back to the future
March 16, 2020

A week before President Trump's inauguration in January 2017, his top aides went through a transition exercise with members of the outgoing Obama administration where they were briefed on a scenario much like the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Politico reports.

The point of the briefing was to show the gravity of situations a president can face and reinforce the president's responsibility to protect Americans. In the scenario presented to the Trump team, a strain of novel influenza called H9N2 first swept through Asia, overwhelming hospitals across the continent, then became a global threat, reaching the United States with a warning that "this could be the worst influenza pandemic since 1918." They were given challenges, including not having enough ventilators at hospitals, and were told having a coordinated response was "paramount," Politico reports.

Politico spoke with a dozen of the meeting's attendees and looked at documents prepared for the event. About two-thirds of the Trump representatives who were at the briefing are no longer part of his administration, and former Obama administration officials said that's likely why Trump and White House officials have had a hard time tackling the COVID-19 pandemic now.

One person who attended the briefing for the Trump team was former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. He said the exercise felt too theoretical, and didn't translate well to real life. "There's no briefing that can prepare you for a worldwide pandemic," he told Politico.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was also at the meeting, and appeared to fall asleep a few times, attendees told Politico. Two others in attendance surprisingly got along really well: outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and his incoming counterpart, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. They were so chummy the pair looked to be "ready to go make a buddy movie," one participant told Politico. Read more about the meeting at Politico. Catherine Garcia

March 13, 2019

Physicists may have discovered a real-life time machine — of sorts.

Although scientists have yet to replicate the futuristic scenes of The Jetsons or the 1985 sci-fi classic Back to the Future, researchers from Moscow's Institute of Physics and Technology partnered with scientists in the U.S. and Switzerland to "experimentally demonstrate time reversal — sending a qubit from a more complicated state to a simpler one," writes Newsweek.

The findings, which were published in Scientific Reports were almost like "magic," the study's author, Andrei Lebedev, told Newsweek.

Researchers, however, are far from achieving "time travel, or going back to the past, or reversing the principle of cause and effect," says scientist Henning Bostelmann at the U.K.'s University of York, which he acknowledged may be a "disappointment to science-fiction fans," per Newsweek. Instead, researchers managed to send quantum bits back into their states from a split second earlier, which could demonstrate the "possibility of violating the second law of thermodynamics," lead author Gordey Lesovik said, per Phys.org.

The "reversal algorithm" was successful in at least 85 percent of two-qubit cases, reports Phys.org. Lebedev says he plans to expand the research and investigate further. Tatyana Bellamy-Walker

November 11, 2018

Florida on Saturday began a statewide recount for its gubernatorial and Senate races, as well as contests for agriculture commissioner and three state legislature seats.

In the gubernatorial race, Ron DeSantis (R) presently leads Andrew Gillum (D) by about 34,000 votes, a gap of just 0.41 percent. The Senate race margin is smaller still, with Rick Scott (R) leading incumbent Bill Nelson (D) by a mere 0.15 percent, about 12,500 votes. The races will be subject to a mechanical recount to be completed by Thursday, and the Senate contest will receive additional scrutiny by hand because its margin is below 0.25 percent.

President Trump's response to the recount news was to again tweet his unfounded claim that this is evidence of elections being stolen:

Georgia's gubernatorial race also remains contested, as candidate Stacey Abrams (D) refuses to concede her race to opponent Brian Kemp (R), though he continues to claim victory. The race has not been officially called.

Abrams' campaign on Saturday accused Kemp's former office of secretary of state, from which he resigned Thursday and which administers the election, of undercounting the number of provisional ballots which remain to be counted. If the provisional ballots favor Abrams, they could shift vote totals enough to trigger a recount or even a runoff election in early December. Bonnie Kristian

February 4, 2018

China on Sunday criticized the United States' new nuclear weapons policy, labeling it a throwback that undermines progress.

"Peace and development are irreversible global trends. The United States, the country that owns the world's largest nuclear arsenal, should take the initiative to follow the trend instead of going against it," said a statement from Beijing. "We hope that the United States will abandon its Cold War mentality, earnestly assume its special disarmament responsibilities, correctly understand China's strategic intentions and objectively view China's national defense and military build-up."

The statement came in response to the Defense Department's latest Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), published Friday. Cast as a response to growing global threats, the NPR outlines plans to develop smaller nuclear weapons that are easier to use. The document's deterrence language focused more on Russia than China. Bonnie Kristian

November 3, 2017

National Audio Co. is the only company in the U.S. that produces cassette tape. Now, as cassette tapes enjoy a resurgence in popularity, National Audio has less than a year's supply left of the stuff, The Wall Street Journal reports.

For the last 15 years, National Audio's co-owner and president Steve Stepp has been clinging to his company's dwindling supply of music-quality magnetic tape. In 2014, National Audio's South Korean supplier stopped making the material, so Stepp bought out their remaining stock before they shuttered — and has been left with a shrinking stockpile ever since.

Although the demand for tape has increased in recent years, the quality and supply has not; National Audio has long relied on outdated gear that Stepp jokes is "the finest equipment the 1960s has to offer." That's why the company — which makes cassettes for everyone from indie bands to Metallica — is planning to build the U.S.'s first high-grade tape manufacturing line in decades. The hope is that by January, their plant in Springfield, Missouri, will produce nearly 4 miles of tape per minute, and that they can sell the first cassettes with U.S.-made tape shortly thereafter.

Stepp believes that the creation of a new manufacturing line for tape will produce "the best tape ever made." "People will hear a whole new product," he says. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Kelly O'Meara Morales

January 9, 2017

For thousands of years, a species of elephant-sized cows, called "aurochs," roamed throughout the wilds of Europe. The last of the aurochs died in Poland in 1627 after humans drove the mega-bovines to extinction. Today, the effects of an auroch-less ecosystem are felt throughout Europe, CNN writes: "Conservationists now believe the loss of the keystone herbivore was tragic for biodiversity in Europe, arguing that the aurochs' huge appetite for grazing provided a natural 'gardening service' that maintained landscapes and created the conditions for other species to thrive."

So why not ... bring the aurochs back? It's not science-fiction — in fact, the plan is in the works right now. But instead of trying to use DNA to recreate the aurochs, à la Jurassic Park, scientists are "backbreeding" the aurochs' modern-day relative: the cow.

A photo posted by Aurélie Bouuh (@aureliebouuh) on

Of course, cows can't exactly become aurochs again, much less transform overnight. Ecologist Ronald Goderie is instead working to create the next best thing, the "Tauros," which is a "near 100 percent substitute" of the auroch. To do so, Goderie and his team are strategically breeding modern cows that have remnants of the aurochs' genes in order to work toward the purest possible final product. That will take about seven generations, by ecologists' estimates, which means the "completed" Tauros will be born sometime around 2025. Today, the Tauros are in their fourth generation.

"Bovines can shape habitats and facilitate other species because of their behavior," explained Frans Schepers, the managing director of Rewilding Europe, which has partnered with Goderie, "and the more primitive and close to the wild the better, because it means that eventually they can become part of the natural system." Jeva Lange

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