Blasphemy; Part 2

Her husband decides to quit his job as an accountant to work at the group’s new soup kitchen full time. It’ll be fine, she tells herself. Her salary is enough to pay the bills, and he seems so much happier now. Who is she to take away his newfound sense of purpose?

Then, she starts finding the bank statements. Part of her is glad they never agreed to get joint accounts. All his savings start bleeding into the coffers of this group that calls itself “The New Era.” She knows what it is, but she can’t bring herself to say it.

Her husband says he still doesn’t believe in the religious stuff, but he starts to look at her like she’s a heretic. She calls around to see if there’s anything she can do, but everyone gives her the same response: “He’s a grown man; he can make his own decisions.” His mother tells her that she should be proud of all the good work he’s doing, dedicating his life to take care of the poor and elderly.

Before long some of the members of the group start talking about moving out to a compound in Arizona that The Father wants to build. Her husband says that he isn’t sure what that has to do with charity, but that he understands why everyone wants a place of their own. “People can be so judgmental nowadays,” he says.

Then one day, it happens: “Maybe there’s really something true about all the God stuff,” he says.

“I think you’re in a cult,” she tells him, and she can feel it crack the rift between them wide open. By the end of the month, they start signing the divorce papers.

She starts smoking again the day his mother calls, months later, begging her to stop him from moving out to the Arizona desert with a bunch of crazies. She tries to call him, but he’s blocked her number. She’s never considered herself a religious sort of person, but she prays for him. She prays for all of them.

Interstitium: The New Human Organ

They say that we learn something new at least once a day. Well, that includes scientists, who found a new organ in the human body. And no, this is not a late April Fools joke.

The Interstitium is a very unique part of the body that is now an organ; photo from nbcnews.com

The Interstitium had been under scientist’s noses for years now since this “new” organ is already a part of our tissues in the body. Scientists had to examine the body in a new way to determine that the Interstitium was indeed a part of the human body.

In a study published in the journal “Scientific Reports,” the Interstitium is defined as a network of dense connective tissues and fluid-filled compartments. That would make the Interstitium, a full-fledged organ, a group of tissues with a unique structure that is performing a task (just like the heart or liver).

The human body is two-thirds water and most of the water contains cells. Much of the rest of the body contains fluid which is called “interstitial,” a Latin word combining “inter” or “between” and “sistere.”

The fluid and tissues connect to make the Interstitium which is found all throughout the body. You can find it below the skin and in the digestive, respiratory, and urinary systems.

The question that scientists have to figure out now is: Is the Interstitium an actual individual organ or is it a part of a system?

Along with that, the “new” organ could be particularly significant in diagnosing diseases like cancer and tracking them as well. This is because the Interstitial fluid is the source of lymph which dispatches white blood cells (they fight off disease) to wherever they are needed in the body. A panel of scientists in 2016 did report that the immune system could be key in finding very effective treatments for cancer.

Whether or not this organ is an “actual organ,” we could be going down the path towards finding a cure for cancer.

Gun Violence and Mental Health

It’s a depressingly familiar pattern here in the United States. Social media blows up with news about the latest shooting. Whether it’s at a school, a bar, a movie theater, or literally anywhere, it is always the same story. A white man walked into a place and opened fire. Numbers start climbing. 2 dead, then 5, then 10, then 21 until finally the numbers plateau at one that is too high and too depressing. Finally, the shooter is identified, a white man with a deranged look in his eye.

The pattern continues as we discuss the tragedy, and try and make sense of the pain. Lots of people, conservatives and liberals both, start a discussion about mental health. Because only a crazy person would use an AR-15 on an innocent crowd of people, right? Maybe the shooter is a lone wolf, or maybe he was in the boy’s scouts. Maybe he was bullied. But he was certainly mentally unwell, deranged. Mental illness is thrown around as the one true cause for this horrible tragedy.

But here’s the deal. Those shooters aren’t mentally ill. According to the American Psychiatric Association people with serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly mass shootings. It’s not the crazy people doing this. It’s the angry, privileged, white men who see others as deserving of their violence.

There’s a serious problem with equating mental illness with violence. It produces an awful stigma for people diagnosed with mental illnesses, making getting help and treatment difficult. People with mental illnesses need our support, not the constant stream of news that tells them they are the problem. Mentally ill people cause about 3% of all violent crime annually, and very little of that involves guns.

It makes no sense to have laws that target the mentally ill when it comes to gun control. It won’t change anything. Keeping guns from them won’t stop the real perpetrators. We need comprehensive gun control; laws that will keep everyone to the same high standards for gun ownership. Targeting the mentally ill only increases the stigma around these disorders and lets the problems with gun violence in America continue unchecked. It doesn’t help anyone.

Brine

He should have drowned that night;

He knows this

Deep-down as the water goes.

His mother thinks the sea

Must have taken pity

On his poor sinner soul,

But he is unconvinced,

Says there’s no benevolence

In the dark and the deep-down.

The water still speaks to him–

Its voice hushed and delicate

As it beckons him home.

Some mornings he feels the tide still rising

In the back of his throat.

Lindsay Lohan Loses Lawsuit Against Take-Two

The never-ending lawsuit between Lindsey Lohan and Take-Two Interactive has finally ended in favor of the makers of Grand Theft Auto 5, but next time, they may not be so lucky.

The real life Lindsey Lohan and the GTA 5 character "Lacey Jones;" photo from digitaltrends.com
The real life Lindsey Lohan and the GTA 5 character “Lacey Jones;” photo from digitaltrends.com

Judges from New York state’s highest court ruled in favor of Take-Two Interactive in a lawsuit case. Lohan had sued Take-Two over the likeness of the GTA 5 character “Lacey Jones” who only appeared in one mission during the storyline game in a random event. Lohan had been fighting the case since 2014 which was called a “publicity stunt” by Take-Two.

Lohan’s case nearly was dismissed in 2016 but she was able to get her case to a New York Supreme Court judge who ruled against her. Then she appealed her case to the Court of Appeals which affirmed the decision of the state’s judge.

The unanimous ruling did find that video game avatars constitute a portrait of someone. However, Lacey Jones, described as a “beach-going young woman” lacked characteristics that reasonably identified the plaintiff.

Lohan’s lawsuit will most likely end here unless she can prove and show how the ruling and New York’s privacy laws conflict federal Constitution laws. If she can prove that, her case could reach the U.S. Supreme Court but the possibility of that happening is slim to none.

Even though Lindsey Lohan didn’t get the result that she was looking for, the ruling is very significant in New York. Video game avatars can be a likeness equivalent to photographs, films, or other depictions under the law.

Video game companies will have to watch twice before making a character that is similar to a celebrity because otherwise, they could end up in court and lose.

 

Feral – Part 2

When I get him home and haul his massive grey-and-dusty-brown striped body out of the carrier, I see death sparkling in his eyes. The bit of his tail that didn’t have to be amputated flicks manically. He sinks his teeth into my wrist and as I drop him I think to myself: Yeah, that’s fair. I, too, had been pretty pissed off when I was forced to go to a hospital against my will, and I could only be held for 72 hours. Technically, I could have left Hades there forever.

He swipes his claws against my lower calf, blood blooming up slowly in their wake, and now I’m a little irritated. Because I hadn’t left him there forever. I had picked him up and given him a ride home. That was more than anyone had ever done for me.

The irritation fades quickly as he scratches the front door to be let out. My landlord, an avid bird-watcher, hates when I let Hades roam the neighborhood. “That thing is a killing machine,” he told me once. I let him out anyway, figuring he’s been cooped up for long enough. Fuck birds, what have they ever done for me?

For half the night, I try to get him to come back inside. He’s nowhere to be found. I start to wonder if this has been the final straw, if the promise of a steady source of food and shelter is no longer enough for him to stick around.

Thankfully, there’s a dead mole on my doorstep the next morning. I’m not sure how I got to a point in my life where a motionless and slowly rotting rodent on my front porch would be considered a positive, but here we are. The mole isn’t torn to shreds like Hades’ prey usually is, so I nudge it a few times with a rolled-up newspaper to make sure it’s not just stunned. Hades hangs back, pacing like he’s waiting for my reaction. I figure it’s either meant to be a gift or a threat— ‘Take me to get stuck like a pincushion again, and you’re next,’ he might be saying. I lean down to pet him behind the ears, and he allows the touch without hesitation or bodily harm.

“A bloodless kill. That takes skill, man. Good job,” I tell him. He makes a low, rough noise that sounds almost like a growl. It takes me a moment to realize that he’s purring.

Is Facebook in Trouble with the U.S. Government?

Mark Zuckerburg has seen better days (well, most of his adulthood has been fine until now), and while he may still be very rich, he does have a huge problem on his hands with Facebook.

Does Facebook have trouble with the U.S. Federal Governement after an whistle-blower reveal information about Cambridge Analytica; photo from betanews.com
Does Facebook have trouble with the U.S. Federal Governement after an whistle-blower reveal information about Cambridge Analytica; photo from betanews.com

Christopher Wylie, co-founder of Cambridge Analytica, blew the whistle on Facebook and his company on Tuesday, telling a United Kingdom parliamentary committee that the “Brexit” (look it up) referendum could have ended differently if there had been no “cheating” from proponents wanting to leave the European Union.

This comes after stories broke about how Cambridge Analytica allegedly used illegally obtained data from 50 million users on Facebook.  This was used in an attempt to influence political outcomes.

Cambridge Analytica was able to use the 50 million user accounts to create 30 million “psychographic” profiles that were used to design targeted political ads.

The Federal Trade Commission announced on Monday that they had launched an investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices and a couple days before that, UK authorities had raided Cambridge Analytica’s offices.

In a statement from the embattled company, they had stated that their data had no influence in “Brexit” or the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump, the current president of the U.S.

Facebook is also facing problems with the scandal as numerous people have deleted the app and also started a hashtag called #deleteFacebook. It was because of this, Facebook’s share drive took a nosedive as the social media grant lost over $60 billion in value at one point.

Mark Zuckerburg, the founder of Facebook has taken out full-page adverts in newspapers across the U.S. and UK, apologizing for what happened. Zuckerburg has also accepted an invitation to testify in front of the U.S. Congress; however, he has not extended the same offer to UK lawmakers.

As each day passes, the scandal gets more and more interest as this could affect the President and the planned “Brexit” over in the UK. Only time will tell if anything comes out of this.

Ronny Jackson, Good at Fixing People, Bad at Fixing the VA

Continuing the new normal in the United States, President Trump has fired by tweet the current Secretary of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA), David Shulkin. As his replacement, Trump has nominated his personal physician Ronny Jackson. According to Shulkin, he was completely blindsided by this decision. Experts indicate that the decision was likely related to Shulkin’s resistance to the Trump administration’s desire to privatize major parts of the VA hospital systems.

Ronny Jackson served as the personal physician to President Trump, President Obama, and the second President Bush. Before that, he served as a doctor in the navy. By all accounts, he is a competent physician, but that does not qualify him to serve as the new director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is the second largest federal agency, second only to the Department of Defense. The VA employs 377,805 people all across the country. Shulkin, the past director, served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. He had the experience required to manage a system as large as the VA. Ronny Jackson has never been in charge of more than a dozen or so people in his capacity as the white house doctor. His appointment follows President Trump’s pattern of nominating people who he likes regardless of their qualifications. This is a recipe for disaster in the already troubled VA. Our veterans deserve better. I am calling on Republicans, who always support the veterans, to reject this nomination and demand that President Trump nominates a qualified secretary.

Last Call

You and I melt into one another

Like the ice in my highball glass

Just past 2 AM, when everything is hazy

And perfect, too heavy and too bright,

But still faultless, somehow:

Holding on to your fingertips in a crowded bar,

Giggling like we’ve just met,

Stage-whispering over the bad club remix

in our own secret language.

Dahlia’s Secret; Part 2

“Ryan? Little Dowler, is that you? My, my, boy, have you grown!”

 

Ryan’s frown shifted into a brief grimace before he planted a courteous smile on his face and stood up to meet the newcomer.

August Elwood was a portly man, middle-aged, with a magnificent dark blond walrus mustache that nearly covered his mouth and curled upward elegantly at the tips. His head, most likely balding to begin with, was shaved and shiny, and his blue eyes twinkled as he looked Ryan up and down. Mr. Elwood had been a close friend of Ryan’s father, but the pair had had something of a falling out over half a decade before. While Ryan had not known Mr. Elwood well enough to care at the time, he could only guess that it had been some sort of business dispute. As he grew older, Ryan learned that Mr. Elwood and his father had been partners in banking—indeed, Dowler & Elwood remained to that day one of the preeminent banks of the area… despite the withdrawal of one of its founders.

“Good morning, Mr. Elwood,” Ryan said with a nod, gesturing instinctively towards the seat across from him at the table before he could stop himself.

The large man nodded in thanks before pulling up the chair. He was dressed in a fashionable black morning coat, the buttons of his shirt straining as he took his seat. In comparison to Ryan’s tweed jacket and tan pants, Mr. Elwood cut the image of an elite on business—what a banker would need at Clydesport, however, was beyond Ryan’s guess. A waiter boy rushed forward, but Mr. Elwood was quick to wave him away with a gruff “coffee.”

“So,” Mr. Elwood started, retrieving a handkerchief from a pocket and wiping his bald head, “what has it been? Three years? Four?”

Ryan smiled politely but offered no reply. Luckily Mr. Elwood was not looking for one, as he simply nodded sagely at the young man’s silence and continued: “Too long. How’s your father doing, by the by?”

“Well.”

In truth, Ryan had no idea how his father was doing—not for nearly two years now. After undertaking his current job, Ryan thought it far better to remove himself from any sort of home environment. What Mr. Elwood’s words did do, however, was make him wonder; wonder about his father, his mother, and Mary. It was hard to keep the smile plastered on his face as the old banker took his coffee with a muffled “thank you” from the serving boy.

“Good, good.” Mr. Elwood drew from another pocket a silver hip-flask, which he proceeded to upend over the porcelain cup. “Of course, I’ve seen Edward out and about. Good man, your father. Respectable.”

Ryan’s eyes narrowed behind his stained spectacles. “What brings you out to Clydesport so early, Mr. Elwood?”

Ryan’s question seemed to catch the older man by surprise, and he nearly coughed as he lowered his drink. Before he could answer, however, Ryan continued. “Surely an expansion out here would be a waste? No need for banks while fishermen are happy to sleep on stuffed cots.”

Mr. Elwood chuckled, but his face visibly tightened. “Oh, nothing special… a deal that I would like to be present for.”

Though his words were offhanded, it was easy to guess that Elwood was hiding something. Ryan pondered this for several moments, but did not want to push the subject—he was too, after all—and so took the older man’s words with a nod and turned his gaze out over the cresting waves.

There was an awkward silence between the two, which ended when Mr. Elwood seemed to spot several suited men that he knew further down the pier. The banker’s farewell was hurried, but its sincerity puzzled Ryan as the older gentleman rose from his chair and bustled away with a nod.

Yes, A Satellite Is Falling But You Shouldn’t Worry Too Much

Don’t start to scream yet; it’s not the end of the world if a big satellite from China is crashing down into an ocean.

Tiangong 1, a defunct satellite from China was projected to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere on Saturday. Now, according to the European Space Agency, which has released new information on the satellite, it is re-entering the atmosphere on Easter Sunday.

The spacecraft poses very little danger to people on the ground since most of the 8.5 ton vehicle is likely going to burn up on re-entry. The question is: What damage can the carcass of the satellite do to the planet?

As of now, the space object is projected to land in the Pacific Ocean which would be the best case situation for everyone. There was a possibility that the spacecraft would land on a strip of land in southern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. That possibility prompted the governor of Michigan to activate the state’s Emergency Operations Center to keep an eye on the situation.

Tiangong 1 was launched by the Chinese in 2011 and it was China’s first space station (China has nothing to do with the International Space Station since they were barred by the U.S. legislation). The last crew of Tiangong 1 left in 2013 since the station was merely an experimental project for Tiangong 2, which will be in full service by 2022. Tiangong, which translates to “Heavenly Palace,” lost contact with China in 2016 and since then, the station has been monitored for re-entry.

People here in the U.S. shouldn’t worry about any space objects hitting a person. There is only one documented case of someone getting hit by space debris and that person was not injured. You’re more likely to die in space, be killed by a shark or hit by lighting before even getting hit with a piece of space junk.

So don’t worry, you’ll be fine for now.

 

Cover: An artist’s illustration of Tiangong 1; photo from theverge.com

Moderate

Late one Saturday night / Sunday morning, I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed when I come across instructions for how to find out what your political views are based off Facebook’s algorithms. Intrigued, I track it down. It’s buried 6-7 links down in your Account Settings: Menu to Account Settings to Ads to Your Information to Your Categories to Review and Manage Your Categories to US Politics.

As I’m scrolling through, I begin to worry. As a Computer Science major, I’m more aware than most of just what kind of data can be collected, and despite that knowledge, I have maintained a pretty steady online presence where Facebook is concerned. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is I like to read, and Facebook does a good job of giving me delicious content to consume.

But in the past few years, the content I consume has turned more political than when I was in my 20’s (I’m 30 now). I have over 2,400 different groups liked on my profile. Thousands upon thousands of viewed articles, comments, and replies. Many would view Facebook’s interpretation of its users’ political stances as sort of a “What kind of toaster are you? Take our 5 question quiz to find out!” gimmicky tagline, and take it with a grain of salt. I, on the other hand, know the sheer amount of information I have interacted with online tells me that it is a statistically significant result. What Facebook’s algorithms think is more than likely a true representation of my political inclination.

What if I’m one of those right-wingers that everybody on-campus hates? What if people summarize my political views as “God, guns, and gin” or “King James, jacked up trucks, and Uncle Sam”? What if I get pegged at the opposite end and live out the rest of my days trying to figure out how to weave hemp undergarments with locally sourced, gender neutral, cruelty-free knitting needles? I have read news from all sources, everything from Huffington Post to Fox News. Doubts assailed me from all sides.

Imagine my relief when I see, in parentheses, the word “Moderate.” That’s like getting a ‘C’ on a final when you’re expecting an ‘F.’ But further down, there’s a little box. It says “Sorry, we don’t have an example of this kind of ad to show you right now.” This entire thing, Facebook and its affiliates, are nothing more than ad recommendation engines. 2 billion people all “turned on, tuned in, and dropping out.” And not a single recommendation for “Moderate” US politics? There are 170 million people who didn’t vote in the last Presidential election. Approximately 340 million total living in the US.  And there is no sizable subset who might be interested in Moderate political ads? That’s a scary thought.

The Wreck

Like cloud astride the midnight sky

Their cold reflection in the deep

A lightless world, the silenced cry

Of ghosts of ocean’s muffled sleep

 

Swallowed by the silver crest

Of waves upon the moonlight cast

They failed the ocean’s bitter test

These sunken echoes of the past

 

Now rusted, crushed, made home anew

The victims of Poseidon’s wrath

Have found themselves a different crew

That lurk within the aftermath

Happy 2000th Day on Mars, Curiosity Rover

The Curiosity Rover on Mars has reached another milestone… 2,000 days on Mars, well technically it’s 2,055 days since the days are longer on Mars. But this is about being on Mars.

This is a very big milestone for Curiosity and the scientists running the rover as this week they plan on drilling into the clay-rich rocks of Mount Sharp.

Ever since its landing on Mars in 2012, Curiosity has traveled 11.6 miles on the red planet.

Some of the achievements that Curiosity has accomplished include unique HD pictures of the “Red Planet,” the playing of a song on another planet (Happy Birthday to You, in celebration of Curiosity’s one year anniversary on Mars), and the investigation of water on the planet.

Curiosity is not the first rover to be on Mars, of course. The honor of the first rover on Mars goes to Sojourner. However, Sojourner only lasted 85 days on Mars (83 sols) due to the lack of technology at the time (1997).

Curiosity is also not the only rover on Mars currently. Opportunity, which has spent over 5,000 days on the “Red Planet,” is still in operation today.

Each of the Mars rovers over the years have gotten better and better, and come 2020 we will see the best rover in NASA’s history. Designs for that rover are coming from the designs of the very durable Curiosity.

 

Cover Photo from  jpl.nasa.gov

More Than Just Gay Clubs

Most people are aware of the popularity of gay clubs, and how they seem to be the go-to spots for any interaction between LGBTQA+ people. It has almost reached the point of becoming a stereotype; clubs are just where all of the gays hang out. In a sense that is true, but from that stems a bigger issue. There are no casual locations for LGBT people in that community to hang out. The only places that cater to them are bars or clubs, both of which exclude younger members of the community and are often inherently sexual. It is not an appropriate place to really make friends or for people under the age of 18 to become more involved with the community. With clubs, it is hard for LGBT people to connect with those who are going through similar life experiences as they are.

The simplest solution to this is to create spaces for members of the LGBTQA+ community that are more casual and not a part of the bar/club scene. Though it is a bit of a cliché, coffee shops aimed towards LGBT people would be a good starting point. It provides a calm and casual place for people from the community to meet up and hang out. Younger members of the community could also be involved without fear of predatory behavior or overt sexual tones being an issue.

People in the LGBTQA+ community often feel the need to hide or avoid talking about their identity. They can feel isolated from the people around them and the community they belong to. Locations that cater to LBGT people can provide a sense of belonging and ease the burden of having to watch how you act and what you say around people you do not know. They often have to guard their actions and words around strangers for fear of discrimination, but in locations that are more casual and designed for LGBTQA+, they can relax and they do not need to hold their breath in anxiety.

 

Photo from nicophoto.com

The Latest Update on GTA Online on PC Results in Many Bans

If you are a PC gamer with Grand Theft Auto 5 Online, you may had gotten banned for no apparent reason.

GTA Online's latest update is NASCAR on steroids but some PC users are unable to play due to a ban; photo from egmnow.com
GTA Online’s latest update is NASCAR on steroids but some PC users are unable to play due to a ban; photo from egmnow.com

After the “Southern San Andreas Super Sport Series” update, many users on PC have been reporting a wave of bans, either mistaken or for no good reason. Users on PS4 and Xbox One have not had the same bug as of now. Most of the bans on the PC have only been for 30 days instead of a lifetime but it still frustrates players who want to play the game and the latest update.

It is believed that Rockstar’s “anti-cheat” system has failed and according to one player on the GTA Online forum who has their own “anti-cheat” software, everyone in his session was labeled as cheating even though they haven’t been.

The system is singling out everyone who might be an illegal-modder which has resulted in bans for many who have done no wrong.

While it is natural for someone who has been caught cheating to say that they haven’t been, something has been amiss with the recent bans. Most of the players that have been banned have fewer than 10 hours of game time which suggests overreach on the game moderators’ parts.

Another thing that might be causing the bans is that some users do have a modder on their PC but the modder is only being used offline, not online.

Neither Rockstar or its parent company, Take-Two Interactive have made a statement to the GTA Online forum or a public statement about the situation.

Trump’s Transgender Ban

Once again, Donald Trump is trying to ban transgender people from serving in the military. Trump has recently signed a memo that would ban transgender people who have undergone, or are requesting, a gender transition. His previous ban was blocked by federal judges, but Trump is making another attempt, though this one is trying to limit only certain transgender people in an attempt to make it pass. The new ban also allows transgender people to be banned if they have experienced gender dysphoria. Essentially, the new ban would ban virtually all transgender people, or at least a vast majority.

Needless to say, this is vastly unfair and blatantly transphobic. The gender of an individual has no impact on their ability to serve in the military. Frankly, whether or not a person is transgender should be inconsequential to their ability and potential. There is no legitimate reason that transgender people cannot serve in the military; this ban is nothing more than a hateful and pandering gesture on Trump’s part. What good does it do to ban people from serving their country? Why deny them their own agency?

Trump and his ban disrespect transgender people’s very existence because the ban suggests that their presence somehow has a negative impact on people. It does not consider what they do and how they act, just that they are transgender, and that is somehow wrong, according to Trump and his ban. Trump seems to believe that transgender individuals will cause a distraction among the military because of their gender dysphoria and they will not be able to “stand ready.” This coming from the man who is, frankly, a walking disaster and a constant distraction from the real issues with his many scandals and numerous Twitter rants.

 

Photo from Splinter News