Thursday, June 5, 2014

How The Moon Was Born

How The Moon Was Born

How The Moon Was Born

Posted: 05 Jun 2014 11:01 AM PDT

Astronomers were pretty sure they'd long since solved the mystery of how the Moon was born. It was an open question until Apollo astronauts started hauling lunar rocks back to Earth in the late 1960's, and scientists discovered they were chemically similar to the rocks back home. By the mid-1970s, they had the riddle figured out: billions of years ago, something the size of Mars smacked into the Earth, creating a Moon's worth of molten debris that quickly cooled, moved into a stable orbit and became our familiar cosmic companion.

Over the ensuing decades, however, it became clear that Houston had a problem. The lunar samples were too similar to those on Earth. The two kinds of rock should have shown at least minor differences, reflecting the unique chemical makeup of the long-gone Mars-size cannonball which was dubbed Theia. But no matter how hard geochemists looked, they couldn't find any. Theorists came up with a number of ways around the dilemma, most of them involving much more complicated collision scenarios, but as planetary scientist Robin Canup, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder told TIME last year, "Every time you add an extra complication, you reduce the overall probability of an event happening."

You could keep your collision theory, in short, but only by assuming that the whole episode an utter fluke, so improbable that it shouldn’t have happened at all—exactly the kind of wild scenario that makes scientists wince. But a study just published in Science may have set things right. The chemical composition of Moon and Earth rocks, says lead author Daniel Hewartz, of the University of Gottingen, in Germany, turns out not to be so similar after all—close, but not identical. "The difference we found is very small," he says. "It's so small that previous studies couldn't detect it."

Hewartz’s analysis did detect it by concentrating on an abundance of oxygen-17, a rare version of the element that has nine neutrons in its atoms rather than the usual eight. "Our study shows that the moon has just a bit more O-17 than Earth," Hewartz explains. "Just a bit" meaning a minuscule .012 percent more, but that’s enough. "This means that Theia had slightly more as well."

Hewartz and his colleagues were able to spot such vanishingly small amounts of oxygen-17 thanks to a new technique they devised: seal the lunar rocks in a chamber filled with fluorine gas, then zap the sample with a laser to vaporize a tiny bit of it. The scientists then drain out gas plus vapor and send it through a chromatograph, which separates free oxygen liberated from the rock from the other gases. (It would be simpler just to zap the rock in a vacuum, but if you do that, says Hewartz, "it just melts.")

Not only did the team see elevated O-17 in samples NASA provided them; they also saw it in samples other groups had already looked at without finding anything. That, says Canup, "tends to support their claim." The only caveat, she warns, is that the difference they detect between Earth and the Moon is so small that there's likely to be a debate over whether they're seeing something real, or whether it's simply an artifact of the way they interpret their raw data.

But arguments like that, she says, can be a good thing. "It's going to prompt a lot more work on this topic, which will be great for the field." And if Hewartz and company turn out to be right, it will reconfirm a theory scientists thought they'd proven during the Ford administration—a theory they were reluctant to see go simply because of its appealing simplicity. "It's something," as Harvard planetary scientist Sarah Stewart told TIME last December, "you could explain in a sentence to your grandmother.”

Loaded Gun Found in South Carolina Target’s Toys Section

Posted: 05 Jun 2014 10:57 AM PDT

A worker at a Target in South Carolina found a loaded gun in a toy aisle.

The employee at the Target in Myrtle Beach, S.C. told police that he saw the 9mm handgun on the shelf and at first thought it was a toy, before realizing it was fully loaded, The State reports. He said had seen a suspicious man walking around the toy section, though it's unclear if he was the one who left the weapon.

Police are investigating and checking surveillance video to determine how the gun ended up there, according to The State. The gun has not been reported stolen.

[The State]

VIDEO: Eddie Huang on Why Fresh Off the Boat Uses Racial Slurs

Posted: 05 Jun 2014 10:56 AM PDT

In the same way chef Eddie Huang was resolute in naming his new ABC show Fresh Off the Boat, he was also adamant about using the word “chink” in the show’s pilot.

“I never, never once thought about not using the word, because that was the word that was said to me,” Huang says. “And there’s no other word that will get the reaction that that word got out of me.”

It’s reflective of Huang’s visceral approach in addressing some of the hardships he faced as a Taiwanese-Chinese-American kid growing up in Orlando. The show, part of ABC’s 2014-2015 lineup, is based on Huang’s New York Times bestselling memoir of the same name.

As the first network television show in 20 years to be centered around an Asian-American family, Fresh Off the Boat has drawn comparisons to Margaret Cho’s 1994 All-American Girl. Though Cho’s show was canceled after one season and criticized for stereotyping and depicting Asian customs as “weird and alien,” Huang is quick to acknowledge its role in paving the way for Fresh Off the Boat.

“I’m honored to be compared to Margaret Cho, because she’s a pioneer,” Huang says. “It’s important to compare and contrast, but recognize that everything is different and that 20 years ago, she was dealing with a whole different set of circumstances.”

What Cho attempted was like “trying to play mahjong on King Arthur’s table,” according to Huang. But today, Huang says he feels empowered to depict his personal experience in an authentic manner, starting with things like reclaiming the term “fresh off the boat” and including the word “chink.”

“Now, I feel like in many ways, we’ve broken the table, and said, ‘We don’t want it. We want a folding table, and we want to play mahjong on this table’,” Huang said. “I do feel like ABC is letting us work on a new table. It’s not that same Round Table that we’ve been forced to fit in our whole lives. They’ve really taken the reins off and let us do our thing.”

Huang stopped by TIME’s studio over the weekend while he was back in New York City to train a chef at his Taiwanese restaurant, Baohaus. In the video above, he talks about including violence in the show, the Fresh Off the Boat cast meeting his parents and how he feels about Asian fusion.

Fully-Loaded Gun Found in Toy Aisle at Target

Posted: 05 Jun 2014 10:54 AM PDT

A real, loaded gun was found in the toy aisle of a Target in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, last Friday night. A worker happened upon the weapon, which was loaded with live ammo, resting on top of a superhero Playskool toy box, NBC affiliate WMBF reports.

According to a police report, a suspicious male was seen on surveillance video wandering up and down the toy aisles, including the aisle where the gun was later found. Target plans to release that footage to the public.

A Target rep sent WMBF the following statement:

The safety and security of our team members and guests is a top priority for Target. We take these matters very seriously and we are partnering with local law enforcement on this incident. Because this matter is under active investigation, we are unable to share additional information.

The incident came just a few days before activists launched a petition calling for Target to ban people from carrying firearms in its stores.

Orange Is the New Black: The Time Martha Stewart Almost Went to Litchfield

Posted: 05 Jun 2014 10:54 AM PDT

Many fans of Orange Is the New Black, which returns Friday with its 13-episode second season, know there are a number of differences between Netflix's breakout hit and Piper Kerman's original memoir of the same name. One of the more interesting stories left on the cutting room floor of Jenji Kohan’s television adaptation was the time Kerman nearly crossed paths with Martha Stewart, who seemed to be headed to Danbury — the real-life prison Orange's Litchfield is based on —following her insider-trader scandal in the early 2000s.

It never actually happened. But what if the show did add a Martha Stewart-like character to the show? The arrival of the queen of all things home living would embody so much of what makes Orange Is the New Black addicting: inmate clashes, critiques of America's prison system and a look at prisoners' tumultuous relationship with the outside world.

When Martha Stewart was sentenced in 2004 to five months in prison and five months of home confinement, she asked judges to send her to Danbury’s federal correctional institution so that Stewart's elderly mother could visit her from her home in Connecticut. News of Stewart's possible arrival was a major event for the women of Danbury, who were "deflated" when she was ultimately sent to a prison in West Virginia. "Everyone had been hoping that against all odds she'd be sent to live with us, either because they believed that her presence would somehow raise all our boats or just for the entertainment value," Kerman writes in her book.

They weren't the only ones excited. Helicopters frequently flew over the camp during that time, and reporters tried to sneak their way onto the facilities. Kerman says it was no accident that Stewart ultimately didn't serve her time at the Connecticut prison: She suggests the authorities weren't thrilled about having such a high-profile inmate with a major media presence inside the prison, and so Danbury went out of its way to keep Stewart's Connecticut wish from coming true. "The Camp had been 'closed' to new inmates since her conviction, allegedly 'full,' although we had more empty beds as every week passed," Kerman writes.

It's easy to imagine the type of trouble Stewart — who told Vanity Fair that her prison nickname was "M. Diddy" — would get into if a fictionalized version of her made it to Litchfield. She might butt heads with prison officers about regulations for decorating her bunk — or maybe she’d have strong feelings about the aesthetics of the holiday pageant. "I imagined Martha Stewart trying to take over Pop's kitchen," Kerman writes in the book. "That would be better than Godzilla vs. Mothra." (Not that Pop's Netflix equivalent, Galina "Red" Reznikov, played by Kate Mulgrew, needs any more enemies — the show’s second season finds her clashing with old rival and notorious drug-dealer, Yvonne "Vee" Parker, played by Lorraine Toussaint.)

Although the Orange's best drama happens entirely inside the prison confines, a few of the first season's most poignant moments occurred when the outside world got involved — like when Larry (Jason Biggs) goes on a This American Life-esque show to talk about his fiancée's incarceration and horrifies Piper's bunk mates by revealing what she really thought about them. Orange was partly about how women find meaning and pride in a system that deprives them of so much freedom and dignity, and a Martha Stewart story would continue to explore the ways inmates’ self-esteems are tested. Kerman writes that some of her fellow prisoners were deeply hurt when an old PEOPLE magazine story about what Stewart could expect from prison quoted a source who called Stewart’s potential new roommates "the scum of the earth."

As for the fun part—who would play Stewart? — the current cast might spark some ideas. In an interview with TIME hitting newsstands this week, Taylor Schilling, who plays Piper, says noted lover of crafts Diane Keaton is the latest addition to her list of dream co-stars, and the resemblance is already there. But there’s also a strong case against creating a Stewart-like character — because Orange Is the New Black already has its fish-out-of-water white lady, Piper.

That's not to say a Stewart character's struggles would have been identical to Kerman's or any less interesting, but as Orange creator Jenji Kohan has said, the character of Piper Chapman was "a trojan horse," a way to tell the stories of women of all identities who normally don't get TV shows made about them. As the second season shifts the focus away from Piper and shares the love with the other inmates, a hypothetical Martha Stewart character, while amusing, might just distract from the real draw of the show: the women who were already there.

Susan Rice Is Under Fire Again

Posted: 05 Jun 2014 10:53 AM PDT

Today is an anniversary of sorts for Susan Rice, though she may not be enjoying it.

It was one year ago today—June 5, 2013—that Barack Obama named Rice as his new national security advisor, instantly making her one of the most powerful figures in Washington, and maybe the world.

But the heady promotion was borne of crushing disappointment. A few months earlier Rice had been Obama’s planned choice for Secretary of State, to replace the departing Hillary Clinton. But in Dec. 2012 Rice withdrew herself from consideration for that job in the face of furious conservative opposition. In the fall of 2012 Republicans had fixated on Rice after her now-infamous Sept. 16, 2012, tour of the Sunday talk shows—in which she recited administration talking points about the Benghazi attacks that proved inaccurate, though there was no evidence Rice herself had either shaped the message, or known that its emphasis on the role of an anti-Muslim Internet video might be misleading.

Now Rice is again under fire for a Sunday performance—this time thanks to one simple phrase, uttered amid the White House’s early explanation of the deal to free the captured American soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Appearing on ABC’s This Week on June 1, Rice was asked about reports that Bergdahl had deserted his post, and whether he would be punished for it. “He served the United States with honor and distinction,” Rice said.

As questions about Bergdahl’s honor swiftly mounted in the following hours, however, one could virtually hear a conservative cry of, release the hounds! Rice hadn’t just fueled suspicions that the White House had oversold the Bergdahl deal—she had once again made herself part of the story and rekindled smoldering embers of resentment over her Benghazi role. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Rice’s main antagonists during the Benghazi furor last fall, has now called for her resignation, saying “I can’t believe anything she tells me.”

The media has been quick to amplify the criticism. On Wednesday, FOX News White House reporter Ed Henry described a new “credibility problem for the administration, in which Susan Rice was again pushing a false narrative.” On MSNBC’s Morning Joe the same day, co-host Mika Brzezinski marveled, “why would Susan Rice be sent out, Susan Rice, be sent out repeatedly to say he served honorably and really push that as one the fundamental reasons behind this swap?” And with typical nuance, FOX’s Bill O’Reilly declared Rice “a moron.”

Meanwhile, Rice’s colleagues haven’t exactly backed her up. The day after her ABC appearance, senior White House officials—including press secretary Jay Carney and even Rice’s deputy, Tony Blinken—declined to endorse the “honor and distinction” phrase. A former senior Obama administration official who dealt with national security matters says that’s no surprise, predicting earlier this week that Rice “will regret” her comments.

But in an interview with TIME, national security council spokesman Patrick Ventrell made no apology for his boss, who is traveling in Europe with Obama this week. “She has kept her head down, but when she needs to stand up and defend a controversial decision the president makes she’s not going to be afraid to do it—and she’s not going to apologize for it,” Ventrell says.

To the contrary, Obama officials imply that it may be Rice who is owed an apology. “She sort of brings out this craziness in a certain crowd,” says one administration official. “If something is taken a half-notch out of context, it’s calls for her resignation and vicious ad hominem attacks against her.”

“I’m not here to suggest its because she’s a woman or a minority or what it is,” the official continues. “But other principals in the national security team don’t come under this kind of attack.”

The official also offers no regret over Rice’s choice of words, saying “I think she’d do it the same way” if given another chance. The official notes that the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture remain unclear, adding: “We’re not going to throw this young man under the bus without any facts,” he says. Rice may speak again publicly on the issue soon.

There’s no reason to think Rice’s job is in danger. She is personally close to President Obama, who personally resented her hazing over Benghazi—”I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks,” he said at the time—and rewarded her with a job that may be less visible but is more influential than the Foggy Bottom post she originally wanted.

It’s also a brutal grind, even when Rice isn’t personally under fire. Two days after she officially took the job last July 1, Egypt’s government was overthrown in a coup. Since then Rice has managed an almost nonstop series of crises, from chemical weapons in Syria to last summer’s terror alert to Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea. Clear successes have been hard to find: “We are trying to put points on the board,” she told the Associated Press last week.

She has also had to contend with critics mounting a more substantive case against her—namely her role in overseeing America’s cautious policy towards Syria, where Obama has rejected proposals for greater U.S. intervention. They note that, after serving on the State Department’s Africa desk when the Clinton administration failed to act to stop the 1998 Rwandan genocide, Rice described herself as a changed person a few years later:

“There was such a huge disconnect between the logic of each of the decisions we took along the way during the genocide and the moral consequences of the decisions taken collectively,” she told then-journalist Samantha Power (who would succeed Rice as Obama’s U.N. Ambassador). “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” Syria today does not amount to a genocide, and the Rwandan horror was arguably far more preventable than the violence in Syria. Still, an estimated 162,000 people have died in Syria—more than 60,000 of them since Rice began managing U.S. foreign policy. Just last month, Obama’s ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, resigned because, he now says, he could no longer defend Obama’s risk-averse policy there.

“The humanitarian situation [in Syria] is appalling,” Rice herself told PBS’s Charlie Rose last week, adding that it “wrenches every human heart.” But she had little to offer in terms of new policy beyond an assurance that the U.S. is now “coordinating and cooperating in a much more effective way” with regional allies—and no hint of dissent with President Obama’s largely hands-off policy.

So don’t expect Rice to go down in flames anytime soon—either over Bergdahl or Syria. But it might be a while before you see her back on a Sunday talk show.

Obama Will Take Student Debt Questions on Tumblr Town Hall

Posted: 05 Jun 2014 10:35 AM PDT

President Barack Obama will log on to Tumblr next Tuesday to answer students’ questions about the cost of college and student debt.

The live Q&A event is the latest example of Obama using live social media events to reach young audiences — he’s previously used Twitter, Google+ and even Reddit to reach out to voters on various issues. Nearly half of Tumblr's users are between the ages of 18 and 34—including the discussion's moderator, 27-year-old Tumblr founder David Karp—a demographic likely pondering the issues of college costs and student loan repayment.

This year’s college graduating class will enter professional life with an average of $33,000 in student loan debt, nearly double that of students who graduated in 2000, according to government data. Overall student loan debt has topped $1 trillion and is the fastest-growing debt category, the Wall Street Journal reported in May.

Obama’s Tumblr town hall was announced by Yahoo!, which acquired Tumblr last May for about $1.1 billion.

This Reality TV Show Can Save Your Retirement

Posted: 05 Jun 2014 10:34 AM PDT

What does it mean that a reality TV show is in the works, aiming to help couples sort through their money woes? Yes, a major cable station is working up a "family finance" pilot that amounts to a Biggest Loser for folks who have never seen a credit offer they didn't like.

Have producers of this popular genre simply run out of material? I mean after Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, what's left? Or is it that Americans' inability to manage money has become so big and obvious, and economically debilitating, that there is now an appetite for a tough-love TV program that puts struggling families on a debt diet?

Think Real Housewives, only everyone is broke. Or maybe Hell's Kitchen, only the host has a heart. No one will get voted off this island, or hear the words "you're fired." But there might be some Jersey Shore sniping when couples confront their ridiculous spending and credit practices.

The show in development may never get to air. I only know about it because I played a small role in casting. From what I could see anecdotally, young families in the U.S. have issues that appear far worse than any data points or averages suggest.

One young Texas couple took a big hit when the husband lost his job and found work at half the pay. The wife went to work. She hates her job and not being a full-time mother. The arrangement is causing all kinds of stress in the relationship. Yet they haven't taken the time to do some simple math: They are spending more on childcare than she makes each month. Quitting her job would solve a few big problems right away.

A Chicago couple in their early 40s has household income of $200,000 and zero savings. They have a big mortgage that's killing them, some unusual ongoing healthcare expenses that will be with them for years, and they are sending two kids to costly private elementary and high schools. Again, stress is driving them apart. But doing a little math, it seems clear they could fix it all just by choosing the decent public schools in their affluent neighborhood and putting the savings toward retirement, mortgage payments and healthcare. Even they wonder about the private school sacrifice. But they haven't made the tough decision because of appearances.

These are the kinds of choices that undermine the financial security of millions of families all the time. I'm rooting for this show to get to air, and if it does I hope it won't devolve into tears, arguments and an ornery host with a whip. A lot of troubled family finances really are easily fixed through simple math and not-so-simple discipline. If a reality TV show can illustrate that, it will have been worth more than all the silly Kardashian episodes ever aired.



Another Serious Security Breach Revealed Weeks After Heartbleed

Posted: 05 Jun 2014 10:34 AM PDT

A new security bug in OpenSSL encryption was revealed and patched Thursday, just a few months after Heartbleed threatened hundreds of thousands of secure web servers. The new bug is the most serious of several security breaches revealed by the OpenSSL group in a formal advisory today.

According to the group, the new bug, deemed an “SSL/TLS MITM” vulnerability, could allow a crafty attacker to fiddle with the “handshake” process that occurs between a client and server when an encrypted connection is being established. The hacker could then force the client and server to use weak keys, which would in turn allow a “man-in-the-middle” attacker to decrypt and modify traffic between the two.

In other words: it allows someone snooping your connection to neutralize your web encryption process.

Furthermore, the bug is present in all versions of OpenSSL, and according to Google software engineer Adam Langley, who’s thrown up a technically elaborate analysis of the bug here, it may have been in existence for the last 15 (or more) years.

OpenSSL is an open source encryption tool, developed by the volunteer-based OpenSSL Group, and used by a majority of online servers to facilitate the secure exchange of information, like usernames and passwords. It’s been under the gun since the Heartbleed bug prompted a worldwide security panic.

What does the bug mean for you? While all servers using OpenSSL are at risk until they’ve been upgraded, the bug only affects clients that use the OpenSSL protocol. Thus most major browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari) aren’t at risk, though browsers that do use OpenSSL, like Chrome on Android, may be affected.

If you’re up for a bit of technical reading, the person who discovered the bug, Masashi Kikuchi, explains how he found and patched it here. And the good news is that the bug’s revelation goes hand-in-glove with an official OpenSSL fix (based in part on Masashi’s patch). The most important next step in thwarting the bug is for anyone running an OpenSSL-based server to apply the OpenSSL Group’s recommended updates.

Legal Pot Might Make America’s Kids Stupider, Say Researchers

Posted: 05 Jun 2014 10:31 AM PDT

In the midst of the drumbeat toward legalization, it’s easy to forget that smoking pot isn’t great for you. Especially if you are a teenager.

A review of the research on the negative health affects of marijuana published today in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that smoking pot as a kid may have lasting impacts on intelligence and achievement.

For starters, smoking pot regularly from an early age is correlated with a lower IQ. The mechanism is not fully understood—experts are not claiming one necessarily causes the other—but scientists speculate the drug can interfere with a critical period for brain development during the teen years. “Adults who smoked regularly during adolescence” according to the review, have “impaired neural connectivity” in parts of the brain involving alertness and self conscious awareness, executive function, processing of habits and routines, learning, and memory.

Smoking marijuana as a teenager is also linked with poor grades, criminal behavior, and increased risk of dropping out of school, according to the review. The research doesn’t prove that regular marijuana use causes these negative consequences. But the review article suggests that available evidence could explain the relationship. Though some research suggests that the harmful effects of marijuana subside after the drug leaves the brain and can be reversed after a person stops using, other studies show that “long term, heavy use of marijuana results in impairments in memory and attention that persist and worsen with increasing years of regular use.” The article also points out that marijuana can impair cognitive functioning for days after you toke up, increasing the likelihood that students could be functioning “below their natural ability” for periods of time.

None of this is really surprising. But since legalization in Colorado and Washington may contribute to the perception that, doctors’ notes aside, recreational marijuana is harmless, it’s worth paying close attention to links between marijuana use and negative outcomes in achievement—especially for teens.


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