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Tuesday Toon Roundup 3: The Rest









Tuesday Toon Roundup 2: The Losses

Tuesday Toon Roundup 1: The Bosses

Obama expands bombing in Syria to support U.S.-backed rebels

The White House has expanded its bombing campaign in Syria to help defend a small Pentagon-backed force against other armed insurgent groups or government security forces, U.S. officials said Monday.

The decision by President Obama to broaden the air war potentially increases the danger that the U.S. military could wind up in a confrontation with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, pulling the U.S. more deeply into the country's four-year-old civil war.

Until now, the U.S.-led air campaign that began last August has targeted only Islamic State positions, facilities and convoys. Obama has urged Assad to step down, but has sought to keep the U.S. military out of the civil war.

The policy shift came to light after several dozen U.S.-vetted and trained fighters at a compound in northern Syria were attacked early Friday by about 50 militants from the Nusra Front, a group linked to Al Qaeda.



This 390-year-old bonsai tree survived an atomic bomb, and no one knew until 2001

This centuries-old white pine from Japan was donated to the National Arboretum in 1976. (Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post)

By Faiz Siddiqui

Moses Weisberg was walking his bicycle through the National Arboretum in Northeast Washington when he stopped at a mushroom-shaped tree. The first thing he noticed was the thickness of the trunk, estimated at almost a foot and a half in diameter. And then there was the abundance of spindly leaves, a healthy head of hair for a botanical relic 390 years old.

But it was only when he learned the full history of the tree, a Japanese white pine donated in 1976, that he was truly stunned. The tree, a part of the Arboretum’s National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, has not only navigated the perils of age to become the collection’s oldest, but it also survived the blast of an atomic bomb, Little Boy, dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II.

“For one, it’s amazing to think that something could have survived an atomic blast,” said Weisberg, a 26-year-old student at the Georgetown University Law Center. “And then that by some happenstance a Japanese tree from the 1600s ended up here.”

The bonsai tree’s history is being honored this week, as Thursday marks the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. But visitors can see the tree as part of the museum’s permanent collection throughout the year.


The Cop

Darren Wilson was not indicted for shooting Michael Brown. Many people question whether justice was done.


Darren Wilson, the former police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old African-American, in Ferguson, Missouri, has been living for several months on a nondescript dead-end street on the outskirts of St. Louis. Most of the nearby houses are clad in vinyl siding; there are no sidewalks, and few cars around. Wilson, who is twenty-nine, started receiving death threats not long after the incident, in which Brown was killed in the street shortly after robbing a convenience store. Although Wilson recently bought the house, his name is not on the deed, and only a few friends know where he lives. He and his wife, Barb, who is thirty-seven, and also a former Ferguson cop, rarely linger in the front yard. Because of such precautions, Wilson has been leading a very quiet life. During the past year, a series of police killings of African-Americans across the country has inspired grief, outrage, protest, and acrimonious debate. For many Americans, this discussion, though painful, has been essential. Wilson has tried, with some success, to block it out.

This March, I spent several days at his home. The first time I pulled up to the curb, Wilson, who is six feet four and weighs two hundred and fifteen pounds, immediately stepped outside, wearing a hat and sunglasses. He had seen me arriving on security cameras that are synched to his phone.

Wilson has twice been exonerated of criminal wrongdoing. In November, after a grand jury chose not to indict him, the prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, was widely accused of having been soft on him, in part because McCulloch’s father was a police officer who had been killed in a shootout with a black suspect. In March, the U.S. Department of Justice issued two official reports on Ferguson. One was a painstaking analysis of the shooting that weighed physical, ballistic, forensic, and crime-scene evidence, and statements from purported eyewitnesses. The report cleared Wilson of willfully violating Brown’s civil rights, and concluded that his use of force was defensible. It also contradicted many details that the media had reported about the incident, including that Brown had raised his hands in surrender and had been shot in the back. The evidence supported Wilson’s contention that Brown had been advancing toward him.

The Justice Department also released a broader assessment of the police and the courts in Ferguson, and it was scathing. The town, it concluded, was characterized by deep-seated racism. Local authorities targeted black residents, arresting them disproportionately and fining them excessively. Together, the two reports frustrated attempts to arrive at a clean moral conclusion. Wilson had violated no protocol in his deadly interaction with Brown, yet he was part of a corrupt and racist system.


This cancer drug may be our best hope yet for eliminating HIV once and for all

Your body is a reservoir for bacteria and viruses as much as it is a bag of your own cells. Some of these are disease-causing agents, lurking in waiting for an opportunity to attack. This is a huge problem for those with HIV, the virus that eventually leads to AIDS. Take the case of the Mississippi baby, who after treatment with powerful drugs was termed HIV-free—but was found to still have HIV reservoirs two years after treatment was stopped.

Now, Satya Dandekar at the University of California, Davis and her colleagues have found a cancer drug that can attack these dormant HIV reservoirs. To get rid of HIV reservoirs once and for all, you need a drug that could target the dormant viruses without alerting the body’s immune system. After screening many known drugs, Dandekar found the cancer drug, PEP005, was able to do just that.

PEP005 works by targeting proteins that are unique to dormant HIV. Dandekar calls the process “kick and kill,” and it is one the most promising developments towards eradication of the disease. They tested the drug on infected used lab cells, and fresh ones taken from 13 people with HIV, and found that it worked to get rid of the reservoirs.

If human trials show success, then PEP005 could make it to market sooner because it can skip certain regulatory hurdles as a result of having been through the screening process for cancer.



Golden Rice—a star among GMO foods—has a major study retracted

WRITTEN BY Deena Shanker

Golden Rice, often touted as a shining example of the benefits of genetic engineering, might not be as golden as originally thought.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has issued a retraction to a 2012 paper on Golden Rice because of insufficient evidence of consent from the parents of the children involved in the study, The Ecologist reports. And, perhaps more significantly, the retraction provides the opportunity to re-raise another question regarding the validity of the AJCN trial: The diets fed to the children in the trial were, according to critics, unrealistically high in fat. (Because vitamin A, the primary benefit of Golden Rice, is fat soluble, the body needs fat to absorb it.)

Golden Rice, first introduced in a 2000 study in Science, is genetically engineered rice that’s extra high in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. It was developed as a potential solution to vitamin A deficiencies in children around the world, especially those in highly populated, impoverished areas. In 2005, a paper in Nature Biotechnology introduced Golden Rice 2, which had 23-times more beta-carotene than its predecessor. In the 2012 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, the beta-carotene in Golden Rice 2 (now just Golden Rice) was found to be as effective as pure beta-carotene in a capsule, and even more effective than spinach in providing children with vitamin A. Golden Rice was the golden child of pro-GMO interests.

Even though the private sector was involved in the development of Golden Rice, and companies including Syngenta and Monsanto have proprietary rights in it, they emphasize that they do not make money from the marketing or sale of Golden Rice, and the efforts are coordinated not by them, but by the International Rice Research Institute.

Golden Rice’s real value to these companies is in publicity. Though there have been protests about its use from environmental groups like Greenpeace, the nutritional qualities of Golden Rice have overshadowed the complaints.



A close up image of a comet

This shot was taken when the lander was a mere nine meters — 30 feet — from the surface of the comet. The area you’re seeing is 9.7 meters across, about the size of one half of a tennis court. It shows that the surface is covered in a course regolith (loose material that hasn’t consolidated into a solid mass; we see similar surfaces on airless bodies like the Moon), and rocks of various sizes, ranging from centimeters to meters across. You can also see material of different darkness; some are quite dark while others are reflective.

Some of the rocks are smooth, and some sharp. In one the papers published (Mottola et al.) they analyze the images, speculating that the smooth rocks may have once been embedded in ice or boulders, and then freed after the material they were embedded in disaggregated. The rougher ones with flat faces may be from bigger rocks that fell and shattered. Some of these chunks are partially buried in the regolith; are they being buried as the looser stuff piles up or being exhumed as the material moves away? Static pictures makes that difficult to discern.

From higher up there’s more of an overview; the shot above was taken when Philae was still 48.5 meters from first impact. The area seen is about 50 meters across, half the length of a football field. The big rock, nicknamed Cheops, is about 5 meters in size. It may be an individual piece, or an outcropping of bedrock below. What’s very interesting about it is the arrowhead-shaped depression is sits in (the point is to the right), and the fine-grained material piled up on its left. That’s a wind-blown feature! Material immediately upwind of a rock gets picked up and blown around the rock, leaving behind an arc-shaped moat, and a pile of finer grains on the rock’s downwind side.



Monday Toon Roundup 3-The Rest





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