Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 19th, 2017

Dividing Droplets Could Explain Life’s Origin

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A very intriguing idea is discussed by Natalie Wolchover in Quanta:

A Collaboration of physicists and biologists in Germany has found a simple mechanism that might have enabled liquid droplets to evolve into living cells in early Earth’s primordial soup.

Origin-of-life researchers have praised the minimalism of the idea. Ramin Golestanian, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the research, called it a big achievement that suggests that “the general phenomenology of life formation is a lot easier than one might think.”

The central question about the origin of life has been how the first cells arose from primitive precursors. What were those precursors, dubbed “protocells,” and how did they come alive? Proponents of the “membrane-first” hypothesis have argued that a fatty-acid membrane was needed to corral the chemicals of life and incubate biological complexity. But how could something as complex as a membrane start to self-replicate and proliferate, allowing evolution to act on it?

In 1924, Alexander Oparin, the Russian biochemist who first envisioned a hot, briny primordial soup as the source of life’s humble beginnings, proposed that the mystery protocells might have been liquid droplets — naturally forming, membrane-free containers that concentrate chemicals and thereby foster reactions. In recent years, droplets have been found to perform a range of essential functions inside modern cells, reviving Oparin’s long-forgotten speculation about their role in evolutionary history. But neither he nor anyone else could explain how droplets might have proliferated, growing and dividing and, in the process, evolving into the first cells.

Now, the new work by David Zwicker and collaborators at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, both in Dresden, suggests an answer. The scientists studied the physics of “chemically active” droplets, which cycle chemicals in and out of the surrounding fluid, and discovered that these droplets tend to grow to cell size and divide, just like cells. This “active droplet” behavior differs from the passive and more familiar tendencies of oil droplets in water, which glom together into bigger and bigger droplets without ever dividing.

If chemically active droplets can grow to a set size and divide of their own accord, then “it makes it more plausible that there could have been spontaneous emergence of life from nonliving soup,” said Frank Jülicher, a biophysicist in Dresden and a co-author of the new paper.

The findings, reported in Nature Physics last month, paint a possible picture of life’s start by explaining “how cells made daughters,” said Zwicker, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University. “This is, of course, key if you want to think about evolution.”

Luca Giomi, a theoretical biophysicist at Leiden University in the Netherlands who studies the possible physical mechanisms behind the origin of life, said the new proposal is significantly simpler than other mechanisms of protocell division that have been considered, calling it “a very promising direction.”

However, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2017 at 4:13 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

Why many lawsuits will be filed this coming Monday morning: Trump’s 10 Troubling Deals with Foreign Power-Players

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Can’t depend on Jason Chaffetz, that’s for damn sure.

Derek Kravitz, Al Shaw, and John Kelly report in ProPublica and USA Today:

Incoming President Donald Trump’s business deals span the globe. Trump-branded skyscrapers, golf courses and hotels stretch from Dubai to Azerbaijan to the Philippines.

Government ethics experts have strongly criticized Trump’s refusal to divest ownership of any of his businesses. But they point to his ongoing foreign deals with those connected to power as the most troubling.

“These foreign deals are fertile ground for corruption,” Norman Eisen, the White House chief ethics lawyer under President Obama, told ProPublica. “When there’s a pre-existing relationship, there can be wink, wink, nod, nod, or even a private whisper that turns into a quid pro quo.”

“He has to get rid of his foreign deals,” said Matthew T. Sanderson, an attorney at Caplin & Drysdale who has served as legal counsel on three Republican presidential campaigns.

Trump’s Byzantine business structures and his lack of disclosures — he has released neither his tax returns nor details of his foreign deals — make it difficult to get a full picture of the incoming president’s business relationships. But using government records, Trump’s own local disclosures and press reports, we’ve identified 10 Trump deals in which he has partnered with power players abroad.

We asked the Trump Organization about each of these deals. We’ve included the responses they gave. . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2017 at 4:04 pm

The Marilyn Monroe subway-grate scene: The somewhat grim backstory

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Interesting: shows a darker side. Plus it has this interesting paragraph along the way.

In 1938, Mr. Schulback had argued with his family in Germany that Adolf Hitler was much more dangerous than anyone thought. According to Ms. Siegler, his family believed that Hitler’s hate speech was simply rhetoric, and that he wouldn’t act on anything he was saying. Mr. Schulback, 25 at the time, urged them to pack their bags and leave Berlin with him. But they resisted, opting to wait and see how things developed, never imagining the horror that awaited them and millions of other European Jews.

Lots of times people actually mean what they say, particularly if it’s something one would not normally say. It’s always possible that they are blurting out the truth, and ignoring the actual statements can be a serious mistake.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2017 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Elizabeth Kolbert takes a look at Pruitt

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In the New Yorker:

Either it was a cleverly engineered plan or some kind of cosmic joke: just as the confirmation hearing for Scott Pruitt, the climate denier who is Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, was getting under way Wednesday, on Capitol Hill, two federal agencies—the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—announced that 2016 was the warmest year since modern record-keeping began, in 1880. It was the third year in a row to smash previous records for warmth, a trend that prompted the Times to observe that “temperatures are heading toward levels that many experts believe will pose a profound threat.”

If Pruitt is confirmed, there will probably be no one in a better position to influence—or, more accurately, wreak havoc on—domestic climate policy. Central to the Obama Administration’s efforts to curb global warming has been a set of E.P.A. regulations limiting carbon emissions from power plants. Pruitt, as the Attorney General of Oklahoma, made his views on these regulations known by suing to block them. In the past six years, he filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the E.P.A., in many cases acting in concert with the very industries that the regulations were aimed at. Meanwhile, a super pac close to Pruitt, called Liberty 2.0, was collecting large contributions from these same industries; Murray Energy, the country’s largest coal company, for instance, gave fifty thousand dollars in August.

At confirmation hearings, nominees typically try to distance themselves from the more extreme positions they’ve held by suggesting that these were the equivalent of youthful indiscretions. But if that’s the strategy Pruitt was attempting on Wednesday, he failed. In his opening statement, Pruitt offered the following on climate change: “Science tells us that the climate is changing and human activity in some manner impacts that change. The human ability to measure with precision the extent of that impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue, as well they should be.” The statement was clearly designed to be obfuscatory, but it was just comprehensible enough to also be clearly wrong. As the Times’ Coral Davenport put it on Twitter, “#Pruitt on #climate: ‘Science tells us climate is changing’ but says extent of human role is up for debate. False.”

Later in the hearing, Senator Bernie Sanders pressed Pruitt on his views about climate change. The exchange went, in part, like this:

Sanders: As you may know, some ninety-seven per cent of scientists who have written articles for peer-reviewed journals have concluded that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and it is already causing devastating problems in our country and around the world. Do you believe that climate change is caused by carbon emissions, by human activity?

Pruitt: As I indicated in my opening statement, the climate is changing and human activity contributes to that in some manner.

Sanders: In some manner? Ninety-seven percent of the scientists who wrote articles in peer-reviewed journals believe that human activity is the fundamental reason we are seeing climate change. You disagree with that?

Pruitt: I believe the ability to measure with precision the degree of human activity’s impact on the climate is subject to more debate on whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to that.

The exchange—a bizarre riff on Pruitt’s opening statement—prompted Gizmodo to label the hearing “ a surreal nightmare.” It led Sanders to tweet: “We cannot have an EPA administrator who denies climate science. It is far too late for that.”

Pruitt has come under fire from some Republicans, including, most notably, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2017 at 2:52 pm

An extremely ominous sign: Republicans are avoiding constituents angry about the Affordable Care Act repeal

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When Congress actively avoids the people that members of Congress are supposed to represent and whose interests the member of Congress is supposed to protect, the government becomes separated from the people. It’s no longer government for the people, and it’s no longer government by the people. I suppose it’s still a government “of” the people, but only some of the people: the wealthy and powerful and corporate, whose interests are primary to many members of Congress, and much more important than the interests of their constituents.

Matthew Rozsa writes in Salon:

The same Republican politicians who are planning to repeal the Affordable Care Act are doing everything they can to avoid potentially embarrassing confrontations with their constituents who will be affected by their actions.

Although 10 Republican legislators have held in-person town hall meetings since the start of the year, only one — Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin — has scheduled any events for the future, according to The Washington Post.

“In this day and age, real-life town halls are very dangerous for all but the most seasoned politicians,” John Feehery, a former senior House Republican leadership aide, told the Post. “I think John McCain can get away with it and a few others, but most should stick to office hours, really good constituent service or tele-town halls.”

There are already signs that Republican congressmen would experience a major backlash if they faced their constituents. Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado had to exit an event on Saturday from a backdoor due to chanting protesters. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington faced shouts of “save our health care” during an event in her district on Monday. And — perhaps most memorable — on Friday House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin was confronted on a national cable show by a cancer survivor who insisted that the Affordable Care Act had saved his life.

Republicans have a great deal to lose if they repeal the Affordable Care Act without setting up a replacement plan to protect the 22 million Americans who would otherwise lose their health insurance. There are 6.3 million people in Republican-led districts who enrolled due to the marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act — compared with only 5.2 million enrollees who reside in Democratic-led districts. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2017 at 1:29 pm

Jeff Sessions on marijuana and civil asset forfeiture

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This is not good. Via Radley Balko, who notes, “The makers of the documentary “Do Not Resist” have just put together this short about Jeff Sessions, pot and forfeiture. Meet your next attorney general.”

My previous comment on ignorance and stupidity—and the danger when they are combined—apply here.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2017 at 1:01 pm

City devastated by OxyContin use sues Purdue Pharma, claims drugmaker put profits over citizens’ welfare

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It’s pretty obvious that Purdue Pharma—along with many other pharmaceutical companies—is intensely concerned about profits and pretty much indifferent to patient welfare. (Martin Shkreli is the poster child for this, but he’s just the tip of the iceberg.) However, corporations in the US tend to escape any real punishment, generally just paying a fine that is a fraction of the profits realized—a cost of doing business seems to be how it’s treated.

Harriet Ryan reports in the LA Times:

A Washington city devastated by black-market OxyContin filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the painkillers’ manufacturer Thursday, alleging the company turned a blind eye to criminal trafficking of its pills to “reap large and obscene profits” and demanding it foot the bill for widespread opioid addiction in the community.

The suit by Everett, a city of 100,000 north of Seattle, was prompted by a Times investigation last year. The newspaper revealed that drugmaker Purdue Pharma had extensive evidence pointing to illegal trafficking across the nation, but in many cases, did not share it with law enforcement or cut off the flow of pills.

One Los Angeles ring monitored by Purdue and highlighted by The Times’ investigation supplied OxyContin to gang members and other criminals who were trafficking the drug to Everett. At the height of the problem, in 2010, OxyContin was a factor in more than half the crimes in Snohomish County, and it ignited a heroin epidemic that still grips the region, officials said.

In a complaint in state Superior Court, city lawyers accused Purdue of gross negligence, creating a public nuisance and other misconduct and said the company should pay costs of handling the opioid crisis — a figure that the mayor said could run tens of millions of dollars — as well as punitive damages.

“Purdue’s improper actions of placing profits over the welfare of the citizens of Everett have caused and will continue to cause substantial damages to Everett,” the lawyers wrote. “Purdue is liable for its intentional, reckless, and/or negligent misconduct and should not be allowed to evade responsibility for its callous and unconscionable practices.”

Purdue has been sued hundreds of times over the past 20 years over its marketing of OxyContin to doctors and the drug’s risk of addiction to patients, but Everett’s suit is the first to focus narrowly on what the company knew about criminal distribution of the painkiller. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2017 at 12:50 pm

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