Popular science news is just about everywhere, and millions of people subscribe to mailing lists with the latest and greatest from the worlds of astronomy, medicine, biology, and climatology. But not all pop sci news is accurate, and the way the media chooses to cover certain topics is both misleading and irresponsible, inspiring cranks and scam artists, and pitting scientists and volumes of peer-reviewed evidence against loudmouth pundits who really don’t care if the world burns, or people’s health is in danger as long as the camera is focused on them. How did this happen and what can you do to get good science coverage? Tune in and find out.
WoWT Podcast Episode 29: Why The News F-ing Loves Bad Science - SoundCloud (2583 secs long, 29 plays)Play in SoundCloud
Ask someone in a polyamorous, or any other non-monogamous arrangement why they decided against having just one partner in a relationship and they’ll often mention how it seems taxing and unfair to a single partner to meet all their emotional and sexual needs. In their minds, as long as all partners consent to the relationship and what it entails, they’re making it easier on each other and themselves to get advice, vent, help a loved one, and yes, satisfy their libidos. Forget arguments about who’ll watch the kids, or about the frequency of sex, or why you didn’t have time to talk about each other’s day because one of you is busy or not in the mood. You can just call on another partner, then debrief at a better time for everyone involved.
Or, at least, that’s the theory. How do actual polyamorous and non-monogamous relationships function, and are those involved truly happier? Well, a team of psychologists decided to see whether the argument for multiple partners works by asking a group of 2,183 monogamous and 1,168 polyamorous subjects about how close they felt to their partners and why in detail. At this point, it’s important to note that non-monogamy and polyamory are not the same thing. Non-monogamy can refer to casual encounters outside of a relationship, i.e. swinging and its many forms, while polyamory generally implies some sort of mutually defined and committed relationship involving more than two partners and constant communication between them.
This distinction matters because the researchers wanted to focus specifically on relationship dynamics, they chose to study polyamory instead of non-monogamy in general. What did they find? It turns out that polyamorous relationships really do distribute the needs of each partner across all those involved with an interesting catch. Since new relationships tend to be sexually intense and long-term relationships tend to be more emotionally close and comforting, sexual needs are more often met by newer partners to the relationship while emotional ones are handled by those who have been present longer, or in the parlance of the study, their primary partners offer more nurturance while secondary partners offer more eroticism.
But since nurturance is what’s necessary to feel close to partners rather than eroticism and sex, secondary partners, those in polyamorous relationships report feeling closer to high nurturance partners than they do to high eroticism ones. Conversely, when their primary partners can also offer high levels of eroticism, the subjects felt even less close to their secondaries. The intuitive takeaway could be that the fewer needs you have, the fewer partners you need and the less you get out of each addition to the relationship, but the researchers warn that it would be too simplistic of an assumption. After all, satisfaction is a complicated thing and some people could be thrilled with high eroticism and need little nurture while others require the reverse.
Ultimately, they want to find out how to make a happy relationship work, and how well we can diversify our need fulfillment. Thanks to this survey, they can now design follow up studies to evaluate satisfaction among those in polyamorous arrangements, then take that information to investigate the full array of support systems that could help partners make sure their needs are met without overloading each other. This way, therapists could offer evidence-based ideas to those whose relationships hit a rough patch or are in serious trouble, and this advice could be especially beneficial if it’s based on more than one kind of relationship and covers everything from open marriage to hobbies.
See: Balzarini R., et. al., (2019) Eroticism versus nurturance: How eroticism and nurturance differs in polyamorous and monogamous relationships, Social Psychology, DOI: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000378
Despite the rough start artificial intelligence had in oncology thanks to IBM tying both hands behind Watson’s back, the technology has plenty of offer to doctors, as demonstrated by a recent experiment, a deep neural network built by Google and trained on over 42,800 chest CT scans to flag any potential signs of lung cancer. The trained system not only found tumors 5% more often than oncologists, it had 11% fewer false positives, meaning that not only could it diagnose patients more accurately, it’s also less likely to recommend unnecessary and invasive testing which can be really rough both physically and mentally. Even better, it was as much as 9.5% batter at trying to predict cancer risk two years after screenings.
First and foremost, it’s important to note that AI is not replacing doctors, it’s merely providing a second set of well-trained eyes on test results. The reason why the neural network noticed lung cancer slightly better than humans is because while our minds work on inference and habit, and quickly gloss over things we’re pretty sure aren’t relevant, computers don’t simply ignore pixels or allow them to blend into the background as easily as our eyes. Features we’re not entirely sure about stand out slightly sharper and as more relevant to machines. Technicians could take a patient’s scan, upload it to a health records database where it’s scanned by oncological AIs so the doctor can examine the image while considering the flags raised by the machine.
But how does the machine know a patient might have cancer and for what to look? Well, when the scans are uploaded, the input processing logic divides it into similarly sized sections. Then, each section is translated into numbers indicating colors and depths of whatever is pictured. For images as large and high resolution as medical scans, progressive layers with tens, if not hundreds of thousands artificial neurons then go to work, identifying features it guesses are important to making the right decision. After tens of thousands of training iterations, statistical formulas adjust the computations and outputs of each artificial neurons to produce the right result as often as possible. This setup is known as a convolutional neural network, and this is what Google used to outperform six trained radiologists.
Of course, this preliminary experiment doesn’t mean that we’re about to have all diseases diagnosed by a computer, merely that it’s possible, and we can continue testing and training these systems to help doctors make better, more informed decisions. This human-AI tag team approach would be particularly useful when patients come in with vague symptoms and fail to improve as doctors scratch their heads. This is, unfortunately, relatively common as a whole lot of illnesses have similar symptoms, and some life-threatening infections and can viruses hide behind odd, faint rashes or random fevers or gastrointestinal unease that can befuddle medical experts. Having machines doing the equivalent of tapping a doctor on the shoulder and saying “hey, have you considered it’s blankety blank based on the following data?” can mean faster, more accurate diagnoses, and earlier treatment.
This is also not Google’s first foray into medicine. Another AI it created is being used in India to help detect diabetic eye disease while trying to make up for a drastic shortfall of doctors in rural areas. A similar approach with multiple AIs trained to recognize common ailments and forward the results of examination to remote doctors, or even go as far as prescribe a recommended set of treatments themselves after demonstrating impressive real world accuracy, could, in theory, help chronically underserved areas across the world by allowing doctors to treat more patients while providing more individualized attention to more complicated cases as the AI handles the basic diagnostic tests and relevant paperwork. In short, the robots are getting ready to step into the doctor’s office, and your healthcare will be all the better for it.
What’s the best way to lower the incidence of asthma, certain cancers, and even dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? To lower emissions from plants that spew smog into the atmosphere as much as possible. Not only would this help combat the dangers of global warming, it would also make communities healthier and increase the public’s lifespan and quality of life, making a lot of people much happier and more productive. But there’s another way. You can take a cue from the Trump administration and simply declare at that at certain concentrations, air pollution simply doesn’t cause these complications, and belching out just a little smog should be ignored, and therefore illnesses linked to them must be from something else.
And while they may be acting like cartoon villains with no real motivation other than to do the wrong thing in every possible situation like some sort of sociopathic Goofuses whose empathy circuits were eaten away by greed and power, their reasoning is very simple. Complying with regulation meant to protect the air and people’s lungs and brains can be very expensive, and green energy projects mean less demand for fossil fuels. Since they don’t want to pay for us not suffering from the waste they dump into the water and air, and don’t want to lose business, they’re investing in professional liars and hacks to convince politicians to subsidize them to the tune of $5.2 trillion and strike down regulations as a giant “fuck you” to the public.
Of course, since they can only say that figuratively, not literally, they’re telling the EPA that at a certain point, particulates in the air don’t cause respiratory and secondary problems because they’re simply too small. Scientists who study the effects of pollution disagree, pointing out that the public would be exposed to these fine particulates for years on end, and could easily build up a harmful concentration of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in their bodies. It may be slow, but there’s little question that it will have deleterious long-term effects. The only debate is how severe those effects will be and how long it will take for them to kick in.
And this is what makes this attempt to roll back regulations meant to protect their air we breathe so egregious. Fossil fuel companies and polluters are essentially telling us that while there’s a real danger to our health from what they’re doing, they’d like to get away with risking our lives as much as possible in a bid to save money and keep as many of their income streams as they can at the cost of cleaning up the planet, ideally also subsidized by hefty dollops of the corporate welfare on which they rely. It’s absurdist Kafkaesque Kabuki theater in which we pay companies to poison us until some of our worst and most corrupt leaders decide it’s becoming a little unseemly, and their effort to strike 1,400 deaths per year from the record is just another example of that.
Whenever scientists talk about the possibility of detecting alien intelligence, just about every discussion will mention the Wow! Signal, a weird transmission from 1977 we’ve been trying to explain for decades. Of course, there are many things that could pass for alien attempts to get our attention at first blush, especially signals from neutron stars which have been mistaken for extraterrestrial broadcasts not once, but twice because their emissions can be almost as steady as those regulated by computers, or so powerful that they stand out like a primal scream of something very different and unnatural against the steady background noise of space. But the Wow! Signal was very different. It didn’t come from a pulsar, or a satellite, or another planet in our solar system.
It came from a region near a Sun-like star called Tau Sagittarii, roughly 122 light years away, which, again, sounds like more support for the hypothesis that an alien civilization reached out to us and we just happened to be in the right position to catch 72 seconds of it. However, if there were little green or gray men who called its solar system home, they’re either long extinct or moved on by now since the star has already used most of its hydrogen and went through a red giant phase before shrinking back into an orange ball of plasma which will fuse helium until it expands again before finally cooling into a white dwarf.
Basically, that star is us 4.5 billion years from now, which led some experts to propose that we may have eavesdropped on two alien spaceships talking to each other. Unfortunately, that’s an even more improbable scenario requiring not just intelligent alien life, but extremely advanced, spacefaring creatures on deep space missions. Attempts to find other possible points of origin ended up with a list of some 3,000 stars but nothing to narrow down the candidates, especially since the signal was never detected again, leaving us to make the best of the information we already have and nothing more.
slicing through the wow! signal with occam’s razor
So, what could explain this mysterious transmission? According to astronomer Antonio Paris, there’s a clue in the frequency at which it was detected: 1420 MHz, roughly the frequency of hydrogen gas. This means the signal could have some from a comet’s tail, which would contain plenty of hydrogen, leading him to publish a paper claiming that far from being ET phoning long distance, the Wow! Signal was actually comet 266P/Christensen. And at first glance, this would make sense. This comet was not cataloged at the time, was roughly in the same part of the sky as the signal in question, and he was able to detect a similar transmission from tracking and listening to cometary tails with a radio telescope. Furthermore, 266P/Christensen has a variable orbit, making it difficult to catch the signal from it twice.
when extraordinary claims come with extraordinary proof
But according to researchers who tried to follow up on the Wow! Signal, comets simply can’t explain what they saw. First of all, comets wouldn’t create the same kind of signal in only one band to match the exact observation. The signal looked like it was cut off, not fading slowly as the cloud of gas and dust passed over the telescope and was found in a band in which comets aren’t that radio-bright. Secondly, while 266P/Christensen was roughly in the right part of the sky when the signal was detected, it wasn’t at the right place or time to be detected the same way. Finally, the premise that a signal at the frequency of the hydrogen line means a cometary tail could be emitting it is highly questionable considering how far from airtight Paris’ attempt at replicating the signal in question was.
So, does all this mean we’ve definitely heard an alien broadcast in 1977? Not exactly. As noted, there are perfectly natural phenomena which can seem very artificial when first detected and the Wow! Signal may be an example of that. While we don’t know exactly what could’ve caused it, so far all we’ve been able to do is rule out almost every otherwise possible culprit, which is both frustrating and exciting because it means we really don’t understand what we saw, and any claims otherwise are premature at best. Based on what we know today, the signal is bound to remain a mystery for a long time to come and may never be fully replicated or explained to the satisfaction of everyone involved in the research. But that’s just how the universe works. It really doesn’t care if your questions are ever answered.
According to far too many fitness gurus, motivational speakers, personal trainers, and lifestyle pundits, your body is a complicated, precisely balanced machine that can be customized pretty much any way you want. All it takes is precisely calibrating your calorie intake, nutrient balance, and exercise routine, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re ready and willing to help you do exactly that for a fee tailored to your financial situation. And yet, despite lifestyle and fitness being an 11 figure industry, post-industrial nations are dealing with explosions of obesity and are awash in complains that none of the advice given by experts seems to actually work for millions and millions of people desperate to lose weight or get the bodies they want.
So, what gives? How can so many dieticians, nutritionists, trainers, and doctors get so many things so wrong? Well, according to an article in Economist’s 1843 Magazine, it’s because the science behind fitness and nutrition is based on nearly century old guesstimates and basic, preliminary studies taken as holy writ, then seldom improved on even when major problems were pointed out. Specifically, the story focuses on why despite what you may have heard, a calorie is not a calorie, is not a calorie. People absorb food differently, have different, wonky, and changing metabolisms, and while eating less and moving more is always a good idea, not everyone should eat less of everything and move more in the same way.
why isn’t the advice working?
Just consider the story of Salvador Camacho, featured prominently in the aforementioned article. In his quest to lose weight, he received the same advice as everyone. Eat less, move more, and keep track of every calorie in and every calorie out. His success was minimal for years on end, and he only got in shape after learning to listen to his body, focusing on eating minimally processed food, and exercising for fun and the social benefits of fitness classes, instead of punishing himself for not losing enough weight the previous week. He lost fat and packed on plenty of muscle, though as far as the BMI chart is concerned, he’s still overweight because BMI applied to individuals who fall outside a certain range is about as accurate as a Ouija board.
And this is an important lesson to internalize. Lifestyle studies are notoriously misrepresented in the media and seldom say what you’re told they say, often feeding into narratives from an entire industry of people who want to help you lose weight, gain a six pack, and protect you from cancer. At this point you’ve probably been told that coffee causes cancer and also helps you live longer along with a little wine, that organic food will help prevent cancer despite the studies in question showing it has absolutely no protective effect, and that pork will turn your gut into tumor city despite the fact that even if you eat it every day, your risk of developing gastrointestinal cancers ticks up only negligibly. And if experts are still unsure of how we can reach optimal health, focusing on studies they say are very narrow and focus on very specific questions for other experts, there’s no way lifestyle gurus have answers to questions still up for debate and in need of years of careful research.
why we need to get fit at our own pace
It’s confusing, overwhelming, and you’re right to be frustrated and incredulous when you hear about another seemingly nonsensical finding which was probably grossly misrepresented for the benefit of ratings. The reality is that aside from not smoking and just trying your best to stay active and eat well, we don’t know enough to give people some sort of blueprint for how to live their lives and prevent cancer, obesity, arthritis, or dementia, and those who say otherwise are just trying to sell you something. If you really were a finely tuned instrument, there’s no way your ancestors would’ve survived the hundreds of thousands of years before the first studies into nutrition. They’d constantly be eating the wrong things, getting improper exercise, failing to meet the right balance of micronutrients, opening their third eye with the wrong yoga poses, or what have you.
Our great-great grandparents should’ve been malnourished wrecks barely able to reproduce or take care of their children instead of having similar lifespans to us, just lacking the tools to stave off infectious diseases we can treat with antibiotics today. (Well, at least for now.) It’s not that people aren’t listening to the advice they’re given and failing to heed it, it’s that so much of the advice is based on very tenuous and preliminary science, or comes from misconstrued, out of context findings. It could also very well be that we’re making things more complicated than they need to be and trying to fill in gaps of artificial complexity with cargo cult science, setting millions up for a long period of frustration and disappointment, if not outright failure.
The fact that so many of us can get fit just doing basic things, and that our ancestors managed to stay fit back when the very idea of calories was still being worked out and the main forms of exercise were running around in the woods, walking around the neighborhood, and juggling kettlebells to jazz and big band music, should be a pretty strong hint that we’re overthinking this, often at a huge profit to a massive industry with an appalling failure rate.
The invasion of Rexx Prime began with the brutal impacts of the troop carriers deploying their weapons mid-descent. Smashing into the towering, interconnected spires of Rexx cities, they sent out shockwaves and dark clouds of ash and dust that stunned and blinded the Rexx troops who were taken by surprise as a shower of lasers and particle fire pierced the clouds and tore right through them. As the debris began to part, they saw massive walkers slowly marching into their cities.
The Siege Machines left deep imprints in the ground as their big feet smashed into rock. They were almost two stories tall, towering over the Rexx that scrambled out of the way, screeching directions and orders to each other. Racing around them were rovers, producing a continuous stream of laser fire that tore anything in range to shreds, clearing the way for the Siege Machines. The giant walkers quickly took advantage of the newly secured areas to launch their powerful pulses deeper and deeper into the Rexx’s sprawling cities.
Above them OctoBots broke into windows at the top levels of Rexx spires like a swarm of hungry predators and sliced through any soldiers inside with their powerful lasers. Occasionally, the red beams would tear through a wall and burn a scar into a nearby spire. Fighters and bombers kept total control of the sky, taking out any Rexx units still flight worthy enough to try and defend the alien insects’ troops.
When the Nation’s ground forces were stuck, a shot from a main cannon of a destroyer in orbit cleared their way. As the death beams traveled through the thick atmosphere of Rexx prime they lost quite a bit of their potency, but on impact, the bursts still had enough power to produce a result similar to a tactical nuke. As one such beam hit the center of a vast circular opening in a Rexx city held by a very dedicated army of Rexx soldiers aided by a few mobile laser turrets, the ground cracked under the power of the blast. A shockwave sent hundreds of Rexx flying like shrapnel from a bomb and shook the spires surrounding the opening with such force that three of them collapsed.
After hours of slow, methodical fighting, the Nation’s machines finally made it to the grand palace. The vast, almost town sized circular plaza around it was packed with armed Rexx aided by countless mobile laser turrets which put out a significant amount of power. Rather than try to tear through the Rexx, the Nation’s ground forces surrounded them, slowly squeezing them closer and closer together to limit their range of motion and ability to fire en masse. Using existing passageways and carving out new ones, they positioned their artillery into perfect spots for heavy shelling. Rather than making their way forward, the Nation’s machines switched tactics and were going for surgical containment.
It was a slow and very difficult fight. The giant, ten story pillars which lined the plaza’s perimeter were wide enough to conceal a small house behind them, and gave a few Rexx machines an excellent place from which to shoot, taking out OctoBots and rovers. In response, several Siege Machines flipped over their sleek, round faces and produced terrifying cannons from their undersides that now faced one of these columns.
They fired a potent pulse that went right through the pillar and kept on going, sending dozens of Rexx flying in the air, shattering tile and decorative gravel of the plaza as well as smashing several Rexx laser turrets. Eight stories of pillar slammed into the ground, crushing anything not fast enough to get out of its way and toppling another pillar caught by the decorative top on its ballistic arc.
Seizing the chance, a swarm of agile OctoBots jumped on the remains of the pillars and started firing deep into the Rexx formation, creating an entry point for the Nation’s machines to split the massive Rexx army in two. Finally, the Nation’s cyborg troops began to flood into the battlefield, backed up by heavy suppressive fire to take out tactical targets with their railguns. Their targets were squad leaders and those guiding raiding parties trying to outflank the Nation’s troops. Dispatching them with quick, precise kills, they’d immediately get the machines’ attention to the rest of the enemy soldiers which were promptly mowed down with heavy laser fire.
With a path to the immense palace more or less clear, two destroyer pods screamed overhead with a compliment of fighters which circled while the pods lazily bunts off excess speed and lined themselves up for a smooth landing. As soon their hatches opened, Ace, Dot, and Nelson emerged with several OctoBots and cyborg troops.
Ace joined the fight on foot, using his trusty sword. Nearby, Dot was also slashing through the Rexx with her blade. In front, Nelson used his custom-built machine gun to plow through the aliens. Heavily supported by the black ocean of war machines guided from above by Steve, Christine, and hundreds of their fellow cyborgs with more than enough firepower to hold the entire Rexx horde at bay, they were making serious progress. All they needed to do was to get Ace inside the palace and hold on just a few minutes.
Ace finally came to a stop in front of a group of Rexx, sword aflame, dismembered corpses all around him. He looked at the aliens who stared back with a mix of hatred and fear in their eyes. The cyborg noticed that a wounded Rexx was crawling towards his leg, ready to strike with its deployed metal blade. He stepped toward the alien insect and armed his claws. They locked into place with a metallic sound of two sharp blades sliding against each other. Ace aimed for a moment and then unceremoniously plowed his laser sharp claws into the Rexx’s back. The bug screeched in pain as Ace tore out its triple reinforced, flexible spine. It died moments later.
With a grim smirk, bearing one of his fangs, Ace showed the torn spine covered in blue-green blood to the other Rexx, holding it up as if it was a trophy. The Rexx answered with an infuriated scream and fired all of their particle guns at Ace. The cyborg warped out of focus in an instant, avoiding all the fire that was aimed for his head and torso.
He landed on top of a pillar, knocking off a Rexx laser turret that fell to the ground, smashing into another laser turret. He sheathed his sword and with one more good jump, landed on the roof of the spawn’s palace, almost slipping for just a second. He calmed down and collected his thoughts with a glance at the battlefield. He could see the platoon of cyborgs and their machines driving ever deeper into the Rexx swarm. Rearming his claws, he smashed through the thick roof and jumped inside the palace, gone from sight and lost in the darkness of the immense building.
Meanwhile, the Rexx were visibly losing the battle as the many machines of the Nation set foot into the plaza and fought unit to unit with the Rexx. Dot, Nelson, and their teams helped the process by dismembering entire squads before the Rexx even knew what hit them. Finally, the desperate aliens unleashed their weapon of last resort. Beneath every unit fighting in the plaza, the ground shook violently as a giant Rexx queen emerged into the surface. She was as three times as big as a Siege Machine, a bizarre hybrid of a Rexx and an arachnid.
Her giant belly was supported by ten legs with blade-like lower halves that dug into the ground, arranged in five pairs. Her Rexx part was also huge; her long arms were thick, her hands were armed with shearing claws. Unlike her minions she had a mouth with four rows of interconnected, razor sharp teeth.
The Nation’s war machines instantly targeted her, trying to break through her thick, blue electromagnetic shield. Nelson tore through a squad of Rexx around her and lined up his gun for a shot through her midsection. The moment her shield failed, he squeezed off a series of supercharged rounds that tore right through the queen’s core and accelerated to get out of the way just in time. The continuous stream of fire from the Nation’s robots and fighters on their fly-bys would do the rest.
The queen screeched and spewed out a fountain of corrosive acid that rained down on everything around her, melting through a squad of the Nation’s machines and a battalion of Rexx. Her spine and joints fractured and her entire body came apart. She collapsed in a heap of appendages which sizzled in the thick pool of acid she spewed in her death throes.
Without a queen to command them, the Rexx stopped fighting. They sat down and threw their weapons aside, waiting for orders. So sudden was their reaction to the death of their queen that Dot almost beheaded a Rexx who stopped fighting the instant the queen collapsed into a corpse. Her blade stopped just as it touched its neck.
After making sure that almost none of the Rexx wanted to keep fighting, she sheathed her sword and started searching for Nelson who watched as the machines took care of the Rexx still fighting by the order of another queen.
“Nelson!” she called when she saw him. “Looks like we have just about everything under control on my side.”
“My side looks good too,” he replied.
“That wasn’t too horrible.”
“Yeah, could’ve been worse.”
“So, I guess now we wait for Ace go get done?”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
A holographic window with Christine came up.
“Everybody all right down there?” she asked.
“We’re fine,” replied Dot.
“Where’s Ace?” asked Christine looking around.
“He’s inside the palace.”
“Should we go in and help?”
“He’ll handle it himself,” assured Nelson. “He knows how to deal with the alien species in question and I’d rather not interrupt and screw it up for him.”
“I hope he’ll be all right…” worried Christine.
As the Nation’s ground forces began corralling the now obedient Rexx back to what was left of their cities, Ace made his way into the heart of the spawn’s palace to face off with an alien monster. He had a vague idea of what this creature might be, and was really hoping that his guess was wrong…
Perhaps the strangest thing about the palace was the lack of guards or traps. All hallways led to a huge arena, six stories tall and over a thousand feet across, laid out with dark stone. Along the walls, long, narrow, black banners with Shadow runes and tribal markings hung evenly spaced. The arena itself was perfectly circular.
Ace looked around the arena, trying to sense if this was an ambush. On the other end of the arena, an alien spawn warped into focus. The creature wore a dark cloak with rusty blotches. The hood of the cloak concealed his face and arms. From the darkness of his hood, three oval, blue eyes shone brightly. It eyed Ace without any hatred, just curiosity.
“I assume you must be Ace,” it said, its voice breaking, hissing, and creaking. The cyborg’s primary language was clearly monstrously difficult for it to mimic.
Ace cracked his knuckles and stabbed his sword into the floor in front of him, an alien gesture of condescension. The spawn growled quietly, annoyed at the insult. Carefully eyeing the Dark Gods’ agent, Ace deactivated and threw off his visor. His alien opponent moved back to assume a fighting stance.
The spawn came at him, but Ace dodged and shoved the alien mid-jump into the wall with enough force to leave an imprint in the dark stone. In response, the spawn shot out a massive, narrow, pyramid-shaped dark blade with blue tribal markings attached to its body by a long chain.
Ace dodged the blade, grabbing the chain. Using the momentum of the spawn’s shot, he swung the alien around and threw the creature just a few feet shy of hitting the roof. In the instant that the spawn was suspended in the air, Ace accelerated and warped out of focus only to appear just below the spawn, blurring as he punched the alien into the ceiling hard enough to crack it.
Ace softly landed on the arena floor as the spawn smashed into it, breaking the finely polished black tiles. As the alien recovered, it saw Ace flying directly at it with his claws armed and ready for a slice. Without enough time to turn away, the spawn took the hit to its chest. Before it could counter with its blade, the alien was shoved aside. Ace sensed the weapon coming around behind him with the runes on his back and with his other hand pushed the spawn away. The spawn pulled his blade off target in his fall and missed. It swung the blade around, firing at Ace again, but the cyborg dodged, landing on the opposite side of the arena.
The dark blade floated in mid-air, aimed for Ace’s chest. The spawn threw it at Ace once again, but this time, it had a trick up its sleeve. As Ace dodged the blade and came at the spawn again, the blade’s chain wrapped itself around Ace’s body like a boa constrictor. Locked in virtually unbreakable metal coils, Ace couldn’t move.
“Ah shit…” muttered the cyborg with disappointment although he said it as if he just spilled his drink.
Pinning him down with glee, the spawn rose in the air above Ace.
“I’ll make it quick,” the creature seemed to smirk. “I promise.”
Casting off its humanoid disguise, the spawn revealed its body. It had enormous wings that looked like torn, rusty sails. Sinister blue eyes were attached to its leathery torso by three separate stems, and its weapons were huge talons with four joints. The alien’s mouth was filled with fangs and shot out on an extendable trunk. It wrapped its wings in a dome, enshrouding Ace in terrifying, hostile darkness.
The chains wrapping around the cyborg grew spikes and tightened, tearing through his armor, into his skin, and cutting deep into his hull. Blood stained his now shredded uniform. He started feeling dizzy from the pain that ate into his muscles in a fiery spiral. Focusing on muting out the feeling of his body being slowly torn to bits, he turned himself numb and gave his head a few seconds of clarity. With all the strength he had left, Ace tried to push the barbed chains farther apart. The spawn reflexively pulled them tighter together, bringing the cyborg closer to its body. There was now a slim chance of escape.
As the spawn was about to tear its jaws into Ace, it felt a pair of fangs sink deep into the joint between its torso and wing. Half a second later, it howled in agony as the necrotizing venom went to work, eating away its flesh, and a secondary toxic compound attacked its nervous system. The bite was absolutely excruciating. Falling back, the alien threw the cyborg out of its grip and jumped to the other side of the arena. The world turned dark for a moment and the next thing it knew, a shockwave of red energy split it in half, leaving a smoldering scar across its torso. The searing pain from the burn drew a roar from the spawn’s throat.
Standing with his sword aflame and at hand, Ace assumed a fighting stance. His uniform was torn and covered in blood splatter, he wobbled a bit as he stood, but he was holding his balance, still able to fight. Around him was a glowing circle of what looked at first glance like plasma. On top of the circle, fractal filaments of charged particles slowly rotated around the outer edge. The circle faded along with the filaments when the wounded alien recollected itself, re-assumed a humanoid form and jumped back up, shooting its blade at Ace yet again with a pained hiss.
Ace jumped back and pushing off the wall, warped out of focus to reappear far above the spawn. The alien jumped towards the cyborg, exploding out of its disguise, and sending four more blades directly at Ace, surrounding him. It didn’t notice that Ace was now surging with an aura of extra energy, ready to deliver a blow at full power. Its blades were off-target as the venom cycling through its body affected its aim. As his eye sockets ignited with a demonic red light, Ace unleashed a spiral shockwave which hit the spawn with a blast of raw energy.
The blast shattered the arena’s walls. Most of the roof became supersonic shrapnel. The shockwave from the explosion cracked just about every tile in the arena’s floor and deformed the circular shape of the chamber. Ace landed softly on the broken and charred remains of the dark tiles. Behind him, all that was left of the spawn was a charred cadaver which dropped to the floor with a thud.
The cyborg slowly stood up and glanced at the sky above, visible through the great gaping hole in the roof. The purple and white gas giant was looming in the beautiful sky above, a silent witness to the bloodshed below. Ace jumped up to one of the few remaining struts which used to hold up the roof, stabbing his sword into the supporting beam.
Tensing up his muscles and arming his claws, Ace produced one of the most terrifying and fierce roars the Rexx have ever heard, his fangs gleaming in the light from the gas giant. The vocal blast reverberated for miles, impossible to confuse with any sound that could ever come out of a human throat. The terrified Rexx who heard this roar bowed down before the new masters of this world, prostrating themselves in the direction of the temple.
In the sky above the moon, the Nation’s destroyers patrolled the space around Rexx Prime. Dozens of transport ships with supplies and researchers were on their way to start studying and colonizing the moon formerly known as Rexx Prime. This world now belonged to the Shadow Nation and all of its new and current inhabitants would bow before them as a sign of respect.
In his distant lair, the Reaper produced a wicked, disjointed chuckle.
“Now it gets interesting,” he said ominously.
In the darkness, a trace of light illuminated the Reaper’s jet black skin and thin mouth. He was smirking, bearing one his fangs just like Ace did when planning something truly spectacular.
Turn on the news today and you’ll get a never-ending torrent of rage and misery. Social media is being dominated by outrage and virtual mobs demanding someone’s head on a platter for making a stupid joke or a hateful comment. We’re constantly upset about something, trying to rope others into our anger. And that has psychologists who study anger worried because as odd as it may seem, being angry and expressing that anger is actually good for you and society as a whole. Of course, being angry can only be beneficial up to a certain threshold, and we’ve either passed it a while ago, or are very quickly approaching it.
WoWT Podcast Episode 028: Dig Through The Ditches And Rage With The Fishes - SoundCloud (2300 secs long, 20 plays)Play in SoundCloud
In yet another demonstration that the learn-to-code debacle in Appalachia is far from over, a new profile in the New York Times takes on a venture called Mined Minds, which promised to give laid off miners high paying tech jobs and revolutionize coal towns, and ended up making wild accusations about the people it initially hired after failing to live up to its promises. On the surface, it’s a story of a pretty obvious scam in which a tech education company behaved more like a Fyre Festival type scam without the wire fraud, funneling public funds into a seemingly never-ending party, then blaming the culture of rural Pennsylvania and West Virginia when local governments caught off and closed the cash spigot.
But it’s also a story that shows some of the reasons why teaching miners to code was always going to be problematic. It’s not that laid off miners or anyone else can’t learn how to code. It’s true that writing code isn’t for everyone, but your previous career is irrelevant in the realm of math and logic. No, the problem was that there was no plan beyond teaching miners the basics of coding and a trendy web development language, then something, something jobs. No one was able to answer the question of why any tech company should relocate from an urban hub to Appalachia other than cost and the promise of generous tax cuts that both companies and local governments know the community cannot really afford.
why take a road to nowhere?
Sure, it’s a lot cheaper to have an office in a small town in West Virginia than even second-tier tech boomtowns like Columbus and Salt Lake City. But why move? The customer base is still in the urban hub. Employees won’t want to leave their families and cities where they have more choices in everything from housing, entertainment, schools, and day to day shopping. The cost of the move will probably cancel out any savings and the company would still likely need some downsized version of its former HQ to stay in the city where it started. The workforce in their new location will lack experience and need heavy investments in mentoring and additional training in the tools the company uses. So, again, what’s the point of moving?
With few prospects and the local powers that be not just fresh out of ideas, but having lacked them for decades now, no wonder scammed and shysters like Mined Minds can waltz in and pretend to be the saviors of communities no one wants to admit are dying, promising to turn small mining towns into the land of milk and honey, minus the dangerous and radioactive coal dust in the air and backbreaking work. After all, if the Bay Area is steadily minting millionaires and billionaires with code, why can’t Montgomery, WV? All you need is a laptop, and before you know it, you have the next Uber, Facebook, and Google across the street from each other! Just give us a few million dollars and we’ll show you how to make it all happen.
why code is just a piece of the puzzle
Of course, the reality is that code is just a small, impermanent part of what brings in the big bucks for tech companies. Twitter doesn’t use the same Ruby tech with which it started but transitioned mostly to a language called Scala. Facebook had to customize PHP to meet its rapidly growing and complex needs. Google ended up designing its own high-performance language, Go. And to keep up with day to day needs, the actual code used by companies is being constantly rewritten or added to, enabling new ideas to become reality or to fix bugs found by users. Without a proper infrastructure, all code does is sit there on hard drives or powers a small website or app with few users, bringing in beer money at best.
Why do tech hubs thrive? Because there’s money from industries like banking, healthcare, insurance, or high-tech manufacturing in demand of custom, high margin services, and very wealthy investors with high appetite for risk are willing to take moon shots to get outsized returns with one out of many a hundred companies they’ll finance. Governments also play major roles, creating a steady drumbeat of demand for technical services and providing the kinds of consulting opportunities that give startups a steady influx of cash over substantial periods of time, allowing them to stabilize and branch out. There are places in Appalachia where you could grow a tech hub, but it’s not in small coal mining towns.
promises made, promises broken
It’s understandable that people in Appalachia are frustrated and angry, fed up with promises that never seem to come true, politicians who lack the courage to be honest with them, and self-appointed experts who swoop in as the savior of economically stagnant communities. To them, Mined Minds was just another in a long line of projects trumpeted as their salvation, achieved almost nothing, then blamed the people it was trying to help for “wanting to keep a certain culture” instead of getting with the program. That said, no one seems to want to do what’s right and acknowledge that small towns built around a single industry and extremely vulnerable to outsourcing, automation, and corporate consolidation simply can’t survive for much longer, and to join the tech boom, they’ll need to physically pick up and move.
This is the same advice given by The National Review to their conservative readers and met with much anger. A lot of people don’t want to go anywhere. Many don’t want new jobs. What they do want are their coal mines and factories reopened and be hired back to do what they’re used to doing along with their friends and neighbors. And far too many politicians either lack the guts to tell them it’s simply not possible, or become targets of vicious invective if they even politely hint that the perfect plan to resurrect their communities would require the entire world to return to the 1980s, then freeze their town in a Groundhog Day loop for the next century. In many ways the people in question understand this, lamenting their kids leaving for big cities but realizing why they’re leaving.
Yet, for one reason or another, their recognition and acknowledgment of local brain drain and the reason why their towns are no longer thriving don’t seem to translate into practical action, and allow their leaders to bring in people and groups who talk a big game, are met with a very healthy dollop of skepticism, but nevertheless get public money or large tax incentives to try an idea that’s very likely to fail before closing up shop and quietly making a beeline for the exits after a few fruitless years. And until the politicians who run small towns actually stop slamming their heads into the same brick walls, tell their constituents the facts, regardless of how much anger they’ll hear in return, and start thinking big, get ready to hear about another incarnation of Mined Minds sooner rather than later.
Climate scientists and science communicators trying to explain just how bad this really is have voiced their desire to start swearing when talking about these issues, and thanks to John Oliver, Bill Nye The Science Guy finally caved in and lived their dream. And since civility died sometime in the last few years, it seems that the only thing people respond to nowadays is anger, and I’m the one running this site anyway, please allow me the indulgence of doing the same because a decade of looking at worsening and worsening reports of how we’re slowly but surely screwing ourselves over and writing dire warnings about it is doing fuck all. At this point you just have to dispense with the niceties and start asking what in Cthulhu’s used, salty jockstrap is wrong with the people who insist on doing the equivalent of steering us into oncoming traffic.
Do they think they’re Egyptian pharaohs who get to take the money they looted by befouling the planet for their children and grandchildren — while severely fucking them over again and again — into the afterlife? And if they think they’re going to be missed, they’re in for a rude surprise. After the way quite a few of them have been behaving, they better opt for cremation, otherwise there’s going to be a line to piss on their graves stretching far enough to financially support an entire ecosystem of food trucks and port-a-john vendors. Flooding cities, failing crops, more severe storms, longer droughts, widespread wildfires, and the wars and mass migrations caused by them, these “skeptics” won’t see all of it, but those they’ll be leaving behind by the time we run out of carbon sinks sure as shit will, and will be forced to cover the multi-trillion dollar bill for the consequences.
Of course, I’m not sure how they’ll do that because, as noted above, the dead selfish assholes would’ve stolen most of the money they’d need before kicking the bucket while flipping both their middle fingers and howling “fuck you kids!” on their way six feet under. And if you think I’m exaggerating, just consider that Republican politicians paid by coal lobbyists are spending their own constituents’ money trying to outlaw wildly popular green energy projects. To reiterate, they’re not swooping in to save Real America from the evil Antifa who occupied state legislatures and city councils to unleash a reign of terror consisting of less pollution, renewable energy, and green jobs. They’re telling their own voters, who wanted to these projects to clean up their air, water, and boost local economies “no, we’ll be shoving coal down your throat until you shit diamonds.” This isn’t just ignorance, this is intentional, malicious sabotage.
The same soulless infected hemorrhoids dangling from the American body politic now want to explain why air pollution is not bad for us despite the only scientific disagreement on the subject consists of exactly how much cancer breathing factory fumes gives you — a lot or all of it. An incoming EPA adviser to the Trump administration is even telling us that our air is too clean as if this is something a sane human being says after seeing the clouds of black smoke belch from an industrial exhaust pipe, instead of an absurdity vomited forth by a brain dead animatronic puppet powered by manure. And since we mentioned the living orange avatar of the worst America has to offer, The Donald, his view on the environment is that “we can leave a little bit,” but it should be relegated to business.
Hear that America? Your president thinks you just need a little bit of air that doesn’t turn your lungs to tumors, water literally full of shit and toxic waste, and maybe one or two parks that won’t require a fucking hazmat suit in which to wander around. Isn’t that so nice of him according to the crowds of paranoid, sycophantic zombies he assembles at his rallies? We can offer a hundred solutions to help clean up the planet, many with detailed plans, and many possible to execute at a profit and providing a global economic boost. But wouldn’t you know it, every single one of them is “a socialist ploy by pedophile Illuminati MS-13 Marxist Sharia terror cells to enslave America under a Jew World Order and UN-ran totalitarian rule!” because of course that is also what a sane person would think on the subject.
That’s their response to every idea to fix obvious, glaring, festering problems. Everything they don’t like is a Marxist conspiracy to enslave them, possibly due to super-gluing their eyes to a channel whose only mission today is to convince them that their children and anyone to the left of Ook, the caveman other conservative cavemen find too backwards and bigoted to include at family gatherings, are trafficking children for Satanic sex rituals in pizzerias across America and want their guns to speed up #WhiteGenocide. But in fairness, that makes perfect sense. Why listen to scientists when you can huff the verbal diarrhea of hysterical trolls like Ben Shapiro, the GOP’s version of the Cash Me Outside Girl, with a similar career trajectory and origins?
Why get along with future generations or try to help them build a better world when you can just shit on them repeatedly and piss napalm and gasoline on the planet they’ll inherit? Why not approach life with the attitude of “not my fucking problem” and then foaming at mouth with rage when, as predicted, the thing you ignored becomes everyone’s fucking problem? Why actually listen to people who can define what a carbon sink is and explain how they work when you can just shut your ears and projectile vomit a string of random buzzwords, conspiracies, and lies the right wing thinks pass for an appropriate, cogent argument? Why reflect on and take responsibility for your actions when there’s always someone younger, browner, or more foreign-looking to blame?
Ultimately, however, like a spoiled hot dog, the people in question will pass. And unless they manage to find a pair of forceps big and strong enough to pull their heads out of their lower descending colons, they’ll leave behind the equivalent of a hoarder’s mansion, covered in trash, cat whiz, mold so old that it’s developing a civilization capable of space travel, and a will which is just a radioactive picture of their saggy asses mooning us. And after we spend decades cleaning up the mountains of garbage they left behind, we’re not going to sit down an reminisce about the good old times we spent with them. We’ll be breathing a sigh of relief that finally, at long last, these parasites can’t fuck things up for us anymore.
This is the putrid legacy the “climate skeptics” and the political conspiracy theorists who love them are cementing for themselves every day as they mainline the Fox News Bircher White Power Hour and spoil the holidays by doing their best impression of a rabid Khrushchev at the UN, screaming what’s left of their minds out about Antifa Cultural Marxist super-soldiers who want to kill America as we know it by not acting like the 1950s were an idyllic time just because we had cream soda and segregation. And if they’re offended by this, I refer them to the words of their generation. Fuck your feelings snowflakes.