Bad advice for Biden, better CPR, what’s special about 37

“7 stories to know” is a new Monday series showcasing stories that may have been ignored in the crush of news over the past few weeks, and stories that have continued to evolve over the weekend. Expect to read coverage about health, science, and climate that frequently take second chair to what’s happening at the top of the page, plus information from local sources that the national media may have overlooked.

1. Politico offers President Joe Biden some hilariously bad advice

On Friday, Politico columnist Jonathan Martin chided the president for what he saw as a major strategic failure.

It has been well over two months since Christie dropped out of the Republican presidential primary. How has Biden not called Christie, whom he’s known since the former governor was in student government as a University of Delaware undergraduate, to ask for his support? Or, if he thought that too soon or too direct, he could at least have asked Christie to get together. But that ask has not been made.

How is it possible that Biden hasn’t begged for the endorsement of a man who placed behind Asa Hutchinson in the Iowa caucuses with 0.03% of the vote? Well, Christie has an approval rating of just 22.6%. That may not be Mitch McConnell bad, but it’s still bad.

Christie brings with him a constituency of exactly no one. He dropped from the race even before his peak 0.5% performance in New Hampshire. Not only is there absolutely nothing to be gained by having Biden put in a call to a guy who has no base, but that’s not how any of this works.

When NPR pondered where the vast hordes of Christie voters would go following his departure, there was one universal answer: former Gov. Nikki Haley.

Christie leaving the race is widely seen as a boon for Haley, who benefits from New Hampshire allowing undeclared voters to vote in the Republican primary. Olsen says his Christie-backing friends have largely shifted to Haley.

And guess what? Biden has been wooing Haley voters, who are a much larger group than Christie ever commanded. He’s been doing it not by calling Haley and begging for her endorsement, but by reaching out directly to her supporters and reminding them of why they didn’t fall into the Trump camp.

Biden calling Christie wouldn’t help anything except perhaps the former New Jersey governor’s ego. But of course, if Biden fails to win Iowa by less than the 35 votes (not 35%, just plain old 35) Christie earned in that state, Martin will look like a genius.

I think we can take that risk.

2. Human-caused climate change is altering the world in a way you never expected

When we think about the world during the time of the dinosaurs, we often visualize a place that was a good deal warmer than our own. That’s largely true. Plus there were all those big things with the grrr and the rawr. But there’s another difference between that world and our own that’s rarely mentioned—the days then were only 23 hours long and there were 381 days in a year.

Ever since the moon was formed in a massive collision 4.5 billion years ago, Earth’s rotation has been affected by the tug of tidal forces with its smaller neighbor. Originally, both Earth and moon spun very quickly—a day was only 4 hours long—but the tidal tug-of-war has been slowing things down ever since. 

It’s not exactly a speedy change, but for the last billion years or so, days have gotten shorter at a rate of about one hour per 200 million years. Two hundred million years from now, the day will be about 25 hours long, and there will be around 350 days in each year.

About 50 billion years from now, the Earth will be tidally locked to the moon, with both Earth and moon showing only one face to the other. Except that will never happen, because about 5 billion years from now, both the Earth and moon will likely be consumed by the expanding sun. 

Anyway … Earth rotation is slowing. Only now as a study in Nature shows, the change in rotation is not quite happening as predicted. And part of it is our fault.

After a solid year in which ocean surface temperatures have been above all past records, causing serious effects at sea and on land, the climate crisis is also changing the rate at which the Earth’s rotation is slowing. It may be a small change, but it’s real. And, as if this whole concept wasn’t already mind-bending enough, that slowing could have an effect on computer networks.

Before 1955, the second was defined as a specific portion of the time it took the Earth to rotate once. After that date, atomic clocks allowed the length of the second to be timed precisely. However, the slowing rotation of the Earth means that every now and then, a “leap second” needs to be added to keep rotation-based timekeeping and atomic-based timekeeping in sync.

So far, so good—if a little complicated. Only now, thanks to the human-caused climate crisis,  melting polar ice is moving mass away from the poles and toward the equator. That shift in mass is significant enough that it’s changing the rate of rotational slowing. That is, the rotation is still slowing, but it’s slowing … more quickly. The Earth is like an ice skater that had been holding its arms (all that polar ice) over its head, but has now allowed those arms (in the form of melt-water) to shift lower.

Only that’s not the whole story. Because in addition to all that liquid water sloshing around on the surface, the Earth also has a lot of liquid rock and metal spinning around a solid core. That core is somewhat disconnected from the semi-solid stuff that floats on top, and for reasons we don’t fully understand, that core is currently slowing down at a greater rate. 

Here’s one sentence out of the study that determined this. Just one.

Differential rotation of Earth’s inner core relative to the mantle is thought to occur under the effects of the geodynamo on core dynamics and gravitational core–mantle coupling.

There. Now everything should be crystal clear.

But wait. It gets worse. Because of the way momentum is transferred between the solid inner core, liquid outer core, semi-fluid mantle, and solid crust (you are here), the overall rotation of the Earth is currently … speeding up

The effect of changes at the core is temporarily overriding the slowing caused by tidal forces, and the result is that, for right now, the Earth’s rotation is actually bucking the 4 billion-plus year trend. That’s right. I just spent all that space telling you about how the Earth’s days are getting longer, only to tell you that they’re getting shorter. Right now. Temporarily. For reasons we don’t quite grok.

As a result of this, any effort to keep rotational time and atomic time in sync is going to need something we’ve never deployed before: a negative leap second. Scientists had worked out when we thought we would need to deploy that nega-second, but now, because of the effects of climate change, an adjustment needs to be made. Right now, it seems like we’ll need it in 2029, based on the current rate of melting ice.

If you have stuck with all this, please see the committee about your shiny gold medal.

Okay, we need a negative second and we need it at an unanticipated time. What’s the problem?

Well, just like everyone fretted about possible doomsday scenarios back at Y2K, no one is quite sure how some computer systems are going to feel about having time hold still for a second. The problem could be particularly vexing for networking systems that could detect packets of information arriving at the same time they were sent, at least so far as the timestamps are concerned. So this tiny packet of time is generating buckets of sweat.

It’s also making scientists wonder if we should just … skip it.

If we stop trying to make rotational time and atomic time stay in perfect sync, things could get worse over time and, like previous attempts to reconcile the calendar, getting everything back together may take a serious effort. But they’re not proposing to kick the can down the road so far it requires a papal decree. They only want to put it off until 2035 or so when it might be solved by adjusting the formula designed to keep those pesky leap seconds aligned.

In the meantime, the fact that we’ve actually managed to create a climate crisis big enough to affect the results of a battle between the Earth’s churning metallic core and the rise and fall of the tides seems big … but it’s probably not a moment for congratulations.

3. An improved form of CPR is greatly increasing the chances of surviving a heart stoppage

On television, doctors and EMTs routinely deploy CPR to bring people back from heart failure. In the real world, the odds are not that great. The actual rate of survival for cardiac arrests that happen outside of hospitals is about 12%. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t learn and practice CPR—12% is infinitely better than 0%—but it does leave a lot of room for improvement.

As The New York Times reports, a new form of CPR, known as ECPR, offers exactly that.

[Patients] with certain types of cardiac arrest who are treated with a new procedure, called ECPR, have a nearly 100 percent chance of being revived, with their brain function intact, if  treatment is administered within 30 minutes of collapse. Even if the intervention is delivered after 40 minutes, there is still a 50 percent chance of revival.

That is, to put it mildly, much better.

However, there is a catch. In this case, the catch is that ECPR is a highly technological technique. Where regular CRP requires only a trained volunteer ready to go to work, ECPR requires an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine. This is the same machine that’s often used to bypass the heart and lungs and keep a patient’s blood oxygenated during complex heart surgeries. With ECMO, not only is the patient spared the cell death that begins as soon as blood oxygen is depleted, but doctors have a chance to address issues that might have caused cardiac failure before putting patients’ hearts back to work.

ECMO machines are something that, at the moment, are more common in surgical centers than ambulances. One program in Minnesota has mounted one of these machines in a truck, and a small number of hospitals are moving cardiac arrest patients to ECMO as soon as they arrive. However, getting patients on ECMO within that critical time period requires a quick response to the initial crisis and tight coordination among emergency responders and hospitals.

It’s going to take some time before this procedure becomes widespread, especially in rural areas away from major medical hubs. And even then, it’s going to require something else: plain old CPR to keep patients going until they can get onto ECMO. So please, don’t stop that training.

4. Michigan Republican freaks out over “illegal invaders” … and gets dunked on hard

The prize of Most Idiotic Republican Politician is never less than hotly contested, and maybe it’s only right that in the middle of March Madness, it should get even more mad. But even with such perennial powerhouses at Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene going all out, Michigan state Rep. Matt Maddock has absolutely earned a top seed in the tournament,

On Wednesday, Maddock went into a tizzy, posting on X, formerly Twitter, about a trio of buses that had appeared at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and were being led away by a police car.

“Three busses just loaded up with illegal invaders at Detroit Metro,” wrote Maddock. “Anyone have any idea where they’re headed with their police escort?” He accompanied the post with two photos of the “busses.”

Only the “invaders” Maddock had spotted were actually the Gonzaga men’s basketball team arriving in the area for the next round of the NCAA tournament.

Maddock was almost immediately awarded with a community note correcting his foolish mistake, but in the most Republican way imaginable, Maddock proved immune to logic or facts.

When someone responded to his post that these were “[p]robably teams for the NCAA Men’s Sweet 16 playing at LCA on Friday and Sunday,” which Maddock replied, “Sure kommie. Good talking point.”

“They’re basketball players you dumb fucking inbred,” another reader replied, to which Maddock again wheeled out, “Sure they are kommie.”

He followed by doubling down on his claim with another post.

“We know this is happening. 100,000’s of illegals are pouring into our country. We know it’s happening in Michigan,” he wrote. “Our own governor is offering money to take them in! Since we can’t trust the #FakeNews to investigate, citizens will. The process of investigating these issues takes time.”

When someone is this deeply sunk in a pool of fear and delusion, it’s hard to know if consistency is good or bad, but Maddock still hasn’t removed the post five days later.

5. Cheap drug is the latest go-to among in longevity circles

No matter what the Queen song says, the answer to “Who wants to live forever” is actually quite a lot of people. No one may have managed it yet, but there is a growing base of people who are pursuing, if not immortality, at least a longer life and healthier old age.

Support for various doses of vitamins, supplements, and drugs have circulated through the longevity community, as have all kinds of diets. However, one of the latest drugs to appear on the scene has a good deal more scientific backing than most. While far from proven, it just might be more than a fad.

As The Washington Post reports, the drug is rapamycin. It’s been used as part of cancer treatments and to help patients avoid rejection following organ transplants. Best of all, it’s cheap, generic, and readily available.

The medication has gained a large following thanks to longevity researchers and celebrity doctors who, citing animal studies, contend that rapamycin could be a game changer in the quest to fend off age-related diseases. The drug is going mainstream as an anti-aging treatment, even though rapamycin’s regulatory approval is for treating transplant patients. There is no evidence that it can extend human life.

There may be no evidence of life-extension in humans, but rapamycin has worked to extend the lifespan of mice by about 14%, even when it was given to mice that were already middle-aged. Mice are very imperfect models for drug interactions in people, and many drugs that work well in mice don’t have the same effect for people. However, this is the first time a drug has been demonstrated to extend the lifespan of a mammal.

There’s another big clue that this may help, because unlike some new drug entering the system, thousands of people have already taken rapamycin for its primary use in warding off transplant rejection. A 2014 study indicated that rapamycin improved immune response in elderly patients and suggested that it might delay the onset of age-related diseases.

The level of research on rapamycin isn’t that high for the same reason that it’s popular: the drug is cheap, generic, and widely available. However, related drugs—those that can be patented and sold for a high price—are working through the pipeline.

6. The Tennessee legislature never met a conspiracy it didn’t like

Oh, Tennessee. It would be nice to think you didn’t deserve your speech-suppressing, racist, fascist legislature.  But hell, people, you voted in a Republican supermajority and what you got is possibly the worst state legislature in the nation. Please, Missouri and Texas, don’t take that as a challenge.

But even for a state legislature that has excelled only at being an embarrassment, the bill passed this month by the Tennessee Senate is just … What’s the opposite of “chef’s kiss”?

As The Guardian reports:

The Tennessee bill, introduced in the senate by Republican Steve Southerland, does not use the term “chemtrails”. The language in the bill, however – there is talk of the government “intentionally dispersing chemicals into the atmosphere” – directly evokes a decades-old conspiracy theory.

Proponents of the debunked chemtrails idea believe that the cloudy white lines created by airplane emissions are chemicals being released into the atmosphere. The idea is that the government, or shadowy private organizations, are pumping out toxic chemicals, with the aim being anything from modifying the weather to controlling a population’s minds.

Start the countdown until Tennessee joins the war on globes. It’s good to know Matt Maddock has somewhere to go if Michigan kicks him out.

7. Video: What’s so special about 37?

Veritasium is a YouTube channel that frequently covers topics in science, math, and engineering. Don’t let that put you off. They know how to make it interesting, especially when talking about something intriguingly, and literally, odd.

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