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Watch the heart-melting cuteness of baby polar bears opening their eyes for the first time

Whose week DOESN’T need twin polar bears? The five-week-old cubs opened their eyes for the first time last week in a video that will break your squee-o-meter. Maximum cuteness starts about a minute in:

The cubs’ sex won’t be determined until a vet is allowed to see them in March, but that shouldn’t stop staff at Munich's Hellabrunn Zoo from naming them Hans and Franz.* Although they probably weren’t doing too much weightlifting at birth -- they only weighed about 14 ounces each. They're still tough, though -- after all, they made it through the risky first five weeks, when 70 percent of captive polar bears die. Writes NBC:

Read more: Living


How looking for cancer’s causes became a political act

Jeanne Rizzo

How does real political change happen?  Jeanne Rizzo has spent decades figuring that out -- but not along any typical route. First a psychiatric nurse, then a concert hall manager and film, music, and theater producer, she gradually became more and more involved in the Breast Cancer Fund -- a national nonprofit that is unusual in focusing on investigating what causes breast cancer rather than how to cure it.

Recently, Rizzo spoke to me about how a music producer gets pulled into the world of legislative politics -- and how she figures out what to do when she gets there.

Q. You ran the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and worked as a music and film producer. How did you go from that to President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund?

A. Right -- that’s a progression you wouldn’t expect to see on a resume. I started out as a nurse. I always did some pro bono volunteer work. I did a lot of work around AIDS. I held benefits at the Great American Music Hall. Later, many of the women who stepped up and volunteered to help with the AIDS epidemic began getting breast cancer diagnoses, so I began to work around that too.

Andrea Martin, who founded the Breast Cancer Fund, asked me to be on the board, and while I was there I did things like get the fund to go on the road with Lilith Fair. The whole time I was learning more, getting more into the science around breast cancer. I kept my nursing license up. Science doesn’t scare me. I know how to read a study.

Then, in 2001, I was at a board meeting and Andrea, the founder -- something clearly wasn’t right. I took her to the hospital and it was a brain tumor. She lived for another two years, but she was never able to work again.

I told the board, I will stay on and manage this for three months, and then you have to find someone else. Then I said, “Okay. I’ll stay for 18 months. After 18 months I won’t be here anymore." We had a lot of missions back then. I cut out most of them and focused ours on the environment -- the possible causes of cancer. To me it was obvious that we ought to be investing more in prevention.

Read more: Living, Politics


Scarred, spangled banner: 46 years after MLK’s death, we still struggle to broaden the movement


Last week, when members of Congress introduced legislation to “fix” the part of the Voting Rights Act that the U.S. Supreme Court decided was broken last summer, it was inspiring to see one environmental leader, Sierra Club President Michael Brune, standing behind civil rights groups.

“It is vitally important that members of both parties in Congress are acting to secure one of the most fundamental of all American principles by focusing on updating the Voting Rights Act,” Brune said. “This well-intentioned bill to do that is a start, but we share the concerns of our partners and allies at the NAACP that some aspects of this legislation fall short of protecting the voice of every American at the ballot box.”

Brune nailed it. He understands that the right to vote is more than just a civil rights problem. Until that fundamental right is guaranteed for all, the wealthy elite will craft policies that determine whether the environment is considered in our policy decisions -- and that, as I’ve written before, is a recipe for disaster.

Today, the day we commemorate the life and work of Rev. Martin Luther King, I only wish that more non-NAACP-allied groups had spoken up on this. I’ll get back to that in a moment. First, a little background on the Voting Rights Act legislation.


Male black widows disarm females by wiggling their butts


It’s kind of awesome that a male black widow spider will shake its tush while holding the rest of its body still (like Miley Cyrus) in order to pacify a female spider that seems like she might want to eat it (like Miley Cyrus).

Female black widow spiders routinely eat other spiders, which is why males wiggle their butts, sending vibrations through the ladyspider’s web that say, “I come in peace! Can we please bang now?” We see no reason why that shouldn't work. Recall, if you will, Scarlet Johansson as Black Widow in Iron Man 2. If one of those guys ScarJo beat up had done a winky butt-jiggle first, it would’ve at LEAST given her pause. (Although she probably would’ve kicked his ass anyway.)

Anyway, the important thing is that it works for male black widows. According to a study recently published in Frontiers in Zoology, the spiders’ rump-movin’ vibrations are distinctly different from those that prey like flies and crickets make on webs. Entomologist Samantha Vibert, who led the study, told National Geographic that the vibrations “were long-lasting and of very low amplitude, just like a constant humming.” Does THAT sound like Miley?

Just watch if you don’t believe us. (The barely visable tush-shaking is at :17.) It’s nothing like the VMAs:

Read more: Living


This surprisingly lovely music is made with only a bike


Even with AutoTune, there’s some godawful music out there (sorry we’re not sorry, Paris Hilton). So making soothing, atmospheric songs with only a bike is impressive. That’s what Oakland composer Johnnyrandom did on his single “Bespoken”:

Much more melodic than the screech of brakes as you try not to crash on the way to work, eh? Gizmodo explains Johnnyrandom’s process:

Read more: Living


Solar wins: How sunshine will save the planet (really!)


We’ve had some bad news this year, like wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, floods, exploding oil trains, imploding governments, and an international consensus of climate scientists affirming that the end is probably nigh: Any enviro can see these are dark times for the climate. But if you squint hard enough through the gloom, a literal and figurative ray of sunshine emerges! Because you know what, guys, solar energy may just save us all. For realz.

This is a guarded, cautiously optimistic thumps up, mind you.
Join Grist for an exploration of recent climate wins. This is a guarded, cautiously optimistic thumbs up, mind you.

It's kind of a no-brainer -- enough free, clean, undisputed energy falls on the earth’s surface in a little over an hour to power all of humanity for a year -- but the solar story so far has had its share of struggles, goofs, and embarrassment. (Looking at you, Solyndra.) This should not be a total shock: Unlike photosynthesizing plants, humans have not spent billions of years evolving ways to harvest and store all that tasty energy, and so developing the tools to do so has been pretty complicated and expensive -- so far.

And yet, technically and financially speaking, solar news of late is looking pretty solid across the board. Here are some stories of solar wins to tell your children when you tuck them in at night, to give them hope for the climatopocalyptic future:

solar victory cadiz spain


Ask Umbra: What’s the most responsible way to get my winter thrills?


Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I am a snowboarder in Ohio. I need to travel to cold, snowy mountains at least once a year to get my snowboarding fix. Should I drive my Prius or fly? And how bad is patronizing ski resorts?

Andy H.
Yellow Springs, Ohio

A. Dearest Andy,

My condolences on the mismatch between your hometown and your winter sport of choice. (Have you considered taking up cross-country skiing or ice skating? No mountains required!) My favorite cold-season activities tend more toward the knitting-next-to-the-fire-with-a-cup-of-hot-tea variety, but the skiers and snowboarders I know are quite enthusiastic about their pursuit of something called “the stoke.” So I sympathize with your desire to indulge each winter.

There is an easy answer and a hard answer to your question of car vs. plane, Andy. Not to snowflake out, but I’ll start with the easy one: neither. It would be far better for you to pack up your snowboard and hop on a train or bus to the mountains. Yes, in today’s America this option often adds time and inconvenience. But it’s also fun and romantic to ride the rails, and you’ll slash your carbon emissions. Transport options vary once you draw near your resort of choice, but many mountains run ski buses or shuttles (often free), and others can be reached directly via train or light rail.

Now, if you absolutely must drive or fly, the matter becomes more complicated.


Nuts for Nutella? Learn how to make your own

This article originally appeared on Homemade NutellaUnsatisfied with store-bought Nutella, Carey Nershi of Reclaiming Provinicial is making a version that's a bit less sweet, a bit more sophisticated, and far superior.

homemade nutella 1
Carey Nershi

Editor's note: We know, it's a dilemma. Nutella is so good … and yet so not local: It takes at least six countries to make a jar of the stuff. Luckily you don't have to choose your gut over your guilt complex when it comes to this homemade treat, since it doesn't get much more local than your own kitchen (assuming your chocolate and hazelnuts are fair-trade).

I didn’t know Nutella existed until I spent a couple weeks in Germany my freshman year in college. (True story.) When I returned, eager to share tales of my European friends who ate chocolate for breakfast, I was shocked and delighted to learn that Nutella was widely available in the U.S., too. But, much to my dismay, it didn’t taste quite the same as the seemingly identical European variety: too sweet, too chocolatey. (I was happy to learn I wasn't just imagining things.) The only solution? Make my own.

This chocolate-hazelnut spread is a slightly grown-up version of the one you may be familiar with. It’s nutty and not too sweet, with equal parts milk and dark chocolate and the teensiest hint of almond. If you’d like to keep it dairy-free, you can substitute coconut oil and condensed almond milk.

All in all, it’s a great (and dare I say far superior) alternative to the store-bought variety.

homemade nutella 2

Read more: Food, Living


How safe is our drinking water?

WV elk river water
U.S. Army

The area around Charleston, W.Va., has been brought to its knees by contaminated drinking water. Thousands of gallons of an industrial chemical used for treating coal, MCHM, leaked last week from a company’s steel tank, flowed down the bank and into the Elk River, located just a mile upriver from the intake point for the region’s drinking water treatment plant.

Residents quickly noticed the licorice smell and a few hours later were officially warned not to drink or cook, wash, or bathe with the water. A state of emergency was declared in nine counties. Schools, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, and more closed. About 300,000 residents were affected.

We take the quality of our drinking water for granted, and for good reason. More people in the United States have access to safe water than ever before. Yet recent events raise an obvious concern: How safe is our drinking water really?

This question is both timely and timeless, for water providers have constantly defended water sources against contamination. From well before the Romans through today, they have always faced three broad classes of threats.


Will the U.K. follow the U.S. on a fracking binge?

British PM David Cameron
UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

British Prime Minister David Cameron seems desperate to mimic America's natural-gas boom. He's practically bribing local officials, saying they can keep tax revenue raised from frackers, and he's come out in favor of "cash payments" to homeowners who would be affected by fracking operations.

"We’re going all out for shale," Cameron said. "It will mean more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security for our country.”

The BBC reports: