July 31, 2006 Couldn't let this one slip by. The artistic director of the Neuköllner Opera House in Berlin is encouraging audience members to smoke marijuana during the performance. According to Deutche Welle, the singers will be doing that onstage. It's all an attempt to add to the psychedelic atmosphere associated with The Oriental Princess, an opera by Camille Saint- Saens. The artistic director is counting on artistic license to protect the audience from being busted. And it seems that possession of 10 grams of marijuana for "personal use" is an offense usually overlooked by authorities in Berlin. I'm guessing it's the fire marshals who'll put the kibosh on the event.
July 31, 2006 It's an odd experience working with people you've never met. You hear their voice on the radio, and like most listeners, you feel a bit like you know them. But you don't. I've never met most of the people who are based overseas for NPR. When they're based in the hinterland -- or even in the "Republic of California" -- most of the people on the National Desk come through NPR's Washington headquarters at least once a year, so I catch a glimpse of them. Not so with the Foreign Desk. So when a strange face appeared at this morning's editorial meeting, I hadn't a clue who she was or why she was there. Turns out Rachel Martin has moved to Washington to take over the religion beat. For the past year, Rachel's been based in Berlin. Before that, she was stringing for NPR in Afghanistan. As one of only three European correspondents, Rachel has had a busy year. Four days after she arrived in Germany, she was sent off the London to cover the second round of Underground bombings. European news took a back seat during the Katrina catastrophe last fall, but then the German elections and the evolving U.S.-German relationship pushed Rachel back into the limelight. So now I can put a face with a name.
July 31, 2006 In scrolling through previous posts on Mixed Signals, I was immediately struck by Cindy Johnston's post on pickled pigs lips (not to be confused with the porcine undergarment known as "pig slips"). I, too, am a connoisseur of outre foods. I have on my desk a can of Armour Potted Meat Food Product. My can is a few years old. Here are the ingredients: "Beef Tripe, Beef Hearts, Chicken, Partially Defatted Cooked Pork Fatty Tissue, Water, Salt, Less Than 2 Percent Mustard, Natural Flavorings, Vinegar, Dextrose, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite " The new improved product has improved on the ingredient list, to whit: "Mechanically Separated Chicken, Beef Tripe, Partially Defatted Cooked Pork Fatty Tissue, Beef Hearts, Partially Defatted Cooked Beef Fatty Tissue, Water, Salt, Less Than 2 Percent Mustard, Natural Flavorings, Dried Garlic, Vinegar, Dextrose, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite." The new recipe sounds yummy. Has anyone tried it yet?
July 31, 2006 Things that on the surface appear to be environmentally sound may not be after thorough analysis. The so-called life cycle costs of an intervention may turn a winner into a loser. A debate currently rages over whether adding ethanol to gas actually saves energy. Now comes the disturbing news that bicycle riding may be an environmental loser. According to a paper authored by professor Karl T. Ulrich of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, there is an immediate energy savings by bicycle riding, since a cyclist is between six and nine times more energy efficient than a single occupant automobile. But Ulrich calculates that cyclists increase their longevity by 10.6 days for every year of cycling. And by living longer, they also stand to consume more energy over their lifetimes. Therefore, cyclists harm the environment more than they help it. Ulrich acknowledges the paradoxical nature of his argument. "As a society, we value longevity more than long-term environmental impact," he writes. "If we did not, we might provide incentives for risky behaviors such as smoking, drug abuse and driving without seat belts." That might be an enticing idea for the beleaguered tobacco industry. "Smoke Marlboros and Save the Environment."
July 31, 2006 What's in a name? Apparently enough to rouse a government's ire. According to Agence France Presse, the Malaysian government has declared certain names off limits, or "persona non grata" as they say in diplomatic circles. Some of the names are banned because they have sexual meanings, some because they refer to a person's skin color. But the logic for banning some names is hard for a Westerner to follow. For example, the new rules ban naming babies after colors, animals, insects, fruits or vegetables. Good thing Red Barber, Tiger Woods, Butterfly McQueen, Apple Smith and Apple Martin weren't born in Kuala Lumpur. There are no names that are banned in the U.S. -- at least none that I'm aware of. But if you don't want to be trendy, you might want to avoid the names on this list when picking the name for your heir.
July 31, 2006 War news continues to be the day's dominant story. Ivan Watson has made it into Bint Jbeil during a lull in Israeli attacks. Watson reports there is a large, unexploded bomb lying in the middle of one of the main roads. Jackie Northam reports on aid agencies scrambling to provide services during the lull. Both All Things Considered and Day to Day plan segments on the fighting in Afghanistan, Talk of the Nation will discuss the proliferation of war blogs, and tomorrow on Morning Edition, Jamie Tarabay continues her series on Iraqi prisons. Every summer when it gets hot, news editors decide that heat is news. I've never completely understood this. It seems to me that it would be news if it got cold in the summer. Nonetheless, NPR will have a series of reports on this summer's heat wave and how cities and citizens are dealing with it. Heck, I'm working on a story about how the human body responds to heat, but that will have to wait until I'm done blogging. In sports news, we may hear the results from the tests on Floyd Landis' "B" sample of urine. If that sample is positive, someone will have a lot of explaining to do. And in the cultural domain, a series of stories begins on the demise of the "G" movie.
July 31, 2006 It's hot today in Washington. But not nearly as hot as it threatened to be in the NPR server room. It seems some routine maintenance on the roof was performed in the wrong order. That led to both primary and back-up air conditioning in the server room to shut down. Within half an hour, the temperature rose by 20 degrees. At 9:03 a.m., I.T. began shutting down non-essential servers. Bob Holstein, NPR's CIO, came to the morning editorial meeting to say there was a chance that all the network servers would have to be shut off… meaning we would lose access to wire services, digital editing, and (gasp) the Internet. His announcement was greeted with nervous laughter. The story has a happy ending. By 9:55, the AC units were working again and the coolest spot in the building was, once again, the server room. And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.
July 31, 2006 My colleague Nell Boyce has a fascinating story on Morning Edition today about the first video pictures of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon. Anybody of a certain age will never forget those blurry grey images of a what appeared to be a pair of space-suited legs lumbering down a ladder and onto to the lunar surface. As Nell explains, the pictures were so blurry because they were actually pictures of pictures. The original transmissions were incompatible with normal broadcast TV, so engineers used a standard TV camera to take a picture of a monitor displaying the higher quality video being sent from the camera on the moon. The NASA engineers who made the first lunar TV camera were justifiably pleased with their handiwork. In fact, Stan Labar, one of the engineers involved in building the it, thinks the camera would still work today if there were someone around to turn it on. He could be right. Engineers have gotten pretty good at building cameras that work on other solar bodies. The Mars Rover cameras were certainly built to last. They're still snapping pictures almost two and a half years after their warranties expired.
July 21, 2006 Medical researchers are always hoping new discoveries will ultimately lead to a cure. But sometimes a "breakthrough" takes years to become a benefit. When the gene that causes ataxia telangiectasia (AT) was found, it was seen as a breakthrough -- but 11 years later, there's still no treatment.
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July 19, 2006 The world of stem-cell research hasn't stood still since President Bush placed restrictions on the field five years ago. Private and international research efforts have pushed the science forward.
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July 17, 2006 The Senate is debating whether to approve legislation expanding federal support for embryonic stem-cell research. But how have current restrictions shaped the pursuit of advances using the cells -- and what is the current status of the research?
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July 12, 2006 When scientists isolated a gene linked to skin cancer nearly a decade ago, they said the new discovery would speed up the search for a cure. But 10 years later, the discovery has only pushed the science along incrementally, and no cure has been found -- leading some to say the initial discovery wasn't the "breakthrough" researchers though.
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July 11, 2006 Yesterday's postings about the World Cup generated more mail from readers than anything else. It also propelled NPR's Joe Palca into the limelight. Joe posted a solution to what he considered the tedious penalty shootout endings to so many of the games: Yesterday morning, I had an idea for how to end tied soccer games without resorting to penalty kicks. Because the current blog host Chris Joyce likes soccer, I figured he'd let me share my two cents on the subject with the readers of Mixed Signals. About a half hour after my suggestion was posted, I got a call from the producer of Quite Frankly, Steven A. Smith's ESPN2 talk show. Would I come on the show to share my non-penalty kick solution? I asked the producer if he knew what I did at NPR, and he said, "Science correspondent." I could have asked why a science correspondent's opinion about soccer would be of any interest to a national audience -- since I have a hard enough time getting my NPR colleagues to listen to me -- but instead I said, "Why not?"
July 5, 2006 Ten years ago, the world's first cloned mammal was born. Dolly the sheep proved that it was possible to take a cell from a specific adult animal, and then use that cell to make a genetic copy of that adult animal. Dolly also suggested that, someday, it might be possible to clone humans.
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June 13, 2006 Imagine the dreams of an astrophysicist. Anytime Steven Hawking's name turns up, I perk up. And I'm pleased to see Dr. Hawking, long in a wheelchair because of the neurological disorder ALS, is still out on the scientific conference circuit. Today he is in Hong Kong, urging that mankind consider moving to the moon, Mars, and star systems beyond...
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