In the wake of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan, the country's nuclear plants have been in a state of emergency. As of this writing, at least three nuclear reactors were experiencing partial meltdowns, with the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station reportedly experiencing the worst radiation disaster since Chernobyl. Over the weekend, I was keeping an eye on the disaster, but after each news report, I'd been left with one burning, unanswered question: just what exactly happens during a nuclear meltdown?
Thankfully, my dad—who is a physicist—was kind enough to answer my question, even as he gave me a look that said "I told you that you shouldn't have changed your major from chemistry to literature." His response, as well as supplemental information from some of the Lopate Show's past coverage of nuclear energy, is after the jump.
Today, Leonard spoke to ProPublica's Steve Engelberg and Frontline's Raney Aronson about long-form storytelling in a short attention span world. Part of the discussion centered on sites like Longreads and Longform.org, which aggregate good long-form pieces, new and old. Here at the Lopate Show, we thought we'd share some of our own favorite pieces of long-form reporting—both pieces that we've discussed and others—and ask you, our listeners, to tell us your favorites. Let us know in the comments below!
On today's Please Explain, Leonard spoke to geologist Lori Dengler and seismologist Geoff Abers about the tsunami in Japan. In addition to finding out that earthquakes can cause whirlpools, we found out a lot more about how tsunamis are closer to us than we think.
The world of 17th century scientific and mathematical experimentation was, as Edward Dolnick told Leonard today, one of alchemy, experimentation, and god-fearing superstition. The experiments undertaken by the Royal Society may have led to some incredible discoveries, but some had less serious goals and were, in truth, nothing more than idle amusements. Take the cat piano.
Today, Leonard spoke to chef Grant Achatz, whose restaurant, Alinea, is consistently named one of the best restaurants in America for its creative takes on traditional food. Achatz is known as one of the leaders of molecular gastronomy, which places an emphasis on the chemical properties of food. Molecular gastronomists like Achatz are often known for their elaborate, almost surreal plating techniques.
The origins of the name Manhattan are a murky business. Today, Leonard spoke to James and Karla Murray, who have set about documenting the varied store fronts of New York's rapidly disappearing mom-and-pop stores. As part of their book, Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, they include historical descriptions of New York's neighborhoods. In addition to the interesting tidbits and trivia (who knew that the Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery was still making yogurt with a culture brought over from Romania in the 1890s?), I was surprised to find out that the origins of present-day Manhattan could be traced to so many different words. Here's a sample of the few the Murrays named:
On Wednesday cookbook author Rozanne Gold and farm coordinator for Katchkie Farm, Alice Walton, were on the show to talk about winter vegetables, which are plentiful but often overlooked. It can be hard to know what to do with rutabagas, turnips, cabbages, beets, and celery root. Here are a few of the recipes that Rozanne and Alice brought up during the interview.
Listen to that interview here.
“In fact, many Egyptians believe that the security apparatus played a key role in fueling sectarian tensions because that played into its hands. And the reality – I’m not saying there were no tensions - but the scenes in the Liberation, the Tahrir, Square really show very clearly that Egyptians are finally getting to know one another and this is really one of the most important lessons of what has happened in Egypt.”
-- Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern Politics and International Relations at the London School of Economics. You can hear his whole conversation with Leonard about the many different roles of mosques in the protests in Egypt here.
Although Al Jazeera English is not available on most U.S. cable providers, the network has emerged as a major source of information for Americans interested in what’s happening in Egypt—they're accessing the network on the Web, and live streaming of it has surged over the past week. On Friday Leonard spoke with Al Jazeera English's White House correspondent, Patty Culhane about Al Jazeera's ongoing coverage of events in Egypt.
“In looking at Egypt, for example, the protesters are focusing on getting Mubarak out of office, but the food issue hangs over Egypt because they import such a large amount of their grain. In fact, I think Egypt is currently the world’s leading wheat importer, having surpassed Japan and Brazil which are the other big 3 wheat importers. But what happened with Egypt was that a year or so ago, they signed…a 5-year contract with Russia to supply the Egyptians with 3 million tons of wheat a year, and the ink was hardly dry on that contract before the Russians were announcing that they were embargoing all grain exports. And so suddenly Egypt had to scramble to replace what they were expecting to get from the Russians.”
-Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. You can hear the entire interview here.
"One of the things that a cell phone network allows you to do in particular is to pinpoint the locations of individuals. And one of the things we do know about the Egyptian security state is that they depended on surveillance much more heavily than other countries might… One of the more cynical takes here is that the Egyptian government knew what they were doing. They wanted to shut down communications to take away organizing tools…This turned out not to work…It can’t be a coincidence that they turned the networks on at the exact same moment they began the crackdown that we are now witnessing... For activists that have just been casual users of cell phones, which is basically everybody but a small group of people who took precautions, the government will know their phone numbers, know how to reach them and how to look for them out on the streets...Those activists may be vulnerable.”
—Andrew McLaughlin, former deputy Chief Technology Officer for the Obama Administration discussing why the Egyptian government shut down the internet and suddenly turned it back on, on today’s Leonard Lopate Show. You can hear the full interview here.
On Wednesday, as events continued to unfold across Egypt, Leonard spoke to Tarek Osman about what’s happened in Egypt over the last 55 years, since the rise of Gamal Abdul Nasser.
While Osman, the author of Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak, saw the roots of today’s events as going all the way back to Napoleon, he described great changes in the last 60 years:
"If you look at 1950, the midpoint of the 20th Century at Egypt and try to speculate how this country would look 50 or 60 years down the line…most speculators, most strategic thinkers would have imagined an Egypt that is very different from Egypt today. Today, Egypt is very conservative; at that time it was very liberal. At that time, in the 50’s, it was very nationalist. Today it’s very sectarian oriented. It was very cosmopolitan. Today it’s not cosmopolitan. At that time, Egypt was a worldly city – even in terms of social glamor. Today, it’s certainly far from that.”
Today, just hours before Hosni Mubarak’s announcement this evening that he would not seek another term as President, Leonard spoke with New York Times reporter Kareem Fahim in Cairo. There have been a number of developments in the last 48 hours, from the Finance Ministry saying that people out of work because of the demonstrations would be eligible for unemployment benefits, to the military’s announcement last night that it would not use force against demonstrators. The latter, according to Fahim, opened the door for today’s massive protest in Tahrir Square, which some news organizations say was attended by over a million people. (As a side note the Iranian government has said it supports the protesters; which is only a little ironic.)
Fahim told us that “The range of responses [from the Mubarak regime] is very hard to read or understand at this point. There are a number of new actors in the government and it’s not clear if everyone is acting under the President’s direction or if some of the people under him are trying to ease his path from power.” Mr. Mubarak took a step down that path this afternoon, but in his speech maintained that he will “die on [Egyptian] soil.”
Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei is known in this country mostly as a foil to the Bush Administration during his time as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, but he is now the most prominent (and media friendly) opposition leader in Egypt. Fahim said that while ElBaradei has “name recognition in the country. I don’t think he has any base of support yet, although there is a large activist community, especially in Cairo that’s enthusiastic about him. But I think he’s an unknown quality to a lot of people and he ended up speaking for the opposition for the moment probably because he represents sort of a consensus figure and maybe a figure who might be seen as more palatable to whatever outside powers are involved in these discussions at this point.” The American Ambassador and recently appointed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman spoke with ElBaradei today.
Several of the other producers on the show and I have been watching Al-Jazeera’s English feed online for the past couple days (You can watch it here). The network remains off the air in Egypt and Fahim mentioned that state-run television has been painting a very different picture about what is happening in the country. The Internet also remains shut down, but according to Fahim some activists saw that as a boon to the movement, saying “I spoke to several Internet generation activists…and they said once they had to leave their computers alone, once they were off Facebook, once they were off Twitter, there was nothing left to do but go to the streets. And that’s what they did. They sort of credit the decision to cut off the Internet with enlarging the size of the crowds."
The Lopate Show will continue to cover events in Egypt this week.
Watching events unfold in Egypt, it’s hard to believe that I was there 3 weeks ago. I went as part of a tour that whisked us around the country, seeing all of its incredible ancient sites. With a packed itinerary, we didn’t have much free time to explore Egypt’s cities on our own, and I can’t say that I got a feel for what life in Egypt is like. But I watched hundreds of miles of Egypt go by through the windows of buses, cars and trains and here’s a taste of what I saw:
On tomorrow’s show, Leonard will be discussing the current state of restaurant reviewing with Adam Platt, the restaurant reviewer for New York magazine, and Raphael Brion, the national editor of the restaurant website Eater. But before we jump into the discussion, we wanted to hear your thoughts on what sources you find most useful when deciding where to eat.
Towards that end, we’ve decided to focus on two restaurants (for now): Del Posto, the first Italian restaurant to receive a four star review from the New York Times in decades, and Fatty ‘Cue, a new-ish Asian barbeque fusion restaurant in Williamsburg. Both have been talked about and reviewed quite a bit in the past year. We’ve posted links to the Yelp and UrbanSpoon pages, as well as to reviews from Zagat, New York and the New York Times. Read them and tell us what you think – which review gives you the best sense of the ambiance of the place? Helps you decide what to order? And, ultimately, tells you whether or not you should go?
It's almost impossible to answer every question during a Please Explain segment, and today's discussion of salt left us wondering about one question in particular—Elliott from New York asked: Why do you put salt in an ice cream maker to keep the ice from melting…then put salt on the sidewalk to make ice melt?
I did a little research and found the explanation. Salt lowers the freezing point of water, which is normally 32°F (0°C). When you spread sodium chloride on a sidewalk, the freezing point becomes about 15°F (-9°C).
When you make ice cream, the ice needs to stay below a freezing temperature for a long enough time to allow the milk or cream to freeze. So you add salt to the ice in order to keep its temperature well below freezing, even after it has melted.
Here's a simple recipe for homemade ice cream that requires no special equipment:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups crushed ice
4 tablespoons salt
1 quart size zip-top bag
1 gallon size zip-top bag
Mix together the milk, vanilla, and sugar, the pour into the small bag and seal, making sure there's as little air in the bag as possible. Put the small bag inside the large bag and add the ice, then add the salt. Seal the bag with as little air inside as possible. Wrap the bag in the towel and shake and massage it for 10-15 minutes. The ice will melt but will remain below freezing, and the milk will turn into ice cream!
On today’s Underreported, Leonard and Barry Estabrook examine the current state of dairy farming in the United States—and efforts to pass a new price stabilization program in Congress.
Below, you can check out a map of the current concentration of dairy farms in New York. The image is taken from a website called Factory Farm Map, which promotes sustainable farming practices and a bias against larger farms. Although the website is partisan, the data upon which this map is based is not: it comes from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture, which is a five-year survey of America’s farms. (It last happened in 2007.) For more on the map and the methodology, you can go here.
Overall, the majority of dairy farms are located in California and Idaho, but New York is still one of the highest producers of dairy in the U.S., coming in at 6th overall. Within New York, Wyoming County and Cayuga County—both located in the western part of the state—are the largest producers of milk, with over 28,000 and 22,000 cows respectively.
Are you a dairy farmer in New York? Or have you visited a dairy farm recently? Let us know in the comments!
On today’s show, Leonard spoke to Dan Reed, the producer of the Frontline documentary “Battle for Haiti”, about the more than 4,000 prisoners who escaped from the National Penitentiary during last year’s earthquake and the repercussions of this jailbreak.
Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of last year’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti. Below, you can find links to our coverage of the quake and the rebuilding efforts over the past year - an interesting timeline of a natural disaster and its repercussions. We’ve also included some of our coverage of Haiti before the earthquake: a saddening reminder that Haiti’s troubles go back further than just last year.
We’d love to know what coverage you found really meaningful—and what we should be keeping an eye on in the future. Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Today, Leonard talked to Professor Mike Brown about his book, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. In the book, Professor Brown recounts how his discovery of a 10th "dwarf" planet in the solar system inadvertently led to uproar in the astronomical community—and the eventual demotion of Pluto as a full-fledged planet. The conversation reminded us of a series of angry letters from Pluto defenders published in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book, The Pluto Files. (Mr. Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Natural History Museum, appeared on our show to discuss his book in December 2009.) These letters came from an unlikely source: third-graders. One letter writer accused him of being a “Pluto-hater”; another offered a carefully drawn picture of Pluto, just in case the director had had a hard time identifying it. Below, we’ve put scans of our favorites, courtesy of NOVA’s website. Let us know your favorite letter in the comments below!