Will Smith's Aladdin Genie Is Already a Meme

March 20, 2019 | Story | No Comments

Last night, amidst the hubbub of the Grammys, Disney released the first TV spot for its upcoming live-action version of Aladdin. Directed by Guy Ritchie, it features Hot Jafar, a sweeping soundtrack, and Will Smith as the iconic Genie (the character voiced by Robin Williams in the animated 1992 film). The trailer itself looked fine; Smith's Genie, however, looked, well, off.

It's hard to place exactly where in the Uncanny Valley this particular image lives, but given Smith's blue hue, it's definitely wading into Smurf territory. But in a way, this reaction definitely falls into the category of Be Careful What You Wish For. When Entertainment Weekly put the movie on its cover, fans responded harshly to the fact that Smith wasn't blue. When the actor posted the trailer on his Instagram, he captioned it with "I told y'all I was gon' be Blue!! … Y'all need to trust me more often!" Yes, folks should always trust Will Smith. Should they trust CGI? Eh, that's a different story.

But hey, maybe this look isn't final. Maybe by the time Disney releases the film on May 24 the blue will be better. Or maybe everyone's collective eyes will adjust? Time will tell. Until then, Twitter will be busy turning images of Smith's Genie into everything from Jack Nicholson's character from The Shining to remixes of the Star Is Born meme from last year. Also currently taking off on Twitter: Comparisons to Tobias Fünke's "I blue myself" bit from Arrested Development and Violet's transformation into a blueberry from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

So let's enjoy the memes—shining, shimmering, splendid.

A wickedly fast fastball isn’t the anomaly it once was. A decade ago, Major League pitchers threw a grand total of just 196 triple-digit fastballs in a single season. Last year, 40 pitchers collectively threw 1,017.

But while baseball’s hallmark pitch has increased in popularity, it hasn’t increased in velocity.

Consider the confusion over the game’s fastest fastball ever. On paper, the honor goes to Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman, who clocked 105.1 miles per hour in 2010. But the record could have been set all the way back in 1974. Back then, Nolan Ryan was the first MLB pitcher to be tracked by radar during a game—and while his heater topped out at 100.8 miles per hour, the radar measured Ryan’s ball just before it crossed the plate. Had it eyed the pitch as it was leaving Ryan’s hand (as Chapman’s was), experts believe it might have registered at upwards of 108 miles per hour.

Similar retroactive estimates have put Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller’s fastest fastball at 107.6 miles per hour—and that was all the way back in 1946. Walter Johnson, who played from 1907 to 1927, is also thought to have thrown pitches at 100 mph or more. All of which is to say: Pitchers have been throwing north of 100-mph for the past 100 years. Over the same time period, advances in training, technology, nutrition, and, yes, drugs, have fueled a dramatic upward trend in world-record athletic performances, from the marathon to the long jump to the 50 meter freestyle. But when it comes to hurling a five-ounce, leather-wrapped sphere as fast as possible, humans appear to have plateaued.

“I don’t see it going much higher,” says biomedical engineer Glenn Fleisig, research director of the American Sports Medicine Institute and an expert in the biomechanics of pitching. “I'm sorry to say that, but I don’t see it happening. Baseball isn’t like other sports, where we see people running faster or swimming harder or whatever, where today’s records are smashing the records from 10 years ago.”

That hasn’t prevented pitchers from pursuing the triple-digit barrier at the expense of their arms. A significant number of them undergo major medical procedures to correct injuries from competition. Like the “Tommy John” surgery: When the tendon in a pitcher’s elbow tears, surgeons can replace it with a fresh one from the player’s wrist, forearm, hamstring, or even their toe. Swapping in the relief tendon involves the surgeon drilling holes in the ulna and humerus bones and threading them in a figure-8 pattern with the healthy tissue.

A 2012 survey found that a quarter of Major League pitchers had undergone the Tommy John surgery at some point in their careers. And as the popularity of the fastball has increased, so has the surgery.

Fleisig thinks the rise in Tommy John surgeries has to do with the immense strain that hurling baseballs puts on a pitcher’s arm. By studying cadavers, he and his colleagues found that the force required to tear elbow ligaments is roughly the same as what a pitcher asks of his arm throwing at top speed. When the arm flings back, the shoulder ligaments experience about 100 Newton meters of torque. When it flings forward, the elbow ligaments suffer the same. “It’s the equivalent, at each point, of holding five 12-pound bowling balls,” Fleisig says. “So imagine I hang 60 pounds from your hand. That’s what it would feel like on your elbow or shoulder.” At those forces, he says, pitchers are effectively throwing their arms off. The odds of them throwing much faster seem pretty slim.

Which may actually be a good thing, as fastballs are already right at the limit of what batters can reliably hit.

A 100-mph fastball reaches home plate in under 400 milliseconds. The swing itself takes about 150 milliseconds. That leaves less than a quarter of a second for a batter to spot the pitch and decide whether and where to swing. That’s absurdly fast, which may explain why the swinging strike rate for triple-digit heaters is almost three times higher than it is for lesser fastballs.

But the tiny reaction window is only part of why batters struggle to connect. The other culprit: lack of practice. As popular as they’ve become, 100-mph fastballs are still pretty rare—rare enough that you’re not going to face off against them regularly at batting practice. Unless you’ve got a workaround.

The baseball team at Villanova University recently got access to a tireless pitcher who can throw fastballs all day long—even impossibly fast ones. Engineer Mark Jupina designed a virtual hitting simulator that allows batters to practice identifying and even hitting against any pitch in the MLB’s PITCHf/x database. (PITCHf/x is a tracking system installed in every MLB stadium that records the velocity, trajectory, release point, and spin of every pitch.) Players can either face off against the virtual pitcher in the university’s CAVE (an immersive, four-walled virtual reality environment equipped with infrared cameras), or by donning an Oculus Rift headset. “We have data sets that are appropriate for a high school level, all the way up beyond the pro level,” Jupina says. “We can even show you what, realistically, 120 mile an hour fastball would look like.”

I stood in the simulator and stared down a 120-mph pitch. It was ludicrous. The trip from the mound to the plate took just three tenths of a second; I felt like I needed to start my swing before the ball even left the pitcher’s hand.

Then a few members of Villanova’s baseball team took a crack at the simulator, and Jupina showed me how they planned to use it in training. Fastball practice was only part of the exercise. In one activity, he’d freeze the ball 150 milliseconds after leaving the pitcher’s hand, and ask the batter to ID the pitch. Was it coming in fast and straight, or was it a slow breaking ball? Would it cross the plate high and inside, or right down the middle?

Me, I couldn’t tell a fastball from a slider, but Villanova’s players took to it quickly, using things like the position of the pitcher’s arm and the spin of the ball to identify the pitch. It was impressive to watch, in part because it’s always impressive to witness someone exercise a sense you do not possess yourself. But also because the latency, the resolution, the sense of depth—they were all good enough to make reading an incoming pitch possible. All of which could make this a tremendous training tool.

“In the future, I could see every Major League baseball organization having this available to their hitters,” says Villanova’s head baseball coach Kevin Mulvey, a former pro pitcher himself. “If you could upload the pitcher that you're going to be facing to this virtual interface, in the stadium that you'll playing, at the time you'll be playing, and you can get in there and re-live an at-bat that you had against him, you're going to be better prepared to face this guy than if you were just taking batting practice off a generic lefty or generic righty."

After all, not many people can throw a triple digit pitch. But with a tool like Jupina's, a whole lot more could train to hit one.

When Are You The One? returned to MTV this month for a seventh season, it did so with all the predictable tropes of the reality dating subgenre. There was Zak, the Toxic Relationship Addict. Kayla, the Guy-Crazy Romantic. Kwasi, the Muscled Egomaniac. Sam, the Independent Feminist. Tevin, the Too-Suave Pretty Boy. All were reductive archetypes; all were irrestistible.

The primary architecture of the show, too, adheres to a simple, if effective formula: throw a group of beautiful, sex-drunk souls into a house, add endless amounts of liquor, stir, and wait for the drama to spill over. It’s a social experiment disguised as a dating show. And, like the best dating shows, it melds fact and fantasy into something that's more like the real thing than you might expect.

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In 2016, I began obsessively watching the MTV franchise—then in season 4—as a form of self-care. I was in search of easy detachments from the nonstop barrage of daily life, with its personal and professional glitches; mindless reality TV worked like the perfect tranquilizer, helping to momentarily alleviate the disquiet that rattled around me. AYTO was a mirage, and there was solace in its fabrication, in the spectacle and riot it made out of love. If real life had become too defeating, perhaps there was something I could discern from the unreal.

I don’t consider myself a reality TV junkie, but there is a unique magic to the genre’s dating shows I find especially intoxicating. In my 32 years, I’ve failed—spectacularly, foolishly—at fortifying any semblance of true romance. It’s partly why I’m enthralled by this particular breed of show.

The early-aughts run of mid-tier reality dating staples—Blind Date (UPN), Change of Heart (syndicated), Next (MTV), and Paradise Hotel (Fox)—exposed me to the genre’s saccharine chaos. I was a teenager completely, and oddly, enraptured by the romantic failures of grownups. It didn't take long to see through its pretense of realness, though. But such is the nature of TV that hinges on confession and courtship, where authenticity is a matter of perception: we yearn for the big reveal no matter how hollow it turns out to be, no matter how quickly we puncture its illusion. The consumption of these shows became my own secret diet. I devoured them without a thought.

In Captive Audience: On Love and Reality TV, Lucas Mann writes of the genre’s inherent polarity. “In proximity, the two words begin to chip away at each other’s meaning. Reality should not be a performance; a show, if it’s any good, should probably be exaggerating something. The resulting promise of the phrase, then, is an impossibility: transforming facts to the level of the spectacular.” Then and now, I find myself striving for the opposite of this: I hope to whittle the spectacular into fact, to mold the exaggerated into a shield against imminent failures of the heart.

With its choreographed sentimentality and the promise of emotional sabotage, Are You The One? exploits a uniform TV framework but offers a twist. The conceit of the show tests science against free will. MTV picks “22 singles who suck at love”—11 women and 11 men; like most reality dating shows it’s stubbornly heteronormative—and puts them in a house for a given number of weeks (typically no more than two months). Before AYTO contestants can enter the house, however, they must consent to a detailed matchmaking test, whereupon producers secretly pair the most compatible guys and girls. Once in the house, through a series of drunken social encounters and challenges, contestants have to find their “perfect match.” Emotions bubble and froth, arguments are had, and by the finale, with $1 million on the line, the goal is to have all the perfect matches coupled together.

Having to find one’s “perfect match” in such a truncated, high-stakes time frame forces contestants into a continual state of exchange: through conversation, through sex, through fighting. This reciprocity often translates like Twitter or Instagram, with its never-ending circus of communication between users and its manufactured gaze: we enact a performative identity so that others might see us as we wish to be seen.

Kelli Korducki, writing in Real Life about ABC’s Bachelor franchise, pointed to the sticky parallels between reality TV and social media. “Any person with an Instagram account can confirm that it’s pleasing to see people as they desire to be seen, even while knowing that the proffered glimpse is curatorial at the least.” But it doesn’t typically play out like that on a show like AYTO. What I’ve come to love particularly about the various, and very cheesy, reality dating series, above other reality TV subgenres, is how contestants seem less polished; there is a loss of control that, at some point, overtakes the show—one contestants seem to willfully embrace.

And so reality becomes a fantasy for us, and a dark fiction for the contestant. The gulf between the image on screen and our interpretation of it, as Mann points to in his book, expands and contracts, and pleasure—at least, the pleasure I’ve found in such shows—arises from what we choose to hook our hopes, fears, and desires into.

In April, Hulu acquired Love Island, the popular UK reality dating show that just ended its fourth season. As with AYTO, I’ve become consumed by it. Unlike AYTO, though, it’s a show of shameless, indulgent excess: seasons run 34-57 episodes, each is an hour long, and it airs six nights a week over the summer. (I’ve made my way through the first two seasons.)

What transpires on screen has less of a maximalist feel: five guys and five girls live and sleep together in a mansion in Majorca. (Even if couples don’t share a romantic spark, they must still share a bed). They drink, bicker over easily-resolved miscommunications, and occasionally compete in embarrassing challenges. Not a lot happens. Every few days the public votes contestants in and out of the house, and the lone surviving couple wins a lump sum of cash. But Love Island is not without its cracks. The show is a brash representation of its predecessors: all but one or two of the contestants are white and thin, and everyone is aggressively straight. It’s a stark reminder of how archaic the subgenre remains. (Are You the One? is reportedly seeking “sexually fluid” castmembers for its next season, however.)

For the longest, I told myself, there was emotional sustenance to be mined from Are You The One? and Love Island. In front of me was profound advice—on how to open up, or how to better communicate—but only if I watched long and intently, spinning their obvious failures into tangible lessons.

But I don’t know if this is true any more, or if it ever was. Maybe I just wished it was for my own sake. I now realize what mesmerizes me isn’t the wisdom of these shows, but their brazen emptiness. It’s what I’ve come to enjoy the most. They manufacture authenticity not into a utopian form of devotion or unattainable love—there are no perfect relationships on display—but into a messy vision of affection and longing.

The pursuit of love is an imperfect, chaotic endeavor. Scripted stories strive to acknowledge that in their own way, whether syrupy melodramas and meet-cute rom-coms—but it’s the ersatz verité of these gaudy dating shows that fully captures the shaggy unpredictability of passion and partnership. In all their contrived falsity, they manage to be more alive, more true, than anything else on TV.

How We Love: Read More

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Do You Have a Normal Sex Life?

The average person will kiss 21.5 people in their lifetime. And while guys lose their virginities at 16.8 years old, women will hold out a little longer until 17.2 years old. Find out how you stack up between the sheets as we run through the stats of an average sex life, as told with sex dolls.

On the first Saturday of March, Kristin Comella put on a white doctor’s coat and took the stage at the fourth annual conference for the Academy of Regenerative Practices. The founder and president of the academy, Comella also oversees an expanding empire of stem cell clinics that promise patients cures for most anything that ails them. None of those treatments—for everything from diabetes and asthma to multiple sclerosis and arthritis—have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The procedure—which costs a few thousand dollars—is always pretty much the same, regardless of its purported target. It involves sucking out some of a patient’s fat tissue with a liposuction needle, isolating the stem cells within, and reinjecting them into the patient’s body. The simplicity of the procedure is why people like Comella say it’s “insane” for the FDA to try to regulate stem cells.

So it was surprising when she announced onstage that her firm, US Stem Cell, had recently begun developing a radically new kind of treatment—this time, for cancer.

“Your stem cells are antigen-presenting cells,” Cormella told the audience, in a Facebook live video the company posted of the event. “We can make them express a protein from your specific cancer. So, it’s an individualized cancer vaccine, if you will.” US Stem Cell, a publicly traded firm that sells stem cell separation kits and operates one of the largest networks of clinics in the country, achieved this with something called an “electroporation protocol,” she said.

Electroporation is essentially zapping cells with electricity—a microbiology technique used to get drugs, proteins, or, most commonly, DNA into cells. “When I hear electroporation, that’s equal to genetic modification,” says Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at UC Davis. “That’s what we do when we want cells to permanently express a protein.”

Knoepfler writes a blog about stem cells, and that’s where he surfaced the video on May 9, after an acquaintance tipped him off. He’s sort of a watchdog for the industry. Since 2011, he’s tracked the proliferation of unregulated stem cell clinics and followed US Stem Cell’s cavalier approach to experimenting on its patients, sometimes to disastrous effect. In 2015, one of its clinics injected liposuction-derived stem cells directly into the eyeballs of three elderly women suffering from age-related macular degeneration. All three went blind, two sued, and US Stem Cell settled out of court.

But this, he says, might be the most dangerous thing he’s seen yet. “If my assumption is correct that they’re introducing DNA, this is up near the top of the riskiest things I’ve ever heard a stem cell clinic doing,” he says. “The big worry here is giving cancer patients another cancer, or a dangerous immune response."

US Stem Cell did not respond to WIRED’s questions about the procedure, so it’s still unclear if it does indeed involve genetic modification and whether any patients have actually been treated with it. In the video Comella only described it as one of the company’s “current protocols.”

What we do know is that the approach sounds similar to a powerful new class of anti-cancer medicines known as CAR-T therapies. They involve extracting a patient’s immune cells and genetically rewiring them to more effectively recognize and attack cancerous cells in the body. The FDA approved the first CAR-T, Kymriah, in late 2017 after scrutinizing years of data from animal studies and human clinical trials. Novartis claims it spent $1 billion to get the treatment to market.

Compare that with the $6,664 US Stem Cell reported having spent last year on research and development. The company—formerly named Bioheart—has nine clinical trials listed on the national registry, none of which are actively recruiting and none of which are for cancer treatments. Though listed as the lead investigator on some of the trials, Comella isn’t a medical doctor. She received a three-year online PhD in stem cell biology from the Panama College of Cell Science—a non-accredited virtual university founded by stem cell evangelist Walter Drake, according to reporting by the LA Times. And she’s not afraid to spar with the federal government.

Last August the FDA sent a warning letter to US Stem Cell and to Comella, specifically, for “significant deviations” from good practices. And after Comella responded with a letter of her own, denying FDA has any jurisdiction to regulate her company’s activities, the agency followed up with a lawsuit.

On May 9, the FDA along with the Department of Justice filed a complaint seeking a permanent injunction against US Stem Cell and Comella, accusing them of endangering patient safety and failing to meet manufacturing standards for cell therapies. The federal officials also filed a similar lawsuit against another clinic—California Stem Cell Treatment Center—which was involved in giving patients an experimental cancer treatment made from a mix of stem cells and a smallpox vaccine inappropriately acquired from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stockpile under the auspices of research. When officials found out they were being administered to patients, US marshals raided the clinic and seized the remaining vials.

Both California Stem Cell Treatment Center and US Stem Cell said in public statements they plan to fight the injunctions, the most aggressive volley yet in the conflict surrounding direct-to-consumer stem cell treatments. At the heart of the clash is the phrase “minimally manipulated,” which the FDA uses to exempt therapies like bone marrow transplants. Both clinics will likely argue in court that their cell-based treatments fit that description. But Comella’s recent statements at the conference could undermine this claim. Electroporation is a tool designed explicitly for cellular manipulation, and there’s nothing minimal about it.

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Biologist Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty – CRISPR

CRISPR is a new biomedical technique that enables powerful gene editing. WIRED challenged biologist Neville Sanjana to explain CRISPR to 5 different people; a child, a teen, a college student, a grad student, and a CRISPR expert.

While You Were Offline: The Truth Is Out There

March 20, 2019 | Story | No Comments

Last week started ominously, with the news that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was firing the department's inspector general even though he—Zinke—is the subject of multiple investigations, and ended with the news that one of those investigations had found Zinke guilty of violating official policy regarding government travel, costing taxpayers $25,000 in the process. (That inspector, by the way, wasn't fired. It was all, apparently, one big misunderstanding.) But it wasn't just a Zinke week; there were also shouting matches at the White House between the president's chief advisors, Facebook hiring a famously unsuccessful British politician to head up its global affairs unit, President Trump cheering violence against journalists, and Canada legalizing weed and then immediately running out. You guys, it's been a week, and that's not even going anywhere near this:

…Whatever the world is coming to, let's try and piece it together, together. Shall we?

The Truth About What Happened to Jamal Khashoggi

What Happened: As evidence mounted that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered by Saudi authorities, the President of the United States did his best to pretend that had never happened, assisted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

What Really Happened: As the week began, the clamor around the disappearance and suspected killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi had reached such volume that it was impossible for even President Trump to ignore it any longer—as much as he seemingly wanted to, preferring to offer vague comments on the subject, accompanied by more concrete statements about wanting to protect arms deals with Saudi Arabia. Was there some way that he could accept the mounting evidence while still leaving himself some wiggle room to get out of actually blaming anyone? As everyone familiar with Trump's 400-pound hacker theory already knows, the answer is, "Yes, but no one would believe it."

It was a ridiculous and patently unbelievable suggestion, as many people pointed out, including some prominent Democrats.

But if "Sure, rogue killers somehow got into an official consulate and killed a dude without anyone noticing and/or stopping them, and it's just coming out now" didn't stretch credibility enough, don't worry; something even more unlikely was about to emerge.

If nothing else, "Yes, we killed him by accident" is certainly a novel defense, especially when you consider that it does contain an admission that they were interrogating him. Not to mention that whole earlier "We didn't do it" thing.

For those wondering how the president dealt with this new development, considering that it also contradicted his previous speculation about what had happened, he did pretty well, considering.

A fact-finding mission! That certainly sounds productive. How it ended up going?

That doesn't look like a particularly hard-hitting meeting, but diplomacy is a game best played with handshakes and smiles, right?

To make matters worse, it emerged that Saudi Arabia delivered $100 million to the US on the day Pompeo arrived. (It was a payment promised back in August, although the timing was certainly an unfortunate coincidence at best.) Still, surely this was a very thorough, potentially explosive, confrontation.

But… still, a lot could be accomplished in 15 minutes, yes? At least we'd know more when he returned and addressed the American people.

Meanwhile, at the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi disappeared…

Would Trump say anything?

Oh, never mind. Throughout the week, more and more grisly details emerged about Khashoggi's murder, including leaked audio of his death. (Something Pompeo reportedly heard on his trip, although that may not be true.) And yet, it took until Thursday for the president to admit that Khashoggi was dead, and even then, he couched it in uncertainty.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post, which published Khashoggi's work, ran his final column the same day. On Friday, Saudi Arabia confirmed Khashoggi's death and claimed it was the result of a physical altercation at the consulate in Istanbul.

The Takeaway: To call this shameful would be an understatement.

Putting Healthcare Back in the Game

What Happened: When voters aren't getting behind your message, what's to stop you from just pretending your unpopular opinions actually belong to your opponents, and vice versa? Apparently little, if you're the president.

What Really Happened: With the possibility of the Republicans losing the House of Representatives in the upcoming midterms, President Trump has been returning more and more recently to the idea that Democrats are trying to dismantle healthcare (they're not, by the way), and that only Republicans can be trusted by those who worry about their health.

As if last week's USA Today editorial debacle didn't deliver enough of a sign that things weren't going to go smoothly for the president on this one, this week saw his attacks hit their zenith with the following tweet.

The tweet came days after Republican Senate Majority Mitch McConnell gave an interview where he talked about his personal, deep disappointment in not cutting "entitlements," giving people the idea that the Republicans would try to repeal Obamacare again given the chance. Considering that healthcare is an issue that voters care about—and tend to side with the Democrats on, enjoying the Affordable Care Act and the coverage of those with pre-existing conditions—it's easy to see why Republicans feel the need to falsify things on the subject.

All of which is to say, people noticed that Trump was essentially saying the very opposite of what was true.

The question, as always, is this: How many people will believe the president despite the evidence of … you know, the rest of the real world? The answer might depend on how many people have found themselves relying on the Affordable Care Act's coverage for pre-existing conditions and have been affected by the Trump Administration's attempts to take it away.

The Takeaway: Hey, TV's David Simon. You're filled with righteous anger, would you like to take a swing at summarizing this one?


What Happened: Despite his busy week, President Trump still found the time to take a jab at Stormy Daniels.

What Really Happened: Perhaps we're spending too much time on the ways in which the president deals with political matters. Maybe we should spend a little moment or two on how petty he can be instead. Early last week, a federal judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit against Trump brought by Stormy Daniels. For most people, this would be a relief, and perhaps a sign to rein in the over-the-top rhetoric. Donald J. Trump is not most people, as this tweet from the next morning made particularly clear.

Folks are generally used to this nonsense by now, but really, let's just take a moment to actually think about this.

Of course, the comment prompted all manner of coverage, because, come on. And yet, it's hardly surprising.

Michael Avenatti, who came to—fame? infamy? We're not sure what the correct term should be, really—as Stormy Daniels' lawyer, took to Twitter to release a statement in reply.

And how did Daniels respond?

It would be nice to say that the president learned the error of his ways and apologized afterwards, but instead, he apparently believed he'd done a great job.

The Takeaway: Once again, reality feels like it's significantly outpacing satire, to the point where even The Onion is struggling to keep up.

Elizabeth Warren's DNA

What Happened: Senator Elizabeth Warren released the results of a DNA test. It went impressively poorly.

What Really Happened: As we noted above, the midterms are just a couple of weeks away, so as you can imagine, everyone on both sides of the political aisle is definitely concentrating on the important stuff.

… And yet, here we all are, somehow actually discussing a senator’s DNA test results. Senator Warren, what were you thinking?

Well, surely this had the president and his staff preparing an apology, given how eager they usually are to try to make peace with their political enemies.

Maybe you caught Trump denying that he'd offered $1 million to a charity of Warren's choice if she proved Native American heritage. Looks as though he was lying—or, as some would say in vague defense, being somewhat economical with the truth—as was easily demonstrated on Twitter, for the little good that it did.

But, wait! That was just his first attempt at a response, and it got worse as he kept going.

Well, at least Warren didn't upset anyone else with this seemingly pointless stunt. Oh no, she definitely did.

I think we can chalk this whole thing up to a spectacular own goal on behalf of Warren, despite attempts to redeem the argument at its core. And so, as probably expected (sadly), guess who got the last—and, really, probably only—laugh in this whole sordid affair?

The Takeaway: Oh, wait. We forgot to note that things actually got worse on Thursday, thanks to a tweet from former Chairman of the Oversight Committee and current Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz.

A Tough Spot

What Happened: A new radio spot for a congressional race in Arkansas upset a lot of people.

What Really Happened: But, hey! The midterms are coming, and not everything is about the president. For example, let's look at this ad for a local race in Arkansas…

Yes, that was a real ad. And, yes, people were noticing it outside the state. On Twitter, the response was… Well, you can probably guess, really.

More than a few people wondered who was behind such an ad, and there was an answer to that which was … well, somewhat unexpected.

That's not to say that this makes the organization he represents legitimate, of course. Or, for that matter, what it even pretended to be.

At least Rep. French Hill did the right thing—even if he didn't do it until after the ad had gone viral and been shared across the internet.

The Takeaway: Regardless of one's reaction to the advertisement, it is compelling, even if it's compelling for all the wrong reasons.

Many people don't know too much about angular momentum—and that's fine. But what about figure skaters? Whether they understand the concept of angular momentum doesn't matter but they use it in one of the all time classic skating moves. You've seen it before. The skater starts off in a standing position and spins about the vertical axis. After a few rotations, the skater pulls both arm in closer to the body and spins faster. In physics, we call this conservation of angular momentum.

Just as an example, here is this same maneuver performed on a rotating platform instead of on ice.

Really, you can try something like this on your own. Sit on a nice spinning chair or stool. Start with your arms stretched out as you spin and then bring your arms in. Don't barf.

But what exactly is angular momentum? In short, it is something that we can calculate that can be conserved. That's a tough definition, so let me give an example of a conserved quantity—like mass (which only mostly conserved). Suppose you take add some baking soda to vinegar. If you've ever done this, you will see that the resulting mixture foams and produces some gas. But here's the cool part. If you measure the mass of the stuff you start with (vinegar and baking soda) it's the same as the mass of the stuff you end up with (carbon dioxide and water and sodium acetate). Boom, mass is conserved. It's the same before and after.

OK, I have to point out that mass isn't always conserved. n a nuclear reaction, the mass of the stuff before doesn't have to be equal to the mass of the stuff after. But if you look at energy (and include mass in the energy), then energy is conserved.

Now for angular momentum. The angular momentum is a quantity that we can calculate for rotating object. It's the product of the angular velocity (how fast it spins—represented with the symbol ω) and the moment of inertia (using the symbol I). I think most people are OK with the idea of the angular velocity—but the moment of inertia thing is a bit more complicated. Basically, the moment of inertia is a property of an object that depends on the distribution of the mass about the rotation axis. If you have more mass further away from the axis of rotation, the moment of inertia is larger than if that was was close to the axis.

Here is a super quick demo—and you can try this at home. I have two sticks with juice boxes taped to them such that both sticks (plus juice) have the same mass. However, there is a difference. One stick has the juice boxes at the ends of the stick (high moment of inertia) and one stick has them taped to the middle of the stick (low moment of inertia). Now look at what happens when you try to rotate these sticks back and forth (remember—they are the same mass). Oh, to make things more fun I gave the higher moment of inertia stick to the stronger girl. Also, here is a longer video version of this demo.

So let's review. The angular momentum depends on both the angular velocity and the mass distribution of the object. You can change this angular momentum by exerting a torque (a twisting force)—but with no external torque, the angular momentum is conserved.

Now getting back to the ice skater. In the vertical spinning position, there is very little torque exerted on the system (since ice is slippery and the skates are close to the axis of rotation). This means that the angular momentum should stay at a constant value. But what happens if you change something—like bringing your arms closer to your body? This would decrease the moment of inertia. Since the angular momentum has to stay constant, the angular velocity must increase. It's the only way to conserve angular momentum.

Here is another view (from the top) of this same move—just for fun.

Really, you could easily take some measurements from this. It wouldn't be too difficult to measure the angular velocity both before and after the arms being pulled in. From that, you could calculate the change in the moment of inertia. But still, I think this move is best left to professionals—the spinning would make me sick.

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Sabrina Spellman, the protagonist of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, makes a dramatic departure from her first Archie Comics incarnation. She’s still a half-witch, half-mortal teen, concealing her powers from everyone in the mortal world. But this latest iteration of the teenage witch, played by Kiernan Shipka, confronts problems that feel disconcertingly current. Early in the first episode, a female friend confesses to Sabrina that she’s been sexually assaulted by a group of football players. Indignant, Sabrina marches to the principal’s office to make her friend’s case to Principal Hawthorne (Bronson Pinchot). He’s dismissive, even uninterested. Sabrina insists on calling in the football team for questioning.

“You’re suggesting a witch hunt?” he says.

Sabrina doesn’t miss a beat: “I don’t care for that term.”

But beyond being a now-familiar convention, it’s also a moment of startling awareness for the show: “witch hunt” directly evokes language that has been used to delegitimize the #MeToo movement, to suggest that claims against groups of men are paranoiac, hysterical. And across the first few episodes of Netflix’s new teen thriller, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina negotiates the paradox of gender in witch lore. On one hand, women witches must sign away their freedom to a patriarchal Dark Lord in order to gain power; on the other, their powers allow them to settle scores with oppressors of the mortal world. And in leaning in to that uneasy balance, the show revitalizes a once-frivolous comic-book character—and positions as her adversaries not just the everyday wickedness of the mortal world, but Lucifer himself.

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The fantastically macabre update comes courtesy of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who also created The CW’s Riverdale. Just as with that show, Sabrina takes its familiar cast of characters—Sabrina, her witch aunts, her feline familiar—and sets them in a darker, more mature milieu. Fans of Riverdale’s horny teen ensemble won’t find quite the same level of raging hormones in Sabrina. They will, though, see a lot more gore in this adaptation, which is unflinching in its inspiration from horror tropes and images. In one early scene, a pair of levitating scissors spears its victim’s neck, releasing jets of blood that pools decadently across the frame. And that’s just in the pilot episode.

The backdrop of the show is Greendale, whose quaint mid-century Americana instantly recalls the aesthetic of neighboring town Riverdale. We learn that Greendale had its own gruesome witch trials, hundreds of years ago, and the coven has lived on secretly ever since. Their latest initiate would be Sabrina Spellman—that is, if she makes up her mind. Sabrina was born from a warlock father and a mortal mother, both long deceased. On her sixteenth birthday, per Spellman tradition, she can choose to strike a deal with the devil and keep her powers, with a catch: she must cut ties with her mortal life, including her human friends and her smitten, oblivious boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch).

Sabrina doesn’t have much time to mull over her options. Her witch Aunts Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Hilda (Lucy Davis) are already preparing Sabrina for her Dark Baptism, scheduled for Sabrina’s sixteenth birthday, which is also on Halloween, which just so happens to fall beneath a vaguely portentous eclipse. If she chooses to sign away her freedom to the devil, in exchange for power, she must also attend the Academy of Unseen Arts, never to see her human friends again.

Unlike with previous adaptations of the Archie Comics character, though, magic is no laughing matter. The Netflix show’s representation of magic is more closely aligned to the medieval and Renaissance concept of witches, who were believed to have been bestowed with power by Satan himself. Lucifer makes a few appearances in the show, in the form of a grotesque goat monster, echoing medieval renderings and the devil of Goya’s haunting Witches’ Sabbath. Even Salem, Sabrina’s feline familiar, is no smart-aleck animatronic, but a cat that occasionally evinces hints of his fearsome demonic form. The show’s darker depictions of magic makes for some deliciously spine-chilling scares.

But they’re also where Sabrina begins to lose its magic touch: The show at times seems so besotted with explaining the rules of the witch law that it belabors its own worldbuilding across the first few episodes. In a pilot episode of a show with fantastical elements, top-heavy exposition can be forgiven. But toward the end of the third episode, when a high priest of Satan’s Church of Night (a leering Richard Coyle) expounds on witch law during a trial for Sabrina’s soul, the show begins to feel didactic.

However, the show remains intact, held together by its center of gravity, the eponymous enchantress herself. Shipka plays an earnest, willful, occasionally vengeful Sabrina. She’s a Sabrina who speaks up, often ill-advisedly, against the draconic laws of both mortal and human worlds. Sabrina’s choices—whether she keeps her powers, or what she chooses to do with them—seem to grapple with this paradox as she grows across the season. It’s Shipka’s forceful performance that allows Sabrina to convincingly insert itself into current conversations on sexual assault and consent.

The show's very premise, in fact, centers on women’s relationship to power: what they can do when they have it, and how the men around them react. When Sabrina is rebuffed by Principal Hawthorne, she decides to teach the football players a lesson herself—and does, with the help of the Weird Sisters, a supernatural goth girl gang who relish in the boys’ torture a little too ardently. Coming down from her revenge high, Sabrina expresses misgivings about signing her name away to the devil in order to retain her powers. She confesses to the Weird Sisters that she wants to keep both her powers, and her freedom.

“He’ll never give you that, The Dark Lord,” says one of them, Prudence (Tati Gabrielle). “The thought of you, or any of us, having both terrifies him.”

When Sabrina asks why, Prudence smirks: “He’s a man, isn’t he?”

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a fun, seasonally apt fantasia of your favorite classic horror tropes. (Satanic spiders pouring in through a window, anyone?) But its greatest strength is Shipka’s Sabrina, defiant even when unsure of herself, and determined to wrest back control from two worlds that try to strip it from her. While the witchcraft is set in 16th-century imaginations, the show portrays the agency and awareness of 21st-century teenagers against a retro-creepy background—with scares that are fun as hell.

You could be excused, when you first hear Dane Rudy describe his company, for thinking that he wants to use raccoons to send satellites into space. Trash pandas, though, are not the future that Rudy is talking about.

He's talking about rockoons—rockets launched from high-altitude balloons. Rockoons trace their trajectory back to the military, like the 1950s Air Force program called Farside. (Check out the news anchor's vintage intonations in this archival video about the program's fifth—and first successful—launch attempt.)

Rockoons, Rudy believes, deserve a reboot. Through his company, Leo Aerospace, he wants to balloon small satellites into the stratosphere, then shoot them to orbit with rockets. When launched from the ground, rockets require lots of fuel to push through the dense air of those first miles. If another vehicle floats them way up before they have to fire, they can use their fuel for what really matters—getting to space—rather than wasting it on leaving the ground. Right now, small satellites usually have to carpool on serious rockets, with names like Falcon, which is inconvenient, inefficient, expensive, slow—all the things small satellites are supposed to not be.

Last Wednesday, Rudy was in the LA Grand Hotel, surrounded by soft-jazz piano and spiral-arm chandeliers, to try to figure out what rockoons could maybe do for the military. Back in April, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—Darpa—announced that it would hold a "Launch Challenge": To win, competitors have to launch something small into space two times in a span of weeks.

It's going to be a bit of a fire drill: Less than a month before the first launch, sometime in the last quarter of 2019, Darpa will tell competitors where it will take place. Then, less than two weeks before go-time, the agency will give them details about orbit, payload, and pad. And then they must rinse-repeat within weeks, with new requirements that they'll only receive after the first launch. The agency will give $10 million to the first-place winner, plus $400,000 to all who qualify to enter at all, and $2 million to everyone who nails the first launch.

At the Grand Hotel, Rudy was attending Darpa's "Competitors’ Day," an opportunity for would-be launchers to come together and get a read on the situation. It's kind of a PowerPoint-heavy Opening Ceremonies, minus musical numbers, and the ballroom is full of launch vehicle makers, propulsion companies, component constructors, New Space upstarts, Old Space stalwarts, spaceport representatives, and also the guy who sent the first hot dog toward space.

Everyone's name badge has the same graphic, which looks like a flat plain, edged by mountains. Four rockets launch at once from the landscape, which resembles classic aerospace-innovation geography. It's Edwards Air Force Base, or White Sands Missile Range. It's Area 51, or the Academy in Colorado Springs. And toward the end of 2019, Darpa may ask these competitors to launch from federal places like these, or from the commercial spaceports popping up around the country.

At the beginning of the meeting, Todd Master, the Launch Challenge program manager, steps up to a podium. "For a really long time, we’ve enjoyed and benefited from space being a sanctuary," he says. The guy next to me, who has a Sputnik tattoo on one forearm and an infinity symbol inked on the other, writes something in his notebook.

"That environment has been changing," he continues. "We’re in an environment now where we view ourselves as threatened in space."

Here’s part of what this means: More entities than ever can get to orbit. If you can get to orbit, it's no huge technological leap to trespass onto someone else’s space—by, say, slamming into their satellite. This problem has been part of the space race from the beginning. After all, the reason we invented rockets was to shoot each other with missiles, not because of the romantic human urge to explore the cosmos. And hackers could even target the software and signals satellites send, without shooting anything physical into space in the first place.

One ultra-satellite is vulnerable to take-down, physically or cyber-ly. But if you take that satellite's skills and disperse them across a network of hundreds or thousands of small, replaceable sats? The flock functions fine even if a few get destroyed or corrupted. And if a big one becomes compromised, you can quickly reestablish its capabilities in miniature. So Darpa hopes the DoD will pivot to constellations of small space objects, sent up so often that the citizenry simply shrugs its collective shoulders at every successful rocket launch. It doesn't even have to be a rocket. “I don’t care if FedEx is three trucks and two boats and an airplane,” says Master. "Get it there and I’ll pay you.”

The hosts set the crowd loose with an explicit mandate to network. Some attendees have vehicles in the works, while some make only vehicle parts. Some are the taker-carers of logistics. Some are from the spaceports. Few attendees, in other words, have the standalone resources to complete the Launch Challenge. I end up in a gaggle with Rudy. Nearby, someone from Northrop Grumman talks to the founder of Ruckus Composites, a company that mostly does carbon fiber work for the bike industry. But the founder, Shawn Small, is a space geek—he’s the one with the Sputnik tattoo.

Small also makes rockets sometimes, telescopes other times. He sent that first hot dog 22 miles up. Also chicken, on a mission called “A Pollo 13.” He wonders to me, at the end of the day, exactly why Darpa wants this responsive technology. “What do they know?” he asks. As in, what do they know that we don't.

A lot, probably, about all the things that could realistically go wrong in space. The military mindset is a strange thing, tasking itself with thinking constantly about how we are threatened, or could be. And for Darpa, right now, the way to shrink risk is to shrink satellites.

As I get ready to leave, I ask Rudy if it’s strange, for him, to be thinking about doing defense work (Rudy says he isn't sure whether Leo will enter the challenge). On Leo's website, the company describes using little satellites to track crop health, illegal fishing, port traffic. But like all launch technology, rockoons are dual-use. Most space companies—from the big SpaceXs and Boeings to the smaller Planets and Rocket Labs—do defense or intelligence work.

Partly for that reason, Leo Aerospace just went through a national-security-focused accelerator, MD5, to gain experience in navigating the byzantine bureaucratic processes involved in defense contracting. "You learn a lot of things you wouldn't expect," Rudy says, when you get into the defense world, but what he has learned has convinced him the sector is "trying to make the world a better, safer place."

And a more watched one, in which the US doesn't lose whatever shadow space race is going on. Darpa, in fact, was founded partly because of the surprise Soviet launch of Sputnik—the world's first (small) satellite. The US, henceforth, would be the surpris-er. So no matter what the agency publicly says about quick-launch and smallsat infrastructure, it surely is anticipating some surprises to come, and planning a few of its own.

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Last week, Netflix users raised concerns that the company was targeting African American users by race in the way it promoted films—highlighting black characters who sometimes had only minor roles in a movie.

The debate began after Stacia L. Brown, creator of the podcast Charm City, tweeted a screenshot of the promotion she was shown for Like Father, featuring two black characters, Leonard Ouzts and Blaire Brooks, who had “20 lines between them, tops,” rather than the movie’s famous white stars, Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer. Brown, who is black, posted a handful of other examples where Netflix highlighted black actors, presumably to entice her to watch, even though the films’ casts were predominantly white.

In response, Netflix issued a carefully worded statement emphasizing that the company does not track demographic data about its users. “Reports that we look at demographics when personalizing artwork are untrue,” the company said. “We don't ask members for their race, gender, or ethnicity so we cannot use this information to personalize their individual Netflix experience. The only information we use is a member's viewing history.” The company added that the personalized posters are the product of a machine-learning algorithm that it introduced last year.

In other words, Netflix cares about keeping you hooked, rather than your race. Yet the focus on explicit questions about race is something of a dodge, allowing the company to distance itself from an outcome that researchers say was easily predictable. “If you personalize based on viewing history, targeting by race/gender/ethnicity is a natural emergent effect,” Princeton professor Arvind Narayanan tweeted in response to Netflix’s statement. “But a narrowly worded denial allows companies to deflect concerns.”

The company’s effort to optimize every aspect of the service, down to its thumbnail promotional images, was on a collision course with racial and ethnic identity. That’s because a sophisticated data-tracking operation like Netflix knows some viewers are bound to watch content that reflects their own race, gender, or sexuality. So it likely anticipated that artwork based on that viewing history would reflect preferences in race or gender. While users might appreciate suggested categories like “Movies with a strong female lead,” hyper-targeting thumbnails inevitably ran into a problem.

The algorithm may have been testing seemingly innocuous variables, such as whether minor movie characters could entice viewers. But it applied the formula to a repository of content that reflects bias in Hollywood, where people of color are offered fewer and less prominent parts. Highlighting minor black characters in a predominantly white movie such as Like Father left Netflix users like Brown feeling manipulated.

Did Netflix anticipate this outcome? The company’s response to WIRED skirted the question: “We are constantly testing different imagery to better understand what is actually helpful to members in deciding what to watch. The goal of all testing is to learn from our members and continuously improve the experience we are delivering,” a company spokesperson said by email.

Why bother customizing down to the thumbnail? “We have been personalizing imagery on the service for many years,” the spokesperson added. “About a year ago, we began personalizing imagery by member as we saw it helped members cut down on browsing time and more quickly find stories they wanted to watch. In general, all of our service updates and feature[s] are designed around helping members more quickly find a title they would enjoy watching.”

The spokesperson would not elaborate on what aspects of our viewing habits are used for personalized imagery. “We don't go into depth on this topic as much of it is proprietary,” the spokesperson wrote.

Whether Netflix’s profiling was intentional or not, Georgetown law professor Anupam Chander thinks the company owes users more transparency. “It’s so predictable that the algorithm is going to get it wrong," he says. "Black people have so few actual speaking parts, trying to promote a movie to me as a person of color might pull out the side character who is killed in the first 10 minutes.”

Chander adds that Netflix is missing an opportunity to educate its users. “The worry here is manipulation, and the way to avoid being manipulated is to be an educated consumer. The companies need to educate us about how their products and their algorithms work.” Chander considers himself a savvy consumer, but until Tuesday, he didn’t know that the thumbnails Netflix serves him are just as personalized as its movie selection.

Selena Silva, a research assistant at University of California at Davis, who co-authored a recent paper on racially biased outcomes, also sees room for more candor from Netflix. Algorithmic decisionmaking has dangerous consequences for black and Hispanic people when used in areas like criminal justice and predictive policing. In those cases too, technologists behind the algorithms may not explicitly ask about race. There are plenty of proxies, such as high school or zip code that are closely correlated to race.

In those arenas, there is no visibility, whereas “Netflix could easily explain everything that’s happening, if it’s making large populations uncomfortable,” Silva says. “When it’s something as trivial like artwork being shown to advertise a movie, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t need to be hidden.”

This story originally appeared on CityLab and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Her name was Lola. No, not “L-O-L-A, Lola,” from the Kinks’ song, but a Mexican Redhead.

Well, actually, not that either, it turned out.

“We don’t really say that anymore,” the avian veterinarian said as he helped Lola out of her carrier. “She’s an Amazon. A green-cheeked Amazon, Amazona viridigenalis. That’s what the scientific name means. Though most people just call them red-crowned parrots.”

That was my introduction to a bird species, one of whom I adopted 10 years ago from a friend of a friend, as these things go among people who live with pet birds. But it was only after I moved to Los Angeles that I found out about her feral cousins, the large wild flocks of red-crowned parrots that live in the San Gabriel Valley, just northeast of Los Angeles.

Parrots, of course, are not uncommon around Los Angeles: More than a dozen different species have established wild populations in the area, descendants of pet birds that escaped at some point and managed to make a home for themselves in some part of the sprawling metropolis. But for the red-crowned parrots, Los Angeles is more than an additional habitat. The city is a sanctuary for this endangered species.

In the 1970s and ’80s, tens of thousands of chicks and adults were poached from the red-crowned parrots’ original habitat in northeastern Mexico, in the states of Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosí, and brought to the United States to be sold in the pet trade. Because of the poaching and habitat loss from deforestation, their population dwindled in Mexico, and red-crowned parrots are now listed as an endangered species in Mexico and by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In the meantime, however, their pet cousins in the United States escaped or were let go by owners who realized too late that wild-caught parrots make terrible pets, and that even tamed ones are demanding and noisy. Red-crowned parrots established sizable wild populations in Florida and California. In the Los Angeles area, there are about 2,000 to 3,000 individuals, a number that could at this point rival or exceed that of the remaining wild population in Mexico. Feeding largely on non-native nut and fruit trees, red-crowned parrots started to breed and became a permanent feature of the greater Los Angeles landscape over the course of the 1980s and ’90s.

In 2001, the California Bird Records Committee added them to the list of California state birds, where they joined species such as house sparrows, rock pigeons (the ones that perch on every urban power line), and starlings: species that are not native to the state, but have become integrated into California ecosystems over the last century.

I feel a small sense of wonder every time it strikes me that two of the birds who live with me are members of an endangered species whose members have become “naturalized citizens” of California. And I’ve been overcome with awe every time I’ve gone to see hundreds of red-crowned parrots come in to land in one of their night roosts in Pasadena.

But the implications of these parrots’ presence in the city goes beyond emotion and aesthetics. It makes me wonder, could Los Angeles become a sanctuary for other endangered species—even those who are not native to Southern California?

Some ecologists think so. Brad Shaffer, a biology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, notes that cities not only destroy habitat, but also create new living spaces for animals and plants. Some of these spaces work well for native species, while others don’t. Some of these modified landscapes could offer refuge to species that are struggling to survive in their original habitats elsewhere.

In the past, some of the new ecological niches that have been created in cities have been occupied by non-native species through sheer serendipity, by plants or animals like the red-crowned parrots that happened to land in town and know how to take advantage of the niches they found.

But what if we deliberately offered sanctuary to endangered species in our cities—those that are native, of course, but also those that are not?

Shaffer suggests that spotted turtles, for instance, which are endangered on the East Coast of the United States, might thrive in Los Angeles. Endangered geckos might find an ecological niche on and around parts of our buildings that are currently unoccupied by any native lizards.

Of course, any experiment along these lines would have to be carefully planned and closely monitored—both to protect the introduced plants or animals from being exposed to new risks, and to prevent them from becoming invasive and causing harm to native species we want to conserve. So a great deal of scientific, legal, and educational work would need to be done to make cities function as something like “urban arks” in our current era of a possible sixth mass extinction caused by humans.

This idea might seem counterintuitive. After all, aren’t introduced species, moved around by humans, one of the root causes of ecological crises? From eucalyptus trees to ring-necked pheasants and zebra mussels, introduced species often compete with native flora and fauna for habitat and food. In some cases, they outcompete native species and become “invasive”—a label we give to species that spread and cause harm to native ecosystems.

Examples leap readily to mind: Feral cats have eaten their way through much of Australia’s native fauna. The brown tree snake has driven at least half a dozen bird species to extinction on the island of Guam. Kudzu—an East Asian arrowroot originally introduced for erosion control—turned into “the plant that ate the South” in the United States.

These striking examples of environmental harm tend to make one forget that the majority of introduced species either disappear quickly, or integrate into existing ecosystems without triggering ecological disaster. And imagining an “urban ark” would not be the same as introducing new species into wild areas that retain intact native ecosystems, but instead into environments that are already fundamentally transformed from their earlier states. Cities are in effect largely novel ecosystems that offer quite different ecological opportunities—as well as risks—than the ecosystems they replaced. An “urban ark” would seek to take advantage of these opportunities rather than letting them occur by accident, as they usually do.

The fact that urban landscapes, like many agricultural landscapes, are such new ecosystems—complex patchworks of native and introduced species, some desirable, some not, some invasive, some not—has led to something of a split among ecologists today.

Restoration ecology, the effort to reconstruct ecosystems that existed in a place at a particular time in the past, and to get rid of species that did not form part of the landscape in the past, remains an important project, especially in areas that are not primarily designed to sustain human populations.

But other ecologists have suggested that where a species comes from matters less than how it functions in its contemporary environment, especially in human-designed habitats such as cities.

From this perspective, the most important question for thinking about urban biodiversity in a city such as Los Angeles is not “What species used to be here?” Instead we should ask, “What animals and plants should form part of our environment in the future?”

That question can’t be answered without taking into account the city’s social and cultural as well as biological diversity. Along with solid scientific research, we need forums for discussing what I like to call “multispecies justice”: the relationship between what it’s right to do by other people, and what it’s right to do by other species.

Multispecies justice aims to create better urban habitats for both humans and nonhumans—sanctuaries that encourage both biological and cultural diversity.

Some discussions are already underway on how we might translate such a vision into reality. We could reintroduce native oaks and sages, for example, while providing space for community gardens, full of plants brought to Los Angeles from around the world. Respect for the lives of feral cats ought to be reconciled with the protection of urban birds. The need for more affordable housing should be balanced with the desire for more green spaces in urban areas that don’t have enough of either.

Turning the city into a multispecies sanctuary should be part of these discussions, not only because the city is already functioning in this way for species like the red-crowned parrots, but also because humans and nonhumans might need our “urban ark” in the future.

This essay is presented in partnership with KCET and the Laboratory for Environmental Strategies (LENS) at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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