NPR Picks

Tuesday
Sep262017

Thousands Flee Bali's Mount Agung After Volcano Threat Level Is Raised

"Residents, tourists and climbers are being told to stay far away from Mount Agung, a large volcano in Bali where hundreds of shallow volcanic earthquakes have been recorded in recent days. The volcano's last eruption, in 1963, killed more than 1,000 people."

"The Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation raised the alarm on Friday."

"'The disaster mitigation agency said 48,540 people had fled and the number was expected to rise because more than 60,000 people lived in the danger zone,' Agence France-Presse reports."

"Agung is the highest point in Bali. An eruption would likely bring deadly threats from a rain of heavy ash, as well as from pyroclastic flares (volcanic stones) and pyroclastic flows (lava)."

Monday
Sep252017

Confessions Of A 'Big Bang' Watcher, 11 Seasons In

"Imagine you're looking at a Venn diagram of people who really liked Darren Aronofsky's mother! and people who watch CBS's The Big Bang Theory. It is a very small circle next to a very big circle. Now, look closer. Closer. Closer. Do you see that tiny area of overlap? Do you see that there is one lonely person inside of it, waving? That's me. I like weird art movies that are maybe about annoying poets and about the Bible and might be saying something about herbalism? And I also like The Big Bang Theory. Well, sort of."

"Despite the show's popularity, when I tell people I sort of like it, they often react as if I had said, "I have a raccoon in my desk. It does not have rabies, probably." By this, I mean that they are (1) surprised, (2) curious, (3) wary, and (4) gone quickly. And also that (5) I feel like they like me a little bit less. So as my gift to you, and so that you never again have to be the person on Twitter saying, "IS THAT STILL ON? WHO LIKES THIS SHOW?" I am stepping forward. It is still on! I still enjoy it! I am not sure whether I should! I watch screeners of it ahead of time! I own several seasons of it on DVD!"

"A disclosure: the original title of this post was "I Say Bazinga, They Say Po-tah-to." I say this to acknowledge that part of me is, always was, and always shall be a fan of the worst, dopiest, corniest jokes you could conceive of. Have you ever had a notion strike you along the lines of, "The joke I just thought of is so stupid, and yet I am devastated that I have no one to tell it to"? If you have, it's only because I am not beside you. Keep this in mind. It might be relevant."

 

Sunday
Sep242017

PHOTOS: A 4-Year Mission To Present A New Vision Of Beauty

"Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc spent nearly four years shooting portraits of — and collecting stories about — women from around the world."

"The product of her vision — and her travels to 50 countries — can be seen in her book The Atlas Of Beauty, hitting shelves Tuesday."

"The project, she says, began as something "very genuine and sincere" that she financed, initially, with her own savings — and by being frugal in her backpacking adventure. She later crowd-funded, including a Facebook campaign in March."

"NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navaro spoke with the 31-year-old via phone from Berlin about her photography. This interview has been edited for length and clarity."

Saturday
Sep232017

How Many Viruses Can Live In Semen? More Than You Might Think

"When it comes to microbes in sexual organs, the vagina and its fluids seem to garner most of the attention. Heck, there is even a consortium dedicated specifically to studying which critters live and thrive in its confines."

"Really, who can blame scientists? The vagina's microbiome — or all the bacteria and viruses that inhabit it — can influence all sorts of health aspects, including the risk of miscarriage and HIV infection."

"But now, the gentlemen are getting some attention on this front. And it's not bacteria we're talking about."

"Semen can be a hotbed for viruses, scientists report in the November issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases. At least 27 viruses can live in the fluid, including Ebola, Marburg, chikungunya and Lassa fever."

"Doctors at the University of Oxford compiled a full list after analyzing more than 3,800 studies."

Friday
Sep222017

In Devastated Dominica, 'Hams' Become Vital Communications Link

"When Hurricane Maria smashed into the tiny island of Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean earlier this week, phone service went down, virtually cutting off the island. But within hours, amateur radio operators got on the air and have been providing a vital link to the outside world ever since."

"Speaking to ABS Television/Radio in his first interview since Maria made landfall, Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, on a visit to Antigua, said at least 15 people were dead and at least 20 others missing amid "unprecedented" destruction."

"An estimated 95 percent of roofs on homes in some towns were blown off in the 160-mph winds brought by the hurricane, which topped out at Category 5 when it hit the island. Debris-strewn roads are impassable, he said. "We have to access villages by sea and also by helicopter," said Skerrit, whose own home was among those severely damaged in the storm."

Thursday
Sep212017

Are We About To See A Black Hole?

"If there is one thing science is good for, it's going to extremes."

"A lot of science's history is just one story after another of people figuring out how to do something that, just a few years before, was thought to be impossible."

"The impossible was heavy on my mind last Wednesday as I found out just how close we were to seeing — as in taking actual pictures — of black holes."

"Charles Gammie is a computational astrophysicist. Like me, he uses supercomputers to simulate the behavior of fluids in space (i.e gases or plasmas). Unlike our group at the University of Rochester, however, Gammie's research group studies black holes and the spinning disks of gas that form around them. I consider him to be one of the best of my generation of computationalists. On top of that, he's also a really nice guy. It was during his visit last week that I learned just how far a project called the Event Horizon Telescope (or EHT) has gotten in the project of seeing black holes."

Wednesday
Sep202017

Black, Jewish And Avoiding The Synagogue On The High Holy Days

"Last time I worshipped in a synagogue was Sept. 5, 2014. And I won't be going today."

"That might surprise my friends, who put up with my bragging ad nauseam about how Jewish I am."

"You got a great deal on plane tickets? Reminds me of the time I took a free Birthright trip to Israel. Going skating? I haven't been on skates since my bat mitzvah reception, held at the roller skating rink in Villanova, Pa. You say you love the musicals of George Gershwin? Ha, that sounds just like Gershenfeld, my mother's maiden name, which is also my middle name, which means "barley field" in Yiddish, the language my ancestors spoke in Eastern Europe."

"Some of this is just me being obnoxious. But it's also a way to claim a part of my identity that's hidden from most people. I'm a black woman. No one ever assumes I'm Jewish. When I talk about Judaism, people look at me in a way that makes me feel like I'm breaking into my own house. Especially the people inside the house."


Tuesday
Sep192017

The Dollar Is Weaker, But That Might Not Be A Bad Thing

"The dollar is down nearly 10 percent since the beginning of the year. That's bad news if you're a tourist traveling to Europe, but great news if your U.S. company sells goods overseas."

"The greenback's tumble against a basket of currencies reflects both positive and negative trends, analysts say."

"The biggest factor in the dollar's decline is doubts among currency investors that the Trump administration will be able to put in place pro-growth policies, says Jens Nordvig, CEO of Exante Data, a financial advisory firm."

"'There was a lot of hope that we were going to get a big tax reform; there was a lot of hope that we were going to get fiscal expansion' in the form of government spending on infrastructure and consumer spending fueled by tax cuts, Nordvig says."

Sunday
Sep172017

'The Taking Of K-129': How The CIA Stole A Sunken Soviet Sub Off The Ocean Floor

"In 1968 — the middle of the Cold War — the Soviet submarine K-129 disappeared, taking with it its 98-member crew, three nuclear ballistic missiles and a tempting treasure trove of Soviet secrets. Without the technology to retrieve it from the ocean floor, the Soviet Union left it there. It was considered lost — until the CIA stepped in."

"Josh Dean's new book, The Taking of K-129, tells the true story of Project Azorian, a secret CIA mission to lift the submarine from a depth of more than 3 miles into a custom-built ship called the Hughes Glomar Explorer."

"'There had been no salvage of a submarine below 1,000 feet at that point,' Dean says. ' ... [It's] probably the greatest feat of naval engineering. And on top of that, you had to do it in secret because it's not like a giant ship parked in the middle of the Pacific — where giant ships aren't normally parked — isn't going to arouse suspicion.'"

Saturday
Sep162017

Ig Nobels Awarded For Research Into Big Ears, Feline Fluidity

"Can a cat be both a liquid and a solid? Does contact with a crocodile influence a person's willingness to gamble? And do old men really have big ears?"

"Those are just a few of the questions studied by scientists who received Ig Nobel Prizes at Harvard University on Thursday, at the less-than-prestigious ceremony put on by the otherwise-august institution for the past 27 years."

"'Each winner has done something that makes people laugh, then think,' said Marc Abrahams, who founded the awards in 1991 and writes for the decidedly non-peer-reviewed journal Annals of Improbable Research."

"This year's awards in physics, economics, medicine and even an Ig Nobel Peace Prize, included something described as "a replica of a human head supporting a replica of a question mark," along with a piece of paper saying you won an Ig Nobel (signed by actual Nobel laureates) and $10 trillion — Zimbabwean."

Friday
Sep152017

Cassini's Saturn Mission Goes Out In A Blaze Of Glory

"Controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent a final command Friday morning to the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. Not long after, accounting for the vast distance the message traveled, the order was received, putting the craft into a suicidal swan dive in which it plummeted into the ringed planet's atmosphere."

"Flight Director Julie Webster called "loss of signal" at about 7:55 a.m. ET, followed by Project Manager Earl Maize announcing "end of mission" as the spacecraft began to break up in Saturn's atmosphere."

"'Congratulations to you all,' Maize announced to applause. 'It's been an incredible mission, incredible spacecraft, and you're all an incredible team.'"

Thursday
Sep142017

Coffee, Bees and Climate Change Are Linked In Ways You May Not Have Expecte

"Pollinators such as bees play a key part of producing the beans that go into your morning cup of coffee."

"In fact, they are responsible for about 20 to 25 percent of coffee production by increasing the plants' yield, Taylor Ricketts, the director of the University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Environment, tells The Two-Way. Bees actually increase the quality of the beans by making their size more uniform."

"But climate change is threatening both pollinators and the areas where coffee can grow. A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says it is the first to model the impact of climate change on both coffee and pollinators."

"The researchers projected that by 2050, climate change could reduce the amount of ground usable to grow coffee in Latin America by up to 88 percent. That's significantly higher than previous estimates."

Monday
Sep042017

Has Salt Gotten An Unfair Shake?

"For such a simple compound, salt is complicated."

"Sodium is a key element in table salt, and it's also essential for life. It helps regulate our blood volume. It shuttles nutrients into our bodies and brains. It allows our muscles to contract and our nerves to pulse with electricity. Yet for decades, we've been told to avoid it."

"Since the 1970s, most major nutrition and health guidelines have cautioned against eating too much sodium, citing associations with high blood pressure that could lead to heart attack and stroke. Recommendations put forth from the Institute of Medicine — now called the National Academy of Medicine — and jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture in particular have consistently urged us to restrict sodium intake to 2.3 grams per day, equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt. Some recommendations even go as low as 1.5 grams for certain people."

"Yet on average, Americans eat 3.4 grams per day, mostly cloaked by the fine print on processed food."

 

Sunday
Sep032017

Beer-Brewing Monks Are Helping Rebuild Earthquake-Devastated Town In Italy

"Large sections of Norcia's ancient walls lie in rubble. Its many centuries-old buildings are wrapped in steel girders, off-limits to the few people who visit what now looks like a ghost town."

"Located near Perugia in Italy's Umbria region, Norcia was the birthplace — in the year 480 — of St. Benedict, the founder of Western monasticism and patron saint of Europe. It was one of several Italian towns devastated last year by a series of earthquakes that claimed some 300 lives."

"The town's grandiose 13th century basilica was dedicated to the saint, but all that's left standing is the façade."

"The church and a nearby monastery had been home to a community of Benedictine monks, most of them from the U.S. After a series of big tremors last August, the monks sought shelter at their dilapidated grange on the mountainside high above the town. For months, they've lived in tents while they built more permanent housing on the mountainside, in what will now become their new monastery."

Friday
Sep012017

Coral Reef Fish Are More Resilient Than We Thought, Study Finds

"At a time when the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs are facing unprecedented destruction, researchers in Australia have found a small ray of hope for the fish that make the reefs their home."

"Fish are more resilient to the effects of ocean acidification than scientists had previously thought, according to research published Thursday in Scientific Reports."

"Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, caused by burning fossil fuels, is being absorbed by oceans and causing them to become more acidic. That dissolved carbon dioxide can cause erratic, risky behavior in fish that could impact their survival."

"For example, previous research demonstrates that exposing fish to high levels of carbon dioxide dulls their responses to predators, making them more likely to become a meal. Exposure can also make fish favor just one of their sides while moving, or make them more active and bold."

Thursday
Aug312017

Live In Hawaii, And Odds Are You'll Need Fewer Prescription Meds

"If you think you would be healthier if you lived in Hawaii, you may be right."

"People in Hawaii appear to be much less likely to overuse problematic prescription drugs, including opioid pain medications and antibiotics, than people in the mainland United States."

"Medicare beneficiaries in Hawaii used fewer opioid pain medications, fewer antibiotics, fewer antipsychotic drugs and fewer drugs labeled as risky for seniors on average than patients in any other state in 2015, according to a ProPublica analysis of data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Medicare's prescription program covers more than 42 million seniors and disabled people, and pays for more than one in every four prescriptions in the U.S."

"These four classes of medications are problematic for a number of reasons. Misuse and abuse of opioid painkillers has been linked to an ever-growing overdose epidemic. Overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the emergence of deadly superbugs that are resistant to drugs. Critics have faulted the use of antipsychotics in the elderly, particularly those with dementia, as a means of chemically restraining them. And the American Geriatrics Society has labeled some medications inappropriate for the elderly because they can increase the risk of falls, confusion and other problems."

 

Wednesday
Aug302017

How A Warmer Climate Helped Shape Harvey

"The rain just won't stop. More than two days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast, the downgraded storm continues to dump water across the region."

"So much rain has fallen in the Houston area that the National Weather Service has had to revamp its charts."

"Climate researchers agree that climate change can be partially to blame for the devastation. Here's how it has (and hasn't) shaped the course of the storm.

"Climate change may have helped Harvey to form and intensify"

"This year saw high sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, where Harvey formed. According to an analysis published in March, the Gulf stayed above 73 degrees Fahrenheit the entire winter."

"At the time Harvey intensified into a Category 4 hurricane, it was over a section of the Gulf that was about 4 degrees above normal, says Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo."

 

Tuesday
Aug292017

Why Are Atlantic Salmon Being Farmed In The Northwest?

"Earlier this month, a net pen broke apart near Washington state's Cypress Island. The pen held 305,000 Atlantic salmon, a non-native fish."

"The company that owns the pen, Cooke Aquaculture, says it is unsure exactly how many Atlantic salmon escaped, but the state estimatesbetween 4,000 to 185,700. Cooke and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are trying to collect and count the fish that did not escape so that they can get a better handle on how many broke out of the pen."

"The company initially cited the solar eclipse and high tides for the pen's failure, but tidal currents were not abnormally high when the pen broke apart. In fact, Cypress Island has seen higher tides every month this year."

Monday
Aug282017

Using Plastic Bags Is Now Illegal — And Punishable By Jail Time — In Kenya

"No matter where you go in Kenya — from the vast expanses of the Great Rift Valley to the white-sand beaches off the Indian Ocean — one thing is a constant: plastic bags."

"They hang off trees and collect along curbs. And in Kibera, a sprawling slum in Nairobi, there are so many of them that they form hills."

"But beginning today, almost all plastic bags are illegal in Kenya. Beginning today, if you're carrying your groceries in a plastic bag or put out your trash in a disposable one, you could be fined up to $38,000 or be sent to jail for up to four years."

"'It is toxin that we must get rid of,' Judi Wakhungu, the country's cabinet secretary for the environment, told reporters. 'It's affecting our water. It's affecting our livestock and even worst, we're ingesting this as human beings.'"

 

Saturday
Aug262017

Whole Foods Will Drop Prices On Monday, Amazon Says In Detailing New Grocery Strategy

"Amazon is cutting the prices of bananas, butter, organic eggs, and other best-selling staples at Whole Foods' 470 stores, promising customers lower costs and targeting the grocer's "Whole Paycheck" nickname. The online giant also says its Amazon Prime members will get special prices and perks."

"New prices will take effect on Monday — the same day Amazon says it will finalize its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods. The online marketplace, famous for disrupting the book industry and other retail segments, also laid out its plans for combining its business with an established brick-and-mortar chain."

"Amazon customers would be able to receive packages — and return items bought online — at Whole Foods locations that include its Lockers service, the retailer said, outlining what customers can expect to see."