Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How 'One Nation' Didn't Become 'Under God' Until The '50s Religious Revival

The words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and the phrase "In God we trust" on the back of a dollar bill haven't been there as long as most Americans might think. Those references were inserted in the 1950s during the Eisenhower administration, the same decade that the National Prayer Breakfast was launched, according to writer Kevin Kruse. His new book is One Nation Under God.

In the original Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy made no mention of God, Kruse says. Bellamy was Christian socialist, a Baptist who believed in the separation of church and state.

"As this new religious revival is sweeping the country and taking on new political tones, the phrase 'one nation under God' seizes the national imagination," Kruse tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "It starts with a proposal by the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic lay organization, to add the phrase 'under God' to the Pledge of Allegiance. Their initial campaign doesn't go anywhere but once Eisenhower's own pastor endorses it ... it catches fire." npr

Cholita, An Abused Bear In Peru, Gets A New Home In Colorado

A badly abused Peruvian bear named Cholita is coming to a sanctuary in Colorado. Animal Defenders International announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expedited the request and she will be on her way next month.

As NPR reported last week, Cholita needed special approval because she is an endangered Andean bear, also known as a spectacled bear — the same kind as Paddington, the fictional bear from children's literature.

Cholita suffered extreme abuse while she was a circus bear. Her claws were removed, leaving mangled paws, and her teeth were smashed out to stop her from harming any handlers. She also has lost almost all her hair. npr

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Scientists Catch Up On The Sex Life Of Coral To Help Reefs Survive

For the first time, biologists have caught a rare type of coral in the act of reproducing, and they were able to collect its sperm and eggs and breed the coral in the laboratory. 

The success is part of an effort to stem the decline in many types of coral around the world.

To understand how this works, you need to know that coral reefs are actually colonies of tiny organisms encased in hard skeletons. In many kinds of coral, the whole colony reproduces at once, in a spectacular event called "broadcast spawning." Males eject clouds of sperm into the water, and then females do the same with eggs. The sea creatures cross their fingers (or whatever the coral equivalent of that is) and hope for the best.

Scientists have observed this sort of thing before, but not with pillar coral, a rare type found in the western Atlantic and Caribbean that forms columns, or pillars. Marine biologist Kristen Marhaver, of the University of California, Merced, says that's because the researchers' timing was off. "For years, scientists were underwater about 30 minutes after the pillar coral spawned," she explains.

They were late in those expeditions because they were focusing on a different type of coral — elkhorn. As it turns out, elkhorn coral spawns just after the pillar coral does. Typically divers were still suiting up for the elkhorn spawning, Marhaver says, when the pillar coral was busy reproducing beneath their boat — and the divers would miss the pillar coral action completely. 

Three years ago, Marhaver and colleagues — with a group called Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity, on the island of Curacao — figured that out. Eventually they nailed down the pillar coral's mating moment.

The moment came "three days after the August full moon, 100 minutes after sundown," she says. So the next time they spawned, Marhaver was in the water waiting, and saw what looked like a cloud rising from the reef. npr

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

After Toxic Ash Spill, Energy Company And Locals Struggle Over Solution

When utility companies burn coal to make electricity — and it generated 39 percent of U.S. energy in 2013 — it leaves behind ash that can contain arsenic, selenium, boron and many other toxic substances.
For decades, that ash simply has been buried in pits near the power plants and covered with water. Now, in North Carolina, it's become a multibillion dollar problem. After a massive spill into the Dan River last year, the state ordered Duke Energy to clean up more than 100 million tons of stored coal ash, and the company has drawn up a plan that involves transporting it to two abandoned clay mines in Lee County.
Amy Adams, North Carolina campaign coordinator with Appalachian Voices, shows her hand covered with wet coal ash taken from the Dan River, which swirls in the background in February 2014. The Duke Energy spill coated 70 miles of the river with toxic sludge containing arsenic, selenium, and boron.
The nonabsorbent quality of the clay in the area is one reason Duke Energy and its contractor bought the Cherokee Clay and Brick mine across the road, and another in the next county over.
The plan is to dig up about 10 million tons of coal ash at 14 of the most critical sites across the state and bring it here on trucks and rail cars to a dry, lined landfill. The clay, they say, adds another layer of protection against leaks.
Duke Energy is the largest electric utility company in the country. After the spill last year that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in coal-ash slurry, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a first-ever statewide law requiring a coal-ash cleanup effort. That will start with identifying the most dangerous sites and devising long-term storage plans. npr

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Why ‘BPA-Free’ May Be Meaningless

After years of campaigning, health advocates finally convinced many household product manufacturers to remove the chemical Bisphenol A, known as BPA, from items like receipts, plastic bottles and the lining of tin cans. And as a result, it's not hard to find products labeled "BPA Free." But it turns out the chemicals used to replace BPA may have nearly the exact impact on the human body—hormone disruption—as BPA, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
"According to pretty much all the literature there is on these two substitutes, they are hormonally active in ways similar to BPA–similar mechanisms, similar potencies," said study author Johanna Rochester, a researcher at the Endocrine Disruption Exchange.
The study evaluated existing research on two BPA replacement chemicals: Bisphenol S and F, known as BPS and BPF. The similarity between the compounds may extend beyond the name, the study suggests. For one, the compounds' structures are remarkably similar. The compounds also behave like BPA, part of the reason why they make a good replacement for manufacturers—if not for consumers looking to oust hormone-disrupting chemicals from their products.
Research on the health effects of BPF and BPS is still in its early stages—just because a chemical has the ability to behave a certain way in the body doesn't necessarily mean it's dangerous. Still, the researchers say based on what we do know, the average consumer has reason to be a little concerned. BPA has been shown to cause problems with human reproduction, metabolism, neurological function and a whole host of other problems.
But beyond researchers sounding the alarm, what should you do as a consumer if you're concerned about BPS and BPF?
Here's a good place to start:
Avoid handling receipts.
Receipts at many grocery stores and retailers are printed on a product known as "thermal" paper. These receipts, once heavy in BPA, are often made with BPS or BPF these days. In some ways, exposure to these compounds in receipts may be riskier than exposure to containers made with the compound. In receipts, BPS and BPF are "free" and can easily migrate from the product to your skin and other surfaces. "If it’s a receipt that I do need, I’ll hold out my bag and ask the person to drop into the bag so I don’t have to touch it," Watson says.
Drink from steel or glass containers, not plastic ones.
Steel and glass drinking containers are widely available. It makes sense to purchase a few for the house and a few for the office.
Don't microwave your food in plastic containers.
The heat from the microwave can separate BPA-like compounds from plastic containers, making them easier for the consumer to ingest. If you must use plastic tupperware, you should avoid the microwave. Ideally, you just store food in ceramic or glass containers in the first place. msn

Friday, March 13, 2015

Behold! The Cosmos Created From The Contents Of A Kitchen

Planet: bottom of a glass containing half and half, water, food coloring. Moons: bottom of a glass containing coconut milk, water, food coloring. Stars: salt, cinnamon, baking powder, Tums.

Nebula with gas streams: garlic powder, salt, flour, cumin, turmeric, cat fur.

Planet: bottom of a glass containing half and half, water, food coloring. Stars: salt, cinnamon, baking powder.

Nebula: olive oil, salt, water, makeup, baby powder, chalk.

 Navid Baraty, a freelance photographer in Brooklyn and Los Angelesarranges common pantry items to create strikingly accurate-looking photos of an imaginary cosmos.
"I'm a really big space geek," Baraty tells The Salt. "I'll look at NASA images or Hubble images to see how things were placed in the sky, and I try to make things as realistic as possible."
He particularly likes a NASA website that posts an astronomy picture each day. He'd heard of other people creating images using scanners, and knew that the high resolution would make objects pop against a dark background. So he started thinking about how to create his own version of space — using the contents of his kitchen cabinets.
Baraty started with spices and flour to make stars. "Sometimes, when I look at space photographs, it looks like spices sprinkled on the sky," he says. Lately, he's been filling glasses and large beakers with water or coconut milk and streaks of food coloring to make planets of different sizes. He composes a space scene on a plate of glass, sets it on top of a scanner, and voila! He has an image worthy of Hubble. npr

Thursday, March 12, 2015

After Rescue, Massive Sea Turtle Will Be Released In S.C.

A 475-pound leatherback sea turtle that was rescued from a remote beach in South Carolina will be returned to the ocean today, after being found stranded ashore and nursed back to health. It took five people to carry the creature, officials say.

The turtle "immediately responded to treatments" of fluids, vitamins and antibiotics after it was rescued Saturday, says spokesperson Kate Dittloff of the South Carolina Aquarium. Today, she adds, "our veterinarian has cleared him/her for release."

A gender can't be determined for the turtle: Despite its size, it's still too young to have a mature reproductive system. It is believed to be around 10 or 15 years old. Mature leatherbacks can reach sizes of up to around 2,000 pounds.

If it's a success, the release would end a rare visit ashore by a leatherback, the world's largest turtle — and one of the largest reptiles. Leatherbacks commonly migrate along the Atlantic Coast, but they usually make the trip much farther out from the coast. npr

Think Man-Sized Swimming Centipede — And Be Glad It's A Fossil

If living long and prospering is a measure of success, then the arthropods are life's winners. These are the most common form of life: insects, spiders, crustaceans and centipedes, to name but a few.

And now scientists have their hands on the remains of one of the first ever. It lived 480 million years ago, and it was big and strange.

The fossil was discovered by a Moroccan collector, Ou Said Ben Moula. He gave it several years ago to scientists who spent hundreds of hours scraping away its rocky casing. The "thing" that emerged is ... well ... a man-sized, swimming centipede? A 7-foot lobster without claws?

"It is one of the very biggest arthropods that ever existed," says Yale paleontologist Peter Van Roy. In fact, he says, it was the biggest animal of any kind on the planet, at the time.

Van Roy spent 500 hours preparing the fossilized creature. It's called an anomalocaridid, he says, and evolved at a special time during the Ordovician geological period. Scientists call this period, when the variety of life forms in the ocean exploded, the Great Ordovician Biological Diversification Event.

"(It was) the biggest diversification in marine animal life that we've ever known," says Van Roy, and it took place across 25 million years. The "diversification" turned out to be a bonanza for this creature, because a lot of this new life was plankton. Up until then, anomalocaridids were smaller. This version (Aegirocassis benmoulae) evolved a way to eat the plankton. It developed a comb-like appendage to scoop up the tiny creatures, the way whales do now. Van Roy also discovered that the creature had developed pairs of flaps on its body that later evolved into arthropod limbs. npr

Researchers Think There's A Warm Ocean On Enceladus

Saturn's moon Enceladus is a mystery. From Earth it looks tiny and cold, and yet it's not a dead hunk of rock. Passing spacecraft see trenches and ridges, similar to Earth, and in 2005 NASA's Cassini mission spotted ice geysers streaming from its south pole.

"The moon is actually alive in a sense," says Sean Hsu with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Beneath the surface, most researchers believe it even has a liquid ocean. Now Hsu and his colleagues have found new evidence that it's a downright balmy ocean.

The team used the Cassini spacecraft, which orbits Saturn, to detect tiny particles of silica floating in space. It's not sand exactly, but researchers think the particles did come from the bottom of Enceladus' ocean.

The silica particles could only be made if that ocean were hot. "We think that the temperature at least in some part of the ocean must be higher than 190 degrees Fahrenheit," Hsu says. "If you could swim a little bit further from the really hot part then it could be comfy."

In fact, 190°F is cooler than many hydrothermal vents at the bottom of Earth's oceans. Hsu says experiments on Earth also suggest the ocean is similar in salinity and pH to oceans here.

The evidence, published in the journal Nature, is somewhat circumstantial. The theory is that the silica formed and then dissolved in seawater beneath Enceladus' icy crust. It then left the moon through geysers, and filled Saturn's E-ring. From the E-ring, the silica eventually wound up in the giant planet's magnetosphere, which is where Cassini saw it. npr

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Day After His Death, Frei Otto Awarded Pritzker Architecture Prize

Architect Frei Otto is known for the large-scale roofs on the sports facilities for the 1972 Munich Olympics.

German architect Frei Otto is this year's winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, a day after his death at age 89.
The prize's jury, in its citation, said Otto had developed "a most sensitive architecture that has influenced countless others throughout the world."
"The lessons of his pioneering work in the field of lightweight structures that are adaptable, changeable and carefully use limited resources are as relevant today as when they were first proposed over 60 years ago," the jurors said. "He has embraced a definition of architect to include researcher, inventor, form-finder, engineer, builder, teacher, collaborator, environmentalist, humanist, and creator of memorable buildings and spaces."
Otto's works are often designed in collaboration with others. His most notable projects include the cable net structure at German Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, the large-scale roofs for the 1972 Munich Olympics and the Mannheim Multihalle in 1974. npr

Monday, March 9, 2015

air vent waffle

Why China's Pollution Could Be Behind Our Cold, Snowy Winters

The animation from NASA shows how pollution from Asia and other continents mixes and moves around the world. (It's a simulation made with satellite data from September 2006 to April 2007.)

The colorful swirls represent airborne particles in the atmosphere. Many of those particles are sea salt (shown in blue) picked up from the ocean, and dust (shown in red-orange) scooped up from deserts.

But there are also man-made sources of particles. Soot from fires is shown in green-yellow, and sulfur from fossil fuel emissions and volcanoes is in white.

As the animation moves through time, you can see fires billow up from South America and parts of Africa. Dust from the Sahara Desert sweeps west, and power plants in North America and Europe emit sulfur that blows east.

Then, about 43 seconds into the video, Asia comes into view. And its coal-powered industrialization is clear.

Large swaths of emissions from burning coal pulse from China and Southeast Asia in white. Sometimes the particles blow east and mix with storms above the Pacific Ocean. These storms can have a big effect on winter weather in the U.S., Jiang says.

Storms in the Pacific move northwest; some hit the West Coast and cause rain and snow. Others end up far north in Canada, where they can alter the weather across the entire U.S., Jiang says. npr

For Young People In Rural Areas, Suicide Poses A Growing Threat

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults, and those who live in rural areas are especially at risk.

For young people between the ages of 10 and 24, the suicide rates in rural areas are nearly double those of urban areas, according to a study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics. And that disparity is growing.

The study, which analyzed data from 1996-2010, also found over half of the young people who killed themselves during that time period themselves had used a gun. And the rates for suicide by firearm were especially high in rural areas — about three times the rates for urban areas. npr