Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
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The 2nd Amendment: How the gun control debate went crazy
The gun control debate has been at fever pitch for several years now, and as things fail to change the stats get grimmer. The New York Times reports that there have been 239 school shootings nationwide since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, where 20 first graders and six adults were killed. Six years later, 438 more people have been shot in schools, and for 138 of them it was fatal. Here, journalist and author Kurt Andersen reads the Second Amendment, and explains its history from 1791 all the way to now. "What people need to know is that the Second Amendment only recently became such a salient amendment," says Andersen. It's only in the last 50 years that the gun debate has gone haywire, and it was the moment the NRA went from reasonable to absolutist. So what does the "right to bear arms" really mean? What was a firearm in the 1790s, and what is a firearm now? "Compared to [the] many, many, many rounds-per-second firearms that we have today, it's the same word but virtually a different machine." Kurt Andersen is the author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.
The 5th Amendment: Do not break in case of emergency
The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is often talked about but rarely read in full. The reason? Counterterrorism expert Amaryllis Fox explains that it has, these days, simply become shorthand for not saying anything in court to incriminate yourself. But the full text states how important the due process of law is to every American. So perhaps learning the full text, not just the shorthand, is an important step to being an American citizen. You can find out more about Amaryllis Fox here.
The 13th Amendment: The unjust prison to profit pipeline
The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery—but it still remains legal under one condition. The amendment reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Today in America, big corporations profit of cheap prison labor in both privatized and state-run prisons. Shaka Senghor knows this second wave of slavery well—he spent 19 years in jail, working for a starting wage of 17 cents per hour, in a prison where a 15-minute phone call costs between $3-$15. In this video, he shares the exploitation that goes on in American prisons, and how the 13th Amendment allows slavery to continue. He also questions the profit incentive to incarcerate in this country: why does America represent less than 5% of the world's population, but almost 25% of the world's prisoners? Shaka Senghor's latest venture is Mind Blown Media.
The 14th Amendment: History's most radical idea?
In 1868, three years after slavery was abolished, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, granting equal protection under the law to every born and naturalized U.S. citizen. For CNN news commentator Van Jones this amendment is, in his words, the "whole enchilada." It's not the most popular amendment—it doesn't get name-dropped in TV courtroom dramas, or fiercely debated before elections—but to Jones it is a weighty principle that was far ahead of its time. "It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're a lesbian. That's not what it says. It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're African American. That's not what it says. It says if you're in the jurisdiction you get equal protection under the law. That's radical. In 10,000 years of human history, that's radical." Van Jones is the author of Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together.
The 26th Amendment: The act of voting should empower people
Is a 55.7% voter turnout really enough? Bryan Cranston was disappointed with the 2016 presidential election, not for the outcome but for the process. According to Census Bureau figures it was a bumper year for voter engagement with 137.5 million total ballots cast—but is just over half of the eligible voters really that impressive? The Pew Research Center shows that the U.S. still trails behind most developed nations in voter registration and turnout. "I think we've devalued the honor and privilege of voting and we've become complacent, and maybe a bit cynical about our place and rights as citizens and our duties and responsibilities," says Cranston. The good news? Millennials and Gen Xers are on an upward trend in civic engagement, casting more votes than Boomers and older generations in the 2016 election. Cranston reminds us of how empowering the 26th Amendment is in granting voting rights to Americans over the age of 18. "We can't take that lightly," says Cranston. It's a timely reminder too, as 40 million people are expected to drop off that 55.7% figure for the midterm elections, mostly from the millennial, unmarried women and people of color demographics. Bryan Cranston's new book is the spectacular memoir A Life in Parts.
- Scientists have invented a way for a sheet of glass to perform neural computing.
- The glass uses light patterns to identify images without a computer or power.
- It's image recognition at the speed of light.
When we think of artificial intelligence (AI), we think of advanced computational hardware running code that allows a processor to see patterns in raw information. A team of researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison has just published a paper in Photonics Research that describes a very different type of AI system they've invented and demonstrated. "We're using optics to condense [one might even say "replace"] the normal setup of cameras, sensors and deep neural networks into a single piece of thin glass," says senior author Zongfu Yu. While the notion of embedding some kind of AI into a simple object like glass may be head-spinningly different, their proof-of-concept demonstration shows that their smart glass can identify numbers. Their invention may provide the foundation for future artificial vision.
How it works
Image source: Zongfu Yu
The system leverages the manner in which light bends, and the differences in the light reflected off of different shapes.
The scientists began by identifying the ways in which light aimed at specific shapes would bounce into and travel through their sheet of glass. (For their demonstration, they used numerical digits written on paper.) When light matches a particular shape's profile, carefully placed air bubbles and light-absorbing materials such as graphene redirect it to, and thus light up, an identifier on the far side of the glass.
To put the results of their proof-of-concept demo another way: By matching a digit's light to a known pattern, the glass intelligently identified the digit and directed it to the correct identifier. It was even smart enough to detect and correctly identify, in real time, a handwritten "3" being turned into an "8." Paper co-author Erfan Khoram marvels, "The fact that we were able to get this complex behavior with such a simple structure was really something."
That this identification occurs, after all, at the speed of light makes it a truly compelling advance. "The wave dynamics of light propagation provide a new way to perform analog artificial neural computing," says Yu.
Could this be useful? Oh, yes.
One obvious application could be image-recognition glass on the face of phones. The hardware and software currently required for facial recognition is expensive to manufacture, and it eats up scarce battery power in use. "We could potentially use the glass as a biometric lock, tuned to recognize only one person's face" according to Yu. Since the way their system works involves passive interaction with glass, he notes, "Once built, it would last forever without needing power or internet, meaning it could keep something safe for you even after thousands of years."
Concludes Yu, "We're always thinking about how we provide vision for machines in the future, and imagining application specific, mission-driven technologies. This changes almost everything about how we design machine vision."
- Neuralink seeks to build a brain-machine interface that would connect human brains with computers.
- No tests have been performed in humans, but the company hopes to obtain FDA approval and begin human trials in 2020.
- Musk said the technology essentially provides humans the option of "merging with AI."
Elon Musk wants to create a brain-machine interface that helps humans "achieve a kind of symbiosis with artificial intelligence."
Neuralink — Musk's secretive company that's developing a brain-machine interface — gave a presentation Tuesday that outlined its first steps toward this building this technology, which it's been working on for the past two years. The main reveal? Flexible "threads" that record neuron activity, and a machine that inserts these threads into the brain.
The goal is to build an interface that enables someone's brain to control a smartphone or computer, and to make this process as safe and routine as Lasik surgery. Currently, Neuralink has only experimented on animals. In these experiments, the company used a surgical robot to embed into a rat brain a tiny probe with about 3,100 electrodes on some 100 flexible wires or "threads" — each of which is significantly smaller than a human hair.
This device can record the activity of neurons, which could help scientists learn more about the functions of the brain, specifically in the realm of disease and degenerative disorders. The device was also designed to stimulate brain cells, though a white paper released by the company said it has not yet done so.
"There's an incredible amount we can do to solve brain disorders, damage, and this will occur quite slowly," Musk said in the presentation Tuesday. "This will be a slow process where we'll gradually increase the issues that we solve until ultimately we can do a full brain-machine interface."
One of the most surprising revelations came when Musk said this device has been tested on at least one monkey, who was able to control a computer with its brain. (Musk didn't provide further details.) Neuralink's experiments involve embedding a probe into the animal's brain through invasive surgery with a sewing machine-like robot that drills holes into the skull. Once embedded, the company connects to the probe through USB.
Eventually, Neuralink hopes to use laser beams to embed the device, which would use a wireless interface, "so you have no wires poking out of your head," Musk said. "That's very important."
This wireless product — called the N1 sensor — would consist of four sensors implanted in the brain: three in motor areas and one in a somatosensory area, an area of the brain responsible for sensations inside of or on the body's surface. In its early stages, the N1 sensor would enable users to control smartphones with their brain, sort of like "learning to touch type [to] play the piano," Musk said.
Neuralink's device isn't the first example of a brain-machine interface, but the company claims its technology is "state of the art," mainly because it uses smaller and more flexible "threads" for neural recording, instead of rigid electrodes made from metal or semiconductors. The company suggests its approach would be safer and cause less inflammation in the brain.
"It has tremendous potential, and we hope to have this in a human patient by the end of next year," Musk said.
But before that can happen, Neuralink must first obtain FDA approval by establishing that its technology works safely and effectively in animals. It's also worth noting that, like some of Musk's other goals, Neuralink described its 2020 human-trials timeline as "aspirational."
Musk — who once said A.I. is humanity's "biggest existential threat" — suggested that it makes sense for humans to work toward merging with technology.
"Even in a benign AI scenario, we will be left behind," Musk said Tuesday. "With a high-bandwidth brain-machine interface, we can go along for the ride. We can effectively have the option of merging with AI."
- Wind turbines in Scotland produced more than 9.8 million megawatt-hours of electricity in the first half of 2019.
- Scotland is a global leader in renewable energies, generating more than half of its electricity consumption from renewables.
- The U.S. currently generates about 7 percent of its electricity from wind.
Scotland's wind turbines have generated enough electricity this year to power all of its homes twice over, according to Weather Energy.
In the first half of 2019, Scotland's wind turbines produced more than 9.8 million megawatt-hours of electricity, which is about enough to power 4.47 million homes. There are 2.46 million homes in Scotland.
"These are amazing figures, Scotland's wind energy revolution is clearly continuing to power ahead," said Robin Parker, World Wildlife Fund Scotland's Climate and Energy Policy Manager. "Up and down the country, we are all benefitting from cleaner energy and so is the climate."
Scotland is a global leader in renewable energies. The nation already generates more than half of its electricity consumption from renewables – mostly wind, wave, and tide – and it aims to become almost "completely decarbonized" by 2050. (A nation's renewable energy consumption, by the way, can differ from its renewable energy generation because countries generally import and export energy.)
"These figures really highlight the consistency of wind energy in Scotland and why it now plays a major part in the UK energy market," said Alex Wilcox Brooke, Weather Energy Project Manager at Severn Wye Energy Agency.
Why doesn't the U.S. generate more electricity from wind?
The U.S. currently generates about 7 percent of its electricity from wind turbines. Wind is currently one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy generation; however, there are several factors preventing it from becoming dominant in the U.S. Those include:
- Wind variability: Put simply, wind turbines need consistent access to strong winds if they're to be efficient. That's a problem, considering some parts of the country – like the southeastern U.S. – see relatively slow wind speeds. "Wind power is very sensitive to the wind speed, more than you might guess," Paul Veers, chief engineer at the National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told Vox. However, wind variability could become less of a problem if wind power could be stored more effectively.
- The window-shadow effect: When you add a wind turbine to a landscape, you change local wind patterns. One downside is that each additional turbine robs wind from other turbines in the wind farm. So, designers have been trying to space out wind turbines in a way that maximizes efficiency. But the problem with this sprawling solution is that it becomes increasingly expensive, both due to maintenance and land cost. Additionally, rural residents generally don't like having massive wind turbines spoiling their property values and views.
- Local heating: Although renewable energies like wind would curb climate change over the long term, wind turbines would likely cause local heating over the short term. Why? Cold air normally stays near the ground, while warm air flows higher. But wind turbines generally disrupt that natural order, pushing warm air down. "Any big energy system has an environmental impact," Harvard engineering and physics professor David Keith told The Associated Press. "There is no free lunch. You do wind on a scale big enough [...] it'll change things." Of course, this is a temporary effect, unlike climate change.
- What is a great conversation? They are the ones that leave us feeling smarter or more curious, with a sense that we have discovered something, understood something about another person, or have been challenged.
- There are 3 design principles that lead to great conversations: humility, critical thinking, and sympathetic listening.
- Critical thinking is the celebrated cornerstone of liberalism, but next time you're in a challenging and rewarding conversation, try to engage sympathetic listening too. Understanding why another intelligent person holds ideas that are at odds with your own is often more enlightening than merely hunting for logic errors.
- New research shows that there's no one diet that works for everyone.
- Instead, gut bacteria may hold the key to personalized diet plans.
- A future doctor may check gut bacteria to offer diet advice.
Rates of obesity are rising across the globe; a third of the world's population is now overweight and nearly a fifth is obese.
Public health policy has mainly focused on diet to reverse these rising rates, but the impact of these policies has been limited. The latest science suggests why this strategy is failing: one diet does not fit all. Dietary advice needs to be personalized.
The reason one diet does not suit all may be found in our guts. Our previous research showed that microbes in the digestive track, known as the gut microbiota, are linked to the accumulation of belly fat. Our gut microbiota is mostly determined by what we eat, our lifestyle and our health. So it is difficult to know exactly how food and gut microbes together influence fat accumulation and ultimately disease risk. Our latest study provides new insights into these interactions.
Animal studies have been valuable in showing that gut microbes alone can reduce the build-up of fat, resulting in better health. But translating these findings to humans is difficult, especially considering that we can eat very different foods.
Gut microbes don't lie
In our study, we aimed to disentangle the effect of gut microbes and diet on the accumulation of belly fat in 1,700 twins from the UK. We found that the composition of the gut microbiota predicts belly fat more accurately than diet alone.
We identified a few specific nutrients and microbes that were bad for us and linked to an increase in belly fat, as well as a few nutrients and many microbes that were good for us and linked to reduced belly fat. The observed link between belly fat and bad nutrients, such as cholesterol, was not affected by the gut microbiota.
In contrast, we found that the gut microbiota plays an important role in the beneficial effect of good nutrients, such as fibre or vitamin E. We show that specific gut bacteria play an important role in linking certain beneficial nutrients to less belly fat. In other words, changes in a person's diet are less likely to lead to weight loss if the relevant bacteria are not in their gut.
Diet alone did not have a strong impact on the observed links between gut microbes and belly fat, as specific gut bacteria were linked to belly fat accumulation regardless of diet. This confirms what was previously seen in mice, that gut microbiota alone could affect fat accumulation. Our findings also provide further evidence that the human gut microbiota plays an important role in the individualized response to food.
Personalized dietary advice
A limitation of our study was that we analyzed measurements taken at a single point in time. This means that we cannot establish causal links. Also, we focused on reported nutrient intake in the study participants' diets, but did not assess the effect of total food consumption on its own. Another drawback is that most people misreport what they eat. Researchers are working on improving the way that diet is reported, which should lead to more accurate work in the future.
Our results mean that in the future, you may need to have your gut microbiota checked so that your doctor or dietitian can give you personalized dietary advice. Although bacteria may be partially to blame for the rise in rates of obesity, until we know more it is best to stick to a healthy, varied diet rich in fibre, fruit and vegetables, which in turn may result in a healthier gut microbiota.