Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced the agency's EV adoption strategy on Tuesday alongside a handful of Biden administration officials. Starting now, the USPS will begin replacing its aging fleet of 30-year-old delivery trucks—most of which are said to lack air conditioning and get approximately 10 MPG—with 66,000 total EVs. Of these, 45,000 will be from defense contractor Oshkosh, which currently has a deal to provide the USPS with 60,000 updated delivery vehicles. The remainder of the agency's new electric fleet will come from mainstream automakers. By 2026, all new vehicles purchased by the USPS will be electric.
"We have a statutory requirement to deliver mail and packages to 163 million addresses six days per week and to cover our costs in doing so," said DeJoy during the announcement. "If we can achieve those objectives in a more environmentally responsible way, we will do so."
According to DeJoy, the USPS will immediately begin integrating EV infrastructure into its facilities and preparing staff to use the new vehicles. The Postmaster, who was originally appointed by President Trump back in 2020, has been working to reduce the agency's carbon emissions via logistics improvements including route efficiency efforts, which reduce the amount of cargo shipped via air as well as ground vehicles' overall drive time.
The $9.6 billion shift is supported in part by the Inflation Reduction Act, which is set to invest nearly $400 billion into energy security and climate change reduction efforts. The Biden administration has ordered federal agencies to purchase only emissions-free vehicles by 2035. While the agency's 66,000 electric delivery trucks and vans might make up just a fraction of its 220,000-vehicle force, they'll still comprise one of the country's largest EV fleets. The USPS is expected to continue adopting EVs past 2026 as well, with 108,000 zero-emissions vehicles total by 2028.
The Biden administration and environmentalists hope seeing EVs involved in critical services like mail delivery will push combustion-versus-EV fence-sitters to consider their electric options more seriously. "It's wonderful that the Postal Service will be at the forefront of the switch to clean electric vehicles, with postal workers as their ambassadors," John Podesta, White House senior adviser for clean energy innovation, said at the USPS's announcement. "It will get people thinking, 'If the postal worker delivering our Christmas presents…is driving an EV, I can drive one, too.'"
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35449-1Author Correction: A nanoengineered topical transmucosal cisplatin delivery system induces anti-tumor response in animal models and patients with
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35600-yAuthor Correction: Identifying antibiotics based on structural differences in the conserved allostery from mitochondrial heme-copper oxidases
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35568-9We spoke to Professor Kylie Vincent – professor of inorganic chemistry at the University of Oxford, co-founder of HydRegen Ltd, and Academic Champion for Women in Entrepreneurship – about turning academic research into industrial products.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35526-5SUMOylation is a mechanism of posttranslational modification involved in eukaryotic cell homeostasis. Here the authors report that mice unable to control SUMOylation in the adrenal cortex develop a selective defect in glucocorticoid production due to disrupted differentiation of cells involved in steroid hormone synthesis.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35446-4The authors demonstrate a multi-dimensional communication scheme that combines wavelength- and mode- multiplexing on photonic integrated circuits using foundry-compatible photonic inverse design and spectrally flattened microcombs
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35465-1A valve-like structure called this Sertoli valve (SV) supports spermatogenesis by modulating the directional fluid flow in mouse testis. The SV formation is supported by its neighboring
Ten months ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was widely viewed as a lightweight who stood little chance against Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategic brilliance and unstoppable war machine. But Zelensky famously turned down a "ride"—America's offer to help him flee from the imminent Russian capture of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital—insisting that he needed ammunition instead. Since then, he has far outdone Putin as a war leader by marshaling international supporters, including the United States and other NATO nations, and motivating his people and his army not only to resist Russian invaders but to start driving them back to the Russian border.
But Zelensky still needs more ammunition, along with other forms of support. As he meets with President Joe Biden today and prepares to address Congress, he needs more of the weapons systems that Ukraine has already received, additional systems to improve its capabilities, and further economic support to help the Ukrainian public endure.
So far, equipment the United States has already provided, including howitzers, the now-famous High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), high-speed anti-radiation missile (HARM) systems designed to destroy enemy radar, and more basic equipment for frontline soldiers has been vital to Ukrainians' success in forcing Russian forces to retreat. The U.S. possesses far more advanced equipment; one important story of this war is that Ukraine has inflicted terrible losses while using older American weaponry, revealing an enormous gap between the U.S. and Russian capabilities that was not widely acknowledged until this year. Still, much of that equipment has now been in high-tempo operation for months and is surely worse for the wear. The Ukrainians need spare parts and technical know-how to keep operating the systems that his country has already been given.
Just as important, they will continue to need massive amounts of ammunition. The immense expenditure of ammunition by both sides has surprised many observers. Russians' supposedly deep stores of ammo are beginning to thin out.
Phillips Payson O'Brien: Ukraine is waging a new kind of war
One of the most significant advantages that U.S. systems have revealed over their Russian counterparts is their far greater accuracy. Using HIMARS, for instance, the Ukrainians have been able to precisely target Russian command-and-control facilities and troop depots located many miles behind the front line. The Ukrainians must hold on to this advantage if they want to keep stymieing Russian attacks in places such as the bitterly contested Bakhmut, a city in the Donetsk region, and prepare another Ukrainian offensive to reclaim captured land.
Helping them do so should be easy for the U.S. Of the substantial new military aid likely to be announced today, large stores of ammunition are probably the highest-value items. The Biden administration appears willing to provide the Ukrainians with the supplies they need in order to keep using the weapons they have already been given. It is undoubtedly calculating how much ammunition the U.S. must retain to preserve its own security, and will likely give Ukraine as much of the rest as possible.
Zelensky will want more. In particular, he will want a variety of more sophisticated American equipment, including the Patriot anti-missile systems, which first attained global renown when they were used to intercept Iraqi Scud missiles in the early 1990s. They have proved to be among the world's most effective anti-missile equipment. Until recently, wariness about Russia's possible response made the Biden administration hesitant to send Patriots. But Russia's cruel bombardment of Ukrainian urban areas and its plans for expanded use of Iranian missiles and attack drones have changed America's calculations.
[Phillips Payson O'Brien: What Trump and Musk don't get about Russia's nuclear threats]
Patriots are a defensive system and will mostly be used to defend Ukrainian cities. If Zelensky's forces are going to drive the Russians back on the battlefield, they will want longer-range weapons systems than they have now. Shocked by the effectiveness of Ukrainian longer-range fire to this point, Russian military planners appear to be changing their tactics significantly, locating large depots and storage facilities so far behind the front line that HIMARS ammunition cannot reach them. If Ukraine could extend its range, it could devastate Russia's capabilities.
Ukraine would like the U.S. to supply Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) long-range ammunition for the HIMARS. These projectiles can be fired accurately at targets almost 200 miles away. They would transform the conflict, because nowhere in occupied Ukrainian territory would be safe for the Russian invaders. This includes Crimea, which Russia occupied and annexed in 2014 and appears especially determined to keep. That is why Zelensky might fail in his ATACMS request. The Biden administration has so far resisted every Ukrainian plea for that equipment, likely fearing that extending Ukrainian range and accuracy in such a way might lead the Russians to panic and overescalate in return.
Instead, the Biden administration might try to find alternative ways to extend the range of Ukrainian fire. The next military package for Ukraine will reportedly include Joint Direct Attack Munitions equipment to allow the Ukrainians to modify their "dumb" bombs to be far more accurate. This approach makes sense.
Some of Zelensky's requests are easier to meet than others. He can likely expect significant aid to keep Ukrainian power supplies functioning this winter, as well as other economic and humanitarian assistance to let the Ukrainian people know they are not being forgotten.
Zelensky's bigger challenge will be securing detailed plans for a significant and sustained increase in U.S. military support. In addition to the American equipment it has acquired, Ukraine has also relied on the legacy Soviet weapons systems it possessed when Russia invaded in February. Eventually, Kyiv will want to switch to equipment meeting full NATO standards. Perhaps the most pressing medium-term need will be for aircraft. Although Ukraine has had considerable success using older Soviet-designed planes, they are a finite resource. The longer the war goes on, and the better Ukraine fights, the more willing the Biden administration might be to equip Ukrainian forces with American aircraft, most notably F-16s. Though rather old, these planes are far more capable than anything the Ukrainians are now flying and would offer a major advantage over Russia's air force.
Yet deploying F-16s in the current conflict would require months of preparation, including configuring Ukrainian airfields and training Ukrainian pilots and ground crews. Any immediate public announcement of such a move would be surprising. But if Zelensky can get some indication that the U.S. will eventually support the idea, that would make his trip a major success.
[Read: Liberation without victory]
The Ukrainian president understands the impact of his own physical presence in the U.S. capital. Yesterday morning, before departing for Washington, Zelensky visited Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut—where he was easily within the range of Russian firepower. But he knew that a visit to the dangerous area, especially when compared with Putin's carefully choreographed and very safe public appearances, would bring important moral and diplomatic benefits.
Outwardly, Zelensky's trip to Washington will be a triumph. Biden will greet him with respect, and the Ukrainian cause will be in the spotlight in Washington as never before. With the exception of Trumpist troglodytes and far-left commentators who support Putin for their own ideological purposes, most of the U.S. public will view the Ukrainian president with real affection, and he will likely receive formal assurances of substantial support. For Zelensky, though, agreements on issues that won't be discussed publicly may be what matters most.
The concept of best-friendship is responsible for the worst birthday party of my life. I was 11 and hosting a sleepover. We were all having fun, eating pizza and comparing our Beanie Babies—until someone referred to someone else as her best friend. Suddenly, we were at war. Another girl had thought she held that title. Other supposed best-friendships were revealed to be asymmetrical. The phrase second best friend entered the mix. We attempted, miserably, to define all of the hierarchies in our relationships; who meant what to whom? Someone ran out of the bedroom, wailing.
Even after that disastrous party, though, it would take me years to stop subscribing to best-friendship. Having one has often felt like a necessity. Pop culture is full of inseparable pairs: Cher and Dionne of Clueless in their matching plaid, SpongeBob and Patrick jellyfishing in tandem, Daria and Jane from MTV's animated Daria hating everyone but each other. And who doesn't find that kind of bond—just the two of you against the world—alluring? Who doesn't want to be the best of something, the most important in another person's eyes?
But the truth is that many people don't have a single favorite friend. In one survey, Americans named an average of three closest companions, and that number was even higher in other countries. Studies show that people with networks of friends can turn to different people in order to get different perspectives, or just because one person might be busy. And yet, the trope of best-friendship persists. It encourages us to quantify and compare relationships that are each uniquely meaningful and challenging. Even in adulthood, it hurts people's feelings.
So why are we so taken with dynamic duos? Perhaps it's because they mirror a long-held romantic ideal in American culture: monogamous partnership, in which love is considered more real for its lack of competition. But many people's ideas about romantic relationships are changing. Can our friendship paradigms change with them?
[Read: Should friends offer honesty or unconditional support?]
According to Barbara Caine, a historian at the University of Sydney and the editor of Friendship: A History, the notion of a "best friend" is a relatively recent invention. Before the mid-to-late 20th century, Caine told me, people didn't usually use that term. They referred to sentimental friends and beloved friends—but not best friends.
For much of history, women—especially those in the middle class, who were expected to be homemakers—didn't tend to have a large number of social connections. "In order to have friends, you need independence. You need to be able to leave the family and the home. You need to be a legally and socially independent person. And women weren't," Caine said. Friendship was considered a largely male phenomenon. But after the Industrial Revolution, urbanization led more men and women to start going to college, working in new industries, joining social clubs—essentially, living a life outside the home and family. The average person's social circle expanded.
It stands to reason that as larger social groups became more common, people began to elevate one "best" connection. And in the mid-to-late 1900s, feminist movements championed female friendships, leading many women to assign particular importance to them. Best friend caught on in child psychology, fiction, music, and commercials; by 1971, it was a common enough phrase to appear in the title How to Be Your Own Best Friend, a hit guide to self-reliance, and by the '90s, it was ubiquitous in books for kids. And much of the language around it seemed to mimic that of monogamy—the model for love, deeply rooted in heteronormative institutions, that many people knew most intimately. "Nobody closer," went the jingle for a 1970s McDonald's ad about a friend duo. "You're two of a kind." Best-friendship was defined by its exclusivity.
Today, the term is still widely used. But most of us don't naturally fall into friend pairs. Seeking them out, then, can lead to hurt—if we choose one friend over another, if the best-friend designation isn't reciprocated, or if we don't have a closest friend but feel that we should. For those who do have one, prioritizing them could mean turning away from other, potentially fruitful friendships. And relying on one person for all of your emotional needs creates a lot of pressure: No one is available to be a great friend 100 percent of the time.
[Read: The best friends can do nothing for you]
The rare times I say "best friend," I know I don't really mean it. What I mean to convey is intimacy, that this person is a big part of my life. And yet, even though most of us have multiple close friends, the term both reflects and influences how we approach these relationships. "There is a very human impulse to want to hoard love and affection even on a platonic level—a kind of scarcity mentality," Aminatou Sow, a co-author of Big Friendship, told me. Afraid of losing our closeness, we might call someone a "best friend" as a kind of protective incantation, a declaration of our commitment that comforts us but doesn't leave much room for complexity or change. When a friendship inevitably evolves and best doesn't fit anymore—at least not in the same way—that feels less like growth and more like loss.
In recent years, friendship is arguably enjoying greater appreciation than ever. People understand more and more that their emotional needs cannot all be met by a romantic partner. But as we champion the power of friendship, many of us still view it with a very monogamous mindset: that one of our relationships should be the primary one, and that its status should be unwavering over time. The best friend becomes spouse-lite; just as sexual betrayal is a threat to a spouse, emotional betrayal—not matching the intensity of the bond, becoming closer with another person, naturally growing apart—is a threat to a best friend.
But perhaps we ought to reconsider the merits of such an arrangement. After all, many people are letting go of monogamy even in romantic relationships. And most of us already have full and varied friend networks—even if we don't typically celebrate them in the same way we do "best friends."
Ultimately, it's not our friendships that need to change; it's how we talk about them. We can and should have people who are close to us, whom we can confide in, whom we trust with our most tender selves. It just doesn't have to be a competition. No one has to be second best.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, please know that you are not alone. If you are in danger of acting on suicidal thoughts, call 911. For support and resources, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.
New York City's High Line was not always high. For nearly a century, freight trains ran directly alongside traffic, carrying food to Lower Manhattan—and killing pedestrians, more than 540 from 1846 to 1910. Eleventh Avenue in those days was known as "Death Avenue." The cargo train that cut through the neighborhood was nicknamed "The Butcher," and many of its victims were children who crossed the tracks to bring dinner to their fathers at work in the factories and meatpacking plants. Only when the trains were moved onto elevated tracks in 1934 did the rail line begin to lose its association with death.
The High Line was abandoned in 1980, then reclaimed as a public walkway in 2009. Today, it ends in Hudson Yards, the largest private development in the United States. Among its many features are several skyscrapers, a mall, and an arts center, but its crown jewel is the Vessel, a 150-foot nest of staircases frequently likened to a honeycomb, gleaming rose gold and leading nowhere but up. The mall's developer paid an estimated $200 million for the structure, likely in the hopes that tourists would wander from the architectural spectacle into Lululemon or Aritzia.
When renderings of the Vessel's design were first released, The New York Times predicted that the structure would form an "exclamation point" at the end of the High Line, an exuberant finale to a peaceful stroll. But today, the Vessel would be far better described as a period. It opened in 2019, but the upper floors have been closed to the public since July 2021.
I visited for the first time in October 2021. Aluminum crowd-control gates enclosed the structure, but I could see two guards inside pacing around, sliding along the railings, and recording each other doing TikTok dances. I approached and asked why the Vessel was closed, and was told that work was being done on the elevators; it would open by Thanksgiving. When I inquired again two months later, I got a vaguer response: closed for maintenance. In April, guards were herding visitors into the atrium of the Vessel but telling them to go no further. "The top is closed," shouted one guard. "Take all the photos you want. But the top is closed."
I went back this month to find the Vessel covered in Christmas lights. The entrances to the stairways had been sealed off with black plywood. Some visitors leaned against the barriers, looking up. "Can you climb it or what?" a man carrying a Uniqlo shopping bag asked his companion.
I repeated his question to a guard outside. "Honey, you can't," she told me. "It's been closed since last year. They're modifying it."
"Why is it closed?" I asked.
"They're modifying it," she said again.
"Why are they modifying it?"
She paused and met my eyes. "I don't know."
The truth is that the Vessel is closed because, for the brief stretch that it was open, four people jumped to their death from its staircases.
After its first suicide, the Vessel closed early for the day. After its second, it closed for a few hours; after its third, it closed for four months. Since the deaths began, activists and the local community board have been lobbying the developers to add architectural interventions: permanent barriers and higher guardrails.
The interventions required to reduce suicides by jumping are, thankfully, straightforward. A Swiss study in 2017 found that nets beneath bridges reduce suicide attempts by 77 percent, and that barriers along their edges reduce suicides by 69 percent. It may be surprising that they work so well—if a person were hell-bent on taking his life, wouldn't he find another way?—but suicide is often an impulsive act. A 2021 study found that nearly three-quarters of those who were hospitalized following a suicide attempt reported that they had made the decision to end their life within three hours of the attempt. More than a third had decided less than five minutes before. One man who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge left a note on the railing: "Why do you make it so easy?"
Fewer people die by suicide when it's harder to die by suicide. When Britain gradually eliminated carbon monoxide from its public gas supply in the 1960s and '70s, the rate of suicide by self-asphyxiation didn't just go down; the overall suicide rate dropped by 35 percent, suggesting that getting the most obvious method out of the home may have gotten suicide in general out of the minds of many people.
If a man wakes up intent on ending his life and finds a fence dividing him from an easy death, he will have to make a new plan. He might not have the energy. He might go home instead. He might go to sleep. He might wake up the next morning and the morning after that—a whole lifetime of days strung together.
Suicide-reduction architecture, as I've come to call it, demonstrably saves lives, and yet no standards or guidelines address it. If a bridge or a building is the site of a suicide—or worse, if it becomes a known destination for people seeking to take their life—barriers are generally considered as a last resort. If implemented, the design is often described euphemistically as a "safety net" or an "attractive security membrane." The goal is almost always to make these barriers as unobtrusive as possible. No developer wants to fund a multimillion-dollar public work that calls to mind the image of someone plunging to their death.
When the Vessel reopened to the public in May 2021, after four months of community-board meetings, no architectural changes had been made. But new policies had been put in place. Visitors weren't allowed inside on their own; individuals were paired off with other tourists. A sign beside the guard station provided information about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Entry had been free but now cost $10, which helped pay for a threefold increase in security.
It wasn't enough. Two months after the reopening, a 14-year-old boy entered the honeycomb with his family. He chased his sister up the reflective stairs, laughing, dodging tourists, and ignoring a guard's warnings to slow down. When he reached the eighth level, he climbed the rose-gold banister and jumped to his death.
That boy, the fourth and last person to jump from the Vessel, was also the youngest. The oldest was 24. Since 2007, the suicide rate among 10-to-24 year-olds has risen sharply. Young people tend to die by suicide for different reasons than older adults. They are much more likely to fatally harm themselves in response to a single, traumatic event, rather than a persistent state of anguish.
Although the Vessel was built on private property with private dollars, its designer, Thomas Heatherwick, insisted that it was for the public. In a podcast interview that aired in February 2021, Heatherwick declared that his creation "must be free in the same way that it's free to walk in Central Park or free to walk on the High Line." He said that the Vessel was never meant to be viewed only from the outside, that it wouldn't be complete until it was filled with visitors.
In an interview with The Daily Beast in July 2021, Stephen Ross, the billionaire founder of the Related Companies, which co-developed Hudson Yards, suggested that the Vessel may never fully reopen. Ever since, I've been struggling to understand the developers' inaction and secrecy. Why would Hudson Yards and Heatherwick sacrifice so much of their vision for what the Vessel was meant to be rather than adapting its architecture to make it safe?
The head of media at Heatherwick's studio declined a request for an interview. When I asked a spokesperson for Hudson Yards whether suicide barriers are being considered, he offered the following statement: "We continue to test and evaluate solutions that would allow us to reopen the staircases so that everyone can fully enjoy the unique experiences Vessel provides." And indeed, in August, Eyewitness News reported that the Vessel was testing "some sort of safety netting" under the stairs. But it's unclear whether any measures have been undertaken since.
More broadly: Why do certain places become magnets for deliberate death in the first place? Why don't we have a protocol for dealing with such sites, for amending their architecture, for making them safe?
The Golden Gate Bridge is the most popular site for suicide in the Western Hemisphere. I grew up in San Francisco, crossing the bridge twice a day to attend school in the hills of Marin County. The longer you live near it, the more likely you are to know people who've jumped from it.
One was beautiful, impulsive, 18. He dated one of my close friends. He was missing for two weeks before his body was recovered from the Bay.
When I was a small child, Kevin Hines, a 19-year-old enrolled at the City College of San Francisco, skipped class to kill himself. He sobbed openly as he rode the bus to the Golden Gate and paced the walkway for 40 minutes, having made a pact with himself that if anyone asked him what was wrong, he would "tell them everything." No one did.
We know that because the four-second fall didn't kill Kevin. That made him unusual: The fall kills nearly everyone who jumps. But what didn't make him unusual was that he, like almost every other jumper who somehow made it to shore, was grateful. A 1978 study of hundreds of people who'd jumped but survived from 1937 to 1971 found that 94 percent were still living or had died of natural causes.
Suicide has haunted the Golden Gate Bridge for its entire 85-year history. In August 1937, just 10 weeks after its opening, a World War I veteran walked onto the bridge and told a passerby, "This is as far as I go." The movement for a barrier can be traced back to February 1939, when the California Highway Patrol asked the bridge district to take action to address what was rapidly becoming, in the words of one reporter, "a Mecca for despondent persons seeking self-destruction." No action was taken. Over the next 30 years, district officials commissioned at least three separate studies of suicide barriers but ultimately ignored or rejected all of their recommendations.
In 1976, Roger Grimes started walking back and forth over the pedestrian walkway with a sign begging passersby: Please Care. Support a Suicide Barrier. He eventually gave up, Tad Friend wrote in The New Yorker, not because of the tedium or the weather, but because of the hostility. Drivers pelted him with soda cans. Joggers urged him to jump.
Neighborhood groups have cited aesthetic objections and the (unsupported) assumption that would-be jumpers will simply find another means to end their life. Bicycle coalitions have complained that netting would ruin the vistas of their morning rides. Online, there's been a persistent digital chorus of Let them jump.
In his New Yorker article, titled "Jumpers," which came out in 2003, Friend suggested that the "lack of empathy for the depressed" was surprising in "an area as famously liberal as San Francisco, where you can always find a constituency for a view that pets should be citizens or that poison oak has a right to exist."
As a sixth-generation San Franciscan, I am a little less shocked. The resistance to suicide barriers doesn't strike me as a bizarrely un-Californian refusal to acknowledge the humanity of the mentally ill. It strikes me as typical of San Francisco's many failures to relieve, or take responsibility for, individual suffering—much less to build that responsibility into the landscape of the city. San Francisco has been notoriously resistant to investment in low-income housing, opting instead to crowd its enormous unhoused population in tents enclosed by chain-link fences. The city's appearance is a point of pride for those who can afford it, and maintaining that appearance tends to trump any facade of compassionate politics.
Dayna Whitmer, who serves on the board of the barrier-advocacy organization BridgeRail, has taken it upon herself to respond to the online vitriol. "A lot of times," she told me, "people just don't understand the facts." She scrolls through comments and tries to educate them. What sorts of comments does she see? Oh, you know: "Let's put in a diving board; let's make them pay for it."
Whitmer joined BridgeRail in 2008, after her 20-year-old son, Matthew, leapt from the bridge to his death. Matthew didn't leave a note, but he did leave a computer search history. He had visited the district's page to see if barriers were in place—a small amount of money had recently been earmarked for a project to explore adding them. They were not. Next, he looked up directions to the Golden Gate. His body was never recovered.
After decades of debate and roughly 2,000 deaths, work on the Golden Gate Suicide Deterrent Net System is under way. Construction began in 2018 and is expected to be completed in late 2023, almost three years behind schedule.
What changed? Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, the director of public affairs for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, told me, "There's not one point" that you can pin the decision on, but rather "many factors, many families." It was a response to the shifting understanding of suicide as a public-health issue rather than an individual failure, the gradual weight of so many deaths, the pressure of grieving relatives showing up at every single one of the district's monthly board meetings demanding that something be done.
Now, every weeknight, the Golden Gate Bridge's six lanes narrow to three. Cranes lower building materials over the edge, where midnight steelworkers hang on suspended platforms, 200 feet above the Pacific.
You will only really see the barrier, a contractor on the project told me, if you are staring directly over the edge—or up from the water below. The nets are gray, camouflaged by the Bay. The beams that support them are painted International Orange, the same shade as the bridge itself.
Cosulich-Schwartz told me that a simple fence would have been much cheaper and easier to install. But cheaper and easier were not the primary goals. The district believes the project will cost $220 million, more than $75 million over the original construction budget. The contractors say that the total expense will be closer to $400 million.
The nets beneath the Golden Gate are composed of woven steel, thin to the point of transparency. Similar nets divide human spectators from zoo animals and prisoners from the outside world. They have been used at suicide hot spots in Switzerland and beneath the bridges spanning the gorges around Cornell University. An architect at Cornell who worked on the project suggested to me that a student could go four years and never notice them.
That may be the case. But in installing the nets, in 2013, Cornell was undertaking a risk, just as the city of San Francisco is now. In high school, I chose not to apply to Cornell because I knew it as "the suicide school." People are so miserable there, my friends and I would say, that they had to install nets under their bridges to keep their students from offing themselves. Cornell is far from the only college that has faced a crisis of student suicides. But the addition of the nets brought a new round of national attention to the problem.
Many San Franciscans do not want the Golden Gate Bridge to become a similar symbol of suicide. But for those living near it, it already is. A 2009 study found that more than 80 percent of those who died beneath the bridge had lived in its immediate vicinity. With or without nets, the bridge will always be a reminder of the people who jumped from it.
Dereck Revington has lived for four decades in Toronto, regularly driving across the Prince Edward Viaduct, a 131-foot bridge over two rail lines and the dregs of the Don River. It was once the most fatal standing structure in Canada; by the late '90s, someone was jumping to their death from the bridge every 22 days on average.
In 1998, Toronto's city council announced a design competition, calling for barriers that would provide both public safety and public art. Designing a barrier that would keep people safe wasn't the hard part, Revington told me. "There's no difficulty in establishing a secure edge between life and death in the physical sense," he said. But he was inspired by the philosophical and artistic challenges of the project. He also has a personal connection to the issue, having successfully intervened in the attempted suicide of a family member when he was a child.
His winning proposal for the barrier consisted of two layers of stainless-steel rods—thousands of them—strung to the balustrades on each side of the bridge, forming a 16-foot gate between the sidewalk and the fall. These rods are outfitted with 35,000 LED lights, which produce an ever-changing light show. The lights are digitally programmed to "translate local environmental conditions" into "ghostlike" undulating patterns—they respond to changes in wind speed, temperature, and season. I've watched probably hours of videos of the fence on YouTube, mesmerized. The design is called the Luminous Veil.
Instead of trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, Revington's design is dazzlingly conspicuous. But this carries its own dangers.
In my first semester of graduate school, I was white-knuckling my way through a debilitating depressive episode and studying daily in New York University's Bobst Library. The library is designed like a box. Its 12 stories form a perfect square around a marble-floored lobby, above which is 150 feet of vertical air. The atrium is enclosed in aluminum panels, randomly perforated and tinged with matte gold. I found the panels ugly but didn't think much about them until I learned their purpose: Three students had died on the lobby floor in just over six years. Many more had watched them fall. Apparently, four groups of prospective students filed through that lobby mere hours after the final suicide, oblivious.
Every time my eyes slipped from my blank Word document to the barrier, I imagined those tours. I would see college hopefuls walking over their own reflections in the freshly polished marble. I would see blood. I would see bodies falling, limbs windmilling until they didn't. Often, these limbs were my own. Thoughts of suicide began to pour over my brain. I found another place to work.
Studies have repeatedly shown that suicide is contagious. I can't find any reports of suicides in Bobst Library from the first 30 years of its existence. But after one student jumped in late 2003, another followed just four weeks later (he had taken psilocybin, and his death was ruled an accident). A third jumped not from the banister but from the narrow wall of clear plastic that campus safety had screwed into the backs of the railings and stairways—a precursor to the metal cage.
People go to surprising lengths to be part of a particular suicide community. A common reason given for choosing to die at the Golden Gate, as articulated by a research participant who made the attempt, is "you're with all those people who jumped before." Sensitive to this phenomenon, some people fear that a conspicuous barrier can draw even more attention to the problem it's addressing, perhaps encouraging at-risk people to find a way around it.
But Revington thinks the greater danger lies in trying to pretend that the problem doesn't exist. "The circumstances behind suicidal impulses don't go away simply because you prevent someone from jumping off a bridge," he told me, sounding almost exasperated. Barriers buy a suffering person time, but they don't stop the suffering.
Revington likened the movement of light across the steel balustrades to ripples across the skin of a lake. Sometimes a storm comes up and the light dances with an ominous energy. But the storm passes. He wanted a design that "resonated with the tragedy of this place." He does not call it a barrier. I asked him if he thought of it as a memorial, and he did not hesitate: "Yes."
Revington understands the impulse to edit suffering out of our environment. But he knows grief is built into the infrastructure of our lives. We may cross it every day, but we never get over it.
New Mexico's suicide rate is nearly double the national average and has been for decades. In 2014, a 23-year-old Taos local named Cooper Beacom climbed over a 47-inch railing on the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and leapt. His mother and younger brother watched him jump; the decision seemed spontaneous.
Anette Meertens, a landscape architect and designer in Taos, knew Beacom's mother, and started working with an advocacy group she had founded to think about ways to make the bridge safer. Meertens had been shocked by the young man's suicide, both by the loss and by the ease of it, how he could place his hand on the railing and, in an instant, flip right over to his death. "We design our way through many, many, many dangerous conditions," Meertens told me. People's lives are saved daily by the little bit of yellow paint that runs down the spine of a highway. She began drawing up sketches in her free time.
Unlike Toronto, which voted to build a suicide barrier and held a contest for designs, Taos was not searching for an architectural solution to the Gorge Bridge. Meerteens was essentially working on spec, hoping that the New Mexico Department of Transportation would be compelled by her plan. It is, to be sure, an unusual one.
Meertens wants to eliminate the metal railing that currently separates the sidewalk from the drop. She wants to replace it with a wall of thin steel mesh, stretching concave toward the sidewalk so as to make climbing it virtually impossible. The bridge would be secure, but Meertens doesn't want it to feel that way. She hopes to use the netting to exaggerate, rather than obscure, the bridge's threat.
Like Revington, she wants her design to put the reality of the fall in the mind of every individual on the bridge. The point is not to force the community to encounter the history of suicide—"there isn't a single person in the younger generation who doesn't know that that bridge is about death," Meertens told me—but to force people to encounter their own mortality. Standing at its edge, divided from bodily destruction by a web as thick as the average flea is long, you might contemplate the moment of impact. You might notice the trees on the valley floor, shrunken by the distance. You might feel the heft of gravity, your own heart suddenly flapping against your rib cage. These sensations might shock you out of your psychological pain and back into your fragile body. Encountering the sensation of danger in the built environment is rare and, Meertens thinks, healthy. Danger, she believes, "helps you be careful."
The transportation department was less than enthusiastic about Meertens's design. There was concern that someone might cut a hole in the steel wiring and climb through into the empty air. That concern did not goad the department into implementing another design, however. Two to three people, on average, continue to jump over the four-foot railing annually. As it stands now, the bridge doesn't just feel dangerous—it is dangerous.
It has been four decades since a train ran down the High Line.
Before the architecture was changed, people saved people from the Eleventh Avenue cargo trains. Not just people. Cowboys. Waving red flags by day and red lanterns at night, men on horseback cut through the thicket of meandering schoolchildren, hollering vegetable vendors, weaving bicyclists, and stray dogs in advance of the rushing freight.
Perhaps there is a lesson in this, something about the power of individuals to fill in the gaps that institutions leave open. There is a bridge over China's Yangtze River in Nanjing that for years killed at least one person a week. One man—Chen Si—crosses that bridge nearly every weekend, and has for 13 years. He has stopped more than 400 people from jumping. He has been profiled by GQ, This American Life, and The New York Times, and in 2015 was the subject of a feature film. The bridge itself has garnered considerably less attention.
Chen's is a story we can all get behind: one that emphasizes individual heroism rather than the collective failures that made such heroism necessary. But the Yangtze River Bridge is almost a mile long, and Chen is one man. How many more lives could be saved with a net?
The West Side Cowboys saved lives on Death Avenue for more than 80 years. But it was still Death Avenue. There was nothing to divide the train tracks from the horse-drawn carriages, cars, and vegetable carts, from the zigzagging commutes of hundreds of children bound for school and factories mass-producing everything from chocolate to razor blades. It was, perhaps, the single most congested stretch of Manhattan. In the dark of November, December, and January, the trains killed an average of three children a month.
In 1908, a 7-year-old boy named Seth Low Hascamp died on the tracks. Nothing made his death markedly different from the many that came before, but it was a breaking point. Five hundred of his peers took to the streets in protest. They marched in the dark, night after night along the tracks, together. They spread banners and beat drums. They lit the way with fireworks.
The children didn't propose a solution; they probably could not have imagined a pedestalled train line running a mile and a half through the sky. But they illuminated the tracks.
Their protests on Death Avenue lasted weeks. The bureaucratic battle over a new railroad design lasted years. The tracks stayed in place for another three decades until eventually, finally, they rose.
- Since its founding, the company has raised $832 million from investors, including Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy Ventures and ArcelorMittal SA, a Luxembourg-based multinational steel company.
Iron-air batteries have a "reversible rust" cycle that could store and discharge energy for far longer, at less cost, than lithium-ion technology
The discovery of a dinosaur fossil included a rare find: the last meal it ever ate.
Of the many hundreds of carnivorous dinosaur skeletons, only 20 cases preserved their last meals. The new find makes it 21.
Microraptor was an opportunistic predator, feeding on fish, birds, lizards—and now small mammals. The discovery of a rare fossil reveals the creature was a generalist carnivore in the ancient ecosystem of dinosaurs.
When Hans Larsson, professor of biology at the Redpath Museum of McGill University, saw a complete mammal foot inside the rib cage of the small, feathered dinosaur, his jaw dropped.
"At first, I couldn't believe it. There was a tiny rodent-like mammal foot about a centimeter long perfectly preserved inside a Microraptor skeleton. These finds are the only solid evidence we have about the food consumption of these long extinct animals—and they are exceptionally rare," says Larsson, who came across the fossil while visiting museum collections in China.
Fully feathered with wings on both its arms and legs, this dinosaur is closely linked to the origin of birds. Microraptor was about the size of a crow and one of the smallest dinosaurs. The first specimen was discovered in deposits in Liaoning, China, in the early 2000s.
"We already know of Microraptor specimens preserved with parts of fish, a bird, and a lizard in their bellies. This new find adds a small mammal to their diet, suggesting these dinosaurs were opportunistic and not picky eaters," Larsson says. "Knowing they were not specialized to any particular food is a big deal."
This could be the first evidence of a generalist carnivore in dinosaur ecosystems, the researchers say. Generalist predators are important stabilizers in today's ecosystems, like foxes and crows, because they can feed among several species that may have differing population abundances.
"Knowing that Microraptor was a generalist carnivore puts a new perspective on how ancient ecosystems may have worked and a possible insight into the success of these small, feathered dinosaurs," says Larsson.
The study appears in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Source: McGill University
The post Rare find: Dino fossil includes its last meal appeared first on Futurity.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05419-0Reply to: Climate versus tectonics as controls on river profiles
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05518-yBlack carbon attribution
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05655-4Reconstruction and deconstruction of human somitogenesis in vitro
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05519-xReply to: Black carbon attribution
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05418-1Climate versus tectonics as controls on river profiles
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05649-2Reconstituting human somitogenesis in vitro
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04557-9Games, seasonal science songs, and Nature's 10.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04496-5Suspended nests with long entrances give fledglings more time to mature.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04560-0New models called axioloids offer insight into development of vertebrae in humans.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05545-9RNA–DNA hybrids are immunogenic species that can aberrantly accumulate in the cytoplasm after R-loop processing, linking R-loop accumulation to cell death through the innate immune response.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05550-yCulture and analysis of 'Candidatus Lokiarchaeum ossiferum'—a member of the Asgard phylum—reveals an elaborate cell architecture with extensive membranous protrusions.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05367-9Optomechanical lattices in one and two dimensions with exceptionally low disorder are realized, showing how the optomechanical interaction can be exploited for direct measurements of the Hamiltonian, beyond the tight-binding approximation.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05553-9The retrosplenial cortex and superior colliculus of mouse form a neural circuit that specifically encodes shelter location, facilitating rapid escape from predatory threats.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05516-0Recent key developments in the exploration of kagome materials are reviewed, including fundamental concepts of a kagome lattice, realizations of Chern and Weyl topological magnetism, flat-band many-body correlations, and unconventional charge-density waves and superconductivity.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05544-wIn Caenorhabditis elegans, paternal exposure to ionizing radiation results in HIS-24 and HPL-1-dependent genome instability phenotypes, causing embryonic lethality in the offspring.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05551-xBRD8 is identified as a specific epigenetic vulnerability for
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05476-5Polarization can exceed 60% at the leading edge of the inner part of the Vela pulsar wind nebula; in contrast with the case of the supernova remnant, the electrons in the pulsar wind nebula are accelerated with little or no turbulence in a highly uniform magnetic field.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05535-xA lifetime cartography of in vivo senescent cells shows that they are heterogeneous. Senescent cells create an aged-like inflamed niche that mirrors inflammation associated with ageing and arrests stem cell proliferation and tissue regeneration.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05547-7Evolutionary analyses of single-nucleus transcriptome data for testes from 11 species are reported, illuminating the molecular evolution of spermatogenesis and associated forces, and providing a resource for investigating the testis across mammals.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05486-3Ultrasmall monodisperse perovskite quantum dots are synthesized in situ on a substrate via ligand structure regulation, yielding the highest external quantum efficiency blue perovskite LEDs reported so far.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05554-8Behavioural studies with deafened rats show that locus coeruleus activity and plasticity are key to rapid adaptation to and long-term hearing performance with cochlear implants.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04449-yRadiation-damaged paternal DNA has been found to cause embryos of the second generation of nematode worms, but not the first, to die. The proposed mechanisms help to explain the observed lack of such an effect in humans.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04447-0Future LEDs could be based on lead halide perovskites. A breakthrough in preparing device-compatible solids composed of nanoscale perovskite crystals overcomes a long-standing hurdle in making blue perovskite LEDs.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04430-9Cells in a state of arrested growth, called senescence, have been characterized in skeletal muscle in mice. Senescent cells promote inflammation and block regeneration, and thus might induce harmful changes in aged muscle.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04445-2An X-ray imaging mission has unveiled the magnetic field in the environment of a dead star. The order and symmetry of the field will reshape our understanding of how it accelerates particles to ultra-high energies.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04221-2The mammalian testis is a rapidly evolving organ, in both structural and molecular terms. An investigation of testicular cell nuclei from 11 species has unveiled genes, cell types and evolutionary forces that underlie these changes.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04450-5A microorganism that is a proposed relative of our cellular ancestors has been grown successfully in the laboratory. Its internal architecture offers clues to the early evolution of eukaryotic cells.
Every 90 minutes on average, someone in the world is injured or killed by a landmine or other remnant of war, according to the Explosive Ordnance Risk Education Advisory Group. Even more sobering: there has been "a sharp increase" in the number of civilian casualties in recent years, says the group, which encompasses more than a dozen UN agencies and non-governmental organizations concerned about the rising accident rate. These organizations and others are working hard to help affected countries and communities regain safe use of their land.
Landmine blasts can be fatal and cause injuries including blindness, burns, damaged limbs, and shrapnel wounds. While many nations have stopped using and producing landmines, 59 countries and territories remain contaminated by mines or other explosives. In 2019, landmines and similar explosives caused at least 5,554 casualties, across 55 countries and regions, with civilians accounting for the majority (80%) and children representing nearly half of civilian casualties (43%).
Over one million landmines were dropped in Afghanistan in the 1980s. About two million landmines have been planted on the Korean Peninsula since the Korean War ended in 1953. And today, new mines are believed to be in use in northern Myanmar, while improvised explosive devices are used by violent non-state actors worldwide. Long and complex clearance operations are required in such contaminated territories, and innovative technologies will no doubt play a critical role in helping populations living under the threat of mines.
Harnessing radar to see below ground
Chaouki Kasmi, chief researcher for the Directed Energy Research Center (DERC) at the UAE-based Technology Innovation Institute (TII), believes he and his team can be part of the solution. DERC has developed a landmine detection system using ground-penetrating radar, a search technology historically deployed for tasks like inspecting concrete and masonry, locating underground utilities, and mapping archaeological sites.
"With our ground-penetrating radars, we are detecting buried objects in the ground from a flying autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle," says Kasmi. Named "Nimble and Advanced Tomography Humanitarian Rover" (NATHR-G1), the system scans for and detects buried objects such as improvised explosive devices, landmines, and other unexploded ordnance.
Fully designed, manufactured, and assembled in Abu Dhabi, NATHR-G1's embedded microwave sensors collect images of a predefined area or terrain, says Kasmi. Measurements completed over multiple frequency bands are then processed with geo-referenced information from a ground station.
Detecting and neutralizing threats
To neutralize landmines safely and remotely, DERC has also built and tested a high-power laser in its mobile laser laboratory. Its research team is collaborating with young science and engineering talent in the UAE to reduce the risk of unexploded ordnance at limited cost. They hope to make this technology available to as many countries as possible.
The team also continues to improve NATHR-G1: new features include an advanced signal processing engine, powered by machine learning, to detect and identify buried objects. DERC is also partnering with experts at Germany's Ruhr University Bochum and the National University of Colombia in Bogota. These researchers are currently developing an artificial intelligence engine that will make it easier for NATHR-G1 to distinguish harmless metal objects from threats by analyzing their electromagnetic signatures.
Popping up power after a disaster
Identifying landmines is only one humanitarian tool made possible by directed-energy systems. Beaming power into post-disaster environments is a second application that could aid rescue operations, says Kasmi.
After disasters, damaged water and power infrastructure can turn a localized crisis into a national catastrophe. "When typhoons and earthquakes cause utility infrastructure to collapse, such events turn into large disasters," says Kasmi. "And downed power systems hamper recovery efforts, when light sources for nighttime rescue operations are extinguished or essential facilities like hospitals and telecommunications systems shut down."
Power beaming, the delivery of energy as wireless beams through aerial platforms, can make a significant difference to the ability of first responders to find and rescue survivors in an emergency. Power beaming can help to get energy systems up and running long before damaged utility infrastructure can be fixed.
"While innovations such as solar-powered communications tools help, the prospect of having portable, pop-up energy installations that can either power generators or plug into functional grid infrastructure would transform humanitarian recovery," explains Kasmi.
Beaming power via laser
Defined as the point-to-point transfer of electrical energy by a directed electromagnetic beam, power beaming can be done via laser or microwave. While microwave-based approaches have a longer track record, laser-based approaches are showing promise in recent trials and demonstrations. Laser-based power beaming offers an advantage in being more narrowly concentrated, enabling smaller transmission and receiver installations.
Laser beaming takes electricity from a readily available source, converts it into light using lasers, and projects it through open air—also known as "free space"—or through optical fiber. At the receiving end, specialized solar cells matching the lasers' wavelength convert that intense light back into electricity.
"Power beaming is potentially poised to help solve challenges such as provision of internet and connectivity for those in remote areas, without traditionally built-up power grids or infrastructure," says Kasmi, explaining why the technology is a focus for DERC. "It could significantly boost post-disaster humanitarian aid, as the world braces for more frequent extreme weather events."
There is no shortage of need, as climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events and temperatures. In September 2022, Hurricane Ian swept through the southeastern U.S., leaving 5.1 million homes and businesses without power, some for five days or more. During Pakistan's monsoon floods in the summer, authorities scrambled to protect power stations and the electrical grid. In September 2022, Typhoon Noru in the Philippines left millions without electricity. Even localized hazards can pose grave damage to energy systems, such as the severe icing in Slovenia in 2014, which left 250,000 people without power for as long as 10 days, due to damage to utility infrastructure.
There are still technical obstacles to overcome for power beaming, says Kasmi, such as finding ways to support longer-distance transmission and improving efficiency. And a proactive public education campaign is needed to assuage fears or unfounded health worries around laser technology. Nevertheless, power beaming has the potential to be a powerful new capability to support human populations in a century braced for more extreme natural disasters.
While improvements in directed-energy technology often come under the spotlight in sectors ranging from autonomous vehicle navigation to powering low-orbit satellites, their humanitarian applications could prove the most transformative. Ground-penetrating radar and laser-based power beaming are just two examples of the use of directed energy to aid in humanitarian preparedness, response, and recovery, with the potential to improve the safety, health, and lives of millions worldwide.
This article was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review's editorial staff.
Low levels of ergothioneine in blood plasma may predict an increased risk of cognitive impairment and
in older adults, according to a new study.
The findings suggest possible therapeutic or early screening measures for cognitive impairment and dementia in the elderly.
Ergothioneine (ET) is a unique diet-derived compound discovered more than 100 years ago by Charles Tanret. However, it was only in 2005 when scientists discovered a transporter specific for ET that facilitates the uptake and accumulation of ET in the body.
Barry Halliwell, professor in the biochemistry department at the National University of Singapore, and his team demonstrated that ET is avidly retained in the human body following oral supplementation, and in preclinical models, ET is transported to almost all organs, although higher levels can be found in specific cells and tissues such as the blood cells, eyes, liver, lungs, and even the brain.
The study is published in the journal Antioxidants.
Eat more mushrooms?
Earlier work by Halliwell demonstrated the potent antioxidant properties of ET and later its ability to protect cells from a range of different forms of stress and toxins. As its main dietary source is in mushrooms, it was found that increasing consumption of mushrooms such as golden, oyster, shiitake, and white button mushrooms is associated with a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment in elderly Singaporeans.
In 2016, Halliwell's team showed lower ET levels in blood plasma among participants with mild cognitive impairment. This was verified in a much larger group of cognitively impaired participants with and without dementia, in collaboration with Mitchell Lai and Christopher Chen, associate professor from the Memory, Ageing and Cognition Centre under NUHS.
However, evidence of whether a low level of ET in blood plasma can predict the progression of cognitive impairment and dementia was unknown.
The most recent study addresses these gaps in ET research by demonstrating the potential of ET as a predictive biomarker for cognitive impairment and dementia in elderly Singaporeans.
Structural changes in brain
In the latest study, the research team recruited 470 elderly patients and followed them for up to five years at the Memory, Aging and Cognition Centre. The researchers measured ET levels in the blood plasma of the participants and followed their cognitive and functional abilities at different time points. They then examined the link between low ET levels and the risk of cognitive and functional decline over time.
"Before this study, there was little evidence that ET levels in the blood can predict the risk of developing cognitive issues," Halliwell says. "The current study is significant because it measured the ET levels of elderly participants before developing dementia. Our findings demonstrate that if your ET levels are low, your risk of developing cognitive problems increases."
The researchers showed that participants with lower levels of ET displayed poorer cognitive performance at the start of the study and an accelerated rate of decline in cognitive and functional abilities over the follow-up period.
The team also observed structural changes in the brain seen from MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans of the participants, which suggests that the association between a low ET level in blood and cognitive decline was due to underlying disease pathology.
These structural changes, including reduced cortical thickness, lower hippocampus volume, and white matter hyperintensities, are characteristic of neurodegenerative disease.
"This points to the possibility of using a simple blood test to detect ET levels for early screening in the elderly to identify those who may have higher risk of cognitive decline," Halliwell says. He adds that low ET levels are also associated with a number of other age-related diseases such as frailty, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration, so ET may have a more general role in maintaining health.
Based on this study, which showed that plasma ET levels in the blood can be a predictive biomarker for the risk of cognitive and functional decline, the research team hopes to gather further evidence of ET's preventive and therapeutic potential through a double-blinded placebo-controlled clinical trial.
For this clinical trial, the team is currently recruiting volunteers who are patients over the age of 60 years with mild cognitive impairment to participate. The researchers will provide study volunteers with either pure ET supplements or a placebo over a specified period to assess the effect and causal relationship of ET supplementation on elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment.
"If the deficiency in ET is leading to an increased risk of cognitive decline, then we would have the potential to intervene, and that is what we are trying to find out by undertaking this clinical trial," says Irwin Cheah, senior research fellow from the biochemistry department.
The post Compound in blood plasma may predict dementia risk appeared first on Futurity.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35505-wBy following morphological changes in supramolecular assemblies of silkworm silk, the authors find that while the initial steps of secretion and storage inside the silk gland follow the micelle theory of silk assembly, a phase rearrangement occurs inside microscale spherical structures that gives rise to the formation of nanoscale spherical assemblies.
What retractions grabbed the most attention in 2022?
As we've now done for a decade, we took a look through the year's stories about retractions for our friends at The Scientist and gathered the ten that seemed to most capture the limelight. As we write there, the cases ranged from "typo-laden code in psychedelics research to paper mills and plagiarism."
Head over and take a look.
Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our work, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that's not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elon Musk, who purchased
for a cool $44 billion back in February, is obsessed with bots. He has been for some time now, and in the months since his takeover, he's been vocal about Twitter's quest to erase them from the platform, telling his remaining employees that the Musk v Bot battle is the "absolute top priority" for the organization.
And recently, without much evidence, he tweeted several statements to support the notion that Twitter's made progress — a little over a week ago, he called for bots and trolls to "please attack" him, victoriously claiming that because of Twitter's recent efforts, the bots were "unable to swim to the top" of his replies.
The next day, he additionally shared a particularly unfortunate meme — captioned with an even more unfortunate tongue-out emoji — insinuating that he was taking Twitter bots to their collective funeral.
While there's no firm public evidence, though, it could be true that Musk and his team may have made progress against English-language bots. But Twitter isn't just for English speakers, and a report from The New York Times, supported by an in-depth, weeks-long content analysis by David Thiel, the chief technologist at the Stanford Internet Observatory, appears to conclude that Musk's Twitter is failing miserably to block content spawned by Chinese-language bots — so much so that bot content "drowned out" Twitter posts related to the rare mass protests that broke out in China last month as the result of the nation's extreme "zero-COVID" policy.
Information sharing is essential for organizing and driving movements, and social media has played a critical role in modern citizen protests, from Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter to the ongoing protests in Iran. China is notorious for its wide-reaching — and extremely effective — censorship policies, mostly restricting internet users to state-moderated apps like Weibo. Thus, to "protect the content from the reach of government censors, many people turned to Twitter to share what they were seeing," according to the NYT.
Unfortunately, however, due to an overwhelming amount of bot spam — mostly for porn, escort services, and gambling websites — those efforts were all but mute. Protest content was washed out and impossible to find, ultimately rendering Twitter an ineffective tool of free speech, another one of Musk's alleged priorities, and community mobilization.
But here's the catch: the bot issue only presented itself in Chinese-language searches. When reporters at the NYT searched "Beijing" in English, for example, they got tweets from real users. But when they did the same search in Chinese characters, all they got was porn and gambling spam. This process was repeated several times with several other city searches, all to the same effect. (It makes sense to search cities, given that protestors are seeking things like travel locations and shared regional voices.)
Importantly, neither the NYT nor Stanford's Thiel could find proof that Chinese officials unleashed the bots themselves in an attempt to smother protestors; those kinds of bots have existed on the platform for some time, due to the fact that Chinese censors ban both porn and gambling on their state-moderated apps. There also, as Thiel points out in his analysis, wasn't really a surge in bot traffic, just a total failure of mitigation.
And to that point, this report says less about China, and a lot more about Twitter itself — how wildly complicated it really is to run, how nuanced the issue of bots really is, and how extremely difficult multinational and multilingual content moderation is to manage. And all of these functions have been made exponentially more difficult, and in some cases likely impossible, in the wake of the company's utter and complete internal chaos — which has involved major workforce slashes, including of international content moderation teams and the company's completely disbanded its Trust and Safety Council.
Look, it's not Musk's fault that bots exist. They were there before he got there, and he didn't will porn bot swarms on Chinese protestors.
But it's clear that Musk's war on bots certainly isn't happening everywhere, and too-thin teams, who are reportedly struggling enough as it is, aren't exactly set up for success. Mass protests rarely happen in China, and Twitter, as an organization, failed to provide the necessary services that its new leadership claims to be hell-bent on providing. Actions have consequences — and here, according to Thiel, the very serious consequences of moderation failure may be long-lasting.
"Given how effective it was at drowning out other people," Thiel told the NYT. "I wouldn't be surprised if a government of some kind tries to use this technique in the future."
READ MORE: How Bots Pushing Adult Content Drowned Out Chinese Protest Tweets [The New York Times]
The post An Overwhelming Number of Porn Bot Accounts "Drowned Out" Chinese Protest Content on Twitter appeared first on Futurism.
At a certain point, everyone's gonna get tired of being online — or so goes the argument of one Dutch professor who thinks that eventually, the bad is going to outweigh the good and we'll all finally get to log off.
In a paper titled "Extinction Internet" with accompanying illustrations that would be at home in an old copy of Adbusters, University of Amsterdam professor and media theorist Geert Lovink poses a question for our age: "Can today's internet culture withstand entropy and overcome infinite capture while facing its never-ending ending?"
As the baby boomer aged Geerts writes in the paper, which was published by the school's Institute of Network Cultures, his generation "found out early that the internet… is both toxic and curative." While his cohort marveled in fascination at that juxtaposition, subsequent generations have become increasingly disenchanted, he argues — and, perhaps more importantly, have become more and more convinced that the internet cannot be fixed.
"There may come a point when that's no longer possible, after which time the adverse consequences can no longer be controlled," Lovink said in the school's press release. "The internet is headed for a point of no return, and Big Tech is probably already aware of this, too."
"Mark Zuckerberg has moved away from his social media platforms and launched Meta," he added, "as if nothing's wrong and we can just start over again, but it's clearly already broken."
No Turning Back
Geerts holds that such a point of no return — a "peak internet" moment, if you will — is steadily approaching because, as the release notes, "even 'ordinary' users increasingly have to pay a price for our far-reaching dependence on the internet and addiction to social media and apps."
Ultimately, Lovink says that he believes "people will begin to shun technology" as these prices, which are primarily psychological," begin to cost too much for the average user.
It's a tempting theory, to say the least. In reality, though, it's tough to imagine any serious number of people ever unplugging themselves from something so addictive, no matter how harmful it gets.
More on the internet: Senator Introduces Bill That Would Effectively Make Porn Illegal
The post Professor Predicts That This Whole Internet Thing Will Soon Blow Over appeared first on Futurism.
Surge of Change
The US's largest fleet of civilian vehicles is going electric.
announced this week that it'll be adding at least 66,000
to its aging fleet of some 220,000, according to an agency press release.
With the massive boost of $3 billion in funds from the Biden administration's Inflation Reduction Act, the USPS says it plans to spend a total of around $9.6 billion in upgrading its fleet and building charging stations — a massive investment from an agency that's chronically in dire need of money and is rarely willing to splash any cash.
The prime candidate for replacing its iconic-but-horribly-inefficient Grumman LLV delivery trucks is the "Next Generation Delivery Vehicle" (NGDV) manufactured by defense contractor Oshkosh. The USPS anticipates buying a minimum of 60,000 NGDVs, with at least 45,000 of them being electric, by 2028. In addition, the USPS will bolster its ranks with another 21,000 commercial-off-the-shelf-vehicles — vehicles that are readily available from automakers like Ford — all of which it hopes to be electric, depending on availability.
Most strikingly: while those plans do include buying some gas-powered vehicles in the interim, the USPS says that its vehicle purchases will be fully electric by 2026.
The move marks a significant shift in policy compared to even just last year, when the USPS announced that it only planned for around ten percent of its NGDV purchases to be electric, Ars Technica notes. The gas powered NGDVs ran at a pitiful 8.6 miles per gallon — barely an upgrade to the Grummans' 8.2 miles per gallon.
But with pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Sierra Club, an executive order to electrify federal vehicles, and the Biden administration pushing back against its previous plans, the USPS has finally changed its tune.
"Finally we're seeing the common-sense decision to move the government's largest fleet of vehicles to all-electric, a massive win for climate and public health," said Katherine García, director of the Sierra Club's Clean Transportation for All campaign, in a statement.
Mailworkers will likely be happy with the decision, too, since the NGDVs — in addition to not being outdated in general — will come equipped with some much needed air-conditioning and much needed safety features like airbags.
More on EVs: Domino's Buying Hundreds and Hundreds of Electric Delivery Vehicles
The post US Postal Service Buying 66,000 Electric Vehicles, Plans to Only Buy EVs By 2026 appeared first on Futurism.
Swatting — the horrible and sometimes fatal practice of making a fake call to the police so that they burst into the home of an adversary — is bad enough. But now, these dangerous trolls are using internet-connected Ring cameras to livestream the attacks.
According to a press release by the US Department of Justice, two young men allegedly accessed a dozen Ring cameras through currently-unknown methods and carry out a weeklong spree of next-level attacks.
During the alleged incidents, the schemers were said to have swatted their victims and using the hacked doorbell cameras to livestream the attacks and sometimes issue verbal threats to the responding officers, too. The charges are grisly, but also once again underline the grim privacy implications of allowing connected cameras and microphones into our homes — not to mention underlining the irony that a device designed to be easily be accessed by police is instead being leveraged by criminals to weaponize cops against their victims.
Along with the help of a third, unidentified defendant, the two young men, one from North Carolina and another from Wisconsin, have been charged by a grand jury with conspiracy, hacking, and identify theft counts related to the both swatting and the Ring hacks.
Per the DOJ release, the swatting attacks began in November of 2020. The defendants, currently aged 20 and 21, "allegedly acquired without authorization the username and password information for Yahoo email accounts belonging to victims throughout the United States" and linked them to Ring accounts.
During the alleged swatting incidents, the boys livestreamed both audio and video from the Ring cameras and in "several" of the instances accessed the smart doorbells' microphones to taunt police, the Justice Department statement notes.
This swatting spree was so widespread and scary that in the fall of 2020, the FBI issued an advisory urging smart home products to use complex passwords and enable two-factor authentication so that their devices wouldn't get hacked, too. The DOJ added that along with the grand jury charges, the FBI is also investigating the incidents.
More on Ring cams: New TV Show Made From Viral Ring Camera Surveillance Footage
The post Fiends Allegedly Swatted Victims, Use Hacked Ring Cameras to Livestream It appeared first on Futurism.
Dolphins are known for being especially intelligent animals, so why so many of them — even entire groups — end up helplessly stranded on a beach can be puzzling. But now, new research suggests a grim explanation: stranded dolphins are being led to their doom by a leader with dementia.
Published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, the study is purportedly the largest to date on dementia in the toothed whales known as odontocetes. Researchers examined the brains of 22 dolphins and porpoises stranded on Scottish shores and discovered that four of them showed tell-tale signs of Alzheimer's in human patients. Chief among those signs were the presence of amyloid-beta plaques, which are believed to cause or at least be symptomatic of the deadly and still poorly understood Alzheimer's.
"These are significant findings that show, for the first time, that the brain pathology in stranded odontocetes is similar to the brains of humans affected by clinical Alzheimer's disease," said Mark Dagleish, a pathologist from the University of Glasgow who led the research, in a statement.
In humans, Alzheimer's causes cognitive functions to deteriorate significantly, worsening a sufferer's speech, memory, recognition of loved ones, and the ability to perform basic tasks. But Dagleish warns against drawing a direct comparison between human symptoms and how Alzheimer's or a similar condition may manifest in dolphins.
"While it is tempting at this stage to speculate that the presence of these brain lesions in odontocetes indicates that they may also suffer with the cognitive deficits associated with human Alzheimer's disease," he added, "more research must be done to better understand what is happening to these animals."
Nevertheless, the findings lend significant credence to the "sick-leader" theory, which posits that because dolphins are such social animals, healthy groups of them are led to their deaths by a leader in decline.
But it's worth noting that Alzheimer's disease is not fully understood in humans, let alone wild animals. Even the prevailing theory that amyloid-beta plaques are in some way responsible or indicative of the disease appears to be on shaky ground — so more research will be required for a definitive diagnosis.
"We were fascinated to see brain changes in aged dolphins similar to those in human aging and Alzheimer's disease," said study co-author Tara Spires-Jones, deputy director of the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. "Whether these pathological changes contribute to these animals stranding is an interesting and important question for future work."
More on Alzheimer's disease: Chris Hemsworth Reveals Grim Genetic Test Results, Will Take Break From Acting
The post Scientists Have an Extremely Grim Theory About Stranded Dolphins appeared first on Futurism.
While it's been touted as an affordable and easy-to-use alternative to seeing a talk therapist in person, the horror stories about online therapy are racking up — and some are employing unprofessional and antiquated methodologies to "treat" their patients.
The story of Caleb Hill, as told to the Wall Street Journal, is perhaps one of the most extreme examples we've heard yet. Hill told the WSJ that he was kicked out of his parents' conservative Christian home in Tennessee when he came out as gay to them. A few months later, at age 22, depression and loneliness after being shunned from his community led him to try out the BetterHelp online therapy service that he'd heard ads for on podcasts.
Instead of being assigned an LGBTQ+ specialist — which was, per receipts reviewed by the WSJ, what he'd requested — Hill was assigned a therapist whose personal website advertised his work as a Christian counselor.
Worse, the therapist reportedly offered some ridiculously unprofessional advice: to make amends with Hill's family, he suggested, he simply needed to stop being gay. That's obviously not possible, so that sort of bunk advice has been opposed by the American Psychological Association for the better part of the last 50 years.
"He said if I chose to go back to who I was and deny those feelings," Hill told the WSJ, "he could get me where I needed to be."
The therapist, who declined to speak to the WSJ when reached for comment, reportedly told the young Tennessean that he must either "sacrifice your family or you sacrifice being gay."
"I needed someone to tell me I was gay and that was OK," Hill told the paper. "I got the exact opposite."
In response to the WSJ's requests for comment, BetterHelp seemed to suggest that experiences like Hill's are just part of the gig economy.
"Given the scale of the service, unfortunate and negative experiences are not completely unavoidable," BetterHelp told the WSJ in a written statement. "This is true in all therapy settings, whether traditional or online."
While Hill's experience is particularly egregious, mental health professionals and even some internet celebrities have been ringing warning bells about services like BetterHelp and its competitor Talkspace, which have in the pandemic years been marketed as a more accessible alternative to sit-down, real life therapy.
According to detractors, the services are plagued by issues ranging from pricing opacity and data privacy concerns to licensing issues or lack of expertise in the lifestyle or mental illness areas that online therapy patients need, with some going so far as to call their former online therapists "sketchy." As with Hill, the results when a person is matched with a bad therapist during a vulnerable period can be grim.
All that said, the online therapy business is clearly booming, with giant profit margins and huge advertising budgets to match. Services like BetterHelp have invariably helped lots of consumers given the sheer number of people who are now interested in and able to access therapy that previously would not have.
Any new market, be it webcam therapy or preroll joints, comes with major issues and consumer dissatisfaction as regulators race to catch up. With therapy, though, the issues can be particularly damaging.
More on psychology: Scientists Say They Can Damage Memories of Being Cheated On
The post Man Says His Online Therapist Told Him to Simply Stop Being Gay appeared first on Futurism.
Earlier this month, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory claimed to have achieved a world's first: generating more energy with a fusion reaction than they put into it.
The feat has long been called the "holy grail" of fusion power, and a potentially significant waypoint on the road to generating practical electricity in fusion power plants.
But as experts argue in a number of new letters published by The Guardian, the breakthrough may be too little, too late. Worse yet, the kind of technology developed by the Livermore lab could pave the way for the production of even deadlier nuclear weapons.
In simple terms, argued environmentalist and renewable energy specialist Mark Diesendorf from the University of New South Wales in Australia, we're too far out from feasible fusion power production, running the risk that the tech could be a superfluous red herring.
"To go from break-even, where energy output is greater than total energy input, to a commercial nuclear fusion reactor could take at least 25 years," he wrote. "By then, the whole world could be powered by safe and clean renewable energy, primarily solar and wind."
Chris Cragg, a freelance journalist who specializes in energy and environmental issues, agreed that the development of feasible fusion reactors could take a long time, writing in a separate letter that a "true fusion power station is unlikely to be running before my grandchildren turn 70."
"After all, it has taken 60-odd years and huge amounts of money to get this far," he added, referring to the fact that scientists have been trying to crack the code since the 1950s. (Officials from the US Department of Energy have a more optimistic timetable, suggesting the first fusion pilot plant could start operations "in the early 2030s," according to a recent report.)
Worse yet, as Diesendorf argues, laser fusion systems, like the one used by the researchers at the Livermore lab, could be used to "produce neutrons that can be used to produce the nuclear explosives plutonium-239, uranium-235 and uranium-233."
In other words, future fusion reactors could provide military powers with new ways of generating the raw materials for nuclear bombs.
It's not exactly a stretch either, considering the Livermore lab has a long history of working on nuclear weapons. The facility was founded in 1952 in response to the Soviet Union detonating an atomic bomb in 1949.
In any case, the clock is ticking. While scientists are still poring over the results from this month's experiment, the planet is facing a climate crisis of growing proportions.
Whether fusion will be part of the answer to our climate woes remains to be seen. Scientists certainly still have a lot left to prove, with or without breakthroughs.
READ MORE: Nuclear fusion 'holy grail' is not the answer to our energy prayers [The Guardian]
More on the breakthrough: Scientists Now Plotting First Fusion Power Plant
The post Gloomy Physicists Say Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough Is Too Late to Save Us appeared first on Futurism.
Running On Empty
The resilient Mars InSight lander is dying again — and this time, it may actually be on the precipice of its demise.
When the seemingly unkillable lander successfully landed on the Martian surface in 2018, the world cheered. Its original mission was only meant to last a year, but InSight has remarkably now lasted an unthinkable four, tirelessly collecting invaluable seismographic readings and much more. In fact, NASA has said that its demise was imminent several times already — but this time, they insist, its power levels are sinking dangerously low and its end really is imminent.
"My power's really low, so this may be the last image I can send," tweeted the NASA InSight account in its trademark first-person, to over half a million likes. "Don't worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and serene. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will – but I'll be signing off here soon. Thanks for staying with me."
Drawn Out Demise
[omitted] NASA has been insisting that the lander has been dying since at least the summer of 2021, as more and more dust from the Martian atmosphere accumulates on its solar panels and blots out the feeble Martian Sun.
Back then, it was projected to last until April 2022. But by next winter, NASA claimed InSight was on its last legs yet again, this time predicting it would last until the end of 2022.
And yes, for the umpteenth time in May, NASA said in an update that InSight was going to die — for real this time — by December.
Its operators have been trying every trick in the book to keep the lander going — even pouring dirt on itself in a risky but ultimately successful bid to clean dust off its panels — but it looks like this time around, this might actually be InSight's demise after all. Yet, we can't help but feel that the narrative around it is a little "Lander Who Cried Wolf."
It's not hard to understand why NASA would milk it, though. When a reporter had summarized the late Opportunity Rover's last transmission as "My battery is low and it's getting dark," it made waves across the internet, spawning memes, posters, sympathies from reporters and celebrities, and plenty of teary-eyed onlookers believing that those were really Opportunity's last words.
Given everything InSight has gone through, maybe it's time for us to finally let it go and allow it the rest it deserves. But who knows, maybe it'll surprise us one more time.
More on Mars: Orbiter Discovers "Mysterious Shapes" Inside Mars Craters
The post Dramatic NASA Mars Lander Insists It's Dying For Real This Time appeared first on Futurism.
Clinics and the most effective types of therapy are harder to find in communities where people of color live
When the pandemic hit and nobody could find toilet paper, many people transitioned to using a bidet. By using a stream of water to clean your backside, you not only save money on toilet paper, but you also help reduce waste as well. Now Kohler has introduced the most premium bidet imaginable. It's so advanced, it's not even a bidet; it's an "Intelligent Toilet." With a sky-high price of $11,500, you'd expect it to tickle your bum just right each and every time, and also wash the dishes. Although it won't do the latter, it does earn its title by being loaded with tech you'd never expect to find in a toilet.
First of all, it has Amazon's Alexa. Thanks to the built-in microphone, you can control the toilet's features with your voice. We just hope Alexa isn't always listening or recording. The toilet also has Spotify built-in, so you can stream music to cover up unwanted noises. When you first approach the Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet it detects your presence, and automatically raises the seat. Kohler says it has a feature called Comfort Height. That means it's taller than a regular toilet, so it's easier to get on and off. As you gently lower yourself, you're greeted by a warming seat pad. In case it's the middle of the night, there's also a glowing ring around the base. Once you're in place, it shoots warm air out of the bottom to keep your feet warm.
While sitting on the Numi is undoubtedly comfortable, the real fun starts when you finish your business. You can choose from two different flush sizes — 0.8 or 1.0 gpf — and the stainless steel "wand" that sprays you has plenty of options. You can choose to have either the front or the rear sprayed down. Plus, you can adjust the angle of the spray, the water pressure, and the temperature. You can also choose to have it pulsate or oscillate if you enjoy that sensation. If you're the lazy type, you can just have it automatically flush 60 seconds after it detects your departure. If you just need to do a number 1, there's an LED in the bowl for easy night-time tinkling. Once you've finished and it's done cleaning your nether regions, it'll dry them with a stream of hot air.
The toilet will even keep the wand clean with the assistance of a UV light to help it identify, um, things. Kohler says it uses an "electrolyzed water system," which helps disinfect it. The bowl is also "misted" before it's cleaned to make the process easier, as a pre-rinse. There's even an emergency reservoir that allows for 100 flushes even if the power goes out. Talk about a toilet for the apocalypse.
There's also a wireless, touch-screen remote if you don't want to talk to your toilet. It can be mounted anywhere in the home and attaches to any wall. It lets you change the water temperature, angle and type of spray, and everything else. It's about the size of a smartphone and resembles the original iPhone.
As a premium product, Kohler doesn't want you to just buy the toilet by itself. For the low price of $699, you can get Kohler's Virtual Bathroom Design Service. This will give you access to three virtual meetings with designers at Kohler about your plans. The company will also send you high-res floor plans and renders to let you see how it would look. The product page allows you to download 2D and 3D files of it, so you can add it to your designs.
Sadly, the Numi 2.0 is available only in white. The previous 1.0 version was offered in black as well, which looks slick all lit up. As The Verge points out, the Numi 2.0 is available to distributors, but you'll be able to buy it directly from Kohler soon.
If you're feeling especially busy this holiday season, now may be the time to take a moment for yourself and indulge in "self-gifting."
A new study finds that when consumers are the most stressed, that's when taking the time to self-gift offers the most benefit.
Self-gifting, or the process of engaging with a product or experience with the primary goal of boosting your emotional well-being, doesn't have to be overindulgent. It can be drinking tea, listening to music, watching a relaxing YouTube video: anything you can do with a focus on yourself.
"There are so many ads reminding us to take a moment for ourselves, for self-care, but we find that people are least likely to engage in this kind of behavior when they need it most," says Kelley Gullo Wight, assistant professor of marketing at the Kelley School at Indiana University.
"There's this moment of self-sabotage. People who feel the most constrained or stressed aren't taking advantage of these self-gifts. You might think, I'll be too distracted, or I won't be able to have a mindful moment to benefit, but our research shows this belief is wrong.
"People are able to benefit and focus even if they're stressed. In fact, that's exactly when you need it the most. Taking the time to 'self-gift' will lead you to feel less stressed in the long run."
For the study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Wight and her coauthors, Jacqueline R. Rifkin, assistant professor at Cornell University, and Keisha M. Cutright, associate professor at Duke University, used behavioral experiments to consider why people wouldn't take advantage of "self-gifting" experiences, and when it would most benefit them.
They found people who felt pressed for time were least likely to engage in self-gifting, but they were the ones who experienced the most significant boosts in how happy and relaxed they felt afterwards.
For marketers, researchers suggest they encourage consumers to "self-gift" by framing the product or experience as beneficial especially during stressful times.
"This holiday season, if you're focusing on everyone else, you've got people coming into town, and absolutely no time for yourself, take two minutes," says Wight.
"You may tend to want to wait for self-care until the stressor is over, but our research shows you'll benefit most by taking a minute for yourself anyways. That's when you should be looking out for you."
Source: Indiana University
The post Feeling stressed? Try a little holiday 'self-gifting' appeared first on Futurity.
As computer scientists tackle a greater range of problems, their work has grown increasingly interdisciplinary. This year, many of the most significant computer science results also involved other scientists and mathematicians. Perhaps the most practical involved the cryptographic questions underlying the security of the internet, which tend to be complicated mathematical problems.
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- Over the past decade, Peru has passed a series of laws that recognize nature as part of water infrastructure and require water utilities to invest a percentage of user fees in wetlands, grasslands and groundwater systems.
To prevent devastating droughts and floods, humanity can tune in to natural solutions to repair water cycles that human development has disrupted
Mining electronic waste for rare-earth elements while isolating the remaining toxic chemicals could help solve the global e-waste crisis
Our memories are the cornerstone of our identity. Their importance is a big part of what makes Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia so cruel and poignant. It's why we've hoped so desperately for science to deliver a cure for Alzheimer's, and why it is so frustrating and tragic that useful treatments have been slow to emerge. Great excitement therefore surrounded the announcement in…
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35392-1This study presents a global well-to-wake assessment of jet fuel greenhouse gas emissions with a range of 81.1-94.8 gCO2e MJ−1. Understanding this variability can improve decision-making amid the transition to decarbonizing aviation.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35237-xEnzymes have potential for recycling plastics such as PET, a polyester used in textiles and single-use packaging. Here, the authors identify and characterize additional PET-active biocatalysts and expand the number and diversity of thermotolerant scaffolds for enzymatic PET deconstruction.
Being an intern isn't generally isn't considered a fun — or even particularly human — role at any company.
But it's hard to imagine a greater entry-level hell than interning at Elon Musk's
, which has somehow spiraled into greater disarray than ever as a result of Musk's cursed "Should I step down as head of Twitter?" poll. Clearly it was finally enough for hacker-turned-entrepreneur-turned-Twitter-intern George Hotz, who had been taking an increasingly combative tone against his employer before eventually quitting last night, long before his internship was due to be over.
"Resigned from Twitter today," he wrote. "Appreciate the opportunity, but didn't think there was any real impact I could make there."
To be fair, Hotz isn't your average intern, and his role at Twitter was anything but conventional.
Holtz is a well known self-driving car developer, hacker — he was the first person to hack the iPhone — and coder, who currently helms an autonomous vehicle startup called Comma. Musk even asked him to work at Tesla back in 2015, but Hotz turned the Tesla CEO down to do his own thing. (At the time, Hotz told Bloomberg that Musk kept "changing the terms" of their agreement.)
History aside, though, Hotz was inspired by Musk's "hardcore" email to employees, prompting him to offer his reverse-engineering skills to the transitioning platform.
"I'll put my money where my mouth is," Hotz tweeted at Musk back in November. "I'm down for a 12 week internship at Twitter for cost of living in SF."
"Sure, let's talk," the newly-minted Twitter CEO replied.
Hotz has seemingly been on the Twitter team since. But after weeks of layoffs, disastrous and half-baked platform changes, and Musk's ever-growing flirtation with far right conspiracy theories, Hotz's tweets have taken on an increasingly adversarial tone toward his boss, lobbing broadsides at everything from the food situation at Twitter to its development inefficiencies.
His most fiery takes, though, related to Musk's now-reversed decision to ban links to competitors on Twitter.
"Agreed that's this is an absolutely ridiculous policy," he wrote after Musk suspended Y Combinator cofounder Paul Graham under the policy, which he lampooned as the "fastest speed run of 'free speech' ever."
"My bio link has been a link to my Instagram since I created this Twitter," he added. "Feel free to ban me."
His funniest swipe at Musk, though, was probably when he posted a poll of his own asking whether he should step down as Twitter's intern — though unlike with Musk, a majority of respondents said he should stay.
And since the Twitter thing didn't work out, would Holtz himself be interested in becoming Twitter CEO if Musk actually does step down?
"Hell no," he wrote, adding that "there's legit no way I'd ever take that job."
More on Musk polls: Elon Musk Seems to Be Trying to Weasel Out of Vote to Resign
The post Even Twitter's Intern Just Resigned in Disappointment appeared first on Futurism.
Heartbreak at Sea
Twenty five years since its first release, James Cameron's swooning epic "Titanic" is still the third highest grossing movie of all time. Besides its storied legacy, it's also spawned an endless debate among fans on its ending: whether Jack, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, could have survived the freezing ocean if he'd climbed onto the floating door with Rose, played by Kate Winslet.
And now, Cameron — renowned for his obsession with minute cinematic details — says he's finally put an end to the debate with an actual scientific study.
"We have done a scientific study to put this whole thing to rest and drive a stake through its heart once and for all," Cameron told The Toronto Sun while promoting his latest blockbuster sensation "Avatar: The Way of Water." "We have since done a thorough forensic analysis with a hypothermia expert who reproduced the raft from the movie and we're going to do a little special on it that comes out in February."
"We took two stunt people who were the same body mass of Kate and Leo," the acclaimed director explained, "and we put sensors all over them and inside them and we put them in ice water and we tested to see whether they could have survived through a variety of methods and the answer was, there was no way they both could have survived. Only one could survive."
For now, that's all the details we have on the study, but this isn't the first time Cameron has addressed the perennial, nagging question. In 2017, he debunked a theory posited on the TV show "Mythbusters" that Jack could have survived by tying Rose's life vest to the door for buoyancy.
"You're underwater tying this thing on in 28-degree water, and that's going to take you five to 10 minutes, so by the time you come back up you're already dead," Cameron told The Daily Beast at the time. "So that wouldn't work."
And science aside, Cameron thinks Jack's death was thematically integral to the story — so there's no point getting hooked up on something he's not going to change his mind on anyway.
"No, he needed to die," Cameron explained during the recent press tour. "It's like Romeo and Juliet. It's a movie about love and sacrifice and mortality. The love is measured by the sacrifice."
We'll have to wait until the study and/or the special come out, but if there's anyone who'd do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of a thalassic mystery, it'd be Cameron.
More on the ocean: Divers Growing Veggies in Underwater Greenhouses
The post James Cameron Says He Commissioned a Scientific Study on Whether Jack Could Have Survived in "Titanic" appeared first on Futurism.
Happy holidays from Futurity! Here, we've gathered some of most useful and interesting holiday posts from years past.
1. Avoid food poisoning
Whether you're making a Yuletide feast or just cooking for yourself, it's important to avoid some basic mistakes that can lead to food poisoning. This recent piece has tips to keep you from getting sick. And remember, if you're having turkey or chicken, definitely don't wash it before cooking.
And even though the season is filled with sweet treats and heavy meals, experts have some tips for healthier eating during the celebrations.
2. Watch out for 'wine teeth'
With all the merry-making, your smile might need a bit of extra protection this season. Here's how to avoid "wine teeth" making your smile as red as Santa's suit.
3. Keep your pet safe
Humans aren't the only ones at risk during all the holiday fun. Your four-legged friends can have a hard time, too.
Here are some tips to make their celebrations as safe and fun as yours.
4. Get your shuteye
With the bustle of the holiday season, it's not always easy to get enough sleep. Here are some ideas to make sure you're well rested for your festivities.
5. Maintain your mental health
The holidays aren't purely joyful for everyone, and many people experience loneliness, stress, and even depression during the season. Whether you're dreading the holidays or just feeling a little down, we've got tips for you.
Kids aren't immune from holiday stress, either. Here are ways to help your little ones cope.
And remember, even if you're trying to empathize with others, don't go spreading the myth about an increase in suicide during the holidays.
6. Care for family members
When family members are going through dementia or similar diseases, the holidays can be a difficult time. But experts have tips for caregivers to make the season bright and experience connection with loved ones.
7. Grab some last minute gifts
Still looking for gifts for the people on your "nice" list? Check out this post with 22 ideas for sustainable gifts, including some super simple last minute ideas. But you might not want to wrap your gifts too nicely, according to this post.
And finally, here's some amazing holiday history
Worried about Christmas getting too commercial? You're not alone. This piece details how those concerns go way back.
In fact, Charles Dickens even used A Christmas Carol to rail against wealth inequality and out-of-control capitalism. Find out more here.
If music is more your thing than literature, check out this post about the nostalgia embedded in your favorite Yuletide tunes.
Did you know it was once common for Jewish households to get a Christmas tree? Learn more about it here.
You can also learn about the first "War on Christmas" waged by the Puritans, who banned celebrating Christmas for a time.
We hope you have a fantastic holiday and a very happy new year!
-The Futurity Team
The post Our top research picks to improve your holidays appeared first on Futurity.
Finns sanningen om utomjordingarna i ett arkiv i Norrköping? Utdrag: "Enligt en undersökning av Vetenskap och folkbildning från 2015 tror hälften av alla svenskar att det finns intelligent liv på … Continued
Inlägget Helsingborgs Dagblad, 18 december 2022 dök först upp på Vetenskap och Folkbildning.
Kristersson är nu lika populär som köttskatt Utdrag: "En knapp tredjedel vill införa köttskatt i Sverige, enligt SOM-institutet. Något fler, 37 procent, tror på paranormala fenomen – 'övernaturliga händelser som … Continued
Inlägget Aftonbladet, 25 november 2022 dök först upp på Vetenskap och Folkbildning.
The COVID vaccines can affect menstrual cycles, but the changes are small and short-lived, research shows
Asian Americans, particularly Korean Americans, are at an unusually high risk for
, research shows.
Over the last six decades in the United States, stomach, or gastric, cancer rates have plummeted. But around the world, gastric cancer remains a leading cause of death, particularly in Asia.
In an article in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Joo Ha Hwang, a professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at Stanford Medicine, reviews the literature on gastric cancer rates. Hwang is the director of strategy at the Center for Asian Health Research and Education, which seeks to improve the health of Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations.
Hwang discusses the disparity that exists in gastric cancer between Asian Americans and other Americans, why it exists, and how to address it:
The post Stomach cancer risk is higher for Asian Americans appeared first on Futurity.
The COVID vaccines can affect menstrual cycles, but the changes are small and short-lived, research shows
New Horizons is about to wake up and study the Kuiper Belt, the universe and even Uranus and Neptune. But a new target to visit could trump them all
- 1 Elon Musk says he will step down as Twitter's CEO
This is today's edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's going on in the world of technology.
The worst technology of 2022
We're back with our latest list of the worst technologies of the year. Think of these as anti-breakthroughs, the sort of mishaps, misuses, miscues, and bad ideas that lead to technology failure. One theme that emerges from our disaster list is how badly policy—the rules, processes, institutions, and ideals that govern technology's use—can let us down.
China's zero covid measures came to an abrupt and unexpected end. On Twitter, Elon Musk intentionally destroyed the site's governing policies, replacing them with a puckish and arbitrary mix of free speech, personal vendettas, and appeals to the right wing. In the US, policy failures were evident in the highest levels of overdose deaths ever recorded, many of them due to a 60-year-old chemical compound: fentanyl.
In each of these messes, there are important lessons about why technology fails. Read the full story.
What's next for crypto in 2023
Last month's sudden implosion of the popular cryptocurrency exchange FTX has intensified a political war for the soul of crypto that was already raging.
There are two prominent sides. A vocal crowd of crypto skeptics, including prominent politicians and regulators, wants to rein in an industry it sees as overrun with fraud and harmful to consumers. On the other hand, there are the champions of "decentralization," who argue that cryptocurrency networks are vital to the future of privacy and financial freedom, and worry that misguided attempts at regulation could imperil freedoms.
In the coming year, we are likely to see that fight come to a head in US courtrooms and in Congress. The future of finance hangs in the balance. Read the full story.
Why it's so hard to tell porn spam from Chinese state bots
A few weeks ago, at the peak of China's protests against stringent zero-covid policies, people were shocked to find that searching for major Chinese cities on Twitter led to an endless stream of ads for hookup or escort services in Chinese.
At the time, people suspected this was a tactic deployed by the Chinese government to poison the search results, but a new report by the Stanford Internet Observatory has cast doubt over its involvement. Instead, the spam was likely to be the handiwork of the same old commercial spam bots that have plagued Twitter forever. Read the full story.
This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter covering all things China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.
I've combed the internet to find you today's most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Elon Musk says he will step down as Twitter's CEO
As soon as he can find someone "foolish enough to take the job." (The Guardian)
+ He maintains he'll retain control of the software and servers teams. (WP $)
+ Musk appears to be coasting on vibes at this point. (FT $)
+ Twitter has settled with an executive who was shut out of her IT systems. (Bloomberg $)
+ Journalists that Musk banned and reinstated are still being silenced. (The Intercept)
2 One of the largest crypto mining firms in the US is going bust
Core Scientific is the industry's latest victim after racking up too much debt. (CNBC)
+ Crypto miners and traders in Asia are selling off their expensive equipment. (Rest of World)
3The US is playing whack-a-mole with China's chipmakers
American export sanctions are coming thick and fast to try and thwart new chip projects. (FT $)
4 The problem with trying to ban TikTok
The company has become a bogeyman for Big Tech in Washington. (Vox)
5 Optical computing's future is looking bright
After decades of sluggish development, progress is finally being made. (Economist $)
6 Inside the implosion of music event startup Pollen
Drugs, sexual harassment allegations, and reckless spending all played a part. (Insider $)
7 Fake news is getting faker
But there's still time to curb the most dangerous deepfake scenarios. (The Atlantic $)
+ People are hiring out their faces to become deepfake-style marketing clones. (MIT Technology Review)
8 NASA's Insight Mars spacecraft has signed off
The lander is losing solar power after four years of relaying information back to Earth. (NPR)
+ The UK's first space launch has been granted a license. (Engadget)
9 The joy of Reddit
Now that Google search results are increasingly less useful, Reddit is a rich hub of incredibly specific information. (New Yorker $)
10 How billionaires threaten our security
Capitalism isn't always good for code. (Wired $)
+ 2022 has been a bad year for billionaire reputations overall. (Vox)
Quote of the day
"Streaming has made music too smooth and painless. Everything's too easy. Just one stroke of the ring finger, middle finger, one little click, that's all it takes."
—Legendary musician Bob Dylan bemoans the convenience of music streaming platforms to the Wall Street Journal.
The big story
The code must go on: An Afghan coding bootcamp becomes a lifeline under Taliban rule
Four months after the Afghan government fell to the Taliban, 22-year-old Asad Asadullah had settled into a new routine. In his hometown in Afghanistan's northern Samangan province, the former computer science student started and ended each day glued to his laptop screen.
Since late October, Asadullah had been participating in a virtual coding bootcamp organized by CodeWeekend, a volunteer-run community of Afghan tech enthusiasts, with content donated by Scrimba, a Norwegian company that offers online programming workshops.
Asadullah is one of the millions of young Afghans whose lives, and plans for the future, were turned upside down when the Taliban recaptured Afghanistan in August 2020. In such dire circumstances, a coding bootcamp may seem out of place. But for its participants, it offers hope of a better future. Read the full story.
We can still have nice things
A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)
+ This cartoon cake is truly outstanding.
+ A decade after he went viral, the Ikea monkey is living his best life in Ontario.
+ Here's how your role in your childhood nativity sets you up for later life.
+ Why Barbie's Dreamhouse is an enduring design icon.
+ Take a look at how New Yorkers braved the winter blizzard of 1956.
New Horizons is about to wake up and study the Kuiper Belt, the universe and even Uranus and Neptune. But a new target to visit could trump them all
Cells with XX or XY chromosomes provide researchers with a new tool to study how differences in sex chromosomes can influence health and development
Both adults and children more often reported that villains were inwardly good than that heroes were inwardly bad, a study finds.
"In other words, people believe there is a mismatch between a villain's outward behaviors and their inner, true self, and this is a bigger gap for villains than for heroes," says Valerie Umscheid, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Michigan and the study's lead author.
Inside, villains are a little less evil than they outwardly seem while heroes are fully good guys inside and out.
Umscheid and colleagues conducted three studies with 434 children (ages 4-12) and 277 adults to determine how individuals make sense of antisocial acts committed by evildoers. They focused on participants' judgments of both familiar and novel fictional villains and heroes, such as Disney's Ursula from The Little Mermaid and Pixar's Woody from Toy Story."
The first study established that children viewed villains' actions and emotions as overwhelmingly negative. This suggests that children's well-documented tendency to judge people as good does not prevent their appreciation of extreme forms of villainy.
The second and third studies assessed children's and adults' beliefs regarding heroes' and villains' moral character and true selves, using an array of converging evidence, including how a character felt inside, whether a character's actions reflected their true self, and whether a character's true self could change over time.
Across these measures, the research indicated that both children and adults consistently evaluated villains' true selves to be overwhelmingly evil and much more negative than those of the heroes. At the same time, researchers also detected an asymmetry in the judgments, wherein villains were more likely than heroes to have a true self that differed from their outward behavior.
Both children and adults believed characters like Ursula had some inner goodness, despite the bad/immoral actions they regularly engage in, Umscheid says.
The study appears in the journal Cognition.
Source: University of Michigan
The post Adults and kids tend to see hidden good in villains appeared first on Futurity.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26507-1Author Correction: Fabrication of biodegradable chicken feathers into ecofriendly-functionalized biomaterials: characterization and bio-assessment study
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26627-8Author Correction: Estimation of R0 for the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Germany from excess mortality
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26369-7Author Correction: Noble gas isotopes reveal degassing-derived eruptions at Deception Island (Antarctica): implications for the current high levels of volcanic activity
A look back at a decade and a half of SBM.The post 15 Years of SBM first appeared on Science-Based Medicine.
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04199-xIt's been quite a year.
Cells with XX or XY chromosomes provide researchers with a new tool to study how differences in sex chromosomes can influence health and development
The first time I saw Yellowstone National Park, that otherworldly American place, I was in the mood to celebrate. My husband and I had just had our 1-and-a-half-year-old twins baptized on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana, where he's from, and decided to drive the five hours to Yellowstone. It was a happy end to a trying first year as new parents to premature and sometimes sickly twins. We bathed the kids in the cabin sink, ate cheap meals of cereal and sandwiches, and pushed the double stroller along the easiest trails. The land flashed with sublime light, even if the human history of the park's formation—the expulsion of Indigenous peoples and poor white trappers to make way for environmental conservation and commercial tourism—cast flickering shadows. Those days stand out in technicolor in my memory: our toddling daughters in their watermelon-pink and tangerine-orange short sets, the blue pools and hot rainbow-hued mists, the green-winged hummingbirds so small that we at first mistook them for insects, the bison in their rugged coats.
[From the May 2021 issue: Return the national parks to tribes]
We've been going back to Yellowstone ever since, eventually adding a third child to the cacophonous, long-distance car rides. Now we always stay at the Old Faithful Inn, the historic lodge near the Old Faithful geyser. We missed a year during the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic, and when we returned last summer with three teenagers, we were met by a surprising sight. In the lobby were posted large signs begging guests to be nice. Good nature. We're all about it. And so are our loyal employees. In bold letters: Please be kind to them.
Yellowstone had always been a place where our family found an unspoken camaraderie in the pleasant company of those who were, like us, delighted to be in that stunning surround, which somehow put human problems into planetary perspective. Had the tone at the park—the first of its kind in our nation's history—changed so much that visitors had to be told to treat others with respect?
Since the pandemic, there have been reports of increased road rage, of people throwing tantrums in stores and on airplanes. America's grandest natural spaces have not been immune to the contagion of anger. In this sense, the national parks may be more national than we realized.
Mike Keller, the general manager of Yellowstone National Park Lodges at Xanterra, a private company that operates all public lodgings and most concessions in Yellowstone, told me he sees far more good interactions than bad. But lately "when it goes sideways," he said, "it goes really aggressively really quickly." Keller recounted a shocking range of rude and abusive behaviors displayed by park visitors at the expense of employees, from the use of profanity, to calling them "morons," to one instance of a guest shoving a worker. "I don't want to make it sound like we're in a killing zone here," he told me. But he believes Americans have "lost our civility."
This year was Yellowstone's 150th anniversary. Celebrations coincided with all the stresses of the pandemic—mask-mandate politicization, supply-chain disruptions, staffing shortages, and ballooning numbers of visitors. And, oh yes, in June there was a 500-year flood that necessitated an evacuation and shut the park down for nine days. Any one of these factors would have been challenging enough. Combined, they made for a punishing trial that left some employees at the park shaken and tearful. As it turns out, Yellowstone's sesquicentennial is highlighting not only the park's physical majesty and cultural history, but also the present-day frailties of the nation that brought it into being.
Rick Hoeninghausen, the director of sales and marketing for Xanterra's Yellowstone Park Lodges, has worked at the park for 30 years. He met his wife there in the '80s. He, too, told me that the atmosphere has changed since the pandemic began. He knows park employees who have been cursed at and spit on. Guests "became very ugly," he said. "Some of our agents were in tears because of what people were saying to them." The abuse extended to communication online. When one of his colleagues offered to read and respond to complaint emails in order to buffer her co-workers, she lasted only a week. The task of wading through the foul feedback took too much of an emotional toll.
Grace McCray, a sunny college student, and one of the few people of color outside our own family we encountered at Yellowstone, was working as the greeter at Old Faithful Inn when we arrived in June. "I love this place," she told me. Yet, while working the front desk and the front door, she was responsible for asking people to put on a mask before entering the building, in order to comply with the National Park Service policy that required masks throughout the winter of 2021–22 and, sporadically, for part of the summer of 2022. She had been yelled and cursed at by "really furious" people. "That's not cool," she said. "Stop yelling at this girl behind the desk. Like, what kind of person do you have to be to scream at service people?"
One visitor responded to McCray's request that he put on a mask by pointing his camcorder at her and saying, "How about you take down that mask and shake a little something for me?" McCray, who is, in her own words, "a little woman," felt intimidated. "Big men yelling at me is something I have a problem with," she said, after telling the story of another man who addressed her in language so rude that she would not repeat it. At the time we visited, masks were not mandatory inside, and interactions at the entryway were less strained. But, she said, "it was pretty wild for a while."
McCray tried, at first, to prepare herself by anticipating who among the guests streaming in might yell at her. But it was hard to guess. Although she noticed people wearing political paraphernalia (she did not say, but I assumed that she meant MAGA hats and the like), she said that incivility could be traced to no particular "type" of visitor. Instead, the animosity seemed generalized. Almost anyone, from the low-budget backpacker to the high-brow sightseer, seemed capable of boiling over.
Manners are being abandoned at other Montana havens. In Glacier National Park, about 400 miles to the northwest, rude visitors have left employees crying too. Similar signs have had to be posted, pleading for civility. When we visited Eddie's Cafe, a historic, family-owned park concession in Apgar Village along glistening Lake McDonald, in August, a sign read: The whole world is short staffed. Be patient & kind to those who are working hard and showing up. The manager there, Catie McLaughlin, told me the sign had been posted in the summer of 2021 and then taken down, until a park visitor made a staff member cry in 2022. The sign went back up again. "People are just so mean," McLaughlin said. Then she smiled and drew my attention to a chubby marmot hustling past us in the grass.
McLaughlin has worked in hospitality for years but she said that, since the pandemic, "everyone was on edge, will snap at you for literally nothing." People are more impatient now and prepared to complain about minor and even entirely predictable inconveniences, such as unstable Wi-Fi connections in the remote mountains. "You're on the deck, with a view of Lake McDonald, screaming at your 19-year-old server about your French fries not being crispy enough. You're in such a gorgeous place. Why are you complaining about stupid stuff?"
Keller, the general manager of Yellowstone's lodges and cabins, has thought a lot about that "why." The masking requirement was especially emotional, bringing a blistering political fight into park borders. The last thing guests who were already resentful of mandates and suspicious of federal authorities wanted to hear while on their get-away-from-it-all wilderness vacation was that they had to mask up. "I've had some guests be brutally rude to our employees," he said. "To this kid making $13 an hour. They're the face. They're the person that gets this vitriol thrown at them. They accuse them of being liberal, which they aren't … some of them aren't."
Many guests had to delay or rebook their vacations because of the pandemic. They were already logistically and financially strained by the time they arrived. Staffing shortages led to longer wait times; supply-chain shortages meant my kids' favorite ice-cream flavors could no longer be found at the soda fountain. Many employees mentioned how the lack of reliable internet access enraged travelers during the pandemic. Guests quickly lost patience with some of the quirky features that had once been, arguably, among the charms of Yellowstone and Glacier.
The crowds exacerbated the tension. The traffic slowdowns around wildlife sightings, known as "bear jams" and "bison jams," have gotten much longer. Naaman Horn, a National Park Service spokesperson, told me that Yellowstone's busiest year on record was 2021, with more than 4.8 million visits recorded.
Bozeman, the largest city near Yellowstone, is also booming. Our family has lived there on and off since 2014, when my husband accepted a visiting professorship in the Native American–studies program at Montana State University. As remote work became more common for a privileged subset of the population, pretty, friendly college towns like Bozeman drew thousands of new residents. Many newcomers came from urban and coastal areas and had more racially plural backgrounds than Bozeman's longer-standing residents. Other newcomers were white and more conservative, drawn to the area, many locals speculate, by the popularity of the hit show Yellowstone.
[From the December 2022 issue: How Taylor Sheridan created America's most popular TV show]
While perusing the local magazine Bozeman City Lifestyle earlier this year, I realized there was trouble in this paradise too. I came across a story about an initiative called Outside Kind that reminded me of the "be nice" signs popping up at the parks. The initiative is sponsored by One Montana, an organization that focuses on bridging urban-rural divides, and several partner organizations. Sarah Davies Tilt, the executive director of One Montana, told me that the goal is to educate about outdoor-space use and decrease conflict between newcomers and longtime residents, which has been on the rise as more people elbow past one another on crowded trails. The group tries to promote a "sense of place and a sense of tradition and history" that it calls the "Montana Way."
Judith Heilman shares Tilt's concerns. A Black woman with short salt-and-pepper natural hair and a hearty hug, she founded the Montana Racial Equity Project in 2015 and was the director until her retirement this summer. On a clear afternoon in July, I visited Heilman at her Bozeman home. We sat in her kitchen looking out over her acreage as the breeze made the aspens sing, and she told me about how the influx of people from larger cities leads to communication misfires. "A lot of people come in from the larger cities … With that sort of population density comes a feeling that you need to be on internet time." She snapped her fingers in staccato fashion to illustrate. "Everything has to just be done now, or yesterday, or two hours ago … And people don't have time for one another. And they don't have time for just the general niceties of politeness."
Heilman believes that by slowing down and working to connect with others, you can build a better community. She's friends with Bozeman's chief of police, who is white, and the two of them read books about contemporary social issues together in a cozy book group that could serve as a model for law-enforcement and racial-justice leaders nationwide. They read new books such as Heather McGhee's The Sum of Us, and older hits such as Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped From the Beginning, which was, Heilman said, "the first book the chief read" with her. Heilman enjoyed watching her friend discover this complex history. "For me, Stamped was affirming," she said. "For the chief, it was revelatory."
Two days later, I met with Tilt at a café across from the public library on Bozeman's Main Street, ringed by mountain views. She was wearing a cheerful T-shirt that read: You can't make everyone happy. You're not an avocado, and jokingly called the part of the town most reflective of urban growth "Boze-Angeles." It's hard, she said, to integrate these new community members. "Changing behaviors takes time." The Outside Kind alliance has produced specific encouragements and instructions for people to Ski Kind, Hike Kind, Wag Kind, and so on. Tilt, who is a bird hunter, says they also have a Hunt Kind program, to encourage hunters to exude friendliness on the trail, where they may encounter people who are intimidated by the sight of firearms. Transplants to the city and trails need to understand that "these aren't assault weapons," she said. Outside Kind starts with the basics, encouraging people to smile and say hello.
I didn't know whether to be happy that such a program existed, or sad that it had come to this. Americans who have survived all manner of turmoil over the past six years are drawn to this Western landscape to escape urban congestion, coldness, and COVID, but we are bringing these maladies with us. Because in the end, there is no escaping our national culture. Our country is frayed and frazzled, cynical and suspicious, and raring for a fight. Even our so-called best idea, our breathtaking national parks, can't save us from ourselves.
And yet. Everyone I spoke with about the horror stories of the past few years wanted to end the conversation on a different note: They all insisted on telling one last story that emphasized the positive. Grace McCray was on door duty the day of the terrifying flood, and was put in charge of evacuating the Old Faithful Inn. When the inn was empty for the next several days, McCray experienced the natural magic of a nearly peopleless Yellowstone Park. The beauty and peace restored her spirit. Rick Hoeninghausen told me about watching the 2017 solar eclipse from a boat on Yellowstone Lake, and we realized with quiet delight that we had been proximate strangers in that moment, as my family and I had watched the eclipse from the shore.
Mike Keller told what he called a "bad-to-good story," in which he was recently summoned to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel where a "belligerent guest" was "screaming at the top of his lungs" at employees. When Keller coaxed the man into a private office and urged him to take a seat, he was stunned to see the man burst into tears, "crying, sobbing, and shaking." Keller handed the man a tissue, let him cry, and then asked how he could help. Apologetic and embarrassed, the man admitted, "I can't go back to my car, to my wife and kids, and tell them I booked the wrong night."
While too many Americans have been making park employees cry, the guests are breaking down too. In the end, Keller found that family a room. In turn, the staff received a heartfelt letter of gratitude. After all, as Grace McCray told me, "it's still Yellowstone."
Boarding a crowded plane with a small child feels like entering a game show where each contestant has been given a different set of rules: Everyone walks away feeling cheated. Nonparents feel robbed of the peaceful trip they paid for. Parents feel that they were set up for failure. The ultimate prize—a relaxing trip with no screaming and no strangers shooting you judgy looks—is rarely winnable. In the most heated conflicts, one of the aggrieved parties takes to social media, where the public acts as referee. The matter is almost never resolved.
Why does flying with children generate such conflict? It could simply be that travel is hard, for kids and adults alike, and tends to bring out the worst in both. But I suspect it's more than that. Sharing airspace with young children seems to challenge not only our patience, but also the entire social order.
At the root of every one of these seemingly small-potatoes skirmishes is a bigger question: What do we owe a stranger's child? Should we have to listen to them cry and babble? Must we tolerate the sound of their toys and TV shows? Are we obligated to trade our premium window seats with them so they can sit with their parents?
A sensible answer is that you don't owe anything to other people's children, or rather, that you owe them nothing more than you owe anyone else. It's a very American answer, one that follows naturally from the logic of liberalism: Each of us is the master of our own destiny, free to do as we please within the bounds of the law, and to bear the consequences. To have children, then, is to assume the social and financial costs of raising them. Your kids, your problem. In shared public spaces, parents are responsible for making the appropriate arrangements not only to care for their kids, but also to ensure that they aren't an imposition on others.
The conditions on an airplane are uniquely suited to testing how well this works in practice. There are few institutions that cater to young kids, and air travel certainly isn't one of them. Thus, as elsewhere in American life, it's mostly up to parents to try to meet their child's needs in a space designed for adults. You might assume that airlines would at least ensure that parents can sit next to their own kids, but in many cases, you must pay for the privilege. (To be fair, the Department of Transportation issued a notice earlier this year urging airlines to allow parents to sit with kids 13 and under at no extra charge.) But unlike in other public places, passengers on an airplane cannot leave. Parents and children can't hide away in playgrounds or libraries. People who don't like kids can't avoid them. Enclosed in a flying metal tube, we witness in real time how spectacularly the tenets of individualism collapse when kids crawl into the picture. In the air, we must face the fact that everyone's kids are everyone's problem—and witness how strange things get when we pretend otherwise.
The individualistic approach to parenting rests on an assumption that breaks down the moment the flight crew shuts the door: that parents control their child's behavior. Don't get me wrong—I have no problem telling my kids "no." But even strict parenting doesn't allow you to control your kids like a marionette. You can get very stern with a toddler or confiscate their toys, but you can't actually force them to stop yelling.
In the nearly six years since I became a parent, I have flown with one or both of my daughters more than 50 times, and I have no more advice for parents than what they will find in the trillion well-intentioned but underwhelming articles already in circulation about how to fly with little kids. Some children seem to handle air travel better than others, but that has as much to do with their temperament as anything their parents are doing (and don't let anyone tell you otherwise). It gets easier with age and practice, but there is no parenting hack for making your kid act like an adult on an hours-long flight to see Grandma for the holidays.
Many readers will no doubt disagree with me and insist that parents these days are simply too soft. The parents of yesteryear would never have tolerated such behavior. People have been saying as much for a long time. "Why all this fuss about traveling with kids?" a man was quoted as saying in a New York Times feature on traveling with children. "When I was little, kids sat where they were told, kept their feet off the upholstery and that was that. If we wanted amusement we looked out the window." "Maybe so," conceded the author, Dorothy Barclay. "But children that thoroughly disciplined are rare in this era." The year was 1956.
The impossibility of controlling a small child's behavior doesn't stop people from trying, which can have some odd effects on parenting. Sometimes, I have found myself performatively reprimanding my kids, lest I be accused of "letting" them misbehave. If you ever hear a parent in the row behind you say something like "That's quite enough, young lady" or "Time to sit still" to their lap baby, rest assured: You are the intended listener. But most of the time, preventing a child from annoying fellow passengers means doing anything and everything to keep the kid happy. Especially with toddlers, this is an exhausting process that entails using distractions to purchase relative peace in 10-minute increments.
Oftentimes, the pressure to keep a child quiet means relaxing boundaries a parent might otherwise enforce. Screen limits and dietary considerations go out the window. One time, when my eldest was 18 months old and still uninterested in screens, I took a tip from Jim Gaffigan's book Dad Is Fat and purchased a bag of Dum Dums for the flight, hoping that having a lollipop in her mouth might help keep her entertained and quiet. It worked, sort of—but unfortunately, Dum Dums don't last very long. She had two before we boarded and several more in the air. Sparing the rest of the plane the wrath of a child who's been told "no" requires parents to pick their battles. If I always insisted that my daughters not eat the food they drop on the airplane floor, as I probably ought to, my fellow passengers would get an earful about it.
Some people think parents are simply too inconsiderate of their fellow passengers to bother disciplining their children. In fact, in many cases, consideration is at the root of parents' strangely permissive behavior. Why is that dad letting his kid jump up and down in the seat? Because it's the only way to stop her from kicking the seat in front of her. Why is that mom allowing her kid to listen to Ms Rachel without headphones? Because the kid won't tolerate headphones, and she's betting that passengers prefer Ms Rachel to the alternative (kicking and climbing and whining and screaming).
You may disagree with how a particular parent handles a particular scenario, but there's often no way to make everybody happy. Take the time my then–lap baby discovered that if she released the tray table in front of her, it would fall with a delightful thwack that could not have been pleasant for the person sitting in front of us. What does a conscientious parent do in that scenario? I could place my hand over the clasp and physically bar her from fiddling with it, but she'd lose her mind for anywhere from five to 55 minutes if I did. Do I subject everyone on the plane to an extended tantrum in order to spare the gentleman in front of me two hours of thwacking? I'm serious—I really want to know.
The actual needs of the child are all too often absent from this tricky social calculus. But that's what happens when the job of a parent in a shared public space is principally to ensure that the child isn't a nuisance. It demands a style of parenting that is at once hypervigilant and overly permissive, where kids are given constant attention but no agency. Ironically, it works against the long-term goal of raising competent, well-behaved kids. Hamstrung by the need to make sure their kids don't inconvenience anyone else, parents can't do much parenting at all.
[From the October 1967 issue: Traveling With Children]
I don't mind letting my parenting slide for a couple of hours in order to keep the peace on an airplane, but I wish I didn't have to. In an ideal world, it wouldn't feel socially irresponsible to tell my child not to eat off the floor or that she's watched enough Peppa Pig for now. But that would require other passengers to accept a little unruly—that is, childlike—behavior rather than see it as a failure of parenting or a violation of the social contract. There is no way to allow kids to be kids and parents to be parents in public without letting them play by a different set of rules.
The tension between the needs of children and the comfort, order, and efficiency of adult life play out everywhere: restaurants, doctor's offices, grocery stores, malls, workplaces, you name it. Children just don't fit neatly into the adult world. Not tolerating that essential truth excludes parents and children from public life and forces parents to compromise on their child's care. You can't tailor a child's needs to fit an adult system; you have to tailor the system to suit the child's needs.
Giving parents the space to care for a helpless child as they guide them toward competence and autonomy means accepting that we will all be a little inconvenienced. It means organizing work in ways that allow parents to meet the unpredictable and inflexible needs of their kids. It means accepting some noise in restaurants, stores, and, yes, planes. It means introducing inefficiency and discomfort into adult life. Everyone is affected in the process. It's not possible to keep a child's needs contained within an individual household. Parenting is a prerequisite for the orderly cooperation among free adults that liberalism promises—but it also disrupts it. We pay this price one way or another: A society unwilling to relax its social contract for its smallest members won't do a great job of raising adults capable of upholding it.
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Editor's Note: Find all of The Atlantic's "Best of 2022" coverage here.
Television has always been a tether—to other people and to ourselves. In 2022, a year of turmoil and uncertainty, TV has provided something even more essential: a lifeline. Some shows reflected the moment's surreality back to us. Some made us see other people in slightly new ways. Some offered escapism through larger-than-life story lines. At their best, the TV shows of 2022 revealed human truths through fiction. They made us laugh. They made us think. They offered some refuge from the storm.
The list below highlights the series—melodramas, drama-dramas, comedies—that helped us. These shows satirized the cramped-togetherness of the workplace and transported us to beautifully realized alternate worlds. They took us to sterile offices and gaudy resorts, to kitchens and cattle ranches and pirate ships. They provoked; they entranced; they explained. Above all, they helped bring a bit of order to a year of chaos, one enthralling episode at a time.
A Star Wars show without lightsabers, Jedi knights, Sith lords, or familiar Force-wielding faces of any kind, pint-size or otherwise? What a relief. The writer Tony Gilroy's endeavor is a refreshing reminder that uncharted storytelling territory remains in a universe as well-known as the one George Lucas created. Andor, which tracks how Rogue One's Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) evolves from ordinary person to Rebel captain, understands that watching someone discover his purpose can be as exciting as observing the discovery of a new planet. Still, the show isn't lacking in jaw-dropping action: Cassian's journey involves high-octane missions stretching across the galaxy, as well as electrifying monologues from actors such as Stellan Skarsgård, Fiona Shaw, and Andy Serkis. Andor's sixth episode is particularly riveting. No offense to Baby Yoda, but nothing he's done has ever made me leap to my feet and cheer at my screen. — Shirley Li
The Bear (FX)
On July 25, The New Yorker ran a cartoon featuring an anxious-looking man and a rumpled, moon-eyed woman in bed together with the caption "So … what was all that 'Yes, Chef' stuff about?" Obviously, it was about The Bear, Christopher Storer's barnstorming dramedy about a chef who quits high-end restaurants to sling sandwiches back home in Chicago after the death of his brother. Trying to identify exactly what makes the show so compelling is a tricky endeavor: Its pace is frenetic, its plot is completely anxiety-inducing, and its re-creation of the dynamics of food service is intensely committed. But The Bear is also thrilling, funny, beautifully rendered, and sharp about how hierarchical workplaces can prize obeisance over potential and aggression over achievement. Without these kinds of structures in place, the show wonders, what might be possible? Finessing Italian beef, one imagines, is just the beginning. — Sophie Gilbert
The Rehearsal (HBO Max)
The Rehearsal is a meta-documentary and melodrama and meditation on the extremely human desire to control the uncontrollable. It is also—and I mean this as a high compliment—profoundly weird. Its premise: The comedian Nathan Fielder, the show's creator and star, guides people who are preparing for big events in their lives by helping them act out those moments in advance, with professional actors and custom-made sets. They will rehearse the future so thoroughly, the logic goes, that they will change its course. Fielder's attempts to direct reality descend into ever-more-dizzying absurdity, with ever-larger casts, ever-wider stages, and ever-more-complicated props. (One of the latter is an animatronic infant, acquired to help a woman who is deciding whether she wants to become a mother. Its nightly wails are cued by Fielder.) The show could be read as a glib intellectual exercise; instead, it is a poignant one. The Rehearsal's flawed promise is also its punch line: Try as we might, life cannot be stage-managed. — Megan Garber
The Dropout (Hulu)
In a year overstuffed with ripped-from-the-headlines shows about notorious frauds, only Hulu's dissection of Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder and CEO of the blood-testing start-up Theranos, truly stands out. The series is needle-sharp in pinpointing the complex factors contributing to Holmes's rise and fall, but it's also surprisingly funny as it traces the absurdity of early 2000s tech culture and then-ubiquitous girl-boss mentality. Amanda Seyfried's Emmy-winning performance is so tremendous that she's become the definitive Holmes; Jennifer Lawrence decided against pursuing her turn at the role after watching the show. Most projects about scammers focus heavily on re-creating the salacious elements of their story, but great ones understand that the consequences of those betrayals require just as much examination. As The Dropout makes clear, Holmes was never actually a star—neither genius nor visionary. She was just someone who knew how to dazzle the right marks. — SL
Derry Girls (Netflix)
This year, Lisa McGee's sitcom about a group of friends growing up in '90s Northern Ireland amid the Troubles solidified its place among the best coming-of-age comedies of all time. In the final season, Erin, Orla, Clare, Michelle, and their "wee English fella," James, begin to embrace the uncertainties of adulthood, a subtle shift that proves that Derry Girls has never been merely about the trials of getting older. It is also about the acceptance and compromise that come with being more mature—as well as the humor inherent in learning such lessons, however long it takes. The show has always been capable of being silly and stirring at once, but these final episodes come with a weightlessness even at the season's heaviest moments. That balance—of being sweet but not saccharine, rowdy but not ridiculous—makes the show, as the girls themselves would say, absolutely "cracker." — SL
The White Lotus (HBO Max)
One of the selling points of a luxury resort is its offer of endless options: the fun of the beach, the pampering of the spa, the adventures of the surrounding town, the teeming indulgence of the morning buffet. The White Lotus mimics that abundance. Mike White's show, which recently aired its second season, is drama, dark comedy, thriller, murder mystery, and camp. It does not merely toggle among its genres, swerving between humor and horror as so many shows do; it merges them seamlessly. The vacationers at the White Lotus in Sicily, and the resort workers who cater to their whims, are at once ridiculous and heart-wrenching. Couples arrive and leave with their secrets; feuding families try to reconcile and only somewhat succeed. Their stories are simple and complicated. If you asked me what The White Lotus is about, I'd have a hard time answering, because it's about so much: money, class, love, sex, murder, greed, freedom, fate. But the show makes those themes coherent and, in the process, achieves what any successful getaway does: It keeps the travelers wanting more. — MG
Our Flag Means Death (HBO Max)
If Our Flag Means Death contained only scenes of the 18th-century aristocrat Stede Bonnet (played by Rhys Darby) struggling to become a bloodthirsty pirate with the help of the swashbuckler Blackbeard (Taika Waititi), I would probably still have nominated the series for this list. Darby and Waititi are so hilarious in their roles, I found myself cackling at pretty much every pratfall. But the comedy is much more than one of errors; it's also a thrilling action-(mis)adventure boasting a murderer's row of excellent cameos, and a fascinating look at the foibles that come with privilege. Most unpredictably, it's a heartfelt, slow-burn romance that defies television tropes about queer characters. Our Flag Means Death is rather moving for a series that has a penchant for making characters suffer accidental stabbings. Then again, piracy is all about rule breaking. Subverting every expectation only makes sense. — SL
Somebody Somewhere (HBO Max)
In this moment of big TV—epic settings, melodramatic plots—there's a lot to be said for TV that is small. Somebody Somewhere is small in the best sense: finely observed, subtly written, and acted with such precision that the show can read at times as a documentary. Bridget Everett plays Sam, who has moved back to her childhood home in Kansas to care for, and then grieve, her beloved sister. Sam is a gifted singer and once hoped to turn the talent into a career. Instead, in midlife, she finds herself sleeping on her parents' couch, working a job she hates, and living a skewed version of that other Kansan's line: For Sam, there's no place but home. That may not seem like an appealing premise, but Somebody Somewhere quickly evolves into a story about resilience. Sam's co-worker Joel (the wonderful Jeff Hiller) invites her to a local church's unofficial "choir practice." The group's participants, many of them queer and all of them sharing a sense of displacement, find a home with one another. Their gatherings are triumphs of small TV. Somebody Somewhere is a show about tenderness, both the hurting and the healing; as Sam finds her place, the show also comes to celebrate that most powerful of emotions: joy. — MG
Reservation Dogs (FX on Hulu)
Set in an eastern-Oklahoma community, Reservation Dogs is a riotous comedy filled with rat-a-tat dialogue and mischievous characters, as well as a poignant study of loss. The Native teenagers it follows are friends coming together and apart through the growing pains of adolescence (and at times through ill-advised antics)—an unofficial family bound by heartbreak and struggle. The second season feels even more inventive than the first, liberally blending tones and storytelling styles to offer an expansive yet specific portrait of daily rez life. The show often gets me tearing up while cracking up; even now, thinking of Elora (played by Devery Jacobs) hearing the spirit of her late grandmother greet her by calling her a "shitass" makes me want to smile and cry. Reservation Dogs isn't special just because it boasts Native talent in front of and behind the camera. It's special because it feels limitless. — SL
Minx (HBO Max)
I came so late to Minx, truth be told, that it was almost already gone from HBO Max, even though it pertains to basically all of my interests: 1970s-era feminism, the sex wars, magazine publishing, Jake Johnson straddling the line between scuzzbucket and sweetheart with yogic balance. Ellen Rapoport's half-hour comedy is about an earnest feminist writer, Joyce Prigger (Ophelia Lovibond), whose efforts to launch a new magazine called The Matriarchy Awakens keep landing with a thud—until she meets Doug Renetti (Johnson), a brash pornographer who persuades her to launch the first erotic magazine for women. Minx's rose-colored view of the 1970s sex industry is funny, modern, and essentially light at heart. (Watch The Deuce if you're craving a darker, more honest view of things.) But the show also pokes at subjects we're still hashing out 50 years later: liberation, exploitation, how to sell a cause without selling out. "We're talking about feminism and pornography, and we're having a good time," the TV host Dick Cavett (Erin Gann) says in one episode. I couldn't agree more. Find Minx a new streamer, stat. — SG
Severance (Apple TV+)
What's more alarming: waking up in a conference room with no memory of who you are or how you got there, or realizing that Severance is, yes, a show that debuted in 2022? Dan Erickson's quirky, mind-bending corporate thriller is the definition of a slow burn, and week after week, it became the show people couldn't stop asking questions about. What's with all the hallways? Is the melon symbolic? Would severance help my burnout? Can we talk about the goats? Bolstered by a two-faced (in the best way) performance from Adam Scott as Mark S. and a fleet of supporting actors doing brilliantly wacky work (Zach Cherry, Britt Lower, Tramell Tillman, Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, Christopher Walken, Michael Chernus), Severance layers intrigue over surreal set pieces, and ends with a cliffhanger that maddened and thrilled me in equal measure. — SG
Irma Vep (HBO)
Move aside, Babylon. Try again, Empire of Light. Irma Vep probed the magic of filmmaking first—and did it on the small screen in the giddiest, rowdiest, and most confounding way possible. Set in Paris, Irma Vep is a series about the making of a series called Irma Vep, which itself is based on a 1910s French serial called Les Vampires, as well as a 1996 film adaptation also titled Irma Vep. Got all of that? If not, too bad: The writer-director Olivier Assayas's eight-episode curio revels in chaos and delights in the absurdity of life behind the scenes. Egos clash, schedules collapse, and movie stars collide into their characters—because that's what Serious Art needs, or so the drama's protagonists believe. The show is pretentious yet self-aware. And maybe I'm just a sucker for meta TV (see also: The Rehearsal), but as Irma Vep posits: If all the world's a stage, why shouldn't we peek behind the curtain for entertainment? — SL
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Abbott Elementary is in many ways a classic workplace sitcom, akin in structure and vibe to The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Superstore. As with those earlier comedies, a collection of quirky characters—among them Janine (Quinta Brunson), Abbott's protagonist, a lovable try-hard in the manner of Leslie Knope; Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter), Janine's fellow second-grade teacher, who talks tough to everyone but the students she loves; and Ava (Janelle James), the school's primary agent of chaos and, as it happens, its principal—gives the show its heart and appeal. The teachers of Abbott are overworked and underfunded, and the show acknowledges the consequences of both: Kids are shortchanged; educators double as entrepreneurs. But Abbott, like its characters, refuses to cede to hardship. Instead, it is a sitcom through and through, full of physical comedy and wacky absurdities and the camaraderie of a shared profession. "We do this because we're supposed to," Melissa tells Janine in one episode. "It's a calling. You answered." — MG
Better Things (FX)
Pamela Adlon's loosely autobiographical series about an actor navigating single motherhood and creative work in Los Angeles can feel, in any single 24-minute episode, like a tone poem, a sketch show, a travelogue, and an acute satire of the entertainment industry. But more than anything else, it feels like a love letter to single parenthood, and to the people who carry their family even when they're beyond bearing the weight of it all. In later seasons, Adlon's idiosyncratic sensibilities gain sharper definition, leading to some of Better Things' standout moments: a choreographed dance sequence to Christine and the Queens, a hazy few days of music and magic in New Orleans, and the funniest, most poignant Zoom funeral anyone could invent. In the fifth and final season, which aired this year, Adlon's Sam comes to realize that despite her sniping kids, her stop-and-start career, and her ongoing financial deficiencies, she is truly, meaningfully happy. It is a revelation and moment of grace that few characters on TV have so fully earned. — SG
In an early episode of Taylor Sheridan's juggernaut, a group of ranch hands is working on a stretch of land in Montana. The cowboys encounter a grizzly. The animal, charging, chases one of them up a tree. As the terrified Jimmy screams for help, the other cowboys take their ropes, make lassos, and toss them, stopping the huge beast in its tracks. Scenes like that—the dudes roped a grizzly—are what help make Yellowstone the most popular show in America: scenic, epic, absurd. Now in its fifth season, the series operates in the tradition of Dallas, and also of The Sopranos and Succession and The Crown. It is the story of John Dutton's attempts to protect his family's enormous ranch from those who want to take it, and of the three children who might (or might not) inherit it. Yellowstone is a soap opera above all, reveling in twists and cliffhangers and deus-ex-machina plot resolutions. It is also, however, a layered tale about family and destiny, an insightful examination of all that people pass on to the next generation, and all that they cannot. — MG
The use of nuclear weapons was just around the corner, or so a number of influential people were claiming not long ago. As the Ukrainian military ran up a series of impressive victories this fall in pushing back Russian invaders, its battlefield success inspired predictions that Russian President Vladimir Putin would turn to nuclear weapons to secure his strategic objectives (whatever those might be). The logical upshot of these claims was that the United States and its European allies should try to prevent a dangerous escalation essentially by selling Ukraine out—that is, by curtailing military support and ultimately forcing it to accommodate Russia's aggression.
As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's impending appearance in Washington underscores, the U.S. has not been swayed by such warnings, and with good reason. Recent weeks have shown us that Putin's threats are likely hollow. We have more reasons for skepticism about politicians and commentators who would acquiesce to his attempts at gaining concessions from Ukraine and the West.
[Read: How close are we to nuclear war?]
The voices talking up the danger of nuclear war include high-profile figures, most notably former President Donald Trump, who are broadly sympathetic to Putin and share his contempt for the democratic West's multinational military and economic structures. On his media platform, Truth Social, in September, Trump—who in the past has praised Putin as a strategic genius and described the invasion of Ukraine as "savvy"—repeated the Russian leader's claim about his willingness to use nuclear weapons. At an October rally, Trump declared, "We must demand the immediate negotiation of a peaceful end to the war in Ukraine"—which is to say, a deal that Putin finds acceptable—"or we will end up in World War III and there will be nothing left of our planet."
In the U.K., prominent Brexit supporters, including the political strategist Dominic Cummings, have been among the people arguing most vociferously for appeasing Putin to dissuade him from using nuclear weapons. After Russia sent troops into Ukraine earlier this year, Cummings, the architect of the Leave campaign, likened Ukraine to Hungary after the Soviet Union invaded in 1956; then-President Dwight Eisenhower didn't "babble about 'Munich' & start a nuclear war," Cummings wrote on Twitter in March. More recently, as Russia's military failures raised the possibility that Ukraine might have the strength to retake Crimea—internationally recognized Ukrainian territory that Russia seized and annexed in 2014—Cummings insisted that this would be a "ticket to nuclear war."
More surprising voices have joined in; Elon Musk made Cummings's latter argument even more emphatically. In October, days before taking official control of Twitter, the entrepreneur declared that if faced with either losing Crimea or using nuclear weapons, Putin "will choose" to use nukes. Musk, too, has cited the prospect of a nuclear war as a justification for a peace deal that would end the war on terms favorable to Russia. The Russia expert and former Trump adviser Fiona Hill told Politico that Putin "plays the egos of big men" such as Musk, and worried that the Russian leader was using Musk as a messenger. Not surprisingly, Cummings defended Musk.
The views expressed by Trump, Cummings, and Musk intersect with those of certain international-affairs scholars, frequently described as realists, who emphasize the global competition for power, downplay Western rhetoric about promoting democracy and other ideas, and, in many cases, sharply criticize American foreign policy. The political scientist John Mearsheimer, for example, has characterized Russia as a great power and argued that Ukraine must accede to some of its neighbor's desires. The failure to acknowledge this, he wrote in August, amounts to "playing with fire." Stephen Walt, Mearsheimer's frequent collaborator, maintained in May that a nuclear escalation by Russia, though still unlikely, was now "easier to imagine" than it had been a few months earlier.
The realists drastically overestimated Russian strength and grandeur, and they have a history of misreading global power dynamics. True realism would recognize that a variety of participants in the international order have worked hard, and will continue to work hard, to restrain Russia from using nuclear weapons.
Amid Russia's serious battlefield reverses, India and China—both of which have bristled under the constraints of the American-led global order—stepped up their warnings that under no circumstances should Putin resort to the nuclear option. Around the time that the Russians were preparing to abandon Kherson, which is among the largest of the Ukrainian cities that have fallen under Russian control since February and sits in a province only recently annexed by Moscow, Putin's most important international partners were demanding an end to his irresponsible saber-rattling.
[Read: China now understands what a nuclear rivalry looks like]
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government reportedly told the Russian defense minister that any use of nuclear weapons must be taken off the table. This was only part of what seems a concerted effort by the Indian government to keep Russia from contemplating the use of nuclear weapons. Out of concern about the issue, Modi has also refused to schedule the annual summit that Indian leaders typically have with their Russian counterparts. The Indians were not holding back.
Perhaps more worrisome for Putin, the Chinese government—which has largely supported Putin—has expressed its strong opposition to any Russian use of nuclear weapons. In November, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about the subject with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and the public statement they released afterward could not have made for comfortable reading in the Kremlin. Indeed, Xi and Scholz not only opposed any use of nuclear weapons; they went further and condemned even threats to use those weapons. The two leaders didn't name names, but only one power in the world was threatening to use nuclear weapons at the time.
Xi and Modi understand something that Trump, Cummings, and realist scholars do not: that the use of nuclear weapons by Putin would be a strategic catastrophe for Russia and the world, one that would probably lead to a collapse in whatever international standing Russia has remaining after its failures in Ukraine. If Putin were to use even one nuclear warhead in Ukraine, he would overturn the entire rationale of when and how nuclear weapons would ever be used.
If it now becomes policy that a nuclear-armed state can use nuclear weapons to try to secure territorial expansion and conquest, then the entire edifice of global nonproliferation efforts collapses. A rush by smaller countries to obtain nuclear weapons could transform international relations to the detriment of the world's current nuclear powers, including China.
This bluntly delivered message seems to have been understood in Moscow. Although Putin recently hinted that Russia may change its official military doctrine to mirror that of the United States, which does not rule out being the first combatant to use nuclear weapons, he had insisted days earlier that Russia would not "run around the world brandishing these weapons like razors." Moreover, Russia now seems to be trying to fight a conventional war with Ukraine, which, given that Russia is conscripting soldiers, could go on for years.
Regardless, Putin is de-emphasizing the idea of a Russian nuclear strike on Ukraine. This just makes sense, because such an action would leave Russia friendless, potentially lead to greater NATO escalation, and signal to Ukrainians that their only choice is to continue fighting.
Russia wanted to bully the West into abandoning Ukraine, and a number of influential voices in the U.S. and the U.K. have been willing to give in to Putin's nuclear threats. But the true realist position involves focusing on the huge obstacles constraining Russia from using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Cells with XX or XY chromosomes provide researchers with a new tool to study how differences in sex chromosomes can influence health and development
This year we learned why dogs come in so many sizes, that puppy dog eyes are a real thing and that cats don't deserve their aloof rap
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-34197-6The authors present an approach to phase imaging by using the non-local optical response of a guided-moderesonator metasurface. They demonstrate that this metasurface can be added to a conventional microscope to enable quantitative phase contrast imaging.
- "Should I step down as head of Twitter?
We're back with our annual list of the worst technologies of the year. Think of these as anti-breakthroughs, the sort of mishaps, misuses, miscues, and bad ideas that lead to technology failure. This year's disastrous accomplishments range from deadly pharmaceutical chemistry to a large language model that was jeered off the internet.
One theme that emerges from our disaster list is how badly policy—the rules, processes, institutions, and ideals that govern technology's use—can let us down. In China, a pervasive system of pandemic controls known as "zero covid" came to an abrupt and unexpected end. On Twitter, Elon Musk intentionally destroyed the site's governing policies, replacing them with a puckish and arbitrary mix of free speech, personal vendettas, and appeals to the right wing of US politics. In the US, policy failures were evident in the highest levels of overdose deaths ever recorded, many of them due to a 60-year-old chemical compound: fentanyl.
The impact of these technologies could be measured in the number of people affected. More than a billion people in China are now being exposed to the virus for the first time; 335 million on Twitter are watching Musk's antics; and fentanyl killed 70,000 in the US. In each of these messes, there are important lessons about why technology fails. Read on.
The FTX meltdown
Night falls on made-up money
Imagine a world in which you can make up new kinds of money and other people will pay you, well, real money to get some. Let's call what they're buying cryptocurrency tokens. But because there are so many types of tokens, and they're hard to buy and sell, imagine that an entrepreneur creates a private stock market to trade them. Let's call that a "cryptocurrency exchange." Because the tokens have no intrinsic value and other exchanges have gone belly-up, you'd make sure yours was ultra-safe and well regulated.
That was the concept behind FTX Trading, a crypto exchange started by Sam Bankman-Fried, a twentysomething who touted sophisticated technology, like a 24/7 "automated risk engine" that would check every 30 seconds to see if depositors had enough real money to cover their crypto gambles. Technology would assure "complete transparency."
Behind the façade, though, FTX was seemingly just old-fashioned embezzlement. According to US investigators, Bankman-Fried took customers' money and used it to buy fancy houses, make political donations, and amass huge stakes in illiquid crypto tokens. It all came crashing down in November. John Ray, appointed to oversee the bankrupt company, said that FTX's technology "was not sophisticated at all." Neither was the purported fraud: "This is just taking money from customers and using it for your own purpose."
Bankman-Fried, an MIT graduate whose parents are both Stanford University law professors, was arrested in the Bahamas in December and faces multiple counts of conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering.
To learn more about cryptocurrency promoters, we recommend if Wolf of Wall Street were about crypto, a satirical video by Joma Tech.
From medicine to murder
How fentanyl became a killer
Back in 1953, the Belgian doctor and chemist Paul Janssen set about creating the strongest painkiller he could. He believed he could improve on morphine, designing a molecule that was 100 times more potent but with a short duration. His discovery, the synthetic opioid fentanyl, would become the painkiller most widely used during surgery.
Today, fentanyl is setting grim records—it's involved in the accidental death of around 70,000 people a year in the US, or about two-thirds of all fatal drug overdoses. It's the leading cause of death in American adults under 50, killing more than car accidents, guns, and covid together.
Fentanyl kills by stopping your breathing. Its potency is what makes it deadly. Two milligrams—the weight of a hummingbird feather—can be a fatal dose.
How did we get to nearly 200 deaths a day? Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson, played a role. It made false claims about how addictive prescription opioid drugs were, minting money while people got hooked on pills and patches. This year, Janssen agreed to pay a $5 billion settlement without admitting wrongdoing.
Now fentanyl reaches drug users from clandestine labs in Mexico, run by ruthless cartels. It's used to spike heroin or pressed into counterfeit pain pills. Can things get worse? They can. US states are reporting a rapid uptick in fentanyl deaths in young children who accidentally ingest pills.
For recent reporting on the fentanyl crisis, read "Cartel RX," a new series in the Washington Post.
A pig heart with a virus in it
Unanswered questions about that historic transplant
Here's a technology that's a bona fide breakthrough and a big-time screwup. Last January, surgeons in Maryland transplanted a pig heart into a dying man with heart failure. The organ was genetically engineered to resist rejection by the human immune system. The patient, David Bennett Sr., died two months after the transplant.
No human had ever survived even temporarily with a pig heart before. That part was a massive success. The problem is that the heart harbored a pig virus, one that might have contributed to the patient's death. It looks as if the company that designed and bred the engineered pigs, United Therapeutics, didn't test well enough to detect the virus. It's hard to know for sure, because United swept a veil of secrecy around what happened.
The risk of spreading pig viruses into humans has always been the gravest question about this technology. Martine Rothblatt, the founder of United, even wrote an entire book on the subject. "Every right to make a technology is coupled to an obligation," she told the podcaster Tim Ferriss in 2020. With pig organ transplants, that obligation is "no risk—not some risk, but no risk" of any kind of animal virus seeping into the human population.
This particular virus, known as porcine cytomegalovirus, isn't believed to be able to infect human cells. It won't spawn a deadly pandemic. You might say, "No harm, no foul." But what about the next time? We need to know how and why the virus slipped through and whether it was part of what killed David Bennett. And so far, no one has offered an explanation.
Read our scoop about the virus in MIT Technology Review: The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus.
The collapse of "zero covid"
China suspends virus controls
For two and a half years, China kept the coronavirus in check through a system of quarantine hotels, constant testing, and phone QR codes. A green code meant freedom. A red code meant you'd been near someone with the virus—turning you into an instant pariah, unable to eat in a restaurant or board a plane. China's leader, Xi Jinping, styled himself the leader of a "people's war" against the germ.
The system was oppressive—and it worked. China had incredibly few cases of covid. But in December, the government abruptly disbanded the program. Now analysts predict 1 million deaths.
Some observers have linked the reversal to widening dissent over the suffocating policies. In October a bold protester hung a banner from a Beijing bridge. "No to covid tests!" it read. "No to great leader, yes to vote." Soon lockdown demonstrators around the country had taken up the slogan. Unruly scenes of students and workers demanding change began to spread on social networks.
But the real story may be that China's suite of anti-covid measures and technologies—once so effective—had finally failed. Mike Ryan, a senior official at the World Health Organization, believes China was tracking widening outbreaks of the easily transmitted omicron variant "long before there was any change in the policy."
"The disease was spreading intensively because, I believe, the control measures in themselves were not stopping the disease," says Ryan.
To learn more about daily life under the zero-covid policy, read the travelogue of a scholar visiting China that was published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Elon Musk's Twitter rules
An absolute monarch tests his powers
When the world's richest man (at the time) bought Twitter, he promised above all to restore "free speech" to the platform.
Musk fired most of Twitter's staff and released the "Twitter files"—Slack messages exchanged by former executives as they decided whether to ban Donald Trump or block news about Hunter Biden's laptop. He insinuated that Twitter's former head of trust and safety was a secret pedophile. He let controversial figures back on and announced new rules as he went, seemingly on the fly: No parodies. No Instagram links. No posting of public data showing the location of billionaires' private jets.
Some predicted Twitter's technology would break under the stress. But what Musk was breaking—violently and suddenly—were the rules of interaction on the site and, therefore, the product itself. "The essential truth of every social network is that the product is content moderation," wrote the journalist Nilay Patel. "Content moderation is what Twitter makes—it is the thing that defines the user experience."
The site's users must now decide whether the new, changed Twitter is one they want. They will deliver the real verdict on Musk's manic one-man rule as moderator in chief. Six weeks after taking control of the company, Musk, perhaps tiring of the job, put his reign to a vote. "Should I step down as head of Twitter? I will abide by the results of this poll," he tweeted on December 18.
The result: 57.5% said he should leave, and 42.5% asked him to stay on.
The people have spoken. But will Musk listen?
Read more: We're witnessing the brain death of Twitter, at MIT Technology Review.
Angry "Swifties" have antitrust questions
You had one job, Ticketmaster.
In 2022 there should be a way to sell concert tickets smoothly and transparently, even for large events like the hotly anticipated tour by Taylor Swift. But the world's largest ticket seller couldn't get it straight. It bobbled sales for the tour when its system crashed, leaving passionate "Swifties" furious. Then, in Mexico City, more than a thousand Bad Bunny fans had their tickets rejected as fakes—even as the reggaeton star played to a partly empty venue.
Mexico's consumer protection bureau says it may file a lawsuit. Swift fans in Los Angeles already have, alleging that the "ticket sale disaster" was due to Ticketmaster's "anticompetitive" practices. Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation, control more than 80% of concert sales in the US, and the company has long been scrutinized by antitrust regulators.
It's not just that tickets are expensive (buying a so-so seat for Taylor Swift's tour costs $1,000). According to Yale economist Florian Elderer, lack of competition could account for the ticketing mistakes. "The allegations against Ticketmaster are that it abused its dominant market position by underinvesting in site stability and customer service," Elderer says. "Thus, rather than causing harm to consumers by charging exorbitant prices, Ticketmaster is alleged to have caused harm by providing inferior quality—which it could not have done had it faced credible competitors."
Read more: Did Ticketmaster's Market Dominance Fuel the Chaos for Swifties? from Yale School of Management.
The sinking of the flagship Moskva
"Russian warship, go f—ck yourself"
Nothing symbolizes Ukraine's surprising resistance to the Russian invasion better than the sinking of the Moskva, Russia's Black Sea flagship, in April. The cruiser, bristling with missile tubes, was a floating air-defense system. But on the 13th of April, the ship was hit and sunk by two missiles launched from the shore.
Analysts have pored over the event. The Moskva ought to have been able to see and shoot down the missiles. But there are signs the ship wasn't ready for a shooting war. It may have been having problems with its aging radars and guns. Half its crew were recent conscripts who officially weren't even supposed to be fighting. Russia has denied that the ship was even attacked: it says the Moskva sank in bad weather after some ammunition exploded.
To commemorate its resistance, Ukraine's government printed a memorial stamp, featuring a soldier holding up a middle finger at the warship.
Read more: Prized Russian Ship Was Hit by Missiles, US Officials Say, in the New York Times.
A generative AI gets booed off the stage
This fall, two large language models—AIs that can respond to questions in fluent, human-like text—were released online for the public to experiment with. Although the two systems were similar, their public reception was anything but.
The model from Meta, called Galactica, survived only three days before furious criticism caused the company to pull the plug. We decided to prompt the surviving model, OpenAI's ChatGPT (which is getting rave reviews), to tell a story about what happened. Below is our prompt and the model's response. It took ChatGPT about 25 seconds to compose its answer.
To learn what actually happened, which is not so different, read Why Meta's latest large language model survived only three days online in MIT Technology Review.
This year we learned why dogs come in so many sizes, that puppy dog eyes are a real thing and that cats don't deserve their aloof rap
is laying the groundwork to get Mars samples back to Earth. After 15 months of drilling carefully selected bits of the red planet, the robot is beginning the process of setting up a "sample depot" where the future sample return lander will be able to pick up the rover's titanium rock core tubes. Perseverance won't be leaving all its tubes in the dust, though.
Perseverance is in a region of Jezero Crater known as Three Forks, right at the base of the ancient river delta, which is to be a main focus of the mission going forward. Here, NASA plans to deposit the sample tubes so a future mission can scoop them up for a return to Earth. Since that mission is still in the planning phase, NASA is covering its bases on Mars. It dropped off a cache of several samples a few months back, and this new sample depot will be yet another backup for the tubes still contained inside the rover — Perseverance takes two cores from each notable rock, so it will keep duplicates of each tube it drops off.
NASA announced earlier this year that it and the European Space Agency had decided to drop the rover element of the sample return mission. Instead, NASA will build two helicopters based on Ingenuity's design that will be able to pick up sample tubes and deliver them to the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). Perseverance is supposed to deliver its samples directly to the MAV, but in the event it cannot do so, the drones will have to pick up tubes from the depot. So, NASA has to make sure they're arranged in an efficient manner.
To ensure the helicopters can retrieve samples without encountering obstructions or damaging the samples, NASA will set them out in a zig-zag pattern. Each sample needs at least 18 feet (5.5 meters) of clear space around them — some may be up to 49 feet away from another tube. It will take at least a month for the team to become familiar with the terrain around Three Forks and select locations for each tube. Plan A is to have Perseverance deliver its samples to the MAV in the coming years. If we need Plan B, NASA wants to minimize the risk.
Early next year, Perseverance will begin what NASA calls the Delta Top Campaign. The rover will move up higher on the delta, giving the team a chance to search for interesting deposits left by the ancient river. The Sample Return Mission could launch as soon as 2028. The lander will either rendezvous with Perseverance or set course for the sample depot at Three Forks. The ESA's orbiter will be waiting to carry the samples back to Earth as soon as 2033.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26415-4
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26666-1Cooling potential for hot climates by utilizing thermal management of compressed air energy storage systems
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26188-wComplete mitochondrial genome of Hygrobates turcicus Pešić, Esen & Dabert, 2017 (Acari, Hydrachnidia, Hygrobatoidea)
This year we learned why dogs come in so many sizes, that puppy dog eyes are a real thing and that cats don't deserve their aloof rap