Daft Punk: The End of an Era

By Colin Murphy

March 8th, 2021

Daft Punk, a legendary dance music duo has parted ways after forming 28 years ago in Paris. 

  The Parisian duo broke the news via an eight minute video titled “Epilogue”. Pitchfork asked around to find out if this duo was no longer together and their longtime publicist Kathryn Frazier confirmed the news, but gave no reason for their parting ways.

 Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo formed Daft Punk in Paris in 1993, hoping to “improve the French touch style of house music”, according to Pitchfork. Their debut album, released in 1997 titled Homework, became a dance music landmark. This album featured two premier titles named “Da Funk” and “Around the World”.As their follow up album Discovery came out in 2001, the duo began making public appearances in their robot outfits that soon became their global trademark. The singles “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” cemented their names as global superstars.

Twenty years into their phenomenal career, they dropped yet another banger. “Get Lucky” took over the Billboard charts and soared across the whole world becoming a song that everyone knew. That song was the lead single for their 2013 album Random Access Memories. The song won two Grammys for Daft Punk and their guests, Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams. The album later won Daft Punk three more Grammys which included Album of the Year. The Grammy Ceremonies hosted one of their last on stage appearances.  

  Following their phenomenal success in their 2013 album, they continued to work with Kanye West and ended up co-producing several of the tracks on his album Yeezus. They then went on and worked with The Weekend on his 2016 single “Starboy” which topped the charts- as well as “I Feel it Coming” which was a second hit. 

  Beyond the singles and behind the scenes work, Daft Punk left an impact on the house music industry like no other; and influenced artists of all different genres.

The Texas Sitch

By Ian Klane

March 8th, 2021

A major winter storm has been battering Texas for  weeks, revealing clear signs of unpreparedness from the state that is experiencing record-breaking sub-zero temperatures.

  The frigid cold is all thanks to the polar vortex, a large area of low pressure located near the poles. Most years during the winter months, the polar vortex breaks down and spreads apart, sending cold air southward. This year, the polar vortex has weakened even more due to stratospheric warmings that occur about six times a decade. The polar vortex doesn’t just appear at random, which is why we knew from the sudden stratospheric warming on January 5, 2021, there would be a possible polar vortex approaching North America.

  Due to the state’s incapability to handle the below-freezing temperatures, many problems arose, greatly affecting Texans. The brutal storm causing, as of now nearly 80 deaths, officials say it may take weeks or even months before the final death toll can be determined and may never be fully accurate.

 In the United States, there are three major power grids. There is one covering the entirety of the west coast, another power grid covering the entirety of the east coast, and then there’s one tiny grid in the center of the two only covering the state of Texas. Due to this isolation and poor maintenance by ERCOT, the company that controls the power grid, Texas was utterly and completely unprepared for the incoming winter storm, causing nearly 4.5 million people to be without power on February 16. Now, with power conditions returned mostly back to normal, tens of thousands of Texans are still without power due to downed lines and other issues.

  On top of the power outages in the state, many Texans had little to no access to water due to frozen or burst pipes, as well as reduced water pressure causing bacteria to accumulate in the pipes, causing 10 million Texans to be put on a boil water notice. A boil water notice means that they have to boil their water to be able to drink it safely. Many Texans as well had little access to food as most grocery stores and restaurants were shut down. The majority of roads closed also meant many could not leave their homes.

 Meanwhile, amid the power crises, Texas Senator Ted Cruz was on vacation relaxing on the warm beaches of Cancún. After news of his trip had become public, Cruz released a statement attempting to cover up his selfish wrongdoing by explaining to the press that he was merely escorting his daughters on a vacation trip with their friends. In an apparent bid for sympathy, Cruz was quoted as saying, “like millions of other Texans, our family lost heat and water.” Texas GOP Rep. Michael McCall on Sunday, February 21, delivered a pointed rebuke of Sen. Ted Cruz saying, “Look when a crisis hits my state, I’m there. I’m not going to go on some vacation,” leaving no room for another excuse from Cruz defending his actions.

  Comparatively, while an actual Texas senator provided practically zero assistance to Texans, a liberal representative with little to no stakes in Texas came to the rescue. U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in response to the disaster was able to raise nearly $5 million in Texas relief efforts. The congresswoman even flew to Houston to join Democratic Texas Rep. Sylvia Garcia to distribute supplies. During her stay, the progressive lawmaker and other Democrats visited food distribution centers, water delivery sites and toured the damage left behind from an unprecedented storm.

The Frozen Dragon of the North Wind

Jacqueline Pernice

February 23, 2021

Within the vast terrain of Canada’s badlands, all your Game of Thrones dreams will come true. The new species of pterosaur, a flying reptile, had been discovered. Its name, Cryodrakon Boreas, is Greek for ‘Frozen dragon of the North Wind’. 

     Despite the intimidating name, scientists say that the Cryodrakon Boreas looked less like a fire-breathing dragon and more like a giraffe-sized, reptilian type stork. The Cryodrakon, at its time, lived in what we currently know as Alberta, Canada. 

     Over 77 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, this reptile thrived. The species could grow up to 13 feet tall with a bewildering wingspan of 30 feet. It is now considered one of the largest flying animals known. It had a long neck, monstrous wings, and a thin head that was predicted to be about 3.5 times the length of its body. 

     As big as the reptile’s head was, it had no chewing apparatus. Meaning, it had no teeth or structure to chew with. Instead, it would consume whatever was small enough to fit down its gullet. Lizards, mammals, and small dinosaurs would most likely be the Cryodrakon’s main food choices.

     François Therrien is a curator at Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. He explained that even though the current environment of Alberta is quite harsh and frigid, the landscape that the Cryodrakon would have soared over would have looked more like a tropical paradise near a large inland sea.

     The fossils of this reptile were found over 30 years ago in Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park. However, scientists believed that the fossils were a part of a known species of pterosaur, the Quetzalcoatlus. According to The Washington Posts, a scientist named Irfan Habib, along with a taxonomy specialist, David Home, made the astounding discovery that the skeleton didn’t belong to the Quetzalcoatlus but to a new species, the ‘Frozen dragon of the North Wind’. 

     The Cryodrakon belonged to the azhdarchids, a type of pterosaurs (or pterodactyls), which are known for their distinctive long necks. The fossils that were discovered had belonged to a younger Cryodrakon, with its wingspan “only about 16.4 feet when it died… researchers studied the giant neck bone from an adult to determine that the wingspan of a fully grown Cryodrakon likely reached 32.8 ft.” (CNN World). 

     Researcher’s compare the size of the Cryodrakon to the Cessna airplane, according to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. The Museum also released more information about the Cryodrakon, stating that it has enough wing capacity to fly across oceans. 

     As for the benefits to the scientific community, David Hone expressed his opinion and thoughts on the discover, stating that, “It is great that we can identify Cryodrakon as being distinct to Quetzalcoatlus as it means we have a better picture of the diversity and evolution of predatory pterosaurs in North America.” The plan is to study how the muscles worked within the species, hopefully discovering how the Cryodrakon took off, flew, and walked. 

Can You Spread COVID-19 After Being Vaccinated?

Davis Newman

February 23, 2021

Early  this year, the first vaccines have started rolling out, and people are wondering how effective it is at stopping the spread from person to person. More importantly, can a person spread COVID-19 after being vaccinated? 

     The answer to this question is not as simple as it seems. According to Stanley H. Weiss, M.D., an epidemiology professor, the vaccine will highly diminish the spread, but it is unknown by how much. Clinical trials for the vaccine were based on preventing symptomatic cases and not asymptomatic cases, which are still infectious. Furthermore, more trials would have to be taken to find out if the vaccine prevents asymptomatic cases. Up to 20% of Covid cases are asymptomatic, so it is very important to find out if vaccines are effective at halting the spread of asymptomatic cases.

     To further complicate the situation, vaccines are not 100% effective, and patients can still become infected with the virus, although asymptomatic or with less severe symptoms. Even in a patient with a strong response to a vaccine, a virus can still do some replication and shed while the patient is shortly infected. Along with that, according to the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccine takes a few weeks to kick in, and a person with the vaccine can still catch it before the vaccine’s incubation period. 

     To conclude, you can spread and contract COVID-19 after receiving both doses of the vaccine. However, it does greatly reduce the symptoms and transmission rate compared to a non-vaccinated individual. The CDC still emphasizes protective measures even if you get the virus due to these factors. Continuing to take protective measures like wearing a mask waiting your turn for the vaccine is still the most important measure you can take to end this pandemic lockdown sooner rather than later.

AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine Not to be Given to People Over 65

By Ian Klane

February 12, 2021

On Thursday, January 28th, The Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine effort received pushback from public health advisors of the German government. They doubt the effectiveness of the vaccine on patients that are 65 years or older. 

     The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) at Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country’s main public health authority, found that there had not been enough people who were 65 or older enrolled in AstraZeneca’s vaccine trials.

     STIKO has been quoted as saying that “There is currently insufficient data available to assess the effectiveness of vaccinations from 65 years of age.” The panel further stated that “no conclusion can be made regarding efficacy and safety in the elderly. This vaccine is therefore currently recommended by STIKO only for persons aged 18-64 years.”

  The debate that has erupted in Europe over  AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine is centering on the thoughts of the German government, with some German media outlets covering some government officials anonymously claiming the vaccine is only 8% to 10% effective in people older than 65. The German government,  AstraZeneca company, and the University of Oxford have denied these reports.

      Dr. Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisations at Public Health England, said both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are “safe and provide high levels of protection against Covid-19,” and MHRA Chief Executive Dr. June Raine saying that “current evidence does not suggest any lack of protection against Covid-19 in people aged 65 or over.”

    The scientists who ran the vaccine trials started with younger volunteers to get results as quickly as possible, urgently trying to ensure that the vaccine would be able to work well enough to help combat the pandemic. Officials say that there is other evidence to suggest that the vaccine will work well in older adults. Studies have shown people 65 and older to have strong immune responses to the vaccine with their blood having plenty of the required antibodies.

     With the German announcement coming as the EU is in dispute while leading manufacturers over a delay in delivery of Covid vaccines to the bloc, AstraZeneca production issues mean that its output of the vaccine will not be able to reach the promised number of doses. This delay in output poses a massive issue to the EU as they have ordered 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

How the COVID-19 Vaccine Works

By Francheska Lupo

February 4, 2021

On December 14, 2020 in New York City, the first COVID-19 vaccine was given, but there is still widespread distrust amongst the public towards the immunization, largely due to misunderstanding. There are multiple companies distributing the vaccine to specific groups of people, and it can get confusing to understand how it all works as it changes quite often. 

To make it simple, refer to cdc.gov for which vaccines are available and recommended. As of now, the vaccines produced by the companies Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are what is authorized by the CDC. Both vaccines are an mRNA vaccine. Pfizer-BioNTech’s requires getting two vaccines 21 days apart, while Moderna’s is 28 days, both in the muscle of the upper arm. It does not contain eggs, latex or preservatives and to get a more extensive list of ingredients you can visit either Pfizer’s or Moderna’s COVID-19 Fact Sheet for recipients. According to cdc.gov, the mRNA vaccine “contain[s] material from the virus that causes COVID-19 that gives our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we are infected in the future.” This simple yet effective method immunizes our bodies and does not infect us with the actual virus. There are some common side effects that both shots can cause, including arm pain, swelling, and redness, and sometimes symptoms similar to the flu. However these only last for a few days, and have been reported as mild to moderate during clinical trials, despite one of the greatest fears people have regarding the vaccine being the side effects.

Right now in California, the vaccine roll out is still in phase 1A, where only health workers can get the vaccine and it is estimated that the state will enter phase 1B in early February, when people above the age of 75 will get the vaccine. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine will help others in your community, and protect you from getting the virus. Both vaccines have undergone extensive clinical testing and are approved by the FDA and CDC. The bottom line is that getting the vaccine is the most effective way to fight off this pandemic.

Human Trafficking Awarness Month

Maya Mellberg

January 28, 2020

Human trafficking awarness month is January 2021, and it is an important time to educate ourselves on the current cases taking place today. Not only is it important to educate ourselves, but our community in order to notice the signs of trafficking and make a difference to help potential victims. Trafficking is not only happening in our country, but worldwide; it has become an international issue with The International Labor Organization estimates “there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally, with hundreds of thousands in the United States. The victims of this crime in the U.S. are men and women, adults and children, and foreign nationals and U.S. citizens.” This number is constantly growing as more people become victims to dangerous and inhumane trafficking rings.

   Human trafficking is a major issue worldwide, in honor of January 2021 being human trafficking awareness month, it is important to address serious issues regarding sexual exploitation, forced labor, domestic servitude, and organ harvesting. 

   Uyghur Muslims are victims of trafficking and genocide; in China, Uyghurs are being exploited and forced to work in Xinjiang’s “labor programs”. “It is believed about one million Uighur people have been detained over the past few years in what the Chinese state defines as “re-education” camps”(BBC). Not only are they being trafficked to work in factories across the country, but the Chinese government is also attempting to destroy their culture as part of cultural genocide. Women are forcibly having their ovaries removed and forced to take birth control in order to prevent the growth of the Uyghur population. The Chinese government either fines mothers with a number of children that exceed their legal limit, or force expecting mothers to have abortions. If they do not follow through with the abortion women are “being threatened with internment in the camps for refusing to abort pregnancies that exceed birth quotas.”(BBC), making this a clear cultural genocide. 

  Thousands have already been killed by the Chinese government, and they are continuing their search for Uygurs throughout China. Huawei, a Chinese technology company, is now aiding the Chinese government with this genocide with the use of  a new patent mentioning the use of facial recognition technology to find those of Ugyhur descent. According to CNBC “patented technology can be used to identify the attributes of a pedestrian, for example. One attribute that can be recognized is “race.” Uighurs are referenced as one “race” that can be detected by Huawei’s system.” In essence this will allow the Chinese government to take anyone targeted by this new technology to the concentration camps. 

  Human trafficking is also a major issue in the United States. It is estimated that about 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States every year, with this number increasing annually. It is also estimated that in the U.S, 200,000 children are at risk of being trafficked into the sex industry. During the pandemic, there has also been an impact on human trafficking. Criminals are finding victims online through social media and luring potential victims by agreeing to drop drugs off at their homes. This has become much easier for criminals as school programs and interventions are essentially non-existent. Child predators are now finding ways to further exploit children knowing they are spending large amounts of time online and isolated. Although COVID-19 has made an impact on the transportation of victims, these predators are finding new tactics to get victims, leading to a new generation of human trafficking victims.

The Imminent Failure of Vaccine Distribution in the US

By Lola Weber

January 21, 2021

News of finalized, FDA approved vaccines for COVID-19 felt like a triumphant and emotional moment for much of the world. Images and videos circulating of the first vaccine recipients further amplify this shared humanistic feeling, but the primary conflict of distribution still lingers. 

To recap previous promises of immediate vaccine distribution, one can begin with the Trump administration’s initial goal of distributing 40 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of 2020, which was not achieved with only 12.5 million doses distributed according to the CDC. This goal also had a target of 20 million administered vaccinations, one that was yet again unfulfilled with only 3 million administered vaccinations. 

The failure of general vaccine distribution and shipment isn’t the sole issue within this conflict, with state-by-state distribution’s own shortcomings. Various reports of Texas pharmacists left with no guidance to administer the vaccine, leading to expired doses, or Florida’s “first-come first-serve” basis, leaving vulnerable populations to wait in Black Friday-style lines, continue to show the neglect of carrying through with administering and encouraging vaccinations throughout the US. 

The US has been banking on these vaccines as their sole escape route from the pandemic, but even with months of planning and vast resources from being the wealthiest nation in the world, it still has not been executed. Nearly 400,000 lives have been lost to this virus, or rather an institutional failure of our government to combat it, leaving underfunded public health systems with insufficient resources to keep themselves and the population afloat. 

The two leading pharmaceutical companies in this debacle, Pfizer and Moderna, haven’t felt nearly any of their own faults in the failed distribution of their vaccine. Following their rapid progression and development of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (which was ultimately based on previous publicly funded research from public institutions), Pfizer’s head sold 62 percent of his stock, the same day they would announce their promising vaccine trial results. Moderna executives would soon follow suit, further displaying the rapid efforts to capitalize on this public health crisis. 

The insider trading among executives at these Big Pharma companies does not just result in questionable ethics, but also feeds into anti-vaccination platforms and conspiracies, adding yet another impediment to the effective distribution and execution of vaccinations. Although the mere excitement of an effective vaccine feels like cause for celebration, it is apparent that there is quite a long way to go due to the inefficiency and unsustainable system we are blocked by. 

We have found ourselves in yet another similar position to that of last spring, where fights and tension between state leaders over adequate testing and ventilation machines were settled through economic power of individual states. Smaller states had consistently been out-bid by larger states for essential equipment, which seems to parallel the current tension over vaccine distribution. Towns that  lay outside of the metropolitan hubs of the U.S. will face the hardest time gaining any access to vaccines, not to mention those residing in developing nations which also rely on U.S. distribution. 

Of course, allocating all resources to metropolitan areas makes sense, considering population density, but generally, the most vulnerable populations (that being people over the age of 60), and poorer residents reside in these rural suburbs. Major hospitals are urgently purchasing the necessary (and extremely expensive) freezers to store and maintain the sensitive mRNA vaccines, once again leaving a hunt for essential materials, and trampling rural towns and underfunded hospitals in the unjust race. 

Once vaccines do reach areas of distribution to the general population, there is still another roadblock between vaccinating vulnerable people, and that lies within professional lobbying that reinforces corporate efforts to skip the line. Early last spring, Hollywood studios had cashed out copious amounts of money to lobby for ‘essential worker’ classification, which was successful. The National Hockey League successfully lobbied for prioritized vaccinations for their players, along with World Wrestling Entertainment, further displaying the evident flaws in distribution. 

The fact of the matter is that without adequate economic planning, there cannot be an equitable and effective rollout of these vaccines. We are plagued by self-interest, whether that be in pharmaceutical markets, or the market of national competition. 

Christmas Morning Nashville Bombing

By Colin Murphy

January 21, 2021

On December 25th, 2020, a suicide bomber exploded his recreational vehicle in downtown Nashvile, injuring eight people and damaging buildings in the area. 

The explosion occurred at 6:30am directly adjacent to an AT&T network hub, which resulted in days-long communication service outages, and extreme damage to the infrastructure of the building. . . This service facility was in possession of a telephone exchange that had loads of network equipment inside of it. The structural damage led to fires, which turned on the fire alarm and sprinkler systems, ruining the backup generators at the service facility. Outages occurred all over Middle Tennessee causing significant service interruptions. In addition, the explosion threatened many emergency response telephone lines and emergency response communications as, “Cellular, wireline telephone, internet and U-verse television service were affected,  as were multiple local 9-1-1 and non-emergency phone networks in the region, along with Nashville’s COVID-19 community hotline and some hospital systems” (Tucker, Associated Press).

Not only were the lines down for emergency personnel, but also over the whole state of Tennessee.. “The Memphis Air Route Traffic Control Center experienced communication issues, leading the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ground flights from Nashville International Airport for about an hour” according to the Associated Press. The aftermath effects of the explosion didn’t just last a few hours, but instead a few days.  What’s even worse is that during a pandemic the 9-1-1 services were affected by outages for days. That should not be able to happen statewide because of one building suffering from structure problems. Think about if multiple buildings across the nation were hit. What would our emergency response be able to do then? 

Who was the perpetrator? Why did he do it? Authorities concluded that Anthony Quinn Warner, a local Nashville resident was the bomber. Yet, the FBI has no clear motive for his actions. Leading up to the bombing, the police had no reason to be attracted to Warner, but it was later revealed that Anthony Quinn Warner’s girlfriend, as well as her attorney had met with police on August 21, 2019. “The girlfriend said that Warner had been making bombs in the RV, and her attorney, who previously represented Warner, indicated that he believed her” according to the New York Times. With no real motive, the FBI is torn as to why Warner would do this. Some people across the country believe that he was working with terrorist organizations, while others think that Quinn Warner just believed he couldn’t die.

New Covid-19 Variants Could Infect You?

By Ian Klane

January 21, 2021

     In September of 2020, a new Covid-19 variant had been detected in the United Kingdom. With multiple Covid-19 variants circulating globally, as expected with any virus, one that has emerged out of the U.K. is being closely observed. Due to the unusual amount of mutations in the strain it has begun to spread more and more across the U.K. and even into the U.S. and Canada.

     This new variant of the virus from the U.K. referred to as B.1.1.7, has been found to spread faster and easier than other variants, but there is no evidence that suggests the new strain is more deadly. This variant stood out to researchers due to the distinct amount of genetic changes, particularly to the spike protein that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus uses to infect human cells. It has been studied that a mutation in the viral genome region encoding the spike protein, in theory, could result in Covid-19 spreading much more easily.

      A study from The Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases in London shows that the new strain found in the U.K., which has now traveled to California as well as 33 other countries, is 56% more transmissible. With six new cases of the new strain being detected in California, it is worrisome as the state continues to ride its worst wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Emerging separately from the strain in the U.K., another variant of Covid-19 has been detected in South Africa. This variant, originally discovered in early October, shares some mutations with the variant from the U.K. There have as well even been signs of cases caused by this variant outside of South Africa. Similarly, there are signs of increased spreadability, and luckily still no evidence of increased risk of death or severity of illness have been found.

Scientists studying the new emerging variants have noticed that the mutations are changing the part of the virus that your immune system’s antibodies get trained to recognize after you’ve been infected or vaccinated. This discovery introduces problems regarding vaccines, questioning their effectiveness against the new variant as the change could cause people’s antibodies to be less effective at neutralizing the virus.

     Although the variant that has emerged from South Africa is getting more attention in regards to its effect on vaccines, the mutations are said to not prove the vaccines to be completely hopeless. Ramón Lorenzo-Redondo, a molecular virologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine said that “With one mutation or even three mutations, it’s expected the antibodies will still recognize this variant, though they might not recognize it as well as other variants.” 

      Unlike the variant from South Africa, evidence indicates that the B.1.1.7 variant from the U.K. is not thought to have mutations that will greatly affect the strength of vaccines against it.