the water and hops.

The company conducted four years of tests at an experimental brewery in Leuven, east of Brussels, and then on a larger scale in two plants in the UK. The method it has developed does not detract from the taste of the finished drink, its says, while using less heat and water.

Bubbles are said to be crucial in determining the taste of a beer. Traditionally, gas bubbles in the early stages of brewing are generated via steam through the natural cooking process, requiring bountiful levels of water and heat. AB InBev says, however, it is able to simulate the effects of boiling the brew.

The new method involves heating the brew to below boiling point and then blowing nitrogen or CO2 into the tank to create bubbles without changing the taste. The company claims that because the beer is brewed at a lower temperature in the early phase, it can also stay fresh for longer. The bubbles found in the finished product are still to be produced in the normal way, typically by the yeast’s digestion of sugars or by pressurisation in the kegging process.

The seismic signal of Lionel Messi

When Lionel Messi scores another wonder strike, the city of Barcelona literally shakes.

Scientists have a seismometer installed close to the Camp Nou stadium and it picks up the telltale vibrations every time the crowd celebrates a goal.

There is a clear spike in the data as fans jump up and down.

And the seismogram that perhaps best captures this is Barça’s “miracle comeback” against Paris Saint-Germain in last season’s Champions League.

Four-nil down from the Round 16 first-leg, the team scored a last-minute goal to claim a famous 6-5 aggregate victory at home.

The wild delight of supporters is writ large.


Pezoporus occidentalis, better known simply as the “night parrot”, is often described by ornithologists as being the most mysterious and enigmatic bird on Earth- a moniker the night parrot earned by being so rare and elusive that fewer people alive today have seen one with their own eyes than have ever walked on the Moon.

Described bluntly by one of the few people to have handled one as a “dumpy oversized budgie”, the unassuming greenish-yellow bird is endemic to Australia, with confirmed sightings largely being limited to the deserts of Western Australia and Queensland.

Unusually for a bird that is capable of lengthy and extremely fast flight, the night parrot spends much of its time on the ground hiding amongst the brush and shrubland of the Australian outback, making the species one of only three known “ground parrots” as they’re commonly known.

That said, a very recent tagging of one of these birds which provided GPS data for the animal for 15 days demonstrated that, as mentioned, the night parrot can cover a lot of ground very quickly, with the shortest distance the tracked bird flew in one night being approximately 40 kilometres (about 24 miles). As for this travel, it would seem the purpose behind it is generally to find water. Its food, on the other hand, is speculated to be things likes the seeds of Triodia grasses that it likes to hide in.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

VICE News sits down to watch the Zuckerberg testimony with a former Facebook employee/Zuckerberg confidant.

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

After the FBI raid of Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump attacks the Mueller investigation, calling it a “witch hunt.”

After 64 teams, six rounds and 2 million votes, the Bracket of Bullshit comes down to “Very Fine People on Both Sides” vs. the Parkland Crisis Actors Conspiracy, and Michael Kosta and Roy Wood Jr. unveil the champion.

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

Following the raid of his lawyer’s office and hotel room, the President called the FBI a wide variety of words like ‘disgrace’ and… ‘disgraceful.’

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

Seth takes a closer look at one of the most extraordinary moments of Donald Trump’s presidency: when the FBI raided the offices of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

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

This is what a normal morning looks like. Lots of hi’s and birdy butt rubs.


The Simpsons’ response to The Problem with Apu recognizes times are changing, but rejects progress

The Simpsons writers’ attempt to deal with problematic, racist caricatures is to try to normalize the behavior and laugh off critics as being too politically correct.

Last year, director Michael Melamedoff and comedian Hari Kondabolu released The Problem with Apu, a documentary about how South Asian people have dealt with seeing most of their American representation on television come from The Simpsons’ yogi and convenience store owner, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Kondabolu discusses his own experience with Apu, who he describes as sounding like “an impression of a white guy making fun of my dad.” He interviews people like Kal Penn and Aziz Ansari, who talk about how Apu’s accent and stereotypes have been used to mock or bully them. In an episode that aired April 8th, The Simpsons responded to the controversy directly, with a flippant non-apology for being “politically incorrect.” Although the episode attempts to stay timely, with pop culture references to Amazon’s Alexa and Minecraft, it dates itself by making surprisingly tone-deaf statements about modern issues of representation.

In the episode, “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” written by Jeff Westbrook, Marge revisits her favorite childhood storybook The Princess in the Garden. But when she attempts to read it to Lisa, she realizes the plot and characters are more racist than she remembered. The story is about a girl enjoying a colonized land, while her servants, people of color who are “naturally servile,” fan her and bring her food while she threatens to whip them.

Horrified, Marge flips to what she hopes is a more appropriate part of the story, and runs across an Irish stereotype. The book character asks her indignantly, “This is the part you deem acceptable?” That’s the show’s tongue-in-cheek commentary on how all stereotypes are bad, but stereotypes about people of color have gotten louder disapproval lately. The episode also draws on the rhetoric used by the show’s loudest proponents — the idea that since the show stereotypes everyone, not just marginalized people of color, it’s not that bad. To prove the point, the episode includes a cameo from Scottish stereotype Groundskeeper Willie, and a subplot about Bart getting ideas to deal with Homer by reading Sun Tzu’s Art of War, narrated by Silicon Valley’s Jimmy O. Yang in a heavy accent.

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