October 8, 2020

Ahead of the release of the Borat sequel, Sacha Baron Cohen is recounting how with one particular prank for the film, he was "fortunate to make it out in one piece."

The comedian penned an essay for Time on Thursday speaking out against President Trump, Facebook, the spread of dangerous conspiracy theories, and his experience infiltrating a right-wing rally for the Borat sequel. Video emerged in June of Baron Cohen at a rally in Washington, which showed him in disguise getting a crowd to sing along to a shocking racist song about wanting to inject Dr. Anthony Fauci and others with COVID-19.

"When organizers finally stormed the stage, I rushed to a nearby get-away vehicle," Baron Cohen wrote. "An angry crowd blocked our way and started pounding on the vehicle with their fists. Under my overalls, I was wearing a bulletproof vest, but it felt inadequate with some people outside toting semiautomatic weapons. When someone ripped open the door to drag me out, I used my entire body weight to pull the door back shut until our vehicle maneuvered free."

Baron Cohen wrote that he has "feared for my life" while shooting a project "a few times in my career," such as when he pranked the crowd at a cage match for the end of Bruno and had to escape through a trapdoor. He shared these anecdotes as part of a broader essay about how, ahead of the 2020 presidential election, "I'm truly terrified — for the survival of democracy itself." He concludes by writing that while "I was fortunate to make it out in one piece" after his Borat prank, "the next few weeks will determine whether America will be so lucky." Read Baron Cohen's full essay at Time. Brendan Morrow

12:28 p.m.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has returned to his Washington office two weeks after he tested positive for COVID-19, his team announced Monday.

While Grassley wasn't the first lawmaker to contract the virus, many people were concerned about the diagnosis because the senator is 87. It turned out, however, that he remained asymptomatic throughout the course of his infection and was able to keep working remotely.

Still, Grassley didn't let his fortunate situation reshape his stance on the severity of the pandemic. In a statement, he noted that the disease "affects people differently" and "more than a thousand Americans are dying every day and many more are hospitalized." So, Grassley said, he'll "continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing."

He also repeated his previous calls for Congress to pass a "long overdue," bipartisan relief bill to "help families, businesses, and communities get through this crisis." Tim O'Donnell

12:26 p.m.

DeepMind's AI networks have spent the past few years destroying human players in chess, Go, and classic video games. Now, they're ready to help humans out.

On Monday, DeepMind revealed its AI system AlphaFold had cracked a 50-year-old biological challenge, accurately predicting how proteins within the human body fold into 3D shapes based on their DNA sequences. Those shapes are key in determining how a protein works, and in turn pivotal to figuring out how to treat diseases that involve those proteins, The Guardian explains.

Proteins, which are sequences of amino acids within living creatures, can "bend into a mind-boggling variety of shapes," The Guardian writes. It takes about a year and cost around $120,000 to identify a single protein's shape using the most common method, known as X-ray crystallography, Fortune reports. DeepMind had AlphaFold study 170,000 protein sequences and shapes that had already been identified. And after a few weeks, AlphaFold was ready to face off against other computer-based protein structure predictors in an international competition called CASP.

When asked to extrapolate 100 protein shapes from their amino acid sequences, AlphaFold beat out every other program in CASP and produced results that rivaled lab methods. It predicted a protein's structure within an atom's width of accuracy in two-thirds of those proteins, and was "highly accurate" in the other third, per Fortune. It also only took a few days to identify each protein.

CASP co-founder John Moult called AlphaFold's results a "big deal," telling Nature that "in some sense the problem is solved." If scientists can more quickly figure out a protein's shape, they can find out how it affects other cells — for example, discovering how COVID-19's spike proteins latch onto host cells helped scientists develop vaccines that reduce transmission. DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis said the company is working on how to share AlphaFold with researchers, and that some scientists have already started using it on vexing protein analyses of their own. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:54 a.m.

David Chang's final answer just helped him make a bit of TV history.

The celebrity chef won $1 million for charity on Sunday's episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, becoming the first celebrity ever to do so, People reports.

Chang won thanks to his answer to a question about the first president to have electricity in the White House. The answer was Benjamin Harrison, which Chang locked in at the suggestion of ESPN's Mina Kimes, who he used his phone-a-friend lifeline to call. Celebrities on the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire revival hosted by Jimmy Kimmel play for charity, and Chang's winnings are going to the non-profit Southern Smoke Foundation, which according to its website "provides funding to individuals in the food and beverage industry who are in crisis."

"I'm a gambling man, and shame on me if this is wrong, but I'm doing this because having a million dollars right now in this moment is a game-changer for many, many families," Chang said before answering.

Chang told USA Today after the show aired that he's "in shock" and "honestly can't believe it happened," but he explained some of his reasoning for taking the risk and not walking away with $500,000.

"I thought, this is for Southern Smoke, Southern Smoke is for the hospitality industry and we are going through some horrible times," Chang told USA Today. "We are in such a bad shape that half a million dollars isn't enough — and neither is a million dollars — but I wanted to put emphasis on it and raise awareness of the problem, so it was worth the chance." Brendan Morrow

11:21 a.m.

Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has been a frequent target of President Trump and his allies over the last few weeks. He's been accused — without evidence — of overseeing an electoral process that allowed for a significant amount of voter fraud, which his critics claim led to President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the traditionally red state. Raffensperger hasn't shied away from firing back, but in his latest comments Monday he appeared to thread the needle when it comes to Trump himself.

Raffensperger said unspecified "dishonest actors" are "exploiting the emotions of Trump supporters with fantastic claims, half truths, and misinformation," and he painted the president as a victim, as well.

It's understandable why Raffensperger may be seeking to avoid direct conflict with Trump, but not everyone is buying the way he framed the president's role in the situation. Tim O'Donnell

10:28 a.m.

The Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments Monday in President Trump's attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from counting in the 2020 census. The decision could affect congressional representation and federal funding, and it's far from the only way Trump's immigration policies could resonate for decades to come.

From implementing his Muslim ban in the early days of his presidency to recent changes to the U.S. citizenship test, much of Trump's term has centered around restricting both legal and illegal immigration. President-elect Joe Biden's election win hasn't slowed that pursuit. In Trump's last few weeks in office, he has reportedly pivoted to targeting birthright citizenship again. Trump's team has also used the pandemic to restrict the hiring of foreign workers and rapidly deport migrants and children who cross the southern border, and is rushing to add to his border wall. And if the Supreme Court — stacked with six conservatives — decides in Trump's favor, he could succeed in curbing representation and funding in left-leaning cities.

Biden has pledged to reverse all of Trump's restrictive immigration policies, some in the first days of his presidency. But thanks to "the genius of Stephen Miller," the architect of Trump's harsh immigration policies, that may be impossible, a source familiar with the Biden transition tells CNN. The past four years of slashing immigration have weakened the nation's immigration infrastructure; For example, Trump's historic low refugee caps have weaned staff to the point that it could be impossible to quickly increase refugee admissions, as Biden has proposed. Read more about Trump's lasting immigration legacy at CNN. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:03 a.m.

Merriam-Webster has selected the word of the year for 2020, and it's the obvious choice.

The company on Monday picked "pandemic" as its 2020 word of the year, saying the term received a massive 115,806 percent spike in searches in March compared to a year earlier, The Associated Press reports. That spike came on the day the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, Merriam-Webster said, though smaller spikes had occurred earlier in the year.

"Sometimes a single word defines an era, and it's fitting that in this exceptional — and exceptionally difficult — year, a single word came immediately to the fore as we examined the data that determines what our word of the year will be," Merriam-Webster said.

Among the numerous runners up were terms related to the COVID-19 pandemic like "coronavirus," "quarantine," and "asymptomatic." But another runner up was "defund," which Merriam-Webster said saw a more than 6,000 percent increase in lookups in 2020 amid calls to "defund the police."

The word "mamba" also saw a spike in searchers following the death of Kobe Bryant, who was nicknamed "Black Mamba," and "malarkey," a word used frequently by President-elect Joe Biden, saw an uptick in searches in 2020 as well. The other runners up were "kraken," "antebellum," "schadenfreude," "irregardless," and "icon."

Meanwhile, Dictionary.com also picked "pandemic" as its word of the year, with senior research editor John Kelly telling The Associated Press, "It seems maybe a little bit obvious, and that's fair to say, but think about life before the pandemic. Things like pandemic fashion would have made no sense. The pandemic as an event created a new language for a new normal." Brendan Morrow

10:02 a.m.

In Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine trial, all but 11 of the 196 participants who contracted the virus were in the placebo group, good for a 94 percent efficacy rate. But perhaps even more crucially, none of the people who received the vaccine developed a severe infection, the company said. There were 30 severe cases in the trial — including one death — but they all occurred in the placebo group.

Experts have previously highlighted the importance of separating out worst the cases. Back in September, Drs. Peter Doshi and Eric Topol, in an op-ed for The New York Times, expressed concern that companies developing vaccines, including Moderna and Pfizer, which are on track to receive emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, wouldn't specify the severity of the infections in their trial. But Moderna did just that Monday (Pfizer has also provided data on the matter), and the news is encouraging. Tim O'Donnell

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