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Home country: USA
Current location: Georgia
Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

Fox Only Talks About Climate Change When It's Cold

The recent Arctic chill has given Fox News an excuse to give "skeptics" a platform to deny climate change and bash climate science. But the network has been remiss to discuss the topic during periods of record heat.

During their coverage of cold weather from January 2 to January 8, Fox News brought up climate change nine times, casting doubt on it every single time. They also devoted a significant amount of coverage to a ship getting stuck in Antarctic ice to mock climate change during this period. But this strongly contrasts Fox News' coverage of extreme heat events, in which the network is typically silent on the topic of global warming. A previous Media Matters analysis found that, in a parallel week-long time period in 2011, Fox News did not mention climate change once while reporting on an unusually intense heat wave. And throughout the entire month of July 2012, which was the hottest month on record for the United States, the network discussed climate change in the heat wave's context once -- in order to deny it.

Meanwhile, MSNBC primarily featured the anti-scientific "skeptic" claims to dismiss them in its five segments on the topic. CNN meteorologist Chad Meyers rebutted the "skeptic" claims in one segment, but in CNN's only other segment on the topic, the network portrayed the science of global warming as up for a "debate" by non-scientists. As MSNBC's Al Sharpton put it, "It's times like these that you want a scientist around to explain things" -- he brought on Bill Nye "The Science Guy" to make the case.



President Obama’s “Promise Zones” anti-poverty program is a Trojan horse for deregulation.

by Sam Wetherell

Last week, President Obama announced the creation of a handful of “Promise Zones” in deprived areas of the United States. While the policy sounds like a euphemism from a forty-year-old sex ed pamphlet, it is in fact the administration’s most recent attempt to tackle poverty in the country.

Obama has promised more than twenty such zones before the end of his term — the first five in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio, the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, and eight counties in Kentucky. Residents of the zones can expect a bundle of deregulatory measures designed to speed up their access to pre-existing programs and encourage capital investment. These areas will be given bonus points when competing with other locales for aid from various federal programs, and businesses will be given tax breaks as incentives for moving to “Promise Zones.” Some of the locations will receive a handful of AmeriCorps volunteers as part of the program. The policy will also remove “financial deterrents to marriage” for couples on a low income as part of an attempt to “strengthen families.”

Crucially, no new federal money will be allocated.

It should come as no surprise that what might be Obama’s most significant second-term anti-poverty strategy operates through deregulation and tax breaks rather than real redistribution of wealth. The policy itself is couched in the language of individual uplift and self-reform. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s FAQ on the policy reminds us that “there’s a basic bargain in America … no matter who you are or where you’re from, if you’re willing to work hard and play by the rules you should be able to find a good job, feel secure in your community, and support a family.”

The burden for social mobility lies firmly with the residents of the zones and, to a lesser extent, on charity and businesses. The implicit diagnosis is one of over-regulation and over-taxation, rather than structural unemployment, racism, and a hollowed-out welfare state.



State acknowledges it had no plan for Freedom spill

By Ken Ward Jr.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Emergency planners at the state and federal level have conceded that they never put together any strategy for dealing with spills of a toxic chemical from the Freedom Industries' tank farm, despite its location just 1.5 miles upstream from a drinking water intake serving 300,000 people.

Officials on Tuesday acknowledged the lack of such a plan, but state officials say a key federal law -- passed after major chemical accidents, including one nearly 30 years ago in Kanawha County -- did not specifically require a release of the material Crude MCHM to be modeled or planned for.

Still, experts say that it defies common sense for federal and state regulators to have done so little to consider the potential impacts, given the close proximity of Freedom's operations to the West Virginia American Water intake on the Elk River.

"Much remains to be investigated in the catastrophe -- managerial competency, local, state and federal competency, regulatory sufficiency and ultimately the public culture that protects or weakens the security of essential infrastructure," said industrial safety expert Gerald Poje, a former member of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.



Congressman’s New Jobs Plan: Deny Women Access To Abortion So They Can Make More Babies


During a debate over an anti-abortion bill currently advancing in Congress, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) suggested that Republicans support restricting access to abortion because it will ultimately benefit the economy if women have more children. Goodlatte noted that carrying pregnancies to term “very much promotes job creation.”

Goodlatte made the comments while presiding over a committee mark-up of the “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act,” or HR 7, on Wednesday afternoon. That legislation would dramatically restrict women’s access to affordable abortion care by imposing restrictions on insurance coverage and tax credits for the procedure. Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, advanced HR 7 by scheduling it for a full committee mark-up on Wednesday.

Explaining his support for the measure, Goodlatte made both a moral and an economic case for anti-choice laws. “I would suggest that it is very much the case that those of us in the majority support this legislation because it is the morally right thing to do but it is also very very true that having a growing population and having new children brought into the world is not harmful to job creation,” he said. “It very much promotes job creation for all the care and services and so on that need to be provided by a lot of people to raise children.”



Epic photos of Chilean Volcano Lightning Storm and Eruption!

These images by Chilean photographer Francisco Negroni of the Cordón Caulle volcano erupting are so jaw-dropping and mind-blowing that we’re finding it hard to come up with appropriate adjectives. Billowing clouds of ash are joined by spiderwebs of Volcanic lightning to create a light show that truly drives home Mother Nature’s terrifying splendor.

This particular volcanic eruption began in June 2011, and Negroni was there with his trusty Nikon D300 to capture the action. Rather than continue to describe something that is much more enjoyable to browse through, we’ll get out of the way and let you feast your eyes on this natural wonder:



A U.S. Teacher in Finland: Teaching Less, Collaborating More

By Tim Walker

Teaching is burdensome. Some of its greatest challenges exist beyond the classroom walls. Poverty. Broken families. Domestic violence. The list continues.

Teachers who seek to care for their students need to be cared for, too. Without sufficient support, teachers burn out. Some even leave the profession altogether.

As an American teacher now in a Finnish public school, I'm witnessing and experiencing meaningful professional support. A close look at my current teaching schedule reveals two important sources of preventive care.

Teaching Less

When I received my timetable in early August, I was dumbstruck. As a 5th grade classroom teacher, I would be contracted for 24 hours of teaching each week. What's more is that there would be a built-in break of 15 minutes every lesson. Factor in the breaks and I would only be spending 18 hours in the classroom each week. On average, that's less than four hours of actual teaching time every day. This is a typical teaching load in Finland.

At my previous school in the U.S., I had about 5 ½ hours of instructional time every day. That's a total of 27 ½ hours of time in the classroom each week, which is nearly 10 hours more than I spend teaching in Finland.



Social experience drives empathetic, pro-social behavior in rats

Empathy-driven behavior has been observed in rats who will free trapped companions from restrainers. This behavior also extends toward strangers, but requires prior, positive social interactions with the type (strain) of the unfamiliar individual, report scientists from the University of Chicago, in the open access journal eLife on Jan. 14

The findings suggest that social experiences, not genetics or kin selection, determine whether an individual will help strangers out of empathy. The importance of social experience extends even to rats of the same strain—a rat fostered and raised with a strain different than itself will not help strangers of its own kind.

"Pro-social behavior appears to be determined only by social experience," said Inbal Bartal, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study "It takes diverse social interactions during development or adulthood to expand helping behavior to more groups of unfamiliar individuals. Even in humans, studies have shown that exposure to diverse environments reduces social bias and increases pro-social behavior."

In 2011, a team led by Bartal and Peggy Mason, PhD, professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago, discovered that rats exhibit empathy-like helping behavior. They found that rats consistently freed companions that were trapped inside clear restrainers, and this behavior was driven by a rat version of empathy.



First planet found around solar twin in star cluster

Astronomers have used ESO's HARPS planet hunter in Chile, along with other telescopes around the world, to discover three planets orbiting stars in the cluster Messier 67. Although more than one thousand planets outside the Solar System are now confirmed, only a handful have been found in star clusters. Remarkably one of these new exoplanets is orbiting a star that is a rare solar twin—a star that is almost identical to the Sun in all respects.

Planets orbiting stars outside the Solar System are now known to be very common. These exoplanets have been found orbiting stars of widely varied ages and chemical compositions and are scattered across the sky. But, up to now, very few planets have been found inside star clusters. This is particularly odd as it is known that most stars are born in such clusters. Astronomers have wondered if there might be something different about planet formation in star clusters to explain this strange paucity.

Anna Brucalassi (Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany), lead author of the new study, and her team wanted to find out more. "In the Messier 67 star cluster the stars are all about the same age and composition as the Sun. This makes it a perfect laboratory to study how many planets form in such a crowded environment, and whether they form mostly around more massive or less massive stars."

The team used the HARPS planet-finding instrument on ESO's 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory. These results were supplemented with observations from several other observatories around the world. They carefully monitored 88 selected stars in Messier 67 over a period of six years to look for the tiny telltale motions of the stars towards and away from Earth that reveal the presence of orbiting planets.



First plastic cell with working organelle

For the first time, chemists have successfully produced an artificial cell containing organelles capable of carrying out the various steps of a chemical reaction. This was done at the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM) at Radboud University Nijmegen. The discovery was published in the first 2014 issue of the journal Angewandte Chemie, and was also highlighted by Nature Chemistry.

It is hard for chemists to match the chemistry in living cells in their laboratories. After all, in a cell all kinds of complex reactions are taking place simultaneously in an overfull, small container, in various compartments and incredibly efficiently. This is why chemists attempt to imitate the cell in various ways. In doing so, they also hope to learn more about the origin of life and the transition from chemistry to biology.

Jan van Hest and his PhD candidate Ruud Peters created their organelles by filling tiny spheres with chemicals and placing these inside a water droplet. They then cleverly covered the water droplet with a polymer layer – the cell wall. Using fluorescence, they were able to show that the planned cascade of reactions did in fact take place. This means that they are the first chemists to create a polymer cell with working organelles. Just like in the cells in our bodies, the chemicals are able to enter the cell plasma following the reaction in the organelles, to be processed elsewhere in the cell.



Socialising in pubs ‘boosts mens’ mental health’

MEN now have the perfect ­excuse to sneak off for a crafty pint with their mates – ­research has found that going down the pub can be good for their mental health.

The study revealed that men drinking with friends in the pub reported positive effects on their mental wellbeing, allowing them to open up and talk about their emotions – traditionally a masculine ­taboo in Scotland.

Sharing a round of drinks also helped them look out for each other and lift their spirits, according to research in the West of Scotland.

But the study also acknowledged the dangers that buying rounds encouraged men to perhaps drink more, with many of those questioned consuming harmful or hazardous amounts of alcohol.

It is hoped the findings will help inform new approaches to reducing dangerous drinking levels, while understanding the more positive and sociable aspects of alcohol.

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