Burning questions
July 15, 2016

The Turkish military says it has seized power — but it's not yet clear who, exactly, is leading the coup attempt. Reading from the military's statement, an announcer at Turkish TV station TRT opaquely said the country is now being run by a "peace council." But Reuters reports that the statement wasn't authorized by the country's military command. And Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim seemed to suggest the coup attempt is being executed by a faction within the Turkish military. "There was an illegal act by a group within the military that was acting out of the chain of military command," Yildirim said. The military's chief-of-staff has also been taken hostage, the BBC reports. So who is leading the charge? Nico Lauricella

May 14, 2014

Here's the dirty secret about coal: Even as the U.S. moves way from it in a push toward cleaner energy sources, the rest of the world is not necessarily following suit. This is particularly the case in rapidly-developing nations, where coal usage is skyrocketing.

To wit, a report out Tuesday from the Energy Information Administration notes that coal consumption and production in China has more than doubled in the past decade, such that the nation now burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined. --Jon Terbush

April 6, 2014

We still don't know too much about the forthcoming Star Wars film, the seventh installment in the franchise, other than a few very general details: It will take place about 30 years after Return of the Jedi, and will probably include cameos from members of the original cast. (For a refresher, here's everything we know so far about the film.) In other words, the studio is doing a great job of keeping information about the film secret for now. So secret, in fact, that filming has quietly begun — even though the actors have yet to be revealed.

Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn disclosed that tidbit in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Galloway. According to Horn, the filming started a few weeks of schedule, and the cast is mostly in place. Still, Horn declined to reveal any of the actors' names just yet — it's rumored that Adam Driver will play the villain — though he did confirm the film is supposed to come out in December 2015. --Jon Terbush

April 3, 2014

The CDC on Thursday released a new report on electronic cigarette poisonings, and at first blush the topline finding is quite a shocker: Calls to poison control centers involving e-cigarette liquids skyrocketed from one per month in September 2010 to 215 this past February.

"In the Hands of Babes, E-Cigarettes Can Be Deadly," proclaimed a Time story on the report. Spooky, right?

I'm a little more skeptical about the exact scope of the danger though, and whether this truly is a budding epidemic or simply hyperbolic fearmongering. For one, the huge spike in poison control calls corresponds to a huge spike in e-cig sales. Companies sold 750,000 e-cigs in 2010, a total that ballooned to 2.5 million one year later and that has only grown since then. The industry is now projected to see sales of $2.75 billion this year. Certainly a dramatic rise in poisonings is concerning, but the magnitude of that change is a little skewed because the baseline was basically nil.

More to the point, though e-liquids can be quite poisonous to small children, so, too, can conventional cigarettes. According to the CDC, the latter still comprise almost six in ten poison control calls involving either of the two types. And as for the supposed problem of e-cigarettes luring young people to try other, more dangerous drugs, the research is spotty at best.

The CDC and others are right to raise red flags about the dangers of e-cigarettes. But the danger may not be the product itself, but rather the fact that they're relatively new and so far unregulated at the federal level. Jon Terbush

April 3, 2014

The Mets dropped their second straight game to the Washington Nationals last night — a fact made more notable by virtue of their having played only two games this season. Absent for both games was Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy who, thanks to a collective bargaining agreement, was on paternity leave with his wife and newborn baby.

While some may applaud this display of family values, in the macho world of sports (where playing hurt is a badge of honor), Murphy is taking a beating in the press. Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa, for example, have both ripped him for missing the games.

Now, as a dad, I would sacrifice anything to be with my wife and children — if they needed me. So if there were complications, for example, I wouldn't care if it were game seven of the World Series — I'd be with my family. It's also important to put things in context. The MLB season lasts 162 games, and (so far) Murphy has missed just two. In the NFL, two games would constitute a much more significant percentage of the 16-game season. In baseball, however, Murphy has another 160 games to redeem himself (if you think that's something he now needs to do).

On the other hand, MLB players already take at least four months a year off — and are paid quite handsomely. To be a professional ball player is an honor, and an implicit part of being a well-paid professional is to make some personal sacrifices — for your team and teammates. Is it asking too much for him to, you know, show up? Matt K. Lewis

April 2, 2014

It's been 20 years since Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain died, and his widow Courtney Love is commemorating the anniversary with a surprising announcement.

In an interview with NME, Love announced that she and the couple's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, would fully support a Broadway-style production based on Kurt Cobain's life and work as long as "the right people" were involved.

Love originally resisted the idea when it was first suggested in 2012, but in an unlikely move, the grunge band's loyal fans have convinced her that Broadway is the way to go. An outpouring of support on social media was enough to make Love and her daughter change their minds.

Love told NME that one of her biggest motivations for backing a show is to share the story "that hasn't been told before" and to give her and Cobain's daughter, who is 21, an opportunity to experience her father's life and legacy. "I know her father's spirit will be on that stage, and sitting in that theater with her will be the most emotional experience of our lives," Love said.

As someone who detests musicals and loves Nirvana, I can't help but think the whole Nirvana on Broadway idea is doomed. Would any true Nirvana fan want Nevermind becoming the next Wicked? Or risk "Come as You Are" resembling some peppy, Glee-inspired song-and-dance? How painful is it to think of a high school theater club energetically belting out the lyrics to "About a Girl"? Maybe the story "that hasn't been told before" involves Kurt Cobain's secret obsession with Guys and Dolls and Oklahoma! — but it all seems a bit out of character. Kaitlin Roberts

March 28, 2014

If you want to know how safe hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — is, here are two options: You can read the reports put out by the companies that use (and profit mightily from) the controversial technique to extract natural gas from hard-to-reach places, or you can talk to the people who live near and above fracking sites. The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi does both. They report, you decide, right? --Peter Weber

March 25, 2014

Solar power is now as cheap as traditional energy sources in Italy and Germany, according to a new report. In terms of LCOE — or "leveled cost of energy," which weighs everything that effects a given energy source's price from installation to maintenance — solar has achieved "grid parity" in those places thanks in part to a combination of cheap installation costs, high electricity prices, and government subsidies.

Meanwhile, the cost of solar power in the U.S., though it has fallen off a cliff since the late 1970s, remains relatively high. So what gives? Why can't we have cheap, clean solar power, too?

A big part of it has to do with demand. In 2011, Germany boasted more than 21 times the solar power, per capita, of the U.S, which helped to drive down the price. And given that imbalance, American companies had a comparatively tougher task recruiting customers, so they spent 10 times as much as their foreign counterparts did on marketing costs.

But the biggest factors keeping American solar from catching up are so-called "soft costs," which include everything from fees and taxes to company overhead. For instance, while German installers added $1.20 per watt to the cost of each panel in 2011, American companies added $4.36 per watt. And according to the Department of Energy, soft costs make up 64 percent of the price tag on installing residential solar systems in the U.S. Jon Terbush

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