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Photo: From the inside out

A lamb from the "BODY WORLDS of Animals" exhibition, which opened Friday, in Cologne, Germany. The exhibition features bodies of 20 animal specimens including horses, giraffes and elephants, preserved through a process called plastination. Water and fat in the deceased animal are replaced by a reactive polymer, yielding specimens that do not decay and even retain properties of the original sample. A similar exhibition featuring human bodies has been touring around the world since 1995. Photo: Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany,

Are bad voters like drunk drivers? New book says they are, and that they should stay home on Election Day

A federal government that spends 50 percent of its budget on “waste,” 30 percent on foreign aid and 10 percent on public pensions. A president who is both secretly a Muslim and a socialist. A Congress that can repeal a law — in this case, the 2009 health care reform — simply by a majority vote of one chamber.

This, according to substantial numbers of Americans, is our government.

And if that scares you, consider this: Regardless of whether you believe the facts above, you are allowed — even encouraged — to vote.

But should you? Not everyone thinks so.

Polls have shown routinely that large numbers of Americans know very little about how our political system works. And it’s not just a lack of factual knowledge — Americans’ skewed understanding of how the government functions (or fails to function) also influences their proposals for how to fix it.

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The news, by any means necessary

The handwritten edition of the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun from March 12, 2011. (via Newsmuseum)

As newsprint gives way to online media, one Japanese daily reverted to an even more old-fashioned publishing approach in a time of crisis: delivering information via pen and paper.

After last month’s earthquake and tsunami left the city of Ishinomaki in ruins and without power, staff members of the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun handwrote the newspaper by flashlight for six days, reporting on rescue efforts and fatalities and hanging the posters at local relief centers. Washington, D.C.’s Newseum has since acquired seven of the handwritten editions for its collection of historic newspapers.
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Photo: A ‘miracle worker’ is born

An 8-year-old Helen Keller sits with her teacher Anne Sullivan. Photo: Thaxter P. Spencer Collection, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, New England Historic Genealogical Society-Boston

On this day in 1866, Anne Sullivan, the teacher who helped educate Helen Keller, was born in Feeding Hills, Mass. When Keller was 19-months old, she became very ill, possibly with meningitis or scarlet fever; the brief illness left her blind and deaf with limited ability to communicate with others.

Sullivan began teaching Keller by spelling words into her palm. Initially, the finger-spelling technique meant nothing to the frustrated pupil until  the ingenious teacher spelled the word “water” into one of Helen’s palms while running water over her other hand:  It was then that Keller understood the concept of sign language and its relationship to the objects around her. Sullivan went on to be known as the “miracle worker,” a moniker coined by Mark Twain.
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Dolphins and sea turtles: The latest BP oil casualties?

One year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the fallout continues.  The Public Media Exchange, a group of ten Gulf Coast public broadcasting stations, offers local perspectives on post-Deepwater life in the region, reporting on how the oil spill has affected everything from health and economics to tourism and politics.

The group’s “Gulf Watch” website also includes audio and video features on the spill’s environmental impact. This year, more sea turtles and dolphins have been turning up dead on Gulf Coast beaches. Is oil the culprit? Watch this report from Public Media Exchange’s WSRE-TV, out of Escambia County, Fla.

For more, visit “Gulf Watch” at

The power of the sun

In “Beyond the Light Switch,” a two-hour, two-part documentary series that is being broadcast on public television stations across the country, David Biello, energy and environment editor at Scientific American magazine, walks viewers through a series of scenarios that outline what the nation’s energy future might look like. What if America invests in carbon capture? Could we see a nuclear power renaissance? Is wind power possible? What is a super grid, anyway?

In this excerpt, Biello explains how solar panels work and concludes that solar energy might not cost as much as we think it does.

To see the documentary series, check you local listings. Read more about it at:

Documenting documentary film

“I hate it because I know my future is ruined.” These are the words of the 14-year-old Haitian earthquake survivor-turned-prostitute, Lauretta, in the documentary, “Little Girls Lost,” by Lisa Armstrong and Andre Lambertston. This gripping film about a young girl’s descent into prostitution and poverty was one of the highlights of the City University of New York’s first annual “Global Documentary Film Series.”

The two-day event showcased projects from Nigeria, Liberia, Nepal, the DRC, Brazil and Afghanistan, with the common theme revolving around international women’s human rights. “The idea for the film festival came to us when we were trying to inspire students to explore ways of storytelling when the business end of journalism lets you down,” said Lonnie Isabel, director of International Reporting Project at CUNY and the chairman of the film festival. And why women in conflict? “Well, women in war is the most important under-reported story of the world,” said Isabel.

In addition to screenings, the first day of the event featured three panels: “The Documentarian as a Journalist,” “Women in Islam” and “Women in Conflict.” Panelists discussed strategies for reporting in hostile situations and the importance of debunking stereotypes set by the mainstream media with students, activists and journalists.

A still from Marcus Bleasdale's "Dear Obama: A Message from Victims of the LRA."

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Photo: The voice of youthful protest

A young girl joins anti-government protesters demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, on April 12, 2011. Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen

Audio: Michael Oreskes: A veteran journalist discusses the future of news

Inspired by the intense reader interest in our “How to fix America” segment, we decided to shift the conversation closer to our own backyard for “How to fix journalism,” the next installment of the series. To date, much of the discussion regarding the ailing news media has been framed as one of polar choices — print versus pixels, reporter versus blogger, free versus paid — with the occasional digression into a blowout pissing contest (we’re looking at you Bill Keller and Arianna Huffington) that many have understandably written off as occupational narcissism run amok. Yet, despite being fraught with the risk of enabling journalists to navel gaze endlessly, a conversation about the future of news seems like a particularly timely one in light of the extraordinary events that have unfolded from the streets of Egypt to the shores of Japan in recent weeks — all of which have underscored the need for a strong and vital global fourth estate.

Over the coming days, we will be talking to publishers, editors and entrepreneurs about the myriad challenges facing the industry and focus on solutions that can point the way to a revitalized, sustainable model for journalism in the 21st century.

Michael Oreskes at the AP headquarters in New York City.

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