Despite the fact that scientists have recovered some soft tissue from a T. Rex that died 68 million years ago, there doesn’t look like there’s much of a chance that they’ll actually make one come alive.
Oh, well; my lease doesn’t allow pets anyway.
Despite the fact that scientists have recovered some soft tissue from a T. Rex that died 68 million years ago, there doesn’t look like there’s much of a chance that they’ll actually make one come alive.
Oh, well; my lease doesn’t allow pets anyway.
ENDA gets past filibuster in the Senate.
New Jersey mall locked down after gunman opens fire.
Supreme Court turns down Oklahoma abortion case.
Sen. Rand Paul faces more plagiarism charges.
It’s Election Day in a lot of places, including Virginia, New York, and New Jersey.
Alert Starfleet — There are billions of Earth-like planets in the galaxy.
An international team of astronomers has detected the most distant galaxy yet.
The galaxy is about 30 billion light-years away and is helping scientists shed light on the period that immediately followed the Big Bang.
It was found using the Hubble Space Telescope and its distance was then confirmed with the ground-based Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
The study is published in the journal Nature.
Because it takes light so long to travel from the outer edge of the Universe to us, the galaxy appears as it was 13.1 billion years ago (its distance from Earth of 30 billion light-years is because the Universe is expanding).
Lead researcher Steven Finkelstein, from the University of Texas at Austin, US, said: “This is the most distant galaxy we’ve confirmed. We are seeing this galaxy as it was 700 million years after the Big Bang.”
The far-off galaxy goes by the catchy name of z8_GND_5296.
When you think in terms that 700 million years is “immediately” after the Big Bang, it puts everything in perspective, doesn’t it?
They started with the 3,588 planets discovered by the Kepler space telescope and then pared this back to only smallish planets in the “habitable zone”—not too near their star to boil over and not too far away to be iceballs. That got them down to 51 planets. But that only counts the planets we could see because our view from Earth was directly on their ecliptic. Extrapolating to all the rest produces 22,500 Earthlike planets. And since Kepler only covered 0.28 percent of the sky and only looked out 3,000 light years, extrapolating yet again produces a final estimate of 15-30 billion possibly Earthlike planets.
Hello out there.
After reading this story…
MOSCOW (AP) — A perfectly preserved woolly mammoth carcass with liquid blood has been found on a remote Arctic island, fueling hopes of cloning the Ice Age animal, Russian scientists said Thursday.
I wondered how my friend and former LC colleague John McKay, a big fan of woolly mammoths, would respond.
The story is bad science reporting, pure and simple. It’s science by press release. It allows sensationalism to bury the real science. Cloning and “will it tell us why they went extinct” stories are lazy and ignorant writing. It’s crap and I do not like it. Please stop.
President Obama sacked Steven Miller, the acting head of the IRS.
Deadly tornadoes hit Texas.
The White House released hundreds of e-mails related to the Benghazi! talking points.
Iraq — Bomb attacks in Baghdad killed more than 35 people.
Syria — The U.N. condemned the government for attacking civilians.
Yet another military officer in charge of controlling sexual harassment is busted for it.
Clone to home — Stem cells recovered from cloned embryos.
The Tigers lost to the Astros 7-5.
This is cool.
President Obama on Tuesday will announce a broad new research initiative, starting with $100 million in 2014, to invent and refine new technologies to understand the human brain, senior administration officials said Monday.
A senior administration scientist compared the new initiative to the Human Genome Project, in that it is directed at a problem that has seemed insoluble up to now: the recording and mapping of brain circuits in action in an effort to “show how millions of brain cells interact.”
It is different, however, in that it has, as yet, no clearly defined goals or endpoint. Coming up with those goals will be up to the scientists involved and may take more than year.
The effort will require the development of new tools not yet available to neuroscientists and, eventually, perhaps lead to progress in treating diseases like Alzheimer’s and epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. It will involve both government agencies and private institutions.
The initiative, which scientists involved in promoting the idea have been calling the Brain Activity Map project, will officially be known as Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or Brain for short; it has been designated a grand challenge of the 21st century by the Obama administration.
There are several reasons why I like this. Everybody knows someone who has either suffered some kind of injury or has a brain disorder. It is also the kind of thing that government funding does best. Private medical research could do it, but unless there’s a way to make money at it, they’re probably going to spend more time on boner pills and hair restoration than curing Alzheimer’s.
It is often the government that gets America to do big bold things without a profit motive. If you think of some of the things that we’ve done in the last sixty years, such as the interstate highway system or putting Neil Armstrong on the moon, it was done because we as a nation decided to do it through the government. And along the way, the government didn’t exclude the capitalists; they hired them and paid for the research and promoted their products along the way. Everybody wins something, and that’s called progress.
PS: I see that Steve Benen and I are having another of our psychic mind-melds.
Sometimes Monday mornings are hard to get started on blogging since it’s after a weekend and there’s not a lot of stuff to poke fun at. But here’s a fascinating bit of photography and Mr. Wizard science that is sure to mesmerize you for a little bit via Summer Ash at The Maddow Blog:
The amazing phenomenon captured above is not actually visible to your naked eye, only to the camera. Running at 24 frames per second, as opposed to the ~12 frames per second rate of our eyes, the camera can register the vibrational signature of the sound coming out of the speaker as it affects the nozzle of the hose. You can see this in slow motion at around 1:07. To try this experiment yourself, check out the instructions by the filmmaker on YouTube. And for a cool discussion on what your eye can and can’t detect, read this.
Just too cool.
The Good, Racist People — Ta-Nehisi Coates on the fact that even today an Oscar-
nominated winning actor — Forrest Whitaker — can be suspected of being a shoplifter because of the color of his skin.
In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.”
A half-century later little had changed. The comedian Michael Richards (Kramer on “Seinfeld”) once yelled at a black heckler from the stage: “He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger!” Confronted about this, Richards apologized and then said, “I’m not a racist,” and called the claim “insane.”
The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion. We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant. Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place. New York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining, blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the past 20 years.
But much worse, it haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner. The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the “middle class,” will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were never meant to be part of the American story. Forest Whitaker fits that bill, and he was addressed as such.
I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.
The other day I walked past this particular deli. I believe its owners to be good people. I felt ashamed at withholding business for something far beyond the merchant’s reach. I mentioned this to my wife. My wife is not like me. When she was 6, a little white boy called her cousin a nigger, and it has been war ever since. “What if they did that to your son?” she asked.
And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.
The “Undocuqueers” – Benjy Sarlin at TPM on the hurdles that remain for gay couples with immigration issues.
A report released Friday by the Williams Institute at UCLA calculated that out of the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be America today, 267,000 adults identify as LGBT. Another 637,000 LGBT adults were legal immigrants. Gary Gates, a scholar at the Williams Institute, said that the number was a conservative estimate based on cross-referencing survey data on undocumented immigrants, sexual orientation, along with data on married same sex couples. Gates’ remarks came at an event in Washington, D.C., debuting the finding that was hosted by the liberal Center for American Progress.
There are some issues gay and immigrant rights groups are looking to address that concern specifically LGBT immigrants, for example greater sensitivity towards gay and transgendered detainees taken into custody by ICE. But the dominant issue affects U.S. citizens and immigrants alike: the ability to sponsor one’s partner or spouse for a visa.
The Defense of Marriage Act, now under review by the Supreme Court, bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples. That means that the usual laws allowing citizens to bring foreign-born husbands or wives to America under a family visa don’t apply. The result is often that couples are forced into effective exile: the popular progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald, for example, lives in Brazil with his partner because only Brazilian law recognizes their relationship and grants Greenwald permanent residency.
According to the Williams Institute, the nation is home to an estimated 32,300 same-sex binational couples in which one spouse is an American and the other a non-citizen. According to Gates, more than half have children, meaning entire families face the prospect of being split apart if a foreign partner or spouse can’t find an alternative visa through work, school, or other family relationships — a process that can take years in the best of circumstances.
Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist and activist who revealed in 2011 that he himself was an undocumented immigrant, said at CAP’s event on Friday that his grandfather was upset when he came out as gay in part because it closed off one possible avenue to citizenship.
“I ruined the plan,” he said. “The plan was to come to America, marry a woman, and get my papers that way.”
Sleepytime — Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker: The science of sleep is an eye-opener.
Of the many ways that things can go wrong in bed, sleep troubles are probably the most prevalent. According to a 2011 poll, more than half of Americans between the ages of thirteen and sixty-four experience a sleep problem almost every night, and nearly two-thirds complain that they are not getting enough rest during the week. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that fifty to seventy million Americans suffer from a “chronic disorder of sleep and wakefulness.” The results are dangerous as well as annoying. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that almost five per cent of adults acknowledge nodding off at the wheel at least once during the previous month. The U.S. Department of Transportation has determined that what might be called D.W.D.—driving while drowsy—causes forty thousand injuries a year in the United States and more than fifteen hundred deaths.
Our collective weariness is the subject of several new books, some by professionals who study sleep, others by amateurs who are short of it. David K. Randall’s “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep” belongs to the latter category. It’s a good book to pick up during a bout of insomnia.
Randall begins with an account of his own sleep problems, which include laughing, humming, grunting, bouncing, kicking, and, on at least one occasion, sleep-walking into a wall. He considers a range of possible explanations for the national exhaustion—too much light, too much warmth, too much avoirdupois—and finds them all compelling. The electric light bulb has made darkness optional, eliminating the enforced idleness that used to begin at sunset. Modern mattresses and bedclothes trap the heat that the body gives off as its core temperature drops each night. Obesity increases the chances of developing sleep apnea, a condition that combines choking and waking in an exhausting, sometimes life-threatening cycle. For all these reasons and more, Randall anticipates a bright future for the emerging field of “fatigue management.” One sleep expert he interviews predicts that “fatigue management officers” will soon be as common at major corporations as accountants. Like time, sleep, it turns out, is money.
Doonesbury — Soul-searching.
Worst Pro-Gun Argument Ever — Mark Nuckols writes that the idea of the “citizen militia” sounds all Yankee-Doodley, but history proves that armed civilians tend to go after each other instead of the tyrant.
The constitutional government of the United States has never been perfect, but it has repeatedly corrected its mistakes and sometime tendencies to abridge the fundamental rights of its citizens. If this basic order and balance is ever imperiled, it will almost certainly be under circumstances of severe economic stress. And in such circumstances, tolerance and good faith trust in other Americans will likely be in short supply. Even today, numerous public figures routinely characterize their political opponents as enemies of American values. And a quick glance at the comments sections of websites around the Internet reveals that many people in this country already doubt the “Americanness” of their fellow citizens and the legitimacy of existing government institutions.
So a citizen uprising at any point in the foreseeable future would probably not involve like-minded constitutionalists taking up arms to defend democracy and liberty. It would more likely be a matter of one aggrieved social group attacking another. And for the most criminal and vicious members of society, the rationale of “protecting” their own rights would be a convenient justification for straight-up looting, robbery, and bloodshed.
There may never be a time when all the people in this country embrace one another as true Americans or accept the authority of their political leadership. Which may be part of the country’s boisterous — if sometimes overly enthusiastic and even paranoid — democratic tradition. But as we debate the role of firearms in our society, it makes no sense to be sidetracked by the impossible and dangerous idea that a heavily armed citizenry is the ultimate safeguard of liberty in America.
Hizzoner Dishonor — Not everyone remembers former New York mayor Ed Koch fondly, especially those in the gay community who suspected him of personal reasons for being silent on AIDS in the 1980′s.
The gay brief against Koch comes in two stripes. The first is that he should have been out and that had there been an openly gay political leader of national stature urging action on AIDS, the course of the epidemic might have been very different; countless lives could have been saved. I find this counterfactual an exercise in magical thinking and ultimately unfalsifiable and unhelpful. It’s not clear that an out gay man could have been elected mayor in 1977 in the first place, especially given the “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo” signs that current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is accused of orchestrating on behalf of his father in that primary, or that an out or outed gay mayor would have won re-election in 1981 or 1985. It’s also not hard to envision a scenario in which an out or outed gay mayor would have driven from office by scandal, perhaps only adding to the shame and ostracization the gay community faced then. The point is, we just don’t know, and there are simply too many variables to plot out what kind of impact an openly gay elected official like Harvey Milk, whom Koch fell short of on many levels, would have had on the epidemic.
What we do know, or can usefully conjecture, forms the basis of a more sober if no less damning indictment of Koch—which is that the particular way in which Koch was closeted shaped his halting, seemingly indifferent reaction to the epidemic. Unlike the coy posture he adopted later in life, Koch didn’t just refuse to answer questions about his sexuality during his years in office. He aggressively—if unsuccessfully—attempted to eliminate any whiff of homosexuality from his profile. If Kirby Dick’s documentary Outrage is to be believed, Koch had a long-term relationship with a man named Dick Nathan, but broke it off before his first mayoral race (this account comes from David Rothenberg, whom Koch appointed NYC’s human rights commissioner). Nathan moved to Los Angeles (where he died of AIDS in the ’90s) and was conspicuously replaced by Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America, as Koch’s beard. Koch also proclaimed himself a heterosexual in a 1989 radio show when he was running against David Dinkins, and generally took pains to distance himself from New York’s gay community.
Reading Randy Shilts’s account in And the Band Played On, it’s impossible not to conclude that Koch’s personal paranoia came to determine his policy response to AIDS. According to Shilts, Koch “warmly embraced requests that cost the city nothing,” but routinely rejected any requests—for housing for people with AIDS, for a health center in Greenwich Village, for hospice space—that came with a price tag. Koch, Shilts writes, wanted to avoid the perception that gays would get “special treatment” in his administration. The result is that “for the next two years, AIDS policy in New York would be little more than a laundry list of unmet challenges, unheeded pleas, and programs not undertaken.” “All the ingredients for a successful battle against the epidemic existed in New York City” concludes Shilts, “except for one: leadership.”
Reaching for the Stars — How the dung beetle provides insight — and a warning — about celestial navigation and light pollution.
The cosmos is nothing if not egalitarian; we are all equally small. It seems fair that Earth’s sanitation workers should benefit from the Milky Way, as the rest of us do. And dung beetles likely aren’t alone; crickets, moths, nocturnal bees, and other insects probably share their ability to navigate by the Milky Way and by polarized moonlight. “I’d be surprised if they were the only insect,” Warrant said.
One wonders, then, what will happen as the night sky disappears. Thanks to sky glow, ten per cent of the world, and forty per cent of Americans, no longer view a night sky that is fully dark. This troubles ecologists as well as astronomers. A paper published in 2011 by Christpher Kyba, a physicist at Free University, in Berlin, found that light pollution washes out the polarization of moonlight, which could have a detrimental effect on dung beetles and other insects, at least around urban areas.
“Dung beetles play an incredibly important role in revitalizing our soil,” Warrant said. “It’s a gardener’s dream, to have all this manure pushed into the dirt.” He couldn’t predict what the long-term biological consequences of sky glow might be, “apart from the fact that it probably will have some impact.” But he noted that in Australia, in the first half of the century, millions of hectares of land were ruined by the dung of imported cows. (Native dung beetles prefer the dry fare dropped by marsupials and wouldn’t touch the sloppy, foreign stuff.) Soil quality improved only after the country imported dung beetles en masse from South Africa. “You could see what kind of impact they must have in South Africa,” Warrant said, “and what it would be like if they weren’t there.”
We suppose that we are superior to dung beetles, but are we really? At least dung beetles recycle. We scavenge, hoard, consume…what? Crap, mostly. It piles up around us; increasingly we live on a ball of it. Even light we waste; designed to illuminate, it now obscures. As our celestial guides recede, we risk losing our bearings and will have ever less to consider but ourselves.
Doonesbury — Explain that.
As King puts it, “To claim that America’s ‘culture of violence’ is responsible for school shootings is tantamount to cigarette company executives declaring that environmental pollution is the chief cause of lung cancer.” Americans consume relatively high levels of gun violence, but we’re not acting out in response to it. Nor are we completely saturating ourselves in it. For instance, King observes that only two of the 10 most popular works of fiction in 2012 featured violence. Just one of the top-grossing movies of 2012 (Skyfall) showed gun killings. Sports, dance, and Mario Brothers are the nation’s most popular video games, and football and detective shows consistently score the highest television ratings.
In the coming days and weeks, gun manufacturers and lobbyists will spend millions convincing American gun owners who actually supportsensible regulations that they are “under siege” from President Obama’s government. They’ll argue that the administration’s proposed universal background checks for all gun purchasers and waiting periods are tantamount to big brother keeping tabs on Americans who own firearms, and say that limiting the availability of military-style assault weapons that can fire off tens of bullets in rapid succession without reloading would leave Americans defenseless from home intruders or a government takeover.
They’ll deflect attention from guns and propose expanding access to mental health services, stationing guards in schools, and of course clamping down on the media’s glorification of violence. “One only wishes [NRA Executive Vice President and CEO] Wayne LaPierre and his NRA board of directors could be drafted to some of these [school shooting] scenes, where they would be required to put on booties and rubber gloves and help clean up the blood, the brains, and the chunks of intestine still containing the poor wads of half-digested food that were some innocent bystander’s last meal,” King writes. Maybe then they’ll focus less on the make-believe death in media and the very real destruction that open access to military-style weapons can cause.”
Explaining the Winter Blahs — Neil Shubin explains why our internal clocks hate winter.
By late January many of us residing in northern latitudes aren’t sleeping well, overeat and are looking forward to the long sunlit days of July. Some people even get clinically depressed: a recent study revealed that some 10 percent of New Hampshire residents suffer from seasonal affective disorder. For too many people, this might seem like just a quirk of their personalities, or worse, a shortcoming. But the cause for our malaise lies in the working of our genes, organs — and, ultimately, in the chemical structure of moon rocks, like the ones returned by the Apollo space program.
Our perception of time defines the ways we interact with the planet and with one another. Humanity’s increasing need to communicate and trade has led to an ever-finer parsing of the moments of our lives with each passing year. Our need to segment a day into milliseconds — as with high-frequency stock trades — would probably have shocked our ancestors as much as a jet plane landing in the ancient African savanna.
But some clocks have not changed with technology, human interchange or commerce. Virtually every part of us — all our organs, tissues and cells — are set to a rhythm of day and night. Kidneys slow down at night. That’s a wonderful trait if you want to minimize trips outside of bed. The human liver works slowest in the morning hours, meaning the cheapest dates would be at breakfast.
How do these biological rhythms come about? We carry more than two trillion clocks inside of us. Our cellular clocks reside in the molecular machinery of DNA, which makes proteins that interact with one another and with DNA itself. Some combinations of these biological factors form a kind of molecular pendulum that swings back and forth between high and low levels of protein and gene activity, tuned to a virtual 24-hour day.
Our genetic clocks are set to the sun by our brains and our eyes. Light entering our eyes triggers a signal that ends in a tiny patch of cells in the brain. This brain region then emits hormones that coordinate the clocks in the different cells of the body. Mess with this system and things go awry really fast.
Sync or Swim — Andy Borowitz reports the latest scandal to erupt.
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) – A rising chorus of congressional Republicans are calling on President Obama to acknowledge that the pop singer Beyoncé lip-synched during his inaugural festivities on Monday and resign from office, effective immediately.
“By lip-synching the national anthem, Beyoncé has cast a dark cloud over the President’s second term,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). “The only way President Obama can remove that cloud is by resigning from office at once.”
While many in the media have blamed Beyoncé for the lip-synching controversy, Mr. Paul said, “We must remember that this happened on President Obama’s watch.”
Mr. Paul said that the White House’s refusal to comment on the Beyoncé crisis “only serves the argument that this President has something to hide.”
“If Beyoncé lip-synched the national anthem, how do we know President Obama didn’t lip-sync his oath of office?” he said. “If that’s the case, he’s not legally President. But just to be on the safe side, he should resign anyway.”
Mr. Paul also blasted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her testimony on Benghazi before the Senate today: “Her tactic of answering each and every question we asked her didn’t fool anyone.”
Doonesbury — Saving grace.
The U.N. upgraded Palestine to a non-voting observer state.
Egyptian Islamists draft a constitution.
Syria — Internet shutdown causes panic.
The GOP doesn’t like the Democrats’ cliff-avoidance proposal.
Study affirms loss of polar ice is accelerating.
But on Mercury, there’s comparatively lots of ice.
U.S. birthrate lowest in decades.
Iran unveils a new missile system.
Cuba’s dream of an oil bonanza is coming up dry.
Target employees protest against working on Thanksgiving.
Another scandal: General demoted for lavish spending on travel.
Nearly 1,000 uncounted ballots were found in Fort Lauderdale.
R.I.P. Esther Scott, mother of Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Folks in Australia and the South Pacific enjoyed the total eclipse.
If he actually had gone faster than the speed of light, he would have landed before he jumped, which would have missed the point of the whole thing.
More weapons in Syria could deepen the civil war.
The Nobel Prize for medicine went to two scientists for cell research.
The Mexican navy says it killed a Zeta drug cartel founder.
Meningitis outbreak tied to tainted steroid.
Outside agitators — Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal work to oust Iowa judge.
The University of Miami’s athletic program is under investigation.
Florida looks at getting readable license plates.
Israeli PM Netanyahu drew a line at the U.N. over nuclear weapons.
Polls: Obama leads in New Hampshire; closer in North Carolina and Nevada.
Mars rover Curiosity finds an ancient riverbed.
The RNC fired a Florida voter registration group over fraud allegations.
Gary Johnson supports Florida’s medical marijuana referendum.
Tropical Update: TS Nadine is still alive, moving north.
The Tigers stay in first place with a sweep of the Royals.
The U.S. orders embassy staff to leave Tunis and the Sudan.
Four more troops killed in Afghanistan by insiders.
China deals with protestors against Japan over disputed islands.
Chicago teachers could vote to end their strike as early as today.
Curiosity finds some strange-looking rocks on Mars.
Hockey: No deal reached; the NHL locks out their players.
The Tigers beat the Indians; stay one game out of first in the division.
Born to Run — Hendrik Hertzberg on Bill Clinton at the DNC.
On Fox News, after Bill Clinton’s speech, Brit Hume, while admitting grudgingly that it was “convincing” and “able to deal with facts,” dismissed what he had just heard as “wonky,” “self-indulgent,” and “thirty per cent too long.”
Too long? Really?
Clinton spoke for fifty minutes. What else takes fifty minutes? Let’s see. Three things come quickly to mind.
1. A psychoanalytic hour.
2. A college lecture.
3. An episode of “The Sopranos.”
Clinton’s speech—which, especially if President Obama is reëlected, will be remembered as one of the greatest tours de force in convention history—had elements of all three at their best. Like a session on Dr. Freud’s couch, it deployed insight to therapeutic effect. Like a lecture by a master of the form and the material (a Michael Sandel, say, or a Carl Sagan), it both educated and enchanted. Like HBO’s most addicting drama, it was ridiculously entertaining (and its lead character, a larger-than-life rogue, is someone it’s inadvisable to cross).
Shaping his arguments with those big hands as well as that hoarse voice, Clinton defended Obama’s economic record and eviscerated virtually every Republican critique of that record, one by one, issue by issue: jobs and unemployment; the auto bailout; energy policy; health care; the deficit and the debt. He explained in patient detail why Republican accusations that Obama has weakened Medicare and gutted welfare-to-work requirements are “just not true.”
Does that sound dull? Well, it wasn’t. The audience in the hall was enthralled, and so were “the folks at home.” My home, anyway.
Partly, I think, we were enthralled because he was enthralled. There was a script on the teleprompter, but wasn’t “reading” it; he was improvising on it in a, yes, disciplined way, the way a jazz soloist improvises on a familiar melody. His repeated admonitions—“Listen to this,” “Listen to this, everybody,” “Listen to me, now,” “Are you listening in Michigan and Ohio?,” “Now, finally, listen,” “Y’all you all got to listen carefully to this, this is really important”—came across not as hectoring but as breathless invitations, as if he was about to confide a particularly choice morsel of gossip. Each time he swivelled to a new issue—“Now, let’s talk about the debt”—you had the very opposite of a sinking sensation. You had a small thrill of delicious anticipation. O.K., let’s see how he puts this one away.
Fifty minutes? When Bill Clinton was President, he delivered nine State of the Union addresses. The first one clocked in at over an hour, and so did all eight of the rest. (Of the previous twenty-eight S.O.U.’s, just one—L.B.J.’s in 1967—had exceeded the sixty-minute mark.) The first couple of times Clinton did this, post-speech pundits opined that he’d gone on way too long, that he’d buried the audience’s patience under an avalanche of numbing detail. Polls and focus groups showed that the folks at home did not agree. They liked the length and they liked the detail.
Life on Mars — The same guy who drives his kids to daycare also drives Curiosity.
Matt Heverly, 36, started a recent workday as any young father might: up at 5:30, gulping coffee, fixing a bottle for the baby. He threw on jeans and a T-shirt and drove his two sons to day care. He stopped to get the brakes on his Toyota checked and swung by the bank.
Then he went to the office … to drive a $2.5 billion robot on Mars.
Mr. Heverly leads a team of 16 drivers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory here. Together, they are responsible for steering a six-wheeled, plutonium-powered rover called Curiosity across the Red Planet’s Gale Crater. Equipped with futuristic tools like a laser that can vaporize rock, the 2,000-pound robot arrived on Mars on Aug. 6, and Mr. Heverly took the wheel — or computer keyboard, actually — on Aug. 22.
“Driving” a rover might be a misleading term. There is no joystick or accelerator, for a start. Mr. Heverly and his teammates tell the vehicle where to go next by entering hundreds of computer commands.
Also, the driving is not done in real time: during the Martian night, the team plans where to send Curiosity next and sends instructions via radio transmission as the Mars day begins. Then the drivers go home, back to life on Earth, with all of its “don’t forget to take out the garbage” mundanity.
“You have to try not to think about what’s happening out there, which is, of course, completely impossible,” Vandi Tompkins, 39, one of the drivers, said with caffeinated exuberance.
“The rover may be executing a successful drive based on your instructions,” she said, “or you may have just sent a national asset over a cliff.”
Or, as Mr. Heverly put it, “Last night I drove on Mars, today I mowed the lawn — it’s completely surreal.”
Canadian Cousins — Cars with a maple leaf flair.
To Americans, they look familiar, yet strange. Their brand names don’t ring a bell: Mayfair, Frontenac, Acadian, Meteor, Monarch, Fargo, Laurentian, Beaumont.
These are among the cars once created specifically for Canada, and usually built in Canada, by the Detroit-based automakers. In their heyday, from the end of World War II until the late 1960s — a period of true mechanical distinctions between, say, Chevrolets and Pontiacs — the Canadianized cars shamelessly borrowed parts and styling from their sister divisions.
Once common on Canadian roads, such cars have become, even here, largely forgotten historical footnotes.
When Denise Côté, a retired government secretary in Ottawa, went to register her 1957 Monarch Lucerne, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation would have no part of it. Until Ms. Côté commissioned an auto historian to provide the government a history of Ford Canada’s Monarch brand, the license bureau would register her car only as a Mercury Monarch, a model that wasn’t produced until the late 1970s and was sold on both sides of the border.
“It is a Monarch Lucerne; it is not a Mercury,” said Ms. Côté, a longtime car fancier. Referring to the bureaucrats, she said, “They wouldn’t change it for the world, and they eventually had to call Toronto to do it.”
A variety of factors inspired the Canadian subsidiaries of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler to create Canada-only models. But the sometimes oddball results came into being, and then faded away, largely because of import tariffs.
Until the United States and Canada signed an agreement in 1965 creating cross-border free trade in cars and auto parts, vehicles imported to Canada from the United States were subject to duties of as much as 35 percent. To avoid the duties, automakers struggled to find economical ways to squeeze a wide range of models onto single assembly lines in their Canadian factories.
The models were not adapted to Canadian roads, which aside from the snow and ice, were generally poorer, at the time, than American roads.
“Was there any design or engineering done?” said Sharon Babaian, curator of transport at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. “No, not really. It was very, very cosmetic. I think they probably put more money into the marketing than they did into the actual changing of the style of the vehicle.”
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