Most of us are used to thinking that the evolution of living organisms takes millions of years. But in the case of cockroaches, scientists say the resilient pests have a developed a fast-forward mechanism to save their own exoskeleton.
In a newly published study in the journal Science, a group of researchers conclude that cockroaches have evolved to avoid sweet-tasting poisons by making a subtle change in their body chemistry that makes the bait taste bitter to them.
Cockroaches don't have taste buds, but instead taste hairs. According to The New York Times the researchers:
"... concentrated on those [hairs] around the mouth area and on two types of nerve cells that sense tastes and respond by firing electrical signals to the brain. One responds only to sugars and other sweet substances; the other responds only to bitter substances. Whenever a molecule of something sweet attaches to a sweet detector, it fires electrical impulses and the roach brain senses sweetness, which makes it want to eat whatever it is tasting. Whenever a molecule of something bitter attaches to the bitter detector, that cell fires and the brain senses bitterness, which makes the roach want to avoid that substance.
But somehow the roaches had changed so that the glucose made the bitter detector fire."
How long did it take for cockroaches with a sweet hair to go sour on glucose?
The cockroach glucose aversion "first appeared in the early '90s," Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist at the National Pest Management Association, was quoted by The Times as saying. That's shortly after exterminators started using poison baits instead of spraying as the main method of battling roaches, the newspaper says.
If ever there was a man who made a virtue out of failure, it was George Plimpton.
He played quarterback with the Detroit Lions without even knowing where to put his hands to take the snap. He had his nose bloodied by knockout king Archie Moore. He sweated through performances as a triangle player for Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. Tennis great Pancho Gonzales properly destroyed him in a singles match, and Plimpton once threw a pitch at Yankee Stadium that was pounded into the third deck.
But what Plimpton did do exceedingly well was to relate to readers how it felt to be an amateur among these professionals — to be a mere mortal sneaking into the realm of gods. It's hard not to be drawn to a man who was not only so willing to let himself crash and burn for our benefit, but who wrote with such wit and eloquence about the descent. Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself, is a documentary obviously made by people under this man's unique spell.
Plimpton was constantly on the move, relentlessly trying on new professions for size, and there's a difficulty in trying to paint a portrait of such an endlessly moving target. Directors Tom Bean and Luke Poling attempt to get underneath the surface of the man, but find it hard to get beyond his work and his persona.
Various associates and various wives appear for the requisite talking-head interviews, describing impulsivity, speculating about darkness within, offering thoughts on Plimpton's difficulty being a supporting character in anyone else's narrative.
But who he was beneath his patrician mien — that immediately recognizable way he carried himself, a factory prototype of the New England man of letters — remains elusive.
That doesn't really work to the film's detriment, though: Even a skin-deep biography of Plimpton is more fascinating than a deep dive about most people. Indeed, just hearing Plimpton lecture or read from his own work — which happens throughout the film, hence the subtitle — is engaging enough for a documentary of its own.
The directors spend much of the film's first half running chronologically through Plimpton's impressive C.V.: founding editor of the Paris Review; author of popular books and articles on his misadventures in the sporting life; friend to the Kennedys and one of the men who tackled shooter Sirhan Sirhan at the scene of RFK's assassination; star of an eponymous series of TV specials; advertising spokesman for everything from video-game consoles to microwave popcorn.
It's these latter ventures that cause some consternation among Plimpton's colleagues and contemporaries. Despite the loving tone of the film as a whole, the directors do address the question of how much damage the prime-time specials and the corporate shilling may have done to his reputation. In an interview, novelist James Salter goes even further, confessing that though he may have been unfair to label Plimpton a dilettante in his younger days, "he was writing in a genre that really doesn't permit greatness."
If Plimpton's chosen genre didn't permit greatness, Bean and Poling make the case that the totality of his unique career and legacy certainly did. Whether it's the importance of the Paris Review in tapping talented new writers, the explorations into the creative mind that he navigated in his interview series for the magazine, or his role as one of the early pioneers of participatory journalism, the film portrays Plimpton as someone devoted to illuminating how talent and creativity work — both for himself, and for the rest of us.
Celine and Jesse are sporting a few physical wrinkles — and working through some unsettling relational ones — in Before Midnight, but that just makes this third installment of their once-dewy romance gratifyingly dissonant.
It's been 18 years since they talked through the night that first time, Julie Delpy's Celine enchanting and occasionally prickly, Ethan Hawke's Jesse determined to charm; their chatter then, as now, scripted but loose enough to feel improvised as captured in long, long takes by Richard Linklater's cameras.
Take a peek back at 1995's Before Sunrise, and you'll be reminded of how effortless it all seemed at the outset: a daylong meet-cute flirtation begun on a train and continuing in Vienna, with relationship logistics impossible enough that French gamine and American shlub (and so young!) felt free to invent, embellish, overstate and preen while simultaneously letting down their guards, knowing nothing would ever come of the encounter.
Before Sunset (2004) caught up with them in Paris after a long separation, nine years and some seemingly incontrovertible life choices later. The conversation that time was tinged with regret, longing and — at the tail end — a faint glimmer of hope.
Now another nine years have passed, this time years spent together rather than apart, and the heady buzz of romance has given way to a steadier, less urgent throb. Commitment, is it? Though not married, they're raising twin girls (presumably conceived shortly after we last saw them), and what's quickly apparent from the rhythms and flow of their chatter is that parenthood hasn't changed them.
Before Midnight begins at the tail end of a family vacation in Greece, with Jesse stumbling through an awkward airport farewell. His 14-year-old son is heading home to Chicago and his mom, leaving Jesse in a funk as he drives with Celine (and the girls, asleep in the back seat) to a friend's villa. There, they'll do something we've not really seen them do before — interact with others — in a long luncheon conversation with their hosts that brushes in some exposition about the nine years we've missed. (And that suggests Linklater has been watching a lot of Eric Rohmer.)
Then the two get away by themselves and get back to the discursive, meandering, hyperarticulate and wildly verbose noodling that makes these movies such welcome rarities at the cineplex. Delpy and Hawke workshopped the dialogue with Linklater, and if the result rarely sounds entirely offhand, it does sound heartfelt enough that you may wonder whether bits of their own lives crept into the mix.
Whatever — they're older if not necessarily wiser, more practical, less ardent, more weighed down by life, so it shouldn't be surprising that their conversation would have a sharper, less wistful edge this time, with Jesse brooding about not being a bigger part of his son's life, Celine fretting over her job.
Still, nothing about their sparring prepares them (or us) for the turn things take when they check into a hotel for some away-from-the-kids, shake-out-the-cobwebs sex, only to have the sun take civility with it as it sinks below the horizon. It's as if the weight of 18 years has descended on the couple's Bach-like duologues, inflecting them abruptly with the Wagnerian and putting at risk a partnership that — though we've spent just a few hours with them across two decades — we've been fully prepared to declare rock-solid.
As Linklater exchanges sunny Greek vistas for the artificial light and bland, tight confines of a hotel suite, you'll note the creases that time has etched into the actors' faces, and register how earned the pain seems in their eyes. Delpy and Hawke have never been more persuasive. Nor has the series. (Recommended)
For the first time in seven years, the U.S. Senate has confirmed a judge to sit on the important federal appeals court for the District of Columbia. The Senate unanimously confirmed Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan on Thursday for the seat previously held by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
Srinivasan was confirmed because he had huge bipartisan support in the legal community and because he served in both the Bush and Obama administrations, while having no record in partisan politics. But the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia still has three vacancies.
Two previous Obama appointees, Goodwin Liu and Caitlin Halligan, also had stellar legal credentials but were filibustered by Republicans who portrayed them as judicial activists. Halligan was opposed primarily because as New York solicitor general, she represented the state's pro-gun control positions in court. After Liu's nomination was blocked, California Gov. Jerry Brown quickly nominated him to the California Supreme Court, where he now serves.
The partisan war over judicial nominees has accelerated in recent years as Republicans have stalled and, in some cases, filibustered record numbers of appeals court and trial court nominees. It took nearly a year to win confirmation for Srinivasan, who had no formal opposition.
At the same time, the Obama administration has been slow to fill vacancies.
There are three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, out of 11 seats. The last D.C. Circuit judicial nominee to win confirmation was Brett Kavanaugh in 2006. He had previously served in the Bush White House counsel's office and as a top assistant to then-special prosecutor Kenneth Starr during the investigation of President Clinton and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
In the current politically polarized atmosphere, nominees to the D.C. Circuit face particular scrutiny because so many of them go on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Four of the current Supreme Court Justices — Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — all served on that court first. And a fifth justice, Elena Kagan, was nominated to the circuit court by President Clinton but never got a vote.
Srinivasan, 46, is the first South Asian ever to serve on an appellate court. Born in India and raised in Lawrence, Kan., he likely would be high on the short list for a Supreme Court vacancy should one occur.
The Boy Scouts of America has agreed for the first time to allow openly gay boys as members, but a vote of the organization's National Council left in place a ban on gay Scout leaders.
The Associated Press reports that of the local Scout leaders voting at their annual meeting in Texas, more than 60 percent supported the proposal. The policy change approved by the 1,400-member National Council would take effect Jan. 1, 2014, the organization said.
Here's a statement issued by the BSA after the vote:
"For 103 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been a part of the fabric of this nation, with a focus on working together to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training.
"Based on growing input from within the Scouting family, the BSA leadership chose to conduct an additional review of the organization's long-standing membership policy and its impact on Scouting's mission. This review created an outpouring of feedback from the Scouting family and the American public, from both those who agree with the current policy and those who support a change. ...
"The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place."
As Reuters reports, the National Council's decision came amid intense lobbying by gay-rights activists and members of conservative organizations.
The group GLAAD praised the Scouts' decision:
"Today's vote is a significant victory for gay youth across the nation and a clear indication that the Boy Scouts' ban on gay adult leaders will also inevitably end," said GLAAD spokesperson Rich Ferraro. "The Boy Scouts of America heard from religious leaders, corporate sponsors and so many Scouting families who want an end to discrimination against gay people, and GLAAD will continue this work with those committed to equality in Scouting until gay parents and adults are able to participate."
As NPR's Kathy Lohr reported on Wednesday:
"The most recent debate over the [no gays] policy began in January. One idea was to allow local troops to decide whether to allow gay members. Some conservative organizations objected. So the Boy Scouts conducted a survey and came up with the latest proposal, which would allow openly gay youth to participate. For the past couple of months, groups have been lobbying, protesting and threatening to leave the group if the proposal passes."
Update at 7:15 p.m. ET. Conservative Groups Disappointed
"We are deeply saddened," Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, was quoted by the AP as saying after learning of the result. "Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law."
The Assemblies of God, another conservative denomination, said the policy change "will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program."