Miami Is Drowning, and the Corals Couldn’t Be Happier
In Miami Beach people shop for produce at two feet above sea level. The setting for this activity is a Whole Foods in South Beach. This particular Whole Foods was built on what is now the lowest inhabitable plot of land in Florida. In the surrounding area, only a few feet higher and resting on dredged-up land that was once deep-blue saltwater, is a sprawling assortment of condos, hotels, schools, parks, and small businesses that withstand flooding that grows worse every year.
The common denominator is that every square inch will, at some point, succumb to the ocean.
One mile south of the Whole Foods is a small strip of the bay known as Government Cut. The waterway was dredged and formed in the early 1900s to allow easier access to the Port of Miami. A century later, the port stands as the 11th-largest shipping-container destination in the United States. Despite the port’s continued success, the dredging ships have returned to dig up more—their gigantic steel claws scooping up chunks of seabed like a sludgy arcade-game prize.
Across the water, on the mainland, stands the deserted but still imposing building that formerly housed the Miami Herald. The half-demolished and dilapidated structure is perched on the edge of Biscayne Bay, at a relatively impressive elevation of five feet.
In 2011, the Malaysian conglomerate Genting Group, the parent company of Resorts World Casinos, expressed its intention to build a new casino on the property, even though it is still illegal to operate one in the state of Florida. Fueling the controversy was a rumor that the casino would be accessible only by boat or helicopter, which some people took to confirm suspicions that Genting’s proposal would merely serve as a playground for the rich.
Leading Anti-Marijuana Academics Are Paid by Painkiller Drug Companies
As Americans continue to embrace pot—as medicine and for recreational use—opponents are turning to a set of academic researchers to claim that policymakers should avoid relaxing restrictions around marijuana. It’s too dangerous, risky, and untested, they say. Just as drug company-funded research has become incredibly controversial in recent years, forcing major medical schools and journals to institute strict disclosure requirements, could there be a conflict of interest issue in the pot debate?
VICE has found that many of the researchers who have advocated against legalizing pot have also been on the payroll of leading pharmaceutical firms with products that could be easily replaced by using marijuana. When these individuals have been quoted in the media, their drug-industry ties have not been revealed.
Take, for example, Dr. Herbert Kleber of Columbia University. Kleber has impeccable academic credentials, and has been quoted in the press and in academic publications warning against the use of marijuana, which he stresses may cause wide-ranging addiction and public health issues. But when he’s writing anti-pot opinion pieces for CBS News, or being quoted by NPR and CNBC, what’s left unsaid is that Kleber has served as a paid consultant to leading prescription drug companies, including Purdue Pharma (the maker of OxyContin), Reckitt Benckiser (the producer of a painkiller called Nurofen), and Alkermes (the producer of a powerful new opioid called Zohydro).
We Need to Stop Killer Robots from Taking Over the World
Nick Bostrom’s job is to dream up increasingly lurid scenarios that could wipe out the human race: Asteroid strikes; high-energy physics experiments that go wrong; global plagues of genetically-modified superbugs; the emergence of all-powerful computers with scant regard for human life—that sort of thing.
In the hierarchy of risk categories, Bostrom’s specialty stands above mere catastrophic risks like climate change, financial market collapse and conventional warfare.
As the Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, Bostrom is part of a small but growing network of snappily-named academic institutions tackling these “existential risks”: the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge; the Future of Life Institute at MIT and the Machine Intelligence Research Institute at Berkeley. Their tools are philosophy, physics and lots and lots of hard math.
Five years ago he started writing a book aimed at the layman on a selection of existential risks but quickly realized that the chapter dealing with the dangers of artificial intelligence development growth was getting fatter and fatter and deserved a book of its own. The result is Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. It makes compelling—if scary—reading.
The basic thesis is that developments in artificial intelligence will gather apace so that within this century it’s conceivable that we will be able to artificially replicate human level machine intelligence (HLMI).
Once HLMI is reached, things move pretty quickly: Intelligent machines will be able to design even more intelligent machines, leading to what mathematician I.J. Good called back in 1965 an “intelligence explosion” that will leave human capabilities far behind. We get to relax, safe in the knowledge that the really hard work is being done by super-computers we have brought into being.
Meet the ‘Testo Junkie’ Who Hacks Her Gender with Testosterone
In 2008, Beatriz Preciado published Testo Junkie, an unclassifiable essay that turned the academic world upside down and placed her as an international reference on what happens when you take testosterone outside a medical protocol or even outside a gender re-assignment protocol. She tests this thesis by using self-managed testosterone intake as a tool of “gender-hacking”—breaking into the gender codes that prescribe our social identities.
Testo Junkie was recently published in the US, which presented me with the perfect excuse to get in touch. Although Beatriz agreed to talk to me about her thesis, she’s not very fond of the press. As we head to a café she tell me that “VICE is the best of the worst.” I call her Beatriz and she corrects me: I should call her Beto. She smells like man and flowers—a gardenia in a suit.
VICE: Hi, Beto, thank you for agreeing to this interview. It’s an honour. Can you talk to me about your idea of using the body as an archive in Testo Junkie? Beatriz Preciado: Thinking that the body ends where the skin does is ridiculous, and yet that’s how we think. Instead of talking about the “body,” I use the term “body archive.” I see the body as a cultural and political archive, with images, narratives and practices stored in it. Our body is small but the wider somatic apparatus is gigantic.
What happens when testosterone comes into play? It is about your willingness to make your body a place of commitment. How you are perceived collectively, how you are built collectively—because, even if you independently decide to take testosterone, it’s never a completely individual act. There is a network involved; someone is going to smuggle it and you have to do it knowing that there will be side effects—that is, you will be viewed differently by society.
Obviously, when you take testosterone there are molecular changes taking place in your body, but above all there is a shift in your social position. So testosterone is to do with the management of your own body, but it goes way beyond that.
An Explanation From the Scientist Behind That Cat Poop Cancer Treatment
In a scientific discovery at Dartmouth recently hailed as “highly shareable” by the internet, cat poop is being mentioned in connection with a newly discovered potential cancer treatment.
Toxoplasma gondii, a single-celled parasite found in the guts of cats, has been used in a lab to treat cancer. It might, after enough testing turn out to be a viable cancer therapy. However, toxoplasma is a strange, shape-shifting organism, and the kind cats poop out won’t shrink your tumors one bit. Still, Dartmouth recently publicized the very promising discovery: A modified version of toxoplasma, when injected into mice with certain kinds of cancer, switched on an immune response that the cancer had deactivated, which then allowed the body to fight the disease itself.
David J. Bzik, Ph.D. of Dartmouth’s Geisel Medical School has been experimenting with toxoplasma for at least a decade. He says the discovery that an altered form of the parasite might cure cancer is a big deal, but that toxoplama is weird and wonderful microbe that still has surprises in store for humanity, none of which involved ingesting cat poop by any stretch of the imagination.
He also schooled me on some interesting trivia I thought I knew about toxoplasma. What follows is an edited version of my conversation with him.
I’m reading a lot of headlines about cat poop curing cancer. Oh of course. They’re sensationalist.
What should they be reporting? We developed this strain of toxoplasma that doesn’t replicate.
Could you remind us what toxoplasma is? It’s a protozoan. Its closest relative is malaria, it’s in the same phylum.
And what happens when it can’t reproduce? It doesn’t cause disease in mice. It’s a great vaccine for toxoplasmosis [which], in AIDS patients is a really big disease. Also in cancer patients, when their immune systems are suppressed, they’re vulnerable to natural infections by toxoplasma. So having a vaccine is a good idea. This has not been tested as a vaccine yet in humans or cats, and we also haven’t tested the anti-cancer effects in humans either. This has all been mouse work.
VICE News host Thomas Morton swings from the trees with an international team of scientists in Panama that’s found a promising treatment for malaria, Chagas disease and breast cancer in the most unlikely place: The mossy fur of tree sloths. It’s yet another reason to not cut down rainforests. About half of all drugs brought to market from 1997-2006 came from plants, fungi and bacteria discovered by “bio-prospectors” in nature. And we see that sloths are just one of many new and unusual frontiers for this research.
There is a knot of pain just behind my right eye that throbs in time with my pulse. My eyes feel raw. My mouth is dry. Last night’s booze-induced heroics are a distant memory. In the harsh light of day, I feel simply terrible, and yet, next weekend, I’m liable to do it all over again.
When it comes to legal intoxicants, alcohol is essentially the only choice available. It is the world’s most widely used drug, and can be safely deemed toxic, addictive, and linked to violent behavior. As the failed American experiment with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and 30s demonstrated, the desire for easy intoxication will seemingly always be a part of our society. But with a massive pharmacopeia and scientific infrastructure at our disposal, why do we still rely on such an imperfect means to accomplish that goal?