Media failings

The mainstream media often fails us. It isn’t because it’s THE CRAZY LEFT-WING OMG OMG OMG!!1!!. It’s because it sucks. The people running the media care about superficial things. What’s Britney doing today? Why are Angelina and Jennifer fighting? What in the fuck have we said these people’s name so much that we’re on a first-name basis?

Well, of course, it comes as no surprise that the worst of the news outlets, FOX, is trying to blame a typo on a vast liberal conspiracy.

Who was this ballot cast for?

Ballot

Norm Coleman, right?

No, this is not a trick question. Unless your name is John Lott, Jr., Ph.D. and you just published an analysis at FoxNews.com.

So where did Lott get the idea that the vote had been counted for Franken? Apparently from the Star Tribune’s website, which had it listed it that way. The Star Tribune, keeping an unofficial tally of more than 6,000 challenged ballots, apparently made a boo-boo.

This possibility appears not to have crossed Lott’s mind. Faced with two alternatives…

1. The Canvassing Board somehow determined that this was a Franken ballot;
2. The Star Tribune screwed up.

…Lott took Occam’s Razor and cut himself with it, and concluded that the former must be true, using it as his primary piece of evidence to allege the recount was slanted in Al Franken’s favor. The ballot is now featured prominently on the front page of the FoxNews.com website:

FOX

So, we all expect FOX News to be filled with a bunch of stupid fuck-ups. That’s their thing. But how about EVERYONE else?

This is happening right now, here in the United States. Yesterday, a retaining wall failed, and 500 million gallons of coal ash — the vile grey slime in the video — poured down into the tributaries of the Tennessee River, the water supply for Chattannooga and environs.

We’re looking at a major environmental catastrophe, bigger than any oil spill, and most of the news media are silent about it. I checked CNN, MS-NBC, even Fox News…not a word. The local newspapers have a few articles, and the regional blogs are trying to follow it, but otherwise, I guess we’re going to pretend it didn’t happen.

I just did my own search through Yahoo! News and came up with an astounding 27 results. Except for Scientific American and The Huffington Post, all the results are from local sources. In fact, after the first page of 10 results, there is only one more result which has anything to actually do with this event, bringing the total to 11 sources, 9 of which are local. A search of “Britney” provided 5,190 absolutely ridiculous results. Presumably, a large portion of those go to Britney Spears (4,040 come up when I search her full name).

Origins

It’s only a matter of time until something very much like life is created in the lab. Until then, scientists are still working on how it happened, nearly 4 billion years ago. The research is promising.

With the aid of a straightforward experiment, researchers have provided some clues to one of biology’s most complex questions: how ancient organic molecules came together to form the basis of life.

Specifically, this study demonstrated how ancient RNA joined together to reach a biologically relevant length.

RNA, the single-stranded precursor to DNA, normally expands one nucleic base at a time, growing sequentially like a linked chain. The problem is that in the primordial world RNA molecules didn’t have enzymes to catalyze this reaction, and while RNA growth can proceed naturally, the rate would be so slow the RNA could never get more than a few pieces long (for as nucleic bases attach to one end, they can also drop off the other).

Ernesto Di Mauro and colleagues examined if there was some mechanism to overcome this thermodynamic barrier, by incubating short RNA fragments in water of different temperatures and pH.

They found that under favorable conditions (acidic environment and temperature lower than 70 degrees Celsius), pieces ranging from 10-24 in length could naturally fuse into larger fragments, generally within 14 hours.

The RNA fragments came together as double-stranded structures then joined at the ends. The fragments did not have to be the same size, but the efficiency of the reactions was dependent on fragment size (larger is better, though efficiency drops again after reaching around 100) and the similarity of the fragment sequences.

The researchers note that this spontaneous fusing, or ligation, would [be] a simple way for RNA to overcome initial barriers to growth and reach a biologically important size; at around 100 bases long, RNA molecules can begin to fold into functional, 3D shapes.

Enzymes basically make things go faster. That means that reactions that are caused by a particular protein (say, lactase breaking down lactose into its constituents – if you can’t do this or do it poorly, you’re lactose intolerant) can happen anyway, but they will happen far more slowly. In some instances, they essentially will not happen except by tremendous stroke of luck (though, again, the potential is always there).

What’s particularly interesting to note here is that it is very difficult to say what the pH balance of different bodies of water would be on an early Earth. It is entirely plausible that acidic levels would be higher, leading to the ability of these RNA molecules to form 3D shapes. And, of course, because biology is very much dependent on shape, these formations could act as proteins, if not plainly be defined as such. By doing this, a rudimentary evolution could begin to take place. We may not define these replicators as being life, but they would hold many of its characteristics – taking in energy and out, being subject to at least a form of natural selection.