Weekly Roundup 8/22/2011

13-year-old Uses Fibonacci Sequence to Improve Efficiency
Tyler Lee, Ubergizmo, Aug. 19, 2011

Synopsis: It took a thoughtful 13-year-old to figure out that a well-known numerical sequence that governs how trees branch and leaves sprout along a stem might help solve an important engineering dilemma – how to improve the efficiency of solar panels, which, like leaves in the forest, transform sunlight into a different form of energy.

Takeaway: “His design (or rather nature’s design) yielded 50 percent more efficiency than a regular flat panel solar collector…. Perhaps in the future we will start seeing solar ‘groves,’ which we can imagine are more space efficient as well.”

For more, see “Energy Policy,” May 20, 2011 (subscription required). Excerpts can be found here: http://cqresearcherblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/can-clean-energy-sources-compete.html

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


On the home front, reminders of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq come in small doses
Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post, Aug. 21, 2011

Synopsis: Jaffe, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has covered the Pentagon since 2000, follows a busload of veterans from Walter Reed Army Medical Center to a baseball game to examine the reception that Americans give to service members returning from the battlefront. “Troops often question,” Jaffe writes, “why their sacrifices are so poorly understood by the people they serve.”

Takeaway: “For most Americans,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates remarked last year, “the wars remain an abstraction. A distant, unpleasant series of events that does not affect them personally.”

For more, see these CQ Researcher reports; “Military Suicides,” forthcoming, Sept. 23, 2011; “Caring for Veterans, Aug. 23, 2010; and “Wounded Veterans,” Aug. 31, 2007 (subscription required).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


There Ought to Be a Law
Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times, Aug. 21, 2011

A Hollywood Throwback, Serving Stars but Never Dishing Gossip
Guy Trebay, The New York Times, Aug. 21, 2011

What ticks you off? Hipsters still wearing those no-longer-trendy Panama and fedoras hats? Customers in long lines who still don’t know what they want – or have their money ready -- when they reach the order-taker? Those are two of the pet peeves columnist Neil Genzlinger shares in his very funny piece in Sunday’s Times. Back in the day, before color and lively feature stories, The Times used to be known as the Gray Lady because of its long columns of dull type. Now it leavens all the awful news about war and unemployment with some humor and stories that folks actually don’t mind reading, like the delightful profile of celebrity maitre’d hotel Dmitri Dmitrov– on the front page of Sunday’s Times – who elegantly and discretely caters to the likes of Jennifer Anniston and Johnny Depp. But if you must have your fix of serious stuff, see the Times’ lead editorial for the editors’ prescription for the suffering economy.

For more, see “Future of Journalism,” CQ Researcher, March 27, 2009; updated Sept. 3, 2010; and “Journalism Standards in the Internet Age,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 8, 2010 (subscription required).

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor


Climate-change science makes for hot politics
Joel Achenbach and Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, Aug. 19, 2011

Synopsis: The authors examine the sea change that has occurred in the political discussion of climate change since the 2008 presidential election, when it wasn’t even among the top issues voters said they cared about. Today a GOP presidential candidate must disavow the science behind climate change or risk being dismissed by conservative tea party Republicans. Skepticism about climate change has grown among both political parties over the past four years, but most dramatically among conservative Republicans. This has occurred even though surveys show that 97 to 98 percent of 1,400 climate scientists still agree that humans contribute to global warming – a theory supported by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

Takeaway: “Climate change has become a wedge issue” in presidential politics, said Roger Pielke Jr., a University of Colorado professor who has written extensively on the climate debate. “It’s today’s flag-burning or today’s partial-birth-abortion issue.”

For more, see the following CQ Global Researchers: Climate Change, February 2010, and Curbing Climate Change, February 2007 (subscription required).

--Kathy Koch, managing editor, CQ Global Researcher


Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes?
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, Aug. 17, 2011

Synopsis: With a take-no-prisoners approach to covering government and politics, Taibbi has acquired a reputation for occasionally putting hyperbole ahead of reporting. But in this piece, he dials down the rhetoric. The facts, as he presents them, are plenty explosive on their own. Relying on accounts to Congress by a whistleblowing lawyer for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Taibbi reports that the agency – by law the public’s watchdog on Wall Street – has at least since 1993 been shredding thousands of files of preliminary investigations into wrongdoing in the finance industry. The investigations in question didn’t lead to prosecutions. But Taibbi and some of his sources maintain that those files would allow SEC staff looking into current cases to recognize that a present-day case of possible wrongdoing fit a pattern.

Takeaway: The records-destruction policy reflects a general lack of investigative zeal at the upper levels of the SEC, which is heavily staffed with former and future employees of firms under SEC jurisdiction, Taibbi argues. Another possible reason to destroy records? Embarrassment. Among the shredded files were those involving Ponzi swindler Bernard Madoff – about whom the SEC notoriously was warned in vain.

For background, see “Financial Crisis,” CQ Researcher, May 9, 2008; and “Financial Bailout,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 24, 2008 (updated July 20, 2010) (subscription required).

--Peter Katel, staff writer


Google’s Irresistible Potential as an Alternative to Cable
Adam Clark Estes, The Atlantic, Aug. 22, 2011

Synopsis: Google is cozying up to TV executives at a media conference in Scotland, just days before the company is expected to bid for streaming-video portal Hulu. The move would potentially provide Google with existing contracts and relationships that could bring more premium content into the Google network, which already includes YouTube.

Takeaway: The low satisfaction rates among traditional cable providers such as Comcast and Time Warner give Google a competitive advantage in what has heretofore been an elastic pricing market. The acquisition of Hulu would bring users one step closer to the inevitable convergence of the computer and television mediums.

--Darrell Dela Rosa, Assistant Editor

For background, see “Television’s Future,” CQ Researcher, Feb. 16, 2007 (subscription required).