Power Surge – NOVA on the need for new sources of energy.

I’ve got NOVA set to record on my DVR which means I often don’t get around to watching an episode until well after it has aired. Last night I got around to watching the Power Surge episode that talks about the race to develop large-scale alternative energy sources. Virgin airline’s Sir Richard Branson is figured prominently and presented as a man with a moral dilemma. Turns out he’s an environmentalist which has got to be stressful when you’re also the founder of a major airline that contributes so much carbon to the air.

The question that’s asked throughout the show is “Can technology save us from the looming environmental disaster?” Not surprisingly, most of the participants believe it can. The show takes a look at a number of technologies and, unlike other such shows, doesn’t make the argument that any single one of them is going to save us. Instead it’s going to take a wide range of technologies — wind, solar, bio, nuclear, etc. — to solve the problem. One of the other points the show makes is that if the U.S. wants to be a leader in the alternative energy field, a field expected to be quite profitable in the coming years, we’d better hurry the fuck up and get serious about it. China, of all places, already has several very wealthy alternative energy entrepreneurs and is positioning itself to be a world leader in alternative energy technologies.

Here’s a preview from the episode:

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

Fortunately for those of us who like NOVA and forget to watch it and who don’t have a DVR, PBS makes the episodes available to view online for free. I highly recommend you go watch the whole thing as it’s very interesting and informative. It’s especially eye opening when it looks back to how the U.S. was once very keen on alternative energies during the Oil Crisis of the 1970’s when President Carter was in the White House. He had some solar panels installed on the White House roof which are referenced again at the end of the show in a very ironic way. It’s worth watching the whole thing just to learn the fate of those most famous of solar panels. (Hint: They’re not on the White House roof anymore.)

Southern Poverty Law Center reports number of hate groups in America at all-time high.

SPLC LogoThis shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone given our country’s past, but it is disappointing:

New Report: ‘Higher Hate Group Count Than Ever’ : NPR

Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the law center, has been studying hate groups for a long time. But Potok says even he was surprised when he started counting extremists for his annual report.

“We have absolutely explosive growth of these groups in 2009,” Potok says. “And what we have now found is that that growth continued through 2010. We have a higher hate group count than we’ve ever had.”

[…] Experts say the most negative energy seems to be coming from people who think the federal government is conspiring to take away their freedom.

“It is not … harmless in the sense that the patriot movement has produced a great deal of criminal violence,” Potok says. “There were an enormous number of plots that came out of the patriot movement, particularly in the late 1990s, and we’re beginning to see that again.”

Right here in Michigan there was a recent case of some douchebag who was planning to blow up a mosque in Dearborn using consumer grade fireworks:

Roger Stockham, a 63-year-old Vietnam War veteran with a history of mental illness, was arrested Jan. 24 after police received a call of a man making threats to set off explosives in one of the biggest mosques in the nation.

[…] Officers say they found Stockham wearing a ski mask in his car parked outside the Islamic Center of America on Ford Road. The car’s trunk was loaded with about two dozen powerful fireworks, police said.

And that’s just one of a number of such incidents since 2009. You can bet things are only going to get worse before they get better.
The really frustrating part is that you can’t talk sense to these people. They are so full of conspiracy theories and misinformation (thanks FOX News and Glenn Beck) that any attempt to confront them with facts and reality is ignored outright. They have become the proverbial useful idiots, but only useful to people who really don’t have their best interests in mind despite what they claim.

To the rest of us, they’re an annoyance at best and a potential danger at worst.

New study determines that abortions don’t cause mental health issues.

One of the arguments put forth by anti-abortion advocates is that it causes major mental health problems for the woman who has one, but a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine says that’s not the case at all:

“This is an extremely, extremely well done study,” he said. “There is no evidence that abortion predisposes a woman to psychiatric and mental health problems.”

[…] Blum, a former president of the Guttmacher Institute, would like to say goodbye to the political buzz words.

“There is no post-abortion trauma, post-abortion syndrome, or anything of the like,” he said.

Danish researchers looked at the health records of 85,000 women who had had first-trimester abortions. Those women were more likely to seek mental health treatment while they were pregnant, but didn’t need more help after having the abortion. That’s not surprising, says Nada Stotland, a professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical College in Chicago. She says that women considering abortion are often struggling with problems with a partner or family members.

“People have abortions often under troubled circumstances,” she said. “You have an abortion because there is a problem.”

What makes this study unique is that it looked at women who chose abortions and also looked at women who chose to have the baby. Stotland says this gives us a much better picture of the stresses of abortion and childbirth.

“Above all it really fairly contrasts the outcomes of abortion with the outcomes of pregnancy,” she said.

via Study: Abortions Don’t Cause Mental Health Issues : NPR.

As it turns out giving birth is actually more likely to cause mental health problems with postpartum depression being one of the major ones. It would help quite a bit if more resources were devoted to post-birth mental health care for new mothers.

While this study most likely won’t end the debate anytime soon, it does debunk one of the common arguments against abortion.

From now on NPR will be known as NPR.

I’m a huge fan of National Public Radio. It being what I listen to most these days as I can’t stand most of the music stations in our area and I’m not ready to pay for satellite radio. I’ve called it by its initials for years now and, come to think of it, so have they so it’s a little amusing to see they’re finally making it official:

So the Washington-based organization has quietly changed its name to its familiar initials. Much like the corporate names KFC or AT&T, the initials now stand for the initials.

NPR says it’s abbreviating the name it has used since its debut in 1971 because it’s more than radio these days. Its news, music and informational programming is heard over a variety of digital devices that aren’t radios; it also operates news and music Web sites.

Hence: “NPR is more modern, streamlined,” says Vivian Schiller, NPR’s chief executive. She points to other “re-brandings” by media organizations, such as Cable News Network, which has been plain old CNN for years.

via National Public Radio is changing its name to NPR.

Honestly I’ve never understood this trend. I can only assume it’s based on a cynical assumption about the ever-lowering IQ of the average American. Who the hell can remember Kentucky Fried Chicken these days? Better shorten it to KFC so it’ll be much easier to store in the handful of brain cells most people still have working after eating all that fried chicken!

The one thing I can see that has come out of this trend is an opportunity for the conspiracy theorists to start up some ridiculous myth about the company. The one for KFC being that they were forced by the government to change their name because they grow all their chickens in vats and they can’t legally be called chicken anymore!

I wonder what myth they’ll come up with for NPR? Leave your ideas in the comments.

This American Life on “Things I Used to Believe.”

I don’t get to listen to TAL as often as I’d like so I try to make a point to catch up with it online when I can. I was reminded that it had been awhile while reading an entry on Friendly Atheist about the most recent episode. He was talking about Act II of the show which is described at the TAL site as follows:

This past Christmas a story swept the internet about a football coach at a Christian high school in Texas who inspired his team’s fans to root for the opposition: a team from the local juvenile correctional facility. Among the thousands of emails that the coach received in response to his actions, one stood out to him. Trisha Sebastian mentioned her loss of faith, and coach Hogan got a message from God that he was meant to bring her back. We eavesdrop on their phone calls.

You can listen to it for yourself by clicking here. The story hits home for me because back when I was going through my crisis of faith I had similar conversations. Not exactly the same, mind you, because my crisis came about through thinking too much rather than because I experienced a loss that made me question my faith, but similar in that the believers used pretty much the same arguments. I found it particularly interesting that host Ira Glass gave Trisha a better answer than the Christian football coach did when Ira is a non-believer himself. That’s another thing I’ve experienced first hand.

Anyway, I thought it made for compelling listening and thought I’d share it with you. I think it helps illustrate why their is often a disconnect when believers try to talk to non-believers about God.

Apparently we wash our hair entirely too much.

Or so says this interesting NPR news item that covered some folks who are cutting way back on shampooing their hair.

Americans love to shampoo. We lather up an average of 4.59 times a week, twice as much as Italians and Spaniards, according to shampoo-maker Procter & Gamble.

But that’s way too often, say hair stylists and dermatologists. Daily washing, they say, strips the hair of beneficial oil (called sebum) and can damage our locks.

I don’t shampoo anywhere near as much as I used to because I shave my head, but back when I had a full head of hair I shampooed daily. If I didn’t my hair definitely got greasy because I’m cursed with very fine hair that was easily weighed down by the oil and almost impossible to style. In fact I started showering in the morning because if I washed my hair prior to bed it’d be back to greasy-sticky-outy-all-over-the-damn-place by the time morning rolled around. According to the article I should have just lived with the greasy hair:

“If you wash your hair every day, you’re removing the sebum,” explains Michelle Hanjani, a dermatologist at Columbia University. “Then the oil glands compensate by producing more oil,” she says.

She recommends that patients wash their hair no more than two or three times a week.

As I said before these days I tend to shave my head, but I only do that once every couple of weeks or so which allows my hair to grow out an inch or two between shavings. For the week or so I don’t bother using shampoo at all, but once it gets to an inch I start using small amounts every other day. Eventually it gets long enough that I have to go back to daily shampoos unless I shave it off again. All of which I suppose is a good argument to shave my head more often.

This American Life: Bad Bank

Want to understand the whole banking crisis thing? Go listen to the most recent episode of This American Life:

The collapse of the banking system explained, in just 59 minutes. Our crack economics team—the guys who explained the mortgage crisis, Alex Blumberg and NPR’s Adam Davidson—are back to help all of us understand the news. For instance, when we talk about an insolvent bank, what does it actually mean, and why are we giving hundreds of billions of dollars to rich bankers who screwed up their own businesses? Also, two guys go to New Jersey to look at a toxic asset.

I’m far from being an economist, but this put it all into perspective for me. It also brought home just how fucked we are. This is going to hurt regardless of how it’s handled the only question will be how much will it hurt and that depends on how it’s handled. The idea that we, as taxpayers, will see the government recoup the money they’ve given the banks is probably a bit of false hope given out to make the bailouts more palatable. We’re going to end up paying either way.

The surprising bit is the fact that Americans, as a whole, are at least partially responsible for the mess. Sure the banks shouldn’t have been handing out some of the loans they have, but the truth is most of us have been living beyond our means for a long time now. Which is particularly frustrating to someone like myself who has been doing his best to live within his means for years and is still going to get hurt by the financial melt down.

Four months later, Bush’s promise to Katrina victim not acted on.

Remember when Bush went to New Orleans back in April and posed for a photo op with 74-year old Ethel Williams in her ruined home and made a big speech about how rebuilding the city and her home? I remember it. He made a lot of promises.

It’s a shame he’s not really keeping them.

She’s a resident of the Upper Ninth Ward whose home had to be totally gutted after the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina receded. President Bush stood with Williams that day and said she’d get help rebuilding her life.

“We’ve got a strategy to help the good folks down here rebuild,” the president said that day. “Part of it has to do with funding; part of it has to do with housing; and a lot of it has to do with encouraging volunteers from around the United States to come down and help people like Mrs. Williams. So we’re proud to be here with you, Mrs. Williams, and God bless you.”

That was a big day for Williams. Volunteers from Catholic Charities showed up in the morning and cleared out her house. Everything was taken, even the walls and the flooring. Then, with just a half-hour of warning, the president of the United States arrived.

But since that day, not much has happened. Williams’ house has stood gutted, just as it was when the president left.

Big surprise. It made for a great photo op, though, so Bush got what he wanted out of it.

Air America now in Detroit

Just wanted to let everyone know that the alternative to right-wing wackos: Air America, is now broadcasting in the Detroit area.

They can be found on the AM dial at 1310.

Do you smell that?… I think it’s a breath of fresh air…

I want my Neo-Radio!

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t watch much TV because the majority of it is crap. The same is true for radio except I don’t listen to anything on the radio these days outside of NPR. I don’t think I’ve intentionally had a commercial station on my dial in the last half-decade. This is largely due to one of the bits of legislation signed by President Clinton that I disagreed with at the time because I thought it would ruin radio and, as it turns out, I was right. In 1996 Congress passed and Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which lifted the 40-station ownership cap allowing for the massive consolidation that has taken place in the industry. These days most stations nation-wide are owned and operated by a handful of big companies like Clear Channel. As of 2002 Clear Channel owned 1,200 radio stations in all 50 states according to their website. Here in the Detroit area they own 11 of the 21 or so commercial stations and there isn’t a single one of them I can stand to listen to anymore. If it’s not the limited selection of constantly repeated “hits” then it’s the annoying as hell DJs who can make five year olds seem like mental giants in comparison. Morning shows are the worst. Shut the fuck up and play some music for crying out loud! I don’t care what you thought of last night’s episode of Survivor. You can turn on just about any Clear Channel rock station in just about any major city and, outside of the call letters, it’ll sound pretty much like the one in your home town.

Anyway, it appears I’m not alone in this regard and it turns out that there may be a bit of a backlash against the current corporate model of running a radio station starting to take root. Listening to All Things Considered on NPR on the way home yesterday I heard a news item titled Neo-Radio Succeeds by Cutting the Noise that offers some hope to those of us who can’t stand commercial radio these days. Wade Goodwyn tells us about a new trend in radio where the play lists are huge, they don’t talk over the start and end of a song, the DJs talk about *GASP!* the music instead of Survivor, the amount of commercials aired is less than half of what the big commercial stations air, and the audiences are growing like wildfire. Some stations have seen a 65% increase in audience since they started up, something Clear Channel dreams about seeing, and they appear to share part of their audience with (surprise!) NPR.

I want one of these stations to show up in Detroit. Soon. It would actually get me to listen to commercial radio again. I’d still tune into NPR from time to time, but these days when I want to listen to music I have to pull out my stash of CDs. It’d be nice to actually use the radio in my car for listening to music once again and I’m just not willing to shell out the bucks for XM Radio at this point. Not as long as my CD player is still working at least.

In the meantime, you can check out the two stations NPR profiles in the report at their websites. There’s KQMT 99.5 FM ‘The Mountain’ out of Denver and KBZT 94.9 FM out of San Diego which also streams its programming over the Net. The coolest part about FM949’s audio streaming is that they remove the commercials from their streaming feed:

Music & DJs, YES. Commercials, NO.

When you listen to our stream, you’ll hear our music and you’ll hear our DJs identify the songs you hear – but when we go to our commercials, you’ll hear “replacement” audio. You may hear some of our promotional announcements, other music, wacky foreign language lessons, Halloran’s heavy breathing, or reminders that regular programming will return. Rest assured that when our commercial break is done, you’ll be right back to the next track we play on the air.

How friggin’ cool is that??