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Our First Look at Psychedelic Sci-Fi Thriller, ‘Annihilation’

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The trailer for Ex Machina director and writer Alex Garland's cosmic sci-fi thriller Annihilation is finally here. The movie stars Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac, and is based on the Southern Reach Trilogy by speculative fiction author Jeff VanderMeer.

So far...so good? (With one major exception.)

VanderMeer's brand of psychedelic, Lovecraftian horror is wildly imaginative. Annihilation drops us into some near future, narrated by a stoic, emotionally impenetrable biologist (played by Portman). Part of a covert government operation, the biologist and her unit are dispatched to a pristine wilderness called "Area X." Their task: survey, collect, and come back alive.

Only, this ecologically perfect environment isn't what it seems. Something otherworldly, even extradimensional, is lurking there. And the team's leader, a brusque and manipulative psychologist, has ulterior motives for her crew. The expedition soon becomes compromised, and the biologist must face not only extraordinary threats, but also herself.

Garland's adaptation looks stunning. But I wish he'd remained true to VanderMeer's biologist, who was part-Asian. The psychologist, too, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, was a person of color; being described as an Indigenous woman in the books.

Neither of these characters were expressly defined by their races, but speculative fiction is overwhelmingly white (especially on screen), and it would've been nice to see that component of VanderMeer's vision preserved.

Annihilation won several sci-fi literary awards, and is the first in a series of two other books, Authority and Acceptance. The film is set to hit theaters on February 23 next year.

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25 days ago
"looks good `cept the whitewashing!"
21 days ago
I don't remember the book mentioning anybody's race... or appearance, or name?
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Boston Salmon Vs. Danny 'My Anus' Mainus

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29 days ago
This is worth the quick listen.
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The Week My Husband Left And My House Was Burgled I Secured A Grant To Begin The Project That Became BRCA1

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The week of April Fools’ Day of 1981 began badly. That Sunday night my husband told me he was leaving me. He had fallen in love with one of his graduate students, and they were headed back to the tropics the next day.

I was completely devastated. It was totally unexpected. 33 years later, I still don’t know what to say about it. I was just beside myself.

He gave me a new vacuum cleaner to soften the blow.

It was the middle of spring quarter at Berkeley, so the next morning I had my class, as usual. And I had to either teach it or explain why not. It was far easier to teach, so I dropped off our daughter, Emily - who was five and three-quarters at the time - at kindergarten, along with her faithful Aussie, her Australian shepherd, who went everywhere with her. I headed down to school and taught my class.

As I was leaving, my department chairman caught up with me. He said, “Come into my office.”

I said, “Fine.” (I had hoped to escape.)

I went into his office, and he said, “I wanted to tell you, I’ve just learned you’ve been awarded tenure.” And of course I burst into tears.

Now, this department chairman, bless him, was a gentleman a full generation older than me. He had three grown sons. He had no daughters. He had certainly never had a young woman assistant professor in his charge before.

And he took my shoulders, and he stepped back, and he said, “No one’s ever reacted like that before.” He said, “Sit down, sit down. What’s the matter?”

I said, “It’s not the tenure. It’s that my husband told me last night he was leaving me.”

He looked at me, opened the drawer of his desk, pulled out a huge bottle of Jack Daniels, poured me a half a glass of it, and said, “Drink this. You’ll feel better.” It was 9:30 on Monday morning. So I did - and I did. I made it through the day, got sober, and around 3:30 headed back up the hill to pick up Emily from school. She hopped in the car with Ernie, her dog, and we drove home.

We got home, walked up the stairs, opened the house... and it was absolute chaos.

Someone had broken in. Everything was completely trashed. In retrospect what must have happened was that my then husband had often worked at home, and whoever had been casing the neighbourhood must have left our house aside because he was often there. But that day, of course, he hadn’t been there, so we were vulnerable, and we were robbed.

So I called 911, and a young Berkeley police officer came up and went through the house. Of course, I had no idea what had been taken and what hadn’t, because my husband had taken many things with him on Sunday night. I wasn’t sure what should still be there or not. I explained that to Officer Rodriguez, and he said, “As you figure it out, make a list.”

Then he went upstairs with Emily. They opened the door of her room, and it was eighteen inches deep of just chaos. The bed had been pulled apart, curtains pulled down, drawers all dumped out. Emily -five and three-quarters - looked at Officer Rodriguez and said, “I can’t tell if the burglars were in here or not.” And Officer Rodriguez, to his eternal credit, did not crack a smile. He handed her his card and said, “Young lady, if you discover that anything is missing, please give me a call.”

So now it’s Monday night. I was scheduled later that week to give a presentation in Washington, D.C., to the National Institutes of Health. The way this worked in those days was, if you were a young professor, applying for the first time for a large grant, you were quite frequently asked to come to the NIH and give what was called a “reverse site visit.” You’d explain what you planned to do, and then it would be decided if you were going to be granted quite a substantial amount of money over five years.

It was terribly important. I had not done this before. It was brand-new. It was going to be my first large grant on my own. The plan had been for Emily to stay with her dad and for my mom to come out, arriving the next day - Tuesday - to help out. That had seemed, at the time, like a great plan.

My mom, who was living in Chicago, obviously didn’t know anything about the events of the previous 24 hours, so I thought, I’ll just wait and explain it to her when she gets here. It seemed far better than calling her at what, by now, was quite late in Chicago because of all the business with the burglary and the police and all that.

So the next day, we picked up my mom at San Francisco Airport, and driving back to Berkeley, I explained to her what happened on Sunday. She was very, very upset. She said, “I can’t believe you’ve let this family come apart. I can’t believe this child will grow up without a father” (which was never true and has never been true since).


“How could you do this? How could you not put your family first?” Emily was sitting there in the car.

And, “I just cannot imagine,” she said. “I’m going to go talk to Rob.”

I said, “He’s back in Costa Rica.”

“This just can’t be,” and she became more and more upset. By the time we got home to Berkeley, she was extremely agitated. Emily was terrified. It was clearly not going to work for her to care for Emily.

After a couple of hours, my mom said, “I’m going home. I just can’t imagine that this has happened. You must stay here and take care of your child. How can you even think of running off to the East Coast at a time like this?”

To put it into context now, years later, my father had died not long before, after my mom had nursed him for more than 20 years. Just two months after this visit, my mother was diagnosed with epilepsy. So, in context, her reaction was not as irrational as it seemed in that moment, but at the time, of course, it was devastating. So I said, “Okay. You’re right. I’ll arrange for you to have a ticket to go home tomorrow. We’ll take you out to the airport, and I’ll cancel the trip.”

I called my mentor, who had been my postdoc adviser at UC San Francisco until just a couple of years before. He was already in Washington, D.C., by happenstance at an oncology meeting, and I said, “I’m not going to be able to come,” and I explained briefly what had happened. Of course, he knew me well. And he just listened to all this. He had grown daughters and said, “Look, come.”

I said, “I can’t.”

He said, “Bring Emily. Emily and I know each other. I’ll sit with her while you’re giving your presentation.” He had grandchildren of his own.

He said, “It will be fine.”

I said, “She doesn’t have a ticket.”

He said, “As soon as we hang up the phone, I’m going to call the airline and get her a ticket. Pick up the ticket at the airport tomorrow when you take your mom back. It’ll be on the same flight as yours. Everything will be fine.”
I said, “You sure?”

And he said, “Yes. I have to call the airline now. Good night,” and he hung up. (In those days it was very easy to rearrange tickets.)

I arranged for my mother to have a ticket to go back to Chicago. Her flight was at 10 o’clock in the morning. So we left Berkeley in plenty of time, in principle, to get to San Francisco Airport. But it was one of those days where the Bay Bridge was just totally jammed up. It was a horrible drive across. What should have been a drive of 45 minutes took an hour and 45 minutes. When we finally arrived, my mom’s flight was about to leave in 15 minutes, Emily’s and my flight was going to leave in 45 minutes, and in front of the counter to pick up tickets was a long, long line. And, of course, we had our suitcases. My mom was carrying hers, and she was already fairly frail.

So Emily and my mother and I were standing in the line, and I said, “Mom, can you make it down to your plane on your own?” Bear in mind, there were no checkpoints in those days, but there were, of course, very long corridors.

She said, “No.”

So I said to Emily, “I’m going to need to go with Grandmom down to her plane.”

And my mother shrieked, “You can’t leave that child here alone!” (Fair enough.)

Suddenly this unmistakable voice above and behind me said, “Emily and I will be fine.”

I turned around to the man standing behind us, and I said, “Thank you.”

My mother looked at me and said, “You can’t leave Emily with a total stranger.”

And I said, “Mom, if you can’t trust Joe DiMaggio, who can you trust?”

joe di maggio

Joe DiMaggio, a famous American baseball player, who just like us was standing there, waiting in line - looked at me, looked at my mother, and gave Emily a huge grin. And then he put out his hand and said, “Hi, Emily, I’m Joe.”

Emily shook his hand, and she said, “Hello, Joe, I’m Emily.”

And I said, “Mom, let’s go.”

So my mother and I headed down the hall. We got to the plane, and my mother got on fine. It was probably 25 minutes by the time I got back, and by that time Emily and Joe were all the way up at the front chatting with each other by the counter.

Joe DiMaggio had wrangled Emily’s ticket for her. She was holding it. He was clearly waiting to go to his plane until I got back. I looked at him, and I said, “Thank you very much.” And he said, “My pleasure.”

He headed off down the hall. He turned right. He gave me this huge salute and wave and a tremendous grin and went off to his own plane.

Emily and I went to Washington, DC. The interview went fine. I got the grant, and that was the beginning of the work that now, 33 years later, has become the story of inherited breast cancer and the beginning of the project that became BRCA1.

marie claire king

This story is cross-posted from The Moth’s latest book for a special edition of HuffPost UK’s Life Less Ordinary blog series. You can buy the book here and listen to Mary-Claire tell her story live here.

Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you’ve got something extraordinary to share please email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.

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35 days ago
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36 days ago
For conference/meeting planners: note that a family friendly meeting environment was critical to research into BRCA1
San Diego, CA, USA

A lotus birth is leaving a newborn attached to a decomposing placenta

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Perhaps you have heard of the latest “natural” birthing trend called a “lotus birth”? This practice involves leaving the newborn attached to the placenta until the umbilical cord separates “naturally” or, to be blunt about it, rots off.

Let’s get two sets of basic facts established before we continue:

  1. The placenta receives its oxygenated blood from the maternal side. The uterus keeps the placenta alive. The umbilical vein in the umbilical cord carries oxygenated blood from the placenta to the fetus and the umbilical cord arteries return deoxygenated blood from the fetus to the placenta.
  2. When organs lose their blood supply they die and decomposition sets in within minutes. Dead flesh is a good place for bacteria to grow.

There have already been reports of tragic but predictable outcomes. Several colleagues have told me about serious infections in newborns and there has been a reported case of hepatitis. Someone told me their friend kept the placenta attached in its own diaper (as one does), but had to discard the placenta after a day or two because the cat fancied more than a nibble. Excellent, feline oral bacteria in a culture medium attached to a newborn baby. What could possibly go wrong?

How did this madness start?

I admit I became rather obsessed with the origin story of “lotus births.” The ancient Greeks had nothing to say on the subject of dry aging the placenta. It seems the afterbirth has always been an afterbirth. This does not surprise me as we humans figured out pretty quickly that it was better to bury or cremate our dead and not to shit where we eat. For thousands of years people have also known that raw meat was a source of illness.

The first mention of a “lotus birth” in the medical literature was in 2001 in a journal titled Midwifery Today International Midwife (Issue 58, Summer 2001), which is basically a collection of essays about particularly magical births and opinion pieces. The article which I could not locate through the journal’s website is available online here. I use the term article loosely because at times it reads like an incantation in a book of spells. The article includes this vignette:

My now grown daughter Dj is in a panic. “I’ve lost my purse! Mother help me. I’ll die without my purse!” Dj’s purse is oval shaped, weighing about 1 1/2 lbs., is brown-red in color and has a long strap. Misplacing it causes her to panic, her breathing becomes labored. She cries for mother. Moments after Dj cried, “I’ll die without my purse!” Our eyes met in a moment of “a-ha”. She laughed out loud and said, “This is all your fault mother, you never should have let my cord be cut.” We hugged and one of Dj’s brothers unearthed the essential purse, the surrogate placenta. 

Never has a paragraph rendered me so entirely and utterly speechless.

But wait, there’s more. The author writes about a five-day old placenta still attached to a newborn and swaddled in a diaper (apparently treated with herbs, I’m guessing for the odor but that is glossed over) that apparently “pulsed.” The father, a Ph.D., proclaimed, “ I am not fooled by the dry appearance of the cord, deep in the center there is life. Something essential is being provided to my baby by his placenta.”

The author herself ponders on the many babies that she has delivered who have cried out or flinched the very moment their cords were cut. I would like to pause and insert the biological fact that the umbilical cord has no nociceptors and as such is unable to transmit sensations of pain. In addition, no fetal stress response has been identified with puncturing the umbilical cord during in utero procedures. Apparently anatomy and physiology are trivial matters to be discarded when they don’t fit the narrative.

But chimpanzees do it!

The actual origin of the “lotus birth” seems to belong to someone named Claire Lotus Day who in 1974 heard that chimpanzees did not sever the umbilical cord after birth so yeah, humans should totally do it! That is the extent of it. Really.

Obviously it must have escaped Ms. Lotus Day’s attention that chimpanzees have many differences from humans, such as significant anatomical differences, they do fine with unassisted births (unlike humans), have a different diet, and of course they throw feces.


So here we are with grown adults thinking a dead placenta magically nourishes a newborn because a woman heard chimpanzees leave their cords alone. Then some midwives and an Australian doctor named Sarah Buckley decided to brand it as a modern ritual. And then a “journal” legitimized it. And legitimized it some more.

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And now you can buy hand crafted lotus birth placenta bags on Etsy. No really, you can. 

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The facts

The placenta is an organ and without blood flow organs die. A newborn does not supply blood to a placenta.

It is generally a good thing to delay cutting the cord by up to 60 seconds. This increases the hemoglobin and iron stores for term babies and has some significant benefits for preterm infants.

Once separated from the mother the placenta starts to decompose and becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. This is not a metaphor.

The umbilical cord is physiologically incapable of transmitting pain signals so no one is hurting anyone when the cord is cut, however, my brain is on fire knowing anyone in charge of delivering babies could believe cutting the umbilical cord causes pain or distress and that an editor printed it.

Real serious consequences for newborns have been described. Who knows if parents decide to do this in a hospital if the placenta could be a bacterial vector and contaminate other babies, siblings, or immunocompromised patients?

If you lose things it is not because you were detached from a dead piece of tissue it means your house is disorganized or you are stressed or you just forgot or instead of teaching you organizational skills your mother always blamed your silly old placenta. 

It amazes me that people will disbelieve the risk of leaving a dead placenta attached to their baby but would never drive their newborn without a car seat.

The placenta cannot nourish anything after it is separated from the uterine wall.

If a placenta has cultural significance for you then bury it with the appropriate ceremony.

A “lotus birth” is biologically unsound, untested, and real harm to babies has been described. It is the equivalent of diapering up a raw steak and attaching to your newborn for three to five days. It is not a magical, historical or cultural practice forcibly torn away from women by an uncaring patriarchy it was something a woman dreamed up after hearing about chimpanzees. To brand this as a modern ritual is nothing but predatory marketing. 

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53 days ago
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52 days ago
Insane in the membrane!
Atlanta, GA

North Carolina Resident Hangs White Flag On Confederate Statue

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A Wilmington, N.C. resident has been repeatedly hanging a white flag on the gun of a statue of a Confederate soldier this week, despite attempts from neighbors to take it down, according to WWAY3 News.

The resident, Andrew Bopes, said he has been hanging the flag because he doesn’t understand why the statue is still there and gets tired of walking past it every day going to work and coming home.

“It doesn’t have too much of an effect on me except my empathy,” he told WWAY3. “There is no context as to why it’s displayed. It’s a participation trophy for someone on the wrong side of history. It needed some context and the white surrender flag gives it context.”

A local neighbor has been taking the flag down when he sees it up and told the TV station that since there’s “a lot going on in our nation right now” the flag could cause things to “escalate in this area and we don’t need that to happen,” the neighbor, Chris Dobrusky, said.

Communities across the country have grappled over what to do with monuments and statues commemorating the Confederacy in the wake of a violent white supremacist rally last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The protest over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee turned violent last weekend when white supremacists gathered to rally against the statue’s removal. A man associated with the white nationalists allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman.

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64 days ago
"It’s a participation trophy for someone on the wrong side of history. It needed some context and the white surrender flag gives it context.”
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66 days ago
White flag is the only confederateflag that matters

Infographic of the fascinating timeline of the far future

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Timeline of The Far Future

Timeline of the far future is one of my favorite pages on Wikipedia. It details what might happen to humanity, human artifacts, the Earth, the solar system, and the Universe from 10,000 years from now until long past the heat death of the Universe. Information is Beautiful has made a lovely infographic of the timeline.

Reading through the timeline is a glorious way to spend time…here are a few favorites I noticed this time around as well as some from my first post.

August 20, 10,663: “A simultaneous total solar eclipse and transit of Mercury.”

20,000 years: “The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the 1,000 sq mi area of Ukraine and Belarus left deserted by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, becomes safe for human life.”

296,000 years: “Voyager 2 passes within 4.3 light-years of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.”

1 million years: “Highest estimated time until the red supergiant star Betelgeuse explodes in a supernova. The explosion is expected to be easily visible in daylight.”

1 million years: “On the Moon, Neil Armstrong’s ‘one small step’ footprint at Tranquility Base will erode by this time, along with those left by all twelve Apollo moonwalkers, due to the accumulated effects of space weathering.”

15.7 million: “Half-life of iodine-129, the most durable long-lived fission product in uranium-derived nuclear waste.”

100 million years: “Future archaeologists should be able to identify an ‘Urban Stratum’ of fossilized great coastal cities, mostly through the remains of underground infrastructure such as building foundations and utility tunnels.”

1 billion years: “Estimated lifespan of the two Voyager Golden Records, before the information stored on them is rendered unrecoverable.”

4 billion years: “Median point by which the Andromeda Galaxy will have collided with the Milky Way, which will thereafter merge to form a galaxy dubbed ‘Milkomeda’.”

7.59 billion years: The Earth and Moon are very likely destroyed by falling into the Sun, just before the Sun reaches the tip of its red giant phase and its maximum radius of 256 times the present-day value. Before the final collision, the Moon possibly spirals below Earth’s Roche limit, breaking into a ring of debris, most of which falls to the Earth’s surface.

100 billion years: “The Universe’s expansion causes all galaxies beyond the Milky Way’s Local Group to disappear beyond the cosmic light horizon, removing them from the observable universe.”

Tags: Earth   Universe   astronomy   humans   infoviz   science   space   timelines
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66 days ago
I love this.
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