Trump’s July 4th party bankrupted DC’s security fund


Stephanie Keith/Getty

❝ Remember just a few weeks ago when the president planned a “my dicktatorship is bigger than yours” July Fourth event in which he wanted tanks and jets and sparklers and shit?

Well, it sounds like that whole thing has bankrupted the Washington, D.C., security fund as they have spent some $1.7 million reserved for protecting the nation’s capital from terrorist threats.

In a letter to the president Tuesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) warned that the fund has now been depleted and is estimated to be running a $6 million deficit by Sept. 30. The mayor also noted that the account was never reimbursed for $7.3 million in expenses from Trump’s 2017 inauguration.

Does ANYONE ever get Trump to pay his bill?

Human mattress dominoes record — topples

Aaron’s Inc., an appliance and electronics-leasing company, has broken the Guinness World Record for the longest human mattress domino chain.

Guinness World Records released a video of the feat Thursday, showing 1,200 people holding mattresses behind them and falling backward into each other, one at a time, inside a Prince George’s County, Maryland, warehouse on March 22…

Aaron’s CEO John Robinson pushed over the first mattress. It took 13 minutes and 38 seconds for the final mattress to fall.

The Atlanta-based company says it will be donating all 1,200 mattresses to Washington-area organizations focused on ending poverty and providing shelter to homeless families.

And that’s the best reason for giving ’em a plug.

The near-to-medium-term future of gene editing Is being decided now

…Hundreds of scientists are gathered in Washington, D.C. for the international summit on genome editing. The three-day conference will discuss the ethical and appropriate use of all genome-editing technologies, but it will likely pay close attention to the newest and arguably easiest method, CRISPR-Cas9, known colloquially as just CRISPR.

The technology has been at the center of scientists’ minds worldwide since April, when Chinese researchers reported that they used the tool to edit nonviable human embryos, or ones that have no chance of developing into human beings. The summit, which started early this morning, is sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as well as the Royal Academy, and will include researchers from the United States, Great Britain, and China as well as representatives from at least 20 countries worldwide.

The group plans to discuss many direct applications of the CRISPR technique, including the ability to perform genome editing both on human embryos to treat a specific disease as well as to implement gene drive, which would introduce new genes into a few organisms that would then pass that change on to future generations.

Why is this conference so important?

Currently, the rules regarding the use of genome editing tools are hard to follow and as Nature reported back in October, vary by country…This conference is also the first of its kind and could therefore guide how future research using CRISPR and other gene editing tools will unfold…

Many researchers have already publically stated where they stand on the use of gene-editing techniques. But this summit could likely provide a regulatory approach to help researchers around the world—as a team—navigate how they will use the CRISPR technique over the next several years and decades in an effort to regulate, but not limit, scientists abilities to use this technique for the greatest medical need.

On paper, given the naturally conservative pace of science, nothing drastic should result in the near-term. By drastic, of course, I mean political interference of the George W. Bush-class. Every self-important-preacher and populist pundit will stick their oar into the discussion as soon as they realize [1] the import of easy human genome editing and [2] the political dynamic they can raise to benefit their own profit and power.

Time for a cute fix


AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Panda cub Bao Bao hangs from a tree in her habitat at the National Zoo in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. Saturday marked her first birthday and the the zoo held an event with a traditional ‘Zhuazhou’ ceremony, a Chinese birthday tradition symbolizing long life to mark the event.

Haven’t posted a Panda in a while.

Net-zero energy test home ends first year with leftover energy

Braving a harsh winter with snow-covered solar panels, a net-zero energy home in Washington DC has come up trumps in a year-long study of its energy harvesting capabilities. Located on campus at the National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers used computer simulation to replicate the energy consumption of a family of four. At the end of its first 12 months, there was a large enough surplus to power an electric car for 1,440 miles.

The 2,700 ft sq two-story construction was developed to look like a regular home, but function as a laboratory for clean energy research. Much like the Honda Smart Home, NIST’s effort combines stable ground temperatures with geothermal systems to minimize heating and cooling loads throughout the building. Another factor in overall energy efficiency is a doubling of insulation levels, sealed by special sheeting that reportedly heals itself when pierced.

“The most important difference between this home and a Maryland code-compliant home is the improvement in the thermal envelope – the insulation and air barrier,” says NIST mechanical engineer Mark Davis…

The energy surplus and the home’s claim to net-zero living was compounded by a stretch of severe weather. For 38 days through winter, the 32 photovoltaic panels were largely covered in snow and ice, hampering their ability to harvest energy from the sun. But over the 12 month period, the home generated 13,577 kWh of energy. This surpassed the virtual family’s energy usage by 491 kWh, an excess that could in theory be directed toward an electric vehicle or back into the grid…

Despite boasting the aesthetics of a typical suburban house, adoption of the technologies used will largely come down to cost. NIST estimates that fitting out a similar-sized house with all the bells and whistles of its test home would cost around US$162,700. On the upside, it puts savings in electricity costs at $4,373 for the year.

Further research will center on how the measurements of the home can improve its energy efficiency and addressing the difference in up-front costs and long term savings. NIST is hopeful its findings will lead to improved energy efficiency standards as a resource for builders, regulators and home buyers.

A couple of comments.

First, the design is two or three times the size of sensible requirements. Make your decisions based on need instead of cultural McMansions and a family of four could be quite comfortable in 1200 square feet instead of 2700. My wife and I and a dog live in 1400 sq.ft. and use about 900 sq.ft. including a study/home office. We have a spare bedroom we refloored a couple years ago and haven’t yet gotten round to moving anything into that room!

Second, custom home building adds a premium of as much as 30% to cost. Building comparable homes as part of a subdivision, growing economic advantages of scale will reduce the cost of building homes like this. Working this out from scratch probably increased cost from projected by 10-15% just on change orders. 🙂

Washington, DC may explode, go up in flames!

DC afterwards

Natural gas is escaping from aging pipes beneath the streets of the U.S. capital, creating potentially harmful concentrations in some locations, a study found.

Natural gas leaks pose explosion risks, health concerns and contribute to climate change, said researchers who spent January and February 2013 driving all of the 1,500 miles of Washington, D.C., roads with an instrument that took methane readings close to the ground every 1.1 seconds.

Writing in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology, they reported finding nearly 6,000 leaks, with some locations showing concentrations of methane at about 45 times what would be expected with no leak…

At locations with high levels, probes put into manholes found concentrations 10 times the threshold at which explosions can occur at 12 sites, the researchers said.

If you dropped a cigarette down a manhole … it could have blown up,” Robert Jackson told USA today.

Despite reporting the leaks to the local gas utility, four months later nine of the sites were still emitting dangerous levels of methane, he said.

I suppose there’s no hope an explosion might just take out Congress? 🙂

Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg to officiate same-sex wedding

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will become the first Supreme Court member to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony Saturday when she officiates at the Washington wedding of Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser.

The gala wedding of Kaiser and economist John Roberts at the performing arts center brings together the nation’s highest court and the capital’s high society and will mark a new milepost in the recognition of same-sex unions.

Such marriages were virtually unheard of a little more than a decade ago but now are legal in the nation’s capital, 13 states and in all or part of 17 other countries. After victories at the Supreme Court earlier this summer, a wave of litigation is challenging bans on same-sex marriages in states where they remain prohibited.

During a recent interview, Ginsburg seemed excited about being the first member of the court to conduct such a ceremony and said it was only a logical next step.

“I think it will be one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship,” Ginsburg said…

Earlier this summer, Ginsburg was in the majority in a pair of major gay rights victories at the Supreme Court. The court said the federal government may not refuse to recognize legally married gay couples and reinstated a lower-court ruling that found California’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional…

It is not uncommon for Supreme Court justices to officiate at weddings, most often for former law clerks or close friends or relatives. Ginsburg tied the knot for her son, for instance. Justice Clarence Thomas performed a ceremony for radio host Rush Limbaugh.

Bravo. The triumph of love continues to march across these sometimes United States.

Nature makes a case for same-sex marriage

Biology has returned to the nation’s highest court. It’s not Darwin’s theory of evolution on the docket this time, but the nature of sex. Defenders of Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, base their case on what they call the “objective biological fact” that procreation is an exclusively heterosexual process. Citing the 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone, they argue that marriage should be “founded in nature.”

Evolution or sexuality, the same religious conservatives bring their ignorance to court.

This invocation of nature echoes other voices. Last December, before Pope Benedict XVI resigned, he used his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia to deplore what he called a “new philosophy of sexuality” that manipulates and denies nature. Roy S. Moore, re-elected last fall as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, once let rip with less measured language, exclaiming in a child-custody case that homosexuality was “a crime against nature and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Meanwhile, Tennessee legislators have repeatedly sought the prohibition of any sexual education “inconsistent with natural human reproduction.” None of this is, in fact, new: Oscar Wilde’s trials hinged on the courts’ understanding of natural love and unnatural vice.

References to biology coat these arguments with a gloss of scientific rigor. But before we write nature into law, let’s take a stroll outside the Supreme Court’s chambers and check those biological facts. Descending the steps of the court, we enter Washington’s planted landscape, a formal park where nature stands alongside patriotic monuments and federal buildings. There is no shortage of counsel about biology here.

The grandeur of the National Mall is rightly famous. Less well known are the hermaphroditic sex lives of many of its inhabitants. Japanese cherry trees break bud in explosions of pink; male and female coexist at the heart of each flower. The American elms that frame the Mall’s lawns present a more reserved countenance to the world. But their inconspicuous lime-green flowers are biologically bisexual. Ginkgo, another tree common in Washington, follows a Prop 8-approved sexual separation, growing as discrete males and females. But even the ginkgo will sometimes surprise horticulturalists with a stray flower of the other sex.

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The folks in the Secret Service manage to lose a boatload of secrets — on a subway train in 2008


Advanced Secret Service technology

U.S. Secret Service investigative and personnel information was left on a Washington subway train in 2008 and is still missing…

Citing law enforcement and congressional sources, CNN reported Friday an unidentified contractor working for the agency left a pouch containing two computer backup tapes bearing the sensitive data on a train in Washington’s Metrorail subway system in February 2008. One source said the tapes have yet to be recovered despite a thorough search…

“Some of the information could cause lives to be at risk, if someone wanted to get at the families of a high-level government worker or someone they perceived as being someone who could work against, say, a terrorist cell,” said Eric O’Neill, a former FBI counterespionage agent.

The Secret Service, in a statement acknowledging the loss of the pouch, disagreed.

“These back-up tapes were not marked or identified in any way and were protected by multiple layers of security,” it said. “They could not be accessed without the proper equipment, applications and encoding…”

O’Neill, now a partner at the security firm The Georgetown Group, said even if encrypted, with new technology developed in the past five years, the tapes “could be cracked in moments.”

Kind of makes you feel all warm and secure inside, right? The folks protecting us against terrorist plots manage to leave other stuff they’re protecting on a subway train. Can’t find it or get it back for 4 years – and finally decided to let other folks know about it.