May 14, 2014

Scientists have discovered the oldest fossilized sperm on the geological record, according to a new study published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. And not just any old sperm: gargantuan sperm.

A team of paleontologists in Australia came across a pristinely preserved specimen of sperm from an ostracod, a kind of shrimp, in a bat cave in Queensland. The sperm, which scientists suspect was preserved in bat feces, is 17 million years old, and when unwound can reach 10 times longer than the shrimp itself.

"It's staggering," Michael Archer, a leader of the team, told The Washington Post. Ryu Spaeth

10:28 a.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Of all the possible controversies to have arisen during Hillary Clinton's presidential run, it is somewhat surprising that her health became one of the biggest — the subject was even front-and-center in a Donald Trump campaign ad. But how exactly Clinton's "peculiar travel habits" and "lengthy naps" morphed out of seemingly regular ol' travel and naps is another story, and one that was carefully crafted on social media using the same kind of thinking that generates viral memes.

One of the major architects is Mark Cernovich, an influential alt-right Twitter user who clarified "I'm not a pure troll" to The New Yorker. "Pure trolls are amoral. I use trolling tactics to build my brand," he explained. And in doing so, Cernovich has also built the political conversation:

"There are a million things wrong with Hillary," Cernovich told me. "She's a documented liar. She's massively corrupt. She wants to let in more so-called refugees, which makes her an existential threat to the West." (He calls the Syrian refugee crisis a "media lie.") "But I was looking at the conversation online — what was getting through to people and what wasn't — and none of that was sticking. It's too complex. I thought that the health stuff would be more visceral, more resonant from a persuasion standpoint, and so I pushed that."

On September 11th, Clinton fainted after attending a memorial service at Ground Zero. Cernovich wrote a post called "Complete Timeline of Hillary's Health #HillarysHealth," which included such data points as "peculiar travel habits" and "lengthy naps." It got two hundred and forty thousand page views — less than a marquee Huffington Post story, but impressive for a blog with no advertising budget. More important, #HillarysHealth became a national trending topic on Twitter. That day, Chris Cillizza, a centrist pundit at the Washington Post, wrote an article titled "Hillary Clinton's Health Just Became a Real Issue in This Campaign." Scott Greer, a deputy editor of the Daily Caller, tweeted, "Cernovich memed #SickHillary into reality. Never doubt the power of memes." [The New Yorker]

Read more about how one tiny troll can influence the entire presidential race at The New Yorker. Jeva Lange

10:17 a.m. ET

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has drastically changed his tune about President Obama now that he's fighting to hang onto his seat in Congress. After years of calling for the president's impeachment and engaging in birtherism theories, Issa decided to make his latest campaign mailer about how "pleased" he is that Obama "has signed into law the Survivors' Bill of Rights — legislation that I cosponsored to protect the victims of sexual assault." And, as the icing on the cake, the mailer featured a picture of Obama — the man Issa called "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern time" — sitting at his desk in the Oval Office.

Obama was not having it. At a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraising dinner Sunday night, he called out Issa's attempts at a fair-weather friendship, and went so far as to say Issa was "Trump before Trump." "Now that is the definition of chutzpah," Obama said, hitting Issa's decision to send out flyers "touting his cooperation with me" because "his poll numbers are bad" as woefully transparent. "That," Obama added, "is shameless." Becca Stanek

9:34 a.m. ET
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

One of the biggest mysteries of the 2016 election has finally been solved. That word Donald Trump has repeatedly used on the campaign trail that starts with "big" and ends somewhat imperceptibly is "big league" — not "bigly," as some of us might have heard.

The New York Times got linguists to conduct a voice analysis and end the debate over what Trump is actually saying once and for all. Turns out, "big league" has been a favorite phrase of Trump's since the '90s. He's used it on an episode of The Apprentice, on a television interview with CNN's Larry King, and in an appearance with NBC's Meet the Press.

But, linguists found, there's good reason for the confusion over whether Trump has been saying "bigly" or "big league." The New York Times reported "big league" is typically used as an "adjective or figurative noun," but Trump has been using it as an adverb. "It's some combination of a lot of people not knowing the phrase 'big league' then also the fact that it's an unusual place to use that phrase in a sentence," said Susan Lin, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. "So people are parsing it as an adverb, which would be 'bigly.'"

Head over to The New York Times to read more on what linguists uncovered about Trump's vocabulary. Becca Stanek

8:33 a.m. ET

Donald Trump has made the expulsion of undocumented immigrants a major part of his campaign, but just a few short years ago he had a radically different opinion on the matter, CNN has discovered.

Trump explained that he didn't believe in deporting immigrants in a June 2012 interview with CNBC's Squawk Box: "You have people in this country for 20 years, they've done a great job, they've done wonderfully, they've gone to school, they've gotten good marks, they're productive — now we're supposed to send them out of the country, I don't believe in that, Michelle, and you understand that. I don't believe in a lot things that are being said," Trump said.

The comments don't do much to clarify how Trump actually does feel — by June 2015 he was claiming Mexicans were "rapists." "And some, I assume, are good people," Trump added. Compare the dramatic flip-flop, below. Jeva Lange

8:07 a.m. ET

French authorities have begun the process of clearing the massive refugee camp in Calais known as "the Jungle," with demolishment set to begin Tuesday. The camp has poor sanitation and makeshift living quarters, and the French government said it is being destroyed on humanitarian grounds; still, the Jungle was believed to have held more than 7,000 people, and bulldozing the camp requires their relocation to other camps across France. More than 1,200 police have been dispatched to prepare for those who still want to try to get to Britain and may refuse to leave. "Our dream is over," one Sudanese man told the BBC. Migrants will be allowed to seek asylum and if they do not, they could face deportation. Jeva Lange

7:25 a.m. ET

The Justice Department will be severely limited in how it is able to address concerns of voter intimidation in the upcoming presidential election thanks to a three-year-old Supreme Court ruling, The New York Times reports:

Since 1965, federal officials have sent about 32,000 observers to jurisdictions with histories of harassing minority voters or even outright denying them access to the ballot. But officials say their hands are now tied by a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As a result of that decision, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Justice Department will send observers only to jurisdictions where it already has court approval. That encompasses seven counties or jurisdictions in Alaska, California, Louisiana, and New York. [The New York Times]

By comparison, in 2012 observers were sent to jurisdictions across 13 states. "We do not want to be in the position we're in," said Vanita Gupta, the top civil rights official at the Justice Department. Election monitors will still be posted outside polling places in 25 states, but they will not be the experts normally allowed inside.

Fears of voter intimidation have spiked after Donald Trump called for his supporters to "go out and watch" the polls. "I'll look for ... well, it's called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can't speak American," one Trump supporter recently told The Boston Globe. Jeva Lange

6:25 a.m. ET
Halil Al-Murshidi/AFP/Getty Images

On Saturday night, Iraq's parliament passed a ban on the sale, consumption, and production of alcohol in the country, a surprise move by Shiite lawmakers as much of the country and world's attention is focused on the battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. Anyone caught violating the ban is subject to a fine of up to 25 million Iraqi dinars ($21,000). Iraq is majority Muslim, and Islam prohibits drinking alcohol, but alcohol is widely available in Iraq's larger cities, sold in shops mostly run by Christians, and Iraq is home to Farida beer and the anise liquor Asyria arak, among other alcohol producers.

The law will be difficult to enforce is Iraq's Kurdish region, home to many of the country's remaining Christians, and Christian lawmakers vowed to challenge the law in court. "This ban is unconstitutional, as the constitution acknowledges the rights of non-Muslim minorities and ethnic groups who live alongside Muslims in Iraq," said Christian MP Joseph Slaiwa. Mahmoud al-Hassan, the Shiite lawmaker from the dominant State of Law coalition who introduced the measure as a surprise amendment to a law on municipal governance, says it comports with the Constitution's provision that "no law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established."

Some other Muslim countries have laws restricting the sale and consumption of alcohol, but only Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and a few others have forcibly banned it outright. ISIS also strictly bans alcohol in territory it controls, plus cigarettes and other drugs. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads