National News

Morgan Spurlock thinks you're economically illiterate

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:12

Morgan Spurlock is hoping to demystify the economy with a new series of short films he's calling "We the Economy: 20 Short Films You Can't Afford to Miss."

"I think we live in a country and we live in a time where a lot of us are economically illiterate," Spurlock says. "Our eyes glass over, we start to go into a slump when we hear about derivatives or market fluctuations or the Federal Reserve. And I think having a basic understanding of how these things work and how they impact our lives is important. It's important for the citizenry, it's important for our communities, it's important for our country."

Watch the first film here:

A surprising contributor to climate change: concrete

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:08

What's the material of the future? Titanium? Silicon? Maybe some rare metal used in electronics? Those materials will no doubt play increasingly larger roles in our lives. But arguably, the most important substance in the development of civilization has been — and will continue to be — concrete.

Take China, for example. It has poured more concrete in the past six years than America poured in the past 300.

Making concrete takes a ton of energy. As much as 10 percent of global CO2 emissions come from the production of concrete. So scientists and engineers are looking to reduce its environmental impact.

It's really just one ingredient that's responsible for its high carbon emissions: cement.

"The cement is just the glue that holds the other elements together," says Robert Courland, the author of "Concrete Planet." To make cement, limestone and a few other ingredients are put into a big kiln, and the temperature is fired up to about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, which produces lots of CO2.

"It's been estimated, that producing one ton of cement generates one ton of CO2," Courland says. "Since we are producing around 4 billion tons of concrete cement per year worldwide, that's very, very troubling." 

Concrete is the most common man-made material on earth. So if its CO2 emissions could be reduced by even a tiny fraction, the environmental impact would be huge. A group of scientists at MIT announced in a recent paper they've found a way to reduce CO2 emissions of cement by more than half.

"We have developed a set of experiments measuring the mechanical properties at the sub-micron or big-nano level," says Roland Pellenq, one of the authors.

His cement research is like a Russian doll, Pellenq says, the kind where a tiny doll rests inside a larger doll which rests inside a larger doll, etc. Pellenq and his colleagues study the properties of cement at the atomic level — the smallest possible doll. They do atomic-simulations, basically experimenting with different ratios of the elements in cement. Then they scale up those simulations until they have a new recipe.

This idea came from scientists at Corning who used a similar approach to invent Gorilla Glass -- the super tough, scratch resistant glass often used for screens on smartphones.

"So here we tried to do the same approach for cement," says Mathieu Bauchy, who also worked on the MIT paper.

Bauchy recently moved from Cambridge to Los Angeles to work at UCLA. In a basement lab below his office, engineers and chemists use Bauchy's atomic-scale simulations to make concrete cubes that they measure, weigh and smash.

UCLA student Gabe Falzoni takes a gray cube of concrete, about the size of a Rubik's Cube, and puts it in a cage. He lowers a metal cylinder on top of the cube and slowly ratchets up the pressure. When a cube breaks, it can be so loud that it jars the people in the office on the other side of the wall.

The display on the machine shows the pressure in kilonewtons. It climbs steadily 20kN...40kN...70kN...90kN...100kN...  brace myself waiting for a violent explosion. And then, the cube crumbles sadly and quietly, like an Egyptian pyramid deteriorating slowly over hundreds of years.

"That happens sometimes," says Falzoni, removing the shattered bits of concrete from the cage.

The final number: 121 kN, about seventeen and a half pounds per square inch. I ask Falzoni if he would drive on a bridge that strong. "If it was designed right," he answers.

The goal of these experiments is two-fold: to develop cement that uses less limestone, which is the easiest way to cut concrete emissions, and to create stronger concrete. Stronger concrete means builders could use less of it — also cutting CO2 emissions.

But for builders to use concrete developed by this lab, it has to have another very important quality. It has to be cheap.

"That's really the key," Bauchy says. "You cannot expect the industry to change to a greener material if this greener material is not the same price, or cheaper than original material."

The only way to make new concrete competitive is to take into account the cost of the CO2 released and charge a carbon tax on it, Bauchy says, or government could mandate the use of greener materials. Those policies would be politically difficult to enact. Greener concrete is not high on the priority list of voters, especially in developing nations where progress is often measured by the amount of freshly poured concrete.

The piece that's missing from new CDC guidelines

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:05

The CDC has released updated and stricter guidelines to keep frontline healthcare workers safe in the face of potential Ebola cases. The move comes after two nurses were infected with Ebola who treating Thomas Duncan in a Dallas hospital and the CDC’s oversight was questioned.

Hospitals across the country are now ramping up training efforts, but will they be sufficient enough to calm an uneasy workforce? When nurse Jessica Berney goes to work these days she sees something she’s not used to.

“You see these stacks of these plastic bags that have the personal protection equipment in it, and it’s kind of like an anticipation of something bad is going happen. Something big and something bad,” she says.

Not only are the stacks of gear new, that feeling the dread that Berney says has crept into the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, that’s new too.

“Is this going to be enough? Is this going to protect me,” she says.

At this point, it’s clear if the disease were to spread beyond the two current cases, the people most at risk of contracting Ebola in the U.S. are healthcare workers -- in particular, nurses and orderlies are the people most likely to come into contact with patient fluids.

The guidelines released by the CDC are aimed at many of these workers. But you can have all the protocols you want, a room stuffed with gear and Johns Hopkins' Dr. Daniel Barnett says you still may have staff scared stiff. He says he worries hospitals right now are making the same assumption he made about a decade ago.

“That people would be willing to come to work, regardless of scenario, regardless of context, regardless of personal and professional obligations given,” he says.

But his work in the field he calls psychological preparedness proved him wrong.

“We found that a third of hospital workers indicated they would be unwilling to show up in a severe pandemic. You can think of a severe influenza pandemic in terms of the fear in some ways as a proxy for what we are talking about with regards to Ebola,” he says.

Barnett, through a randomized controlled, found if employers educate their employees about how they fit into the plan to fight the public health threat, those workers are 12 times more likely to clock in.

But National Nurses United union president Deborah Burger says before any of that, you’ve got to remember some hospitals aren’t even covering the basics yet.

“They are not even supplying the equipment to allay the fears of the healthcare workers,” she says.

Burger says her members are urging President Obama to make CDC’s guidelines mandatory. With some 5,000 hospitals she worries about a patchwork of practices that could leave workers at risk and scared.

Ebola plush toy sells out online

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 11:03

For less than $10, you can order Ebola online and take it home — not the disease itself but rather, a cuddly, worm-shaped mock up of the virus.

"GIANT Microbes" are stuffed animals that resemble tiny microbes, only at one million times their actual size. The website says the characters are designed to be “appealing personalities” which can engage any audience. And yes, there is one for Ebola.

The toys are based on a real microscopic image of an actual microbe, sans the googly eyes. The Ebola virus plush sells for $9.95, but is currently sold out. There are also "gigantic" and Petri dish versions of the toy.

The Ebola doll has a positive five-star review on the website, which calls the disease the “T. Rex of microbes." Reviewers note the toy is the "perfect prop" for a Halloween costume, with others commenting they didn't realize the virus was "so cute."

Who's Catching Your Cellphone Conversations?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 10:39

The police do it. The FBI does it. Could be, foreign governments do it. With the right equipment, people can hijack your cellphone calls and texts and listen in.

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Will A Sting, A Court Award And A Protest Help Stop Global Sex Trafficking?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 10:23

Stories of trafficking — including a sting using a "Walking Dead" actress — are making headlines. An expert talks about the practice, which victimizes millions around the world.

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'Mr. President, Don't Touch My Girlfriend,' Chicago Voter Teases Obama

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 09:34

CNN called it a "presidential love triangle" at an Illinois polling location, but, really, the episode was just some good fun.

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American Freed After Months Of Detention In North Korea

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 09:13

Jeffrey Fowle was arrested in June for allegedly leaving a Bible in his North Korean hotel room. Americans Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae remain in custody.

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The Yarmulke Comes To 3-D Printing

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 09:11

Using math and imagination, a college professor creates a new kind of kippah.

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When The Economy Goes Down, Vasectomies Go Up

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 09:04

It's well known that people are less eager to have children when the economy sours. And it looks like men got really serious about that during the Great Recession.

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DHS: Travelers From West Africa Limited To 5 U.S. Airports

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 08:36

Passengers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea will be subject to secondary screening at JFK, Newark, Dulles, Atlanta and Chicago.

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The numbers for October 21, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 08:20

McDonald's and Coca-Cola both reported disappointing earnings Tuesday morning, with 30 percent and 14 percent drops in revenue respectively. Both companies saw declining sales in the U.S. and Europe, and the fast food chain is still grappling with a scandal in China.

Yahoo's earnings call is expected after markets close today, it's make-or-break for CEO Marissa Mayer, who will likely address the company's acquisition strategy and stake in Alibaba.

Here are some more stories we're reading, and other numbers we're watching, Tuesday.

5

Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to five years in prison for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last year. Pistorius' lawyer said the Olympian could only serve 10 months before being placed under house arrest. The sentence was handed down by the second black woman to become a high court judge in South Africa, Thokozile Masipa.

7

 The number of YouTube stars appearing in a new collaboration between Google and Lionsgate to promote the studio's new "Hunger Games" movie, AdAge reported. It's a high-profile push into branded entertainment for YouTube, and just the latest example of a big corporation exploring the value of Internet celebrities. 

$50 million

That's how much Kansas City could potentially make once business from the run-up to the World Series and the games themselves are all totaled. But other expenses, like the $225,000 parade thrown by San Francisco when the Giants won in 2012, have some questioning whether the costs involved in hosting a large sporting event mean the benefits are more modest than projected.

2

That's how many "Notorious R.B.G." shirts Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has given to NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg. Ginsberg is apparently relishing in her meme status, and has collected "quite a large supply" of the shirts.

Israeli Homes, Decorated With A Shopping Spree In China

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 08:12

Some Israelis are flying to China to buy most everything they need to furnish a home. They say it's cheaper than buying in Israel, though there are also cautionary tales of shopping trips gone wrong.

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Can Hand-Cut, Artisanal Ice Make Your Cocktail That Much Better?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 07:51

If you're sipping craft cocktails, your fancy $15 drink might now come with fancy ice. It's bigger, clearer and allegedly better tasting than the regular stuff made with tap water.

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A Hong Kong Protest Camp Spawns Its Own Art

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 07:47

Pro-democracy street art inspired by sources ranging from Les Miserables to John Lennon fill an open-air museum of sorts that has cropped up in Hong Kong.

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A Tale Of Two Cities: World Series Fever Takes Hold In SF, KC

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 07:27

In San Francisco, there's a lot of confidence. In Kansas City, which gets its first shot at the championship rings in nearly 30 years, the excitement is palpable.

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Volunteer Recap: Why Wearing The Right Shoes In Rio Matters

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 06:35

When medical student Robert Snyder visited Rio de Janeiro last summer to do volunteer work, he learned the hard way that Birkenstock clogs are not a wise footwear choice.

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More Insurers Put Spending Limits On Medical Treatments

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-21 06:14

To contain costs, some plans are capping how much they will pay for certain routine procedures, such as knee replacements. Patients can be on the hook for anything over the limit.

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The legacy of Oscar de la Renta

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 06:00

Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta died at age 82 on Monday. His clothes were well-liked by celebrities, by politicians, and also by many professionals who admired his sensibility and his style.

Vanessa Friedman, fashion critic and the fashion director for The New York Times, is someone who closely followed de la renta's career, and joined us to talk about his lasting legacy.

Click the media player above to hear Vanessa Friedman in conversation with Marketplace's David Gura.

McDonald's earnings are less than super-sized

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-21 05:00

Fast Food juggernaut McDonald’s released its earnings Tuesday. The company’s share price is less than super-sized. Comparative global sales dropped 3.3 percent in the third quarter. The Q3 report comes on the heels of the company’s troubles in China, where suppliers reportedly sold expired meat to stores.

As a result sales were down significantly in Asia, and the company upped spending on marketing to reassure customers that its food was safe.

But the bigger threat to McDonald’s is the drop U.S. and European sales, says Sara Senatore, a senior research analyst at Sanford Bernstein: “Same store sales declined pretty meaningfully in both regions."

Analyst Howard Penney attributes much of the sales slump to McCafe, the company’s rebranding of the old fashioned hamburger stand into something more Parisian shall we say. “They over indexed themselves to beverages in McCafe and that really changed the structure of the business and complicated the back of the house,” says Penney.

CEO Don Thompson acknowledged the company’s troubles in Asia the U.S. He also blamed the diluted earnings on a higher effective tax rate.

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