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Friday, October 25, 2013

Blanket Of Smog In Chinese City Renews Coal Debate

The cloud of smog that smothered Harbin, China, as seen from space. (NOAA)

The cloud of smog that smothered Harbin, China, as seen from space. (NOAA)

Cool winds are bringing relief to nearly 10 million residents of the northern Chinese city of Harbin, where thick smog caused schools, airports and businesses to shutter their doors earlier this week. Residents were ordered to remain indoors. At the pollution’s worst, visibility was only 65 feet.

The smog coincided with the first day residents fired up their heating systems in a city known for its cold temperatures and ice festivals.

The city’s dependence on coal has created ongoing problems: in 2010 Harbin spent over $1 million to retrofit some residential buildings with new windows, roofing and insulation. But those measures were inadequate to hold the pollution at bay.

China is responsible for half the world’s consumption of coal.

Scientist Russell Dickerson joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the issue.

Guest

  • Russell Dickerson, professor in the department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Maryland.

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

Imagine if the entire Chicago land area was covered in a smog so thick you couldn't see more than 65 feet ahead of you for days. Well, that is what happened this week in the Chinese city of Harbin, which is actually about the same size as Chicago's metro area. The smog has largely dissipated, but it was so bad that schools, airports and businesses had to be shut down and residents were ordered to stay indoors. Russ Dickerson is a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Maryland. He's with us now from NPR in Washington. Professor, welcome.

RUSSELL DICKERSON: Good afternoon. Thanks for inviting me.

HOBSON: Well, what caused this pollution in China, first of all?

DICKERSON: Well, the severe pollution that they're having in Harbin, or have had over the past few days, is caused primarily by burning coal. So for home heating, as well as for electricity, they burn coal. And a lot of the coal-fired power plants and boilers are right in the city, including in residential areas. When coal is burned without the appropriate scrubbers to remove sulfur and nitrogen compounds and trace metals, it can create a terrible smog.

HOBSON: Especially when there's no wind, as was the case this week.

DICKERSON: That's right. The meteorology and chemistry have to conspire to generate such a severe smog episode.

HOBSON: Well, how do you think that the government responded? Did they do a good job by having people stay indoors and shutting down a lot of the schools and businesses?

DICKERSON: In the short run, that's all they can do. People need heat, they need electricity. The long term solution is to put scrubbers on the boilers, on anything that burns coal, or move them outside of the heavily populated areas.

HOBSON: One of the questions that we had here is whether Americans are in some small way to blame for what's going on because, of course, there's so much industry in China, the growth has been rapid, and much of that industry is to make things that we buy over here.

DICKERSON: Well, there's an element of truth to that. We've exported a lot of our manufacturing to China. And so a lot of the coal that would've been combusted in the United States to build things is now being combusted in China. On the other hand, the technology to control emissions from coal-fired power plants and boilers is well-established. And many of the power plants and other facilities in China do have scrubbers on them, just not enough yet.

HOBSON: Of course, this is not the first time that something like this has happened, especially with coal. I'm reminded of the great smog of 1952 in London. People started using their coal-burning fireplaces in December of 1952. And as a report at the time said there was nary a breeze to be found. So the city was blackened for days. Here's a news clip from back then.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Over 200 million tons of coal are consumed in this country every year. We don't know exactly what it is in the smoke pollution that does it, but we do know the results. Heaven help the doctor on a night like this.

HOBSON: How does what just happened in Harbin compare with what happened in London in 1952?

DICKERSON: Well, that was beautiful. I've never heard that before. I wish I could talk that way.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKERSON: It's actually very similar. It's a perfect cognate. In the 1950s in London, they heated their homes with coal. And that coal was combusted without any controls on the emissions. Coal is typically, you know, one to three percent sulfur by weight. So you can actually see yellow stripes in many kinds of coal. And when coal burns, sulfur dioxide is emitted. And sulfur dioxide is a lung irritant and a toxic pollutant in itself. But when it combines with fog, which is pretty common in London in the winter, even today, it forms little droplets, little particles of sulfuric acid. These tiny sulfuric acid particles are extremely active biologically.

And during that episode in December 1952, there were recorded something like 2,000 or 3,000 excess deaths. People continued to be sick and then die several days after the smog episode ended. The same problem is occurring in many Chinese cities today. They use coal for home heating, for cooking and for electricity generation. And if you burn coal without controlling the emissions, the consequences are dire.

HOBSON: Well, why weren't the lessons learned from London, because after the London smog in 1952, they banned urban coal-burning fireplaces?

DICKERSON: They certainly did. And the air quality in London today is pretty good. It's a matter of money and the rate of growth, I think. It costs a lot of money to add scrubbers to coal-fired power plants. The other issue is an issue of scale. You have to have something to replace it. And the Chinese cities that I've been in and worked in, every little school, small factory, even hospitals in the research site that I was working at, they have a boiler. And that boiler is the same thing that my family had when I was a small child in Detroit in the 1950s. You would shovel rocks of coal into the furnace and it heats water that is then circulated through radiators.

So what comes out of the stack is fly ash, mercury, sulfur and nitrogen compounds. And because there are so many and they're so small, it's impractical to put a scrubber on each one. It's not until you have centralized heating and electricity generation or natural gas for heating that it's practical to control such things. So it's a matter of the rate of growth of China and the finances. But, of course, you need the political will to implement such changes. And that's currently also lacking.

HOBSON: Professor, if you look at this country, we are not dealing right now with these kinds of coal-burning smogs that are going on in China. But how are we doing on smog? And I'm thinking specifically of Los Angeles, where I see that the smog levels have dropped by more than 85 percent since the 1970s.

DICKERSON: That's right. Ozone, which is a characteristic of Los Angeles-type smog, has dramatically improved over the United States over the past few decades. This is due to controls on nitrogen oxide emissions, the thing that makes ozone, makes Los Angeles type smog, from power plants and cars. Cars continue to get better all the time. We are still not where we need to be, however. My epidemiologist friends tell me that there's still a lot of morbidity and mortality associated with the current levels of ozone in the U.S.

And the last science advisory report, Integrated Science Assessment done for the EPA, recommended an ozone level of between 60 and 70 parts per billion. That hasn't been implemented yet, but it really should be to protect human health. So we've done really well. Washington, Baltimore, New York and Los Angeles, likewise, have improved their air quality substantially. But it's still a threat, especially to people with a compromised respiratory system.

HOBSON: Russ Dickerson is a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Maryland. Professor Dickerson, thanks so much for coming in.

DICKERSON: My pleasure.

HOBSON: And one headline out of China today. Bo Xilai, the once rising star in China's Communist Party, was in court hoping to overturn a life sentence. His appeal did not work. But experts say that his life sentence could be reduced to just about 10 years if there's good behavior and medical parole.

You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    They could also stop burning coal! Renewable energy for electricity, and for heat – solar heat collection, and biofuels like wood pellets, or methane from sewage and farm waste – all this should be happening ASAP. We have to avoid the air pollution AND we have to stop burning ALL fossil fuels, because these are largely causing climate change.

    Neil

    • N_Jessen

      Agreed, except if the U.S. thinks it’s a challenge to provide enough baseload energy to 300 million people without heavy dependance on fossil fuels, imagine how daunting it must be for a developing nation of over 4 times the population. What we probably need are market-based mechanisms that make alternatives more competitive, without the need for large, relatively unreliable subsidies. Like a fossil carbon fee and rebate system that fosters economies of scale for improved technologies.

  • N_Jessen

    I suspect it doesn’t help matters when China is also taking our exports of pet-coke (a by-product of processing heavy, low grade crude from sources like tar sands) and burning it in coal-fired power plants. Apparently, that can be even more polluting, both in terms of smog and fossil CO2 production (which of course is colorless and odorless, belying coal’s potential troubles in the West).

    At least some in China seem to recognize the problem, and investments in efficiency and newer tech have risen beyond those of the U.S. But with over a billion people, many of them looking to a more Western-style consumption model, they have their work cut out for them.

  • Mark Goldes

    Coal can be left behind much more rapidly than might be imagined.

    Revolutionary new technologies are en-route that can turn future cars into
    power plants, able to sell electricity when suitably parked. No wires needed.
    Cars, trucks and buses might even pay for themselves.

    These are hard to believe breakthroughs, THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COOLS has been invented that needs no fuel. Once validated at an independent lab it could
    increase appreciation of other neglected but important new science.

    See NO FUEL ENGINE, CIRCUMVENTING SECOND LAW and MOVING BEYOND OIL at http://www.aesopinstitute.org

    Since these engines will not get hot, small plastic desktop piston examples are
    planned that will run a tablet and recharge cell phones. They will demonstrate
    rather than argue that the world has changed.

    Metal versions are expected to power homes 24/7 and replace diesel generators.
    They will power emergency generators and an on-board recharge for some electric
    cars. Later replacing wind turbines of all sizes.

    THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COOLS will open a practical path to rapid reduction in
    the need for fossil fuels.

    • N_Jessen

      Sorry, but until I see something more than just flowery marketing language flung around the web, it looks like more hokum to me. Complete with conspiracy theories of suppression. So pardon me for being skeptical, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

      • Mark Goldes

        Skepticism is understandable until independent labs validate the engine.

        I do not believe in conspiracy theories. Engines running on atmospheric heat have not been suppressed to my knowledge.

        However, if Jacob Wainwright had been taken seriously they could have been developed 100 years ago. Imagine the course of history of the last century if oil was not needed to run engines. Many millions of lives could have been saved. And if the prototype performs as expected, many more may be saved in the future.

        Experiments now demonstrate the Second Law can be circumvented. This may be the first practical engine to demonstrate that fact. Many more designs are likely to emerge once it proves scalable.

  • Physicz Headquarterz

    Mark Goldes’ “Aesop Institute” has engaged for many years in the very dishonest and unscrupulous practice of soliciting loans and donations under an endless series of false pretenses, that it is developing and even “prototyping” various “revolutionary breakthroughs,” such as “NO FUEL ENGINES” that run on ambient heat alone – or run on “Virtual Photon Flux” – or on “Collapsing Hydrogen Orbitals” – or even on the acoustic energy of sound from a horn.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe strictly ambient heat engine is ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This has been understood by physicists for at least 180 years. There is no “new science” that has ever determined such an engine to be possible.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe “Virtual Photon Flux” engine is based on the idea that accessible electric power “is everywhere present in unlimited quantities” – which we know to be false.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe “Collapsing Hydrogen Orbital” engine is based on Randell Mills’ theory of “hydrino” hydrogen, which every scientist knows to be false.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe horn-powered engine is based on the pretense that a magnetized tuning rod could somehow “multiply energy” – a ludicrous notion, which is obviously ruled out by the law of conservation of energy.

    Aesop Institute has never offered the slightest shadow of evidence that it is actually developing or “prototyping” any of these make-believe physics-defying “revolutionary breakthroughs.” All it has ever offered are mere declarations that it is doing so – unsupported by any proof whatever, of any kind whatever.

  • Kelfin Planck

    Mark Goldes’ latest adventure in flimflam is to declare that a “FUEL-FREE TURBINE invented by a Russian scientist runs on atmospheric pressure.”

    But when we read the patent application, we find that actually the turbine does NOT run on atmospheric pressure – it requires compressed air. This is clearly indicated even in the article by Kondrashov posted by Goldes on his flimflam website. Kondrashov says:

    “To create a sample of such an engine, you can use ready-made devices, such as a load-bearing element – a low-power turbine module turboshaft turbine engine, and to compress the air… any type of compressor…”

    Kondrashov filed his patent application in 2003. No patent was awarded.

    Mark Goldes assures us in his note prefacing Kondrashov’s article that “We understand the science behind this jet engine.” But since he incorrectly describes it as an engine powered by “atmospheric pressure” – which it certainly is not – in fact he shows that he doesn’t even understand that the engine requires a supply of compressed air in order to spin at all.

    Although Kondrashov does pretend in some of his statements that the turbine will be powered by “atmospheric pressure,” in fact it is evident from his application that the proposed turbine is made to spin only by the use of compressed air.

    In his patent application, Kondrashov states:

    “To set the above engine in operation, it is necessary to create pressure of working medium (e.g. air) in pneumatic accumulator 18. The compressed air is fed through check valve 19 and/or 20.”

    Thus, Kondrashov indicates that an external compressor must be used to fill the turbine’s compressed air tank before the turbine can be started. But he tries to pretend that once the turbine starts to spin, there will be no further reliance on the external compressor – the spinning turbine itself will compress the air that is making the turbine spin. So despite his own false description of the turbine as making use of “low-grade atmospheric energy,” what Kondrashov actually presents in his patent application is a perpetual motion machine in the form of a self-powered air compressor. This is probably the reason why no patent was awarded. It is exactly analogous to trying to use a generator to power a motor to spin the generator to power the motor to spin the generator. It doesn’t work.

    http://intlphysicsreviewboard.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/mark-goldes-fraudulent-aesop-institute/

  • Kelfin Planck

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics rules out strictly ambient heat engines.

    Expecting an ambient heat engine to do any work, with only one heat reservoir, is exactly equivalent to expecting a teapot to boil water by absorbing heat from a block of ice.

    Both processes are ruled out by the very same law – the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    “It is impossible for any device operating on a cycle to produce net work from a single temperature reservoir; the production of net work requires flow of heat from a higher temperature reservoir to a colder reservoir.”

    In a strictly ambient heat engine there are not two heat reservoirs at different temperatures; no reservoir would be available at any temperature other than the ambient temperature. Therefore the engine would have to DECREASE the total entropy – and therefore we know for certain that the engine will disappoint us. It will never be able to do any work.

    Flow of heat from a block of ice to lukewarm water would also result in a DECREASE of the total entropy.

    Once again: Expecting an ambient heat engine to do any work, with only one heat reservoir, is exactly equivalent to expecting a teapot to boil water by absorbing heat from a block of ice. Anyone who claims to be developing a “prototype” of such an engine is only developing a pretense, and nothing more.

  • Kelfin Planck

    Max Planck, in his “Treatise On Thermodynamics,” explains how the Second Law of Thermodynamics “may be deduced from a single simple law of experience about which there is no doubt.” Here is the “single simple law of experience” he proposes:

    “It is impossible to construct an engine which will work in a complete cycle, and produce no effect except the raising of a weight and the cooling of a heat-reservoir.”

    This “law of experience” is very similar to a principle suggested by William Thomson (Lord Kelvin):

    “It is impossible, by means of inanimate material agency, to derive mechanical effect from any portion of matter by cooling it below the temperature of the coldest of the surrounding objects.”

    The “simple law of experience” offered by Planck is therefore commonly known as the “Kelvin-Planck statement” of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But we see from Planck’s “Treatise” that Planck himself did not quite regard it as a statement of the Second Law, but rather as a “starting point” or postulate from which the Second Law may be deduced.

    Here is Planck’s rendition of the Second Law itself:

    “The second law of thermodynamics states that there exists in nature for each system of bodies a quantity, which by all changes of the system either remains constant (in reversible processes) or increases in value (in irreversible processes). This quantity is called, following Clausius, the entropy of the system.”

  • Kelfin Planck

    The Kelvin-Planck formulation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics may be stated as follows:

    “No cyclic process driven simply by heat can accomplish the absorption of the heat from a reservoir and the conversion of such heat into work – without any other result (such as a transfer of heat to a cooler reservoir).”

    Now, as you will see, the Clausius formulation of the Second Law may be stated with fewer words:

    “No process is possible whose sole result is the transfer of heat from a cooler to a hotter body.”

    In fact, we can show that the Kelvin-Planck formulation may be deduced from that of Clausius. In the words of Enrico Fermi:

    “Suppose that Kelvin’s postulate were not valid. Then we could perform a transformation whose only final result would be to transform completely into work a definite amount of heat taken from a single source at the temperature t1. By means of friction we could then transform this work into heat again and with this heat raise the temperature of a given body, regardless of what its initial temperature, t2, may have been. In particular, we could take t2 to be higher than t1. Thus, the only final result of this process would be the transfer of heat from one body (the source at temperature t1) to another body at a higher temperature, t2. This would be a violation of the Clausius postulate.”

    Can anyone make a teapot that boils water by absorbing heat from blocks of ice?

  • Kelfin Planck

    Mark Goldes’ proofless claims regarding his make-believe strictly ambient heat engine do not represent any new technology, or even a new pretense – they merely represent a rather old pretense.

    “Before the establishment of the Second Law, many people who were interested in inventing a perpetual motion machine had tried to circumvent the restrictions of First Law of Thermodynamics by extracting the massive internal energy of the environment as the power of the machine. Such a machine is called a “perpetual motion machine of the second kind”. The second law declared the impossibility of such machines.”

    “A perpetual motion machine of the second kind is a machine which spontaneously converts thermal energy into mechanical work. When the thermal energy is equivalent to the work done, this does not violate the law of conservation of energy. However it does violate the more subtle second law of thermodynamics (see also entropy). The signature of a perpetual motion machine of the second kind is that there is only one heat reservoir involved… This conversion of heat into useful work, without any side effect, is impossible, according to the second law of thermodynamics.”

    Goldes’ make-believe strictly ambient heat engine would be a perpetual motion machine of the second kind, as defined above. Goldes is not developing any such engine; he is merely developing a pretense – as usual.

    http://physicsinspector.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/mark-goldes-and-his-fraudulent-aesop-institute/

  • Kelfin Planck

    In Mark Goldes’ patent application for his ludicrous “POWERGENIE” horn-powered tuning-rod engine, he described the tuning-rod as “an energy transfer and multiplier element.”

    But of course, for the tuning-rod to “multiply” energy, it would need to disprove the law of conservation of energy.

    Goldes’ use of the term “energy multiplier element” reflected his pretense that the “revolutionary breakthrough” of the amazing “POWERGENIE” could disprove the law of conservation of energy, by presenting the world with a working “energy multiplier.”

    Goldes even claimed in 2008 that the POWERGENIE had been demonstrated already in an electric car, driven 4800 miles by his energy-multiplying horn-powered tuning-rod.

    But it seems that most people, for some reason, had difficulty accepting the notion that the law of conservation of energy could be proven false.

    And Goldes no doubt noticed that the Second Law of Thermodynamics – that “the entropy of an isolated system tends to increase with time and can never decrease” – is much less clear to most people than the conservation of energy.

    So now, after leaving aside the pretense that he could somehow “multiply energy” with a magnetized tuning-rod, Goldes has chosen to focus, instead, on the pretense that he can disprove the Second Law with an engine powered only by ambient heat.

    There is no “new science” in any of Goldes’ “revolutionary breakthroughs.” There is only pseudoscience and pretense – and nothing new, at all.

  • Kelfin Planck

    Let’s look at another example of Mark Goldes’ wonderful offerings in “revolutionary new technology:”

    The amazing “POWERGENIE!”

    One of the most laughable of Mark Goldes’ many pseudotypes is his “POWERGENIE” horn-powered generator. The brilliant idea of this revolutionary breakthrough is to blow a horn at a magnetized tuning rod, designed to resonate at the frequency of the horn, and then collect the electromotive energy produced by the vibrations of the rod.

    We’re not making this up.

    POWERGENIE tuning rod engine explained – from the patent:

    [The device incorporates] “an energy transfer and multiplier element being constructed of a ferromagnetic substance… having a natural resonance, due to a physical structure whose dimensions are directly proportional to the wavelength of the resonance frequency…

    “In this resonant condition, the rod material functions as a tuned waveguide, or longitudinal resonator, for acoustic energy…

    “Ferrite rod 800 is driven to acoustic resonance at the second harmonic of its fundamental resonant frequency by acoustic horn 811…”

    - But the patent doesn’t tell us who will volunteer to blow the horn at the rod all day. Perhaps it will come with an elephant.

    Mark Goldes claimed in 2008 that this wonderful triumph of human genius would bring his company, Magnetic Power Inc, one billion dollars in annual revenue by 2012. Magnetic Power is now defunct, having never produced any “Magnetic Power Modules” – just as Goldes’ company called “Room Temperature Superconductors Inc” is also now defunct, having never produced any “room temperature superconductors.”

  • Kelfin Planck

    Mark Goldes’ “Aesop Institute” has engaged for many years in the very dishonest and unscrupulous practice of soliciting loans and donations under an endless series of false pretenses, that it is developing and even “prototyping” various “revolutionary breakthroughs,” such as “NO FUEL ENGINES” that run on ambient heat alone – or run on “Virtual Photon Flux” – or on “Collapsing Hydrogen Orbits” – or even on the acoustic energy of sound from a horn.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe strictly ambient heat engine is ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This has been understood by physicists for at least 180 years. There is no “new science” that has ever determined such an engine to be possible.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe “Virtual Photon Flux” engine is based on the idea that accessible electric power “is everywhere present in unlimited quantities” – which we know to be false.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe “Collapsing Hydrogen Orbits” engine is based on Randell Mills’ theory of “hydrino” hydrogen, which every scientist knows to be false.

    Aesop Institute’s make-believe horn-powered engine is based on the pretense that a magnetized tuning rod could somehow “multiply energy” – a ludicrous notion, which is obviously ruled out by the law of conservation of energy.

    Aesop Institute’s very latest make-believe engine is a perpetual motion machine in the form of a self-powered air compressor, which proposes to use a turbine to compress air to spin the turbine to compress air to spin the turbine.

    Aesop Institute has never offered the slightest shadow of evidence that it is actually developing or “prototyping” any of these make-believe physics-defying “revolutionary breakthroughs.” All it has ever offered are mere declarations that it is doing so – unsupported by any proof whatever, of any kind whatever.

    There are no “revolutionary breakthroughs” to be found on Goldes’ fraudulent “Aesop Institute” website. There is only pseudoscience, relentless flimflam, and empty claims of engines that are ruled out by the laws of physics.

    http://physicsreviewboard.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/perpetual-flimflam-machine-mark-goldes-fraudulent-aesop-institute/

  • Kelfin Planck

    Mark Goldes, starting in the mid-seventies, engaged for several years in the pretense that his company SunWind Ltd was developing a nearly production-ready, road-worthy, wind-powered “windmobile,” based on the windmobile invented by James Amick; and that therefore SunWind would be a wonderful investment opportunity.

    After SunWind “dried up” in 1983, Goldes embarked on the long-running pretense that his company Room Temperature Superconductors Inc was developing room-temperature superconductors; and that therefore Room Temperature Superconductors Inc would be a wonderful investment opportunity. He continues the pretense that the company developed something useful, even to this day.

    And then Goldes embarked on the pretense that his company Magnetic Power Inc was developing “NO FUEL ENGINES” based on “Virtual Photon Flux;” and then, on the pretense that MPI was developing horn-powered “NO FUEL ENGINES” based on the resonance of magnetized tuning-rods; and then, on the pretense that his company Chava LLC (aka “Chava Energy”) was developing water-fueled engines based on “collapsing hydrogen orbits” (which are ruled out by quantum physics); and then, on the pretense that he was developing strictly-ambient-heat-powered “NO FUEL ENGINES” (which are ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics).

    But of course, the laws of physics always make an exception for the make-believe pretenses of Mark Goldes.

    Goldes’ forty-year career of “revolutionary breakthrough” pretense has nothing to do with science, but only with pseudoscience, pseudophysics, and relentless flimflam, in pursuit of loans and donations from gullible people who never mastered physics very well.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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