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In the News 08.05.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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In the News 08.05.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 08.05.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 08.05.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Why Would Aliens Even Bother With Earth

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As an astrobiologist I spend a lot of my time working in the lab with samples from some of the most extreme places on Earth, investigating how life might survive on other worlds in our solar system and what signs of their existence we could detect. If there is biology beyond the Earth, the vast majority of life in the Galaxy will be microbial—hardy single-celled life forms that tolerate a much greater range of conditions than more complex organisms can. To be honest, my own point of view is pretty pessimistic. Don’t get me wrong—if the Earth received an alien tweet tomorrow, or some other text message beamed at us by radio or laser pulse, then I’d be absolutely thrilled. So far, though, we’ve seen no convincing evidence of other civilizations among the stars in our skies.

But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that there are one or more star-faring alien civilizations in the Milky Way. We’re all familiar with Hollywood’s darker depictions of what aliens might do when they come to the Earth: zapping the White House, harvesting humanity for food like a herd of cattle, or sucking our oceans dry. These scenarios make great films, but don’t really stand up to rational scrutiny. So let’s run through a thought experiment on what reasons aliens might possibly have to visit the Earth, not because I reckon we need to ready our defenses or assemble a welcoming party, but because I think considering these possibilities is a great way of exploring many of the core themes of the science of astrobiology.

Read the rest of this article at Literary Hub




CASE 0438

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SAN MARCOS, TEX. — Case 0435 died more than a mile from the nearest road, with an unscuffed MacGregor baseball in his backpack. Case 0469was found with a bracelet, a simple green ribbon tied in a knot. Case 0519 carried Psalms and Revelation, torn from a Spanish Bible. Case 0377 kept a single grain of rice inside a hollow cross. One side of the grain read Sara, and the other read Rigo.

The belongings are part of a border-crossers’ morgue at a Texas State University lab here — an inventoried collection of more than 2,000 objects and 212 bodies, the vast majority unidentified.

All 212 were undocumented immigrants who died in Texas trying to evade Border Patrol checkpoints by walking across the rugged terrain. Most died from dehydration, heatstroke or hypothermia. Even as the number of people caught trying to illegally enter the United States from Mexico has dropped in recent months, the bodies remain a constant, grim backdrop to the national debate over immigration.

“When we get them, we assign them a case number because we have to have a way of tracking cases, but no one deserves to be just a number,” said Timothy P. Gocha, a forensic anthropologist with Operation Identification, a project at Texas State University’s Forensic Anthropology Center that analyzes the remains and personal items of the immigrants to help identify them. “The idea is to figure out who they are, and give them their name back.”

Read the rest of this article at The New York Times

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Who Killed Lois Duncan’s Daughter?

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One fall afternoon 17 years ago, Lois Arquette sat in a crowded theater on the North Carolina coast. Lois, who has a short blonde bowl cut and soft round features, watched as the ocean swelled and crashed over a craggy shoreline; an ominous Type O Negative cover of “Summer Breeze” filled the theater. As the movie ticked along, her excitement vanished. She watched, horrified, as a man was gored with an ice hook, blood squirting from his throat along the way.

The film was showing at a massive multiplex, the kind where it’s easy to wander into the wrong theater, and Lois wondered if that’s what had happened. Her novel, upon which this movie was ostensibly set, took place in landlocked New Mexico. It contained no ice hooks, and certainly no scenes of death by ice hook. Still, the plot, at least initially, matched up: After a group of high school friends kill a man, they make a pact to never reveal their secret. Later, the most guilt-ridden of the group — played by Jennifer Love Hewitt — receives an eerie note: “I know what you did last summer.”

It was a surreal experience for Lois. Since 1966, she had been writing popular suspense novels under the pen name Lois Duncan — an innovator of “throat-clutching suspense,” as the author R.L. Stine described her, one who today has sold “hundreds of thousands” of books, by her own estimate. But she never expected I Know What You Did Last Summer to become a film, much less a $125 million-grossing, franchise-spawning Hollywood blockbuster. When the book was published 24 years before, Lois won no accolades. There were no calls from movie studios. When it was optioned in the mid-1990s, she’d almost forgotten it existed.

Read the rest of this article at Buzzfeed

Fellow – Travellers and Useful Idiots

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When the Soviet ambassador Ivan Maisky reported to Beatrice Webb that Winston Churchill had told him, “Better communism than Nazism!” she was not surprised. Views of this sort were not untypical of the British ruling elite. But Churchill did not really belong in that class. “Churchill is not a true Englishman, you know,” the celebrated social scientist said. “He has negro blood. You can tell even from his appearance.” Webb went on to recount to Maisky “a long story” about Churchill’s mother coming from the American South and her sister looking just like a “negroid”.

Possibly aiming to change the subject, Maisky mentioned Henry Stanley, the explorer of Africa. At this point Webb became “agitated”, and began talking about Stanley’s marriage to a “beautiful young girl” who came “from a very good family”, while Stanley was a “real upstart, a coarse, uncouth fellow”. In support of this judgement Webb appealed to her husband, Sidney, “whose expression and gestures indicated full assent”. Maisky concludes his account of the conversation with the comment: “The crux of the matter is that Stanley was a true plebeian, and this matters.”

Read the rest of this article at New Statesman

The Long Fight for the Future of the Internet

The struggle for net neutrality was won — but now it’s back, and citizen interest is waning

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Robert Armola really didn’t want to be at this town hall. Hundreds of people had packed into the Mesa Convention Center on April 13 to hurl rapid-fire questions and comments at Jeff Flake, the junior U.S. senator from Arizona, who was returning to his constituents for the first time since Donald Trump’s inauguration. As Flake fielded passionate questions from constituents, an angry murmuring hummed, spiking into deafening boos when he talked about education reform or defunding Planned Parenthood. Attendees were given red and green placards to raise to depict their approval (green) or disapproval (red) of Flake’s statements. The effect of all of them stabbing the air in unison was that of a raucous crowd at a college basketball game trying to rattle a player at the free throw line. (A teenager in a chicken suit who kept the crowd riled up added to the away-game atmosphere.) Every few minutes, an anonymous voice in the audience found reason to bellow, “Bullshit!”

Armola, 33, says he has anxiety and doesn’t like large groups. But he felt the need to step out of his comfort zone and make his voice heard in person. So he drove to the convention center after work and for 50 vitriolic minutes waited patiently for the opportunity to ask his question. He stumbled over the opening words of his prepared statement — the crowd, unsure yet whether he was a friend or an enemy, waited in expectant silence. Armola cleared his throat and started over:

“Title II net neutrality prevents Comcast, who owns MSNBC and whose executives have donated large amounts to Democrats, from slowing down traffic to Breitbart, Infowars, and Fox News’s websites, while speeding up traffic to The New York Times, Mother Jones, and Huffington Post. Almost 4 million internet users supported Title II net neutrality. Senator Flake, as your constituent, I’d like to know what you plan to do to defend Title II net neutrality, which protects our right to a free and open internet.” (You can hear Armola at the 50-minute mark of this video.)

The audience offered polite but dispassionate applause. Flake, happy to field a question that didn’t reside on a cultural third rail, began by explaining that the current regulatory framework for the internet was overly burdensome because it treated internet service providers (ISPs) like utilities. “I agree with that,” Armola shot back. “It should be a utility.”

This was one small encounter in a decades-long debate about who gets to control the internet, a system that is by its nature decentralized. For as long as the internet has been a place where people could make money, there has been a tension between corporate interests in monetizing online activity and longstanding ideals that the internet should be free. Today this tension is largely framed around the debate about net neutrality, the notion that all types of data online should be delivered equally, without being blocked, slowed down, or otherwise tampered with by an ISP.

Read the rest of this article at The Ringer

Credits

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M. // Top images: @clairebwagner; @collagevintage; @lisadanielle_

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