Monthly Archives: March 2016

Taxpayers Are Footing Bill for Solar Project That Doesn’t Work

The $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar thermal plant in California. (Photo: Flickr / Atomic Hotlinks / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

As every 10-year-old who ever got a sweater for a birthday present has been told, “it’s the thought that counts.” That seems to be the guiding principle at the Department of Energy and the California Public Utilities Commission when it comes to solar power.

The latest example is the $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar thermal plant in California. (Note: Solar thermal plants do not use solar panels to directly convert sunshine to electricity; they use sunshine to boil water that then drives conventional turbines.)

Here’s the story so far. Ivanpah…

  • is owned by Google, NRG Energy, and Brightsource, who have a market cap in excess of $500 billion.
  • received $1.6 billion in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy.
  • is paid four to five times as much per megawatt-hour as natural gas-powered plants.
  • is paid two to three times as much per megawatt-hour as other solar power producers.
  • has burned thousands of birds to death.
  • has delayed loan repayments.
  • is seeking over $500 million in grants to help pay off the guaranteed loans.
  • burns natural gas for 4.5 hours each morning to get its mojo going.

Brightsource, which is privately held, is owned by a virtual who’s who of those who don’t need subsidies from taxpayers and ratepayers.

In spite of all this, Ivanpah has fallen woefully short of its production targets. The managers’ explanation for why production came up 32 percent below expected output is the weather. In addition to raising questions about planning for uncertainty, it is not all that clear how a nine-percent drop in sunshine causes a 32-percent drop in production.

More bizarrely, the natural gas used to get the plant all warmed up and ready each day would be enough to generate over one quarter of the power actually produced from the solar energy. Sorry, let’s not be haters.

The problem for Ivanpah’s customers (California power utilities) is that they planned on all those solar watt-hours to meet California’s renewable power mandates, which require that renewables produce a large and rising fraction of California’s electricity. That is why they pay so much more for Ivanpah’s output than for conventionally powered electricity.

Breaching their contracts with these California utilities threatened to shut down Ivanpah. More likely than permanently shutting Ivanpah down would have been a change of ownership at a price that came closer to reflecting reality.

But this would have been bothersome for Ivanpah’s investors and the Department of Energy’s ridiculous Section 1703 Loan Program, so the California Public Utilities Commission saved the day (for the fat-cat owners, of course, not for actual the electricity consumers) by granting the company an extension to meet the production targets.

The best part of the ruling is the section on the cost—it’s pretty succinct.

Here it is in its entirety:




But hey, Ivanpah’s plant is a shiny new technological marvel. That’s what counts, right?


Portrait of David Kreutzer

David Kreutzer is the senior research fellow in energy economics and climate change at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis. In this position, Kreutzer researches how energy and climate change legislation will affect economic activity at the national, local, and industry levels. Read his research.


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BY  –

Bernie Sanders wants to phase out nuclear power plants. Some environmentalists find that problematic.NANCY WIECHEC/REUTERS

You’ve probably heard that Bernie Sanders has the most impressive climate agenda of any major-party presidential candidate in history. His proposals may be politically unrealistic, but they are bold. If Sanders were president and he had a pliant Congress, his carbon tax and investments in renewables would radically overhaul our energy system for the better.

But some enviro wonks say there is a serious defect in Sanders’ plan: his approach to nuclear energy. He has called for phasing out all U.S. nuclear power plants, which currently account for 19 percent of our electricity portfolio. Nuclear energy has plenty of problems: reactors can melt down, they are ripe targets for terrorists, they are wildly uneconomical, mining the uranium that feeds them is dangerousand environmentally destructive, and no one wants the spent fuel stored nearby. These are the reasons Sanders has long been an opponent of nuclear energy. A few decades ago, that was a widespread view on the left. But now climate change has become the main concern of many environmentalists, and nuclear energy’s saving grace is that it has virtually no carbon emissions.

Sanders’ own climate plan is, rightly, centered around the goal of transitioning away from fossil fuels. Even given a friendly political climate, that will be an enormous challenge. The U.S. currently gets about 67 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, so all of that dirty energy must be replaced. Does it make sense to try to transition away from nuclear at the same time—to replace yet another 19 percent of our electric capacity—when nuclear power is not a climate threat?

And our need for electricity is going to grow dramatically, which will make greening our electricity system even harder. Although power generation is the biggest-emitting single sector of our economy, a majority of our emissions come from other sectors—burning fossil fuels in our cars, in our factories, and to heat our homes and businesses. To reach a carbon-free economy, we will need to switch transportation, heating, and industrial processes that currently use fossil fuels to run on electricity. For example, we should be shifting away from gasoline-powered cars and trucks to electric ones—and the electricity feeding them must be clean.

“We don’t think anything should be taken off the table, including building new nuclear plants and carbon capture and sequestration, because decarbonizing the energy sector by 2050 is going to be a huge challenge,” says Steve Clemmer, director of energy research for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate and energy program. The 2014 “Pathways to Deep Decarbonization” report by consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics estimated that U.S. electricity demand would double as a result of electrifying sectors such as transportation.

Critics like Slate’s Eric Holthaus have slammed Sanders for his anti-nuclear stance. Environmental contrarian Ted Nordhaus recently did the same in USA Today. It’s an easy narrative: Idealistic lefty Vermonter Bernie Sanders opposes nuclear energy for sentimental reasons, even though getting rid of it would do more harm than good. Beware of unintended consequences!

But Sanders’ plan is not so simplistic and naive as it might appear at first blush. He doesn’t call for shutting down all nuclear power plants right away. Rather, he would deny their relicensing applications. Currently, there are 61 nuclear power plants with 99 reactors operating in the U.S., with a few more under construction. The vast majority were built in the 1970s, before the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown and the Chernobyl disaster soured public opinion on nuclear energy. Typically, plants last around 50 to 60 years and are relicensed every 20 years. So plants that are coming up for relicensing would, if denied, maybe have their lives shortened by 20 years. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other forces working against nuclear.

The Case for Keeping Nuclear Power in the Mix

Is hastening nuclear power’s demise a good idea? Holthaus, citing Nordhaus’ frequent collaborator Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute, argues that if you ramp down nuclear too quickly, it will lead to an increase in the use of coal or gas.

That’s also the view of Devin Hartman, electricity policy manager for the R Street Institute, a center-right think tank, and a former energy market analyst at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He points out that retired nuclear plants in the Northeast and California have been mostly replaced by increased natural gas usage. And in Japan and Germany, where the governments have been shutting down nuclear reactors since the Fukushima meltdown, coal use has spiked.

“Shutting down nuclear plants would create a little more demand for energy efficiency and renewables, but the net effect of nuclear retirements will generally be increasing emissions,” Hartman says.

That’s partly because there is excess coal- and gas-burning capacity in the current energy system. While generating an additional megawatt-hour of electricity from existing solar or wind facilities can be cheaper than burning coal, building a whole new set of wind turbines is more expensive than just feeding more gas into your existing gas-fired plant.

Holthaus cites a report from centrist think tank Third Way on U.S. nuclear plant retirements; it projects that shuttered plants would lead to more natural gas usage and increased CO2 emissions.

The Case for Pushing Nuclear Power Out

Other experts, though, point out that nuclear power plants are beset with so many problems that they’re poised to die a natural death anyway. Sanders would just accelerate the transition, and that could be good for renewables, they argue.

The aging nuclear fleet in the U.S. is becoming increasingly uneconomical. “As reactors get older, they get more expensive to maintain. It’s not competitive with renewables or natural gas,” says Matthew McKinzie, a nuclear energy expert and advisor to the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund. “By mid-century, we might have 20 reactors operating.”

Getting older nuclear plants in good enough shape to get relicensed can be expensive, as environmental and safety standards have been raised since the plants were built. Renewables advocates argue that the money could be put to better uses.

“Take Diablo Canyon, which is up for re-permitting [in 2024],” says Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, referring to a nuclear power plant 160 miles northwest of Los Angeles on the California coast. The plant has serious environmental problems that would need to be fixed. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Every day, Diablo’s cooling system sucks in 2.5 billion gallons of seawater. An estimated 1.5 billion fish eggs and larvae each year get swept along for the ride, churned, cooked and killed. The water then returns to the sea about 18.5 degrees warmer than it left.” Diablo Canyon is also located along a series of fault lines, some of which were discovered after it was built. That puts it at high risk of a Fukushima-like event if there were an earthquake, with possibly even more devastating results because the ocean currents there would send radiation toward other communities along the coast instead of out to sea. “To get relicensed, it would need new cooling towers and it might need to upgrade for earthquake safety,” says Jacobson. “New cooling towers would cost $8 billion. If you took that $8 billion, you could replace Diablo Canyon with on-shore wind and utility-scale solar. So to say closing it would increase emissions is just nonsense.”

Whether a utility would actually go that route would depend a lot on the specific economic and policy situation. If Diablo Canyon’s owner, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, were denied a new license, it could decide to replace the plant with renewables instead of natural gas; California’s renewable portfolio standard might push the utility in that direction. But in other states and regions, depending on the policies in place and the costs of gas versus renewables, utilities might be more likely to turn to gas instead of wind and solar.

There’s also the prospect of building new nuclear plants, but that’s extremely expensive too. Under current conditions, it would be completely uneconomical without loan guarantees provided by the federal government. At nuclear power plants currently under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, costs have already run way beyond initial projections. Jacobson argues that federal nuclear loan guarantees should be ended and the funds used instead to support development of renewables.

How the Nuclear Phaseout Fits Into Sanders’s Bigger Plan

Sanders’ critics are right to note that under the current set of policies in place in the U.S., renewables won’t account for a majority of our energy portfolio for at least another two decades, so it’s not safe to assume that a retired nuclear plant would be replaced by clean energy. In that context, lopping 20 years off the life of a nuclear reactor may very well mean higher carbon emissions than if you relicensed it.

But Sanders’ desire to phase out nuclear power makes a lot more sense in the context of his broader climate and energy plan. He would make fossil fuels more expensive through a carbon tax, and make major investments in clean energy, so renewables would be better poised to replace power lost from shuttered nuclear plants.

The sticking point, of course, is that even if Sanders got to the White House, he wouldn’t get a cooperative Congress, so his larger climate plan would not be enacted. In that case, deciding whether to relicense nuclear plants would be a trickier matter.

The Sanders campaign declined to comment directly on what Sanders would do if he were president and found himself in that situation, offering only this emailed statement from spokesman Karthik Ganapathy: “Sen. Sanders knows there are lots of reasons why nuclear power is a bad idea. Whether it’s the exceptional destructiveness of uranium mining, the fact that there’s no good way to store nuclear waste or the lingering risk of a tragedy like Fukushima or Chernobyl in the U.S., the truth is: nuclear power is a cure worse than the disease. Safer, cleaner energy sources like wind and solar will help us meet America’s energy needs while protecting the health of our people and combatting the threat of climate change.”

Those views put Sanders right in line with environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, which oppose nuclear power across the board.

Some other green groups take a more nuanced approach. NRDC, for example, supports relicensing plants in situations where it’s safer and the plants can’t yet be replaced by renewable energy, and it calls for rejecting those—such as Indian Point in Westchester, N.Y.—that are uniquely dangerous. Alexander Ochs, senior director of climate and energy at the Worldwatch Institute, says we should put a moratorium on new nuclear plant construction and subject existing plants to “the closest safety scrutiny.” In the end, while these policy positions are based on a different analysis than Sanders’, they differ from his in degree more than in kind: they would hasten the natural death of nuclear energy, only more slowly than Sanders would, in the interest of limiting short-term emissions.

While Sanders’ nuclear power phaseout might not be the best idea from a climate perspective, it’s not actually the shallow hippie caricature that his critics describe.


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Can we realistically fight terrorism & win?


December 2015 San Bernardino, Ca. radicalized Islamic terrorists who were immigrants, attack a Christmas party for the county health department at an off-site conference center. More than a dozen were killed with no survivors. Bombs were placed in the room to kill or maim first responders when they arrived. Fortunately they didn’t explode; the man & woman were incompetent, at least in that respect.

And this is just a sample of terrorist incidents around the world targeting western civilization and people. We all hear the ‘see something say something’ campaign by the Department of Homeland Security. But unless it directly affects them, it is ignored. No one wants to be seen as profiling someone else and be targeted by hate groups that hate you for what they ‘perceive’ is hateful.

So the headline of this post is as realistic as it can be. Can we fight terrorism? When we have groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ethnic/gender/racial/whatever groups who hate you and say out loud that you deserve to get violence I think we’re doomed in the United States.

It takes a concerted effort to fight terrorism. It takes everyone willing to help their neighbor, no matter who they may be, white, black, brown, male, female, gay, lesbian, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, liberal, or conservative, to defeat terrorism. And we can’t seem to do that in America.

The history of our cultural heritage is to pull together and work for the betterment of everyone who is here. And yet in the past 8 years or so, we’ve been torn apart by the hatred of specialized groups whose only wish is to tear us apart and divide us by those groups I mentioned above.

If any of you remember the protest songs of the 60’s there is a line in one that puts it succinctly for everyone. It’s about a protest and it says “Most say hooray for our side’. Meaning as long as your side wins it doesn’t matter what you want, you ain’t gonna get it!

Terrorism can be defeated by strengthening trust within communities and the police. This means, despite the erroneous statements about police shootings and profiling, it will take the entire community working together to defeat terrorism. Whether that terrorism come from ISIS, home grown groups, or foolish people who believe such nonsensical nonsense as is pumped out b social media on a regular basis (remember we all have to s*** everyday too).

So how can we defeat terrorism? And this would be besides pulling together and presenting a united front. On 9/11 it lasted for about 6 months. After San Bernardino it lasted about 6 minutes. The answer is fairly simple if we have the courage to pull it off;

  1. Trust the police. Police shootings are down and crime is on the way back up. They are our first line of defense against…anything
  2. If you see something suspicious then say something. The San Bernardino shooters could have been turned in months before, but a neighbor told police she was afraid that she was profiling them and would be targeted by hate groups
  3. Develop your own situational awareness and know what is going on around you at all times. Should you let this interfere with your daily activities or fun? NO! But just be more aware
  4. Don’t complain about the security in your building, offices, manufacturing plant, or other places. It’s there to protect you while you’re there not to hinder or harass
  5. Privacy concerns aside for a moment, let the security or police officer do what they need to do in checking your ID or looking over your car. Yes it’s a pain in the arse, but again there is a good reason for it. And if you’re something a little wrong i.e. having an affair the police aren’t going to tell your significant other, they could care less
  6. When traveling somewhere, by plane, train, bus, or other kind of public transit don’t get frustrated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) or law enforcement looking you over

In the United States we have it pretty good. We don’t have soldiers surrounding buildings with Uzi’s and grenades. We don’t have to arm our police officers with combat helmets and have them escort, and be escorted, to go into certain neighborhoods like many do in Europe and elsewhere.

Have we been attacked by terrorists? Yes we have. But as security professionals, both public and private, it’s our responsibility to defend our country. We can win this fight, but we need everyone to help us to do it. And we can’t get that help unless we do what we did in 1776, 1836, 1861, 1898, 1917, 1941, & 1991. Pull together and act as a unified country and not bicker amongst ourselves for piddly little b***s*** stuff.


Robert D. Sollars is a recognized expert on security issues, specifically workplace violence. He’s spent nearly 33 years in the security field. Contact him at 480-251-5197 or Visit his Facebook page, One is too Many. Here you will read about other items related to security & WPV issues. Or be a twitter follower at @robertsollars2.

I May be Blind but my Vision is Crystal Clear


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Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world


Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world. The growth and regional migration of Muslims, combined with the ongoing impact of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other extremist groups that commit acts of violence in the name of Islam, have brought Muslims and the Islamic faith to the forefront of the political debate in many countries. Yet many facts about Muslims are not well known in some of these places, and most Americans – who live in a country with a relatively small Muslim population – say they know little or nothing about Islam.

Here are answers to some key questions about Muslims, compiled from several Pew Research Center reports published in recent years:

How many Muslims are there? Where do they live?

There were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world as of 2010 – roughly 23% of the global population – according to a Pew Research Center estimate. But while Islam is currently the world’s second-largest religion (after Christianity), it is the fastest-growing major religion. Indeed, if current demographic trends continue, the number of Muslims is expected to exceed the number of Christians by the end of this century.

Although many countries in the Middle East-North Africa region, where the religion originated in the seventh century, are heavily Muslim, the region is home to only about 20% of the world’s Muslims. A majority of the Muslims globally (62%) live in the Asia-Pacific region, including large populations in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey.

Indonesia is currently the country with the world’s single largest Muslim population, but Pew Research Center projects that India will have that distinction by the year 2050 (while remaining a majority Hindu country), with more than 300 million Muslims.

The Muslim population in Europe also is growing; we project 10% of all Europeans will be Muslims by 2050.

How many Muslims are there in the United States?

According to our best estimate, Muslims make up just less than 1% of the U.S. adult population. Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study (conducted in English and Spanish) found that 0.9% of U.S. adults identify as Muslims. A 2011 survey of Muslim Americans, which was conducted in English as well as Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, estimated that there were 1.8 million Muslim adults (and 2.75 million Muslims of all ages) in the country. That survey also found that a majority of U.S. Muslims (63%) are immigrants.

Our demographic projections estimate that Muslims will make up 2.1% of the U.S. population by the year 2050, surpassing people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion as the second-largest faith group in the country (not including people who say they have no religion).

A recent Pew Research Center report estimated that the Muslim share of immigrants granted permanent residency status (green cards) increased from about 5% in 1992 to roughly 10% in 2012, representing about 100,000 immigrants in that year.

Why is the global Muslim population growing?

There are two major factors behind the rapid projected growth of Islam, and both involve simple demographics. For one, Muslims have more children than members of other religious groups. Around the world, each Muslim woman has an average of 3.1 children, compared with 2.3 for all other groups combined.

Muslims are also the youngest (median age of 23 years old in 2010) of all major religious groups, seven years younger than the median age of non-Muslims. As a result, a larger share of Muslims already are, or will soon be, at the point in their lives when they begin having children. This, combined with high fertility rates, will fuel Muslim population growth.

While it does not change the global population, migration is helping to increase the Muslim population in some regions, including North America and Europe.

What do Muslims around the world believe?

Like any religious group, the religious beliefs and practices of Muslims vary depending on many factors, including where in the world they live. But Muslims around the world arealmost universally united by a belief in one God and the Prophet Muhammad, and the practice of certain religious rituals, such as fasting during Ramadan, is widespread.

In other areas, however, there is less unity. For instance, a Pew Research Center survey of Muslims in 39 countries asked Muslims whether they want sharia law, a legal code based on the Quran and other Islamic scripture, to be the official law of the land in their country. Responses on this question vary widely. Nearly all Muslims in Afghanistan (99%) and most in Iraq (91%) and Pakistan (84%) support sharia law as official law. But in some other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – including Turkey (12%), Kazakhstan (10%) and Azerbaijan (8%) – relatively few favor the implementation of sharia law.

How do Muslims feel about groups like ISIS?

Recent surveys show that most people in several countries with significant Muslim populations have an unfavorable view of ISIS, including virtually all respondents in Lebanon and 94% in Jordan. Relatively small shares say they see ISIS favorably. In some countries, considerable portions of the population do not offer an opinion about ISIS, including a majority (62%) of Pakistanis.

Favorable views of ISIS are somewhat higher in Nigeria (14%) than most other nations. Among Nigerian Muslims, 20% say they see ISIS favorably (compared with 7% of Nigerian Christians). The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, which has been conducting a terrorist campaign in the country for years, has sworn allegiance to ISIS.

More generally, Muslims mostly say that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified, including 92% in Indonesia and 91% in Iraq. In the United States, a 2011 survey found that 86% of Muslimssay that such tactics are rarely or never justified. An additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified and 1% say they are often justified in these circumstances.

In a few countries, a quarter or more of Muslims say that these acts of violence are at least sometimes justified, including 40% in the Palestinian territories, 39% in Afghanistan, 29% in Egypt and 26% in Bangladesh.

In many cases, people in countries with large Muslim populations are as concerned as Western nations about the threat of Islamic extremism, and have become increasingly concerned in recent years. About two-thirds of people in Nigeria (68%) and Lebanon (67%) said earlier this year they are very concerned about Islamic extremism in their country, both up significantly since 2013.

What do American Muslims believe?

Our 2011 survey of Muslim Americans found that roughly half of U.S. Muslims (48%) say their own religious leaders have not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists.

Living in a religiously pluralistic society, Muslim Americans are more likely than Muslims in many other nations to have many non-Muslim friends. Only about half (48%) of U.S. Muslims say all or most of their close friends are also Muslims, compared with a global median of 95% in the 39 countries we surveyed.

Roughly seven-in-ten U.S. Muslims (69%) say religion is very important in their lives. Virtually all (96%) say they believe in God, nearly two-thirds (65%) report praying at least daily and nearly half (47%) say they attend religious services at least weekly. By all of these traditional measures, Muslims in the U.S. are roughly as religious as U.S. Christians, although they are less religious than Muslims in many other nations.

When it comes to political and social views, Muslims are far more likely to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (70%) than the Republican Party (11%) and to say they prefer a bigger government providing more services (68%) over a smaller government providing fewer services (21%). As of 2011, U.S. Muslims were somewhat split between those who said homosexuality should be accepted by society (39%) and those who said it should be discouraged (45%), although the group had grown considerably more accepting of homosexuality since a similar survey was conducted in 2007.

What is the difference between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims?

Sunnis and Shias are two subgroups of Islam, just as Catholics and Protestants are two subgroups within Christianity. The Sunni-Shia divide is nearly 1,400 years old, dating back to a dispute over the succession of leadership in the Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. While the two groups agree on some core tenets of Islam, there are differences in beliefs and practices, and in some cases Sunnis do not consider Shias to be Muslims.

With the exception of a few countries, including Iran (which is majority Shia) as well as Iraq and Lebanon (which are split), most nations with a large number of Muslims have more Sunnis than Shias. In the U.S., 65% identify as Sunnis and 11% as Shias (with the rest identifying with neither group, including some who say they are “just a Muslim”).

How do Americans and Europeans perceive Muslims?

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 asked Americans to rate members of eight religious groups on a “feeling thermometer” from 0 to 100, where 0 reflects the coldest, most negative possible rating and 100 the warmest, most positive rating. Overall, Americans rated Muslims rather coolly – an average of 40, which was comparable to the average rating they gave atheists (41). Americans view the six other religious groups mentioned in the survey (Jews, Catholics, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons) more warmly.

How Europe views MuslimsRepublicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party gave Muslims an average rating of 33, considerably cooler than Democrats’ rating toward Muslims (47).

Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to say they are very concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the world (83% vs. 53%) and in the U.S. (65% vs. 38%), according to a December 2015 survey. That survey also found that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers (68% vs. 30% of Democrats) and that Muslims should be subject to more scrutiny than people of other religions (49% vs. 20%). Overall, most Americans (61%) say Muslims should not be subject to additional scrutiny solely because of their religion, while U.S. adults are closely divided on the question of whether Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence. (Note: This paragraph was updated Dec. 17 to reflect a new survey.)

In spring 2015, we asked residents of some European countries a different question – whether they view Muslims favorably or unfavorably. Perceptions at that time varied across European nations, from a largely favorable view in France (76%) and the United Kingdom (72%) to a less favorable view in Italy (31%) and Poland (30%).

How do Muslims and Westerners perceive each other?

In a 2011 survey, majorities of respondents in a few Western European countries, including 62% in France and 61% in Germany, said that relations between Muslims and Westerners were bad, while about half of Americans (48%) agreed. Similarly, most Muslims in several Muslim-majority nations – including Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan – agreed that relations were bad, although fewer Muslims in Pakistan (45%) and Indonesia (41%) had this view.

The same survey also asked aboutcharacteristics the two groups may associate with one another. Across the seven Muslim-majority countries and territories surveyed, a median of 68% of Muslims said they view Westerners as selfish. Considerable shares also called Westerners other negative adjectives, including violent (median of 66%), greedy (64%) and immoral (61%), while fewer attributed positive characteristics like “respectful of women” (44%), honest (33%) and tolerant (31%) to Westerners.

Westerners’ views of Muslims were more mixed. A median of 50% across four Western European countries, the U.S. and Russia called Muslims violent and a median of 58% called them “fanatical,” but fewer used negative words like greedy, immoral or selfish. A median of just 22% of Westerners said Muslims are respectful of women, but far more said Muslims are honest (median of 51%) and generous (41%).



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How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization


Iwant to discuss a popular TV show my wife and I have been binge-watching on Netflix. It’s the story of a family man, a man of science, a genius who fell in with the wrong crowd. He slowly descends into madness and desperation, lead by his own egotism. With one mishap after another, he becomes a monster. I’m talking, of course, about Friends and its tragic hero, Ross Geller.

You may see it as a comedy, but I cannot laugh with you. To me, Friendssignals a harsh embrace of anti-intellectualism in America, where a gifted and intelligent man is persecuted by his idiot compatriots. And even if you see it from my point of view, it doesn’t matter. The constant barrage of laughter from the live studio audience will remind us that our own reactions are unnecessary, redundant.

The theme song itself is filled with foreboding, telling us that life is inherently deceptive, career pursuits are laughable, poverty is right around the corner, and oh yeah, your love life’s D.O.A. But you will always have the company of idiots. They will be there for you.

Don’t I feel better?

Maybe I should unpack this, for the uninitiated. If you remember the 1990s and early 2000s, and you lived near a television set, then you rememberFriends. Friends was the Thursday night primetime, “must-see-TV” event that featured the most likable ensemble ever assembled by a casting agent: all young, all middle class, all white, all straight, all attractive (but approachable), all morally and politically bland, and all equipped with easily digestible personas. Joey is the goofball. Chandler is the sarcastic one. Monica is obsessive-compulsive. Phoebe is the hippy. Rachel, hell, I don’t know, Rachel likes to shop. Then there was Ross. Ross was the intellectual and the romantic.

Eventually, the Friends audience — roughly 52.5 million people — turned on Ross. But the characters of the show were pitted against him from the beginning (consider episode 1, when Joey says of Ross: “This guy says hello, I wanna kill myself.”) In fact, any time Ross would say anything about his interests, his studies, his ideas, whenever he was mid-sentence, one of his “friends” was sure to groan and say how boring Ross was, how stupid it is to be smart, and that nobody cares. Cue the laughter of the live studio audience. This gag went on, pretty much every episode, for 10 seasons. Can you blame Ross for going crazy?

And like a Greek tragedy, our hero is caught in a prophecy that cannot be avoided. The show’s producers, akin to the immutable voice of the gods, declared that Ross must end up with Rachel, the one who shops. Honestly, I think he could’ve done better.

Why such sympathy for Ross?

The show ended in 2004. The same year that Facebook began, the year that George W. Bush was re-elected to a second term, the year that reality television became a dominant force in pop culture, with American Idol starting an eight-year reign of terror as the No. 1 show in the U.S., the same year that Paris Hilton started her own “lifestyle brand” and released an autobiography. And Joey Tribbiani got a spin-off TV show. The year 2004 was when we completely gave up and embraced stupidity as a value. Just ask Green Day; their album American Idiot was released in 2004, and it won the Grammy for Best Rock Album. You can’t get more timely. The rejection of Ross marked the moment when much of America groaned, mid-sentence, at the voice of reason.

Yes, my theory is that Friends may have triggered the downfall of western civilization. You might think I’m crazy. But to quote Ross: “Oh, am I? Am I? Am I out of my mind? Am I losing my senses?” Did you know the song that originally accompanied the Friends pilot episode was R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know (And I Feel Fine).” A blissful song with an apocalyptic message that goes largely ignored.

I was a teacher in 2004. I coached our school’s chess club. I saw how my students were picked on, bullied. I tried my best to defend them, but I couldn’t be everywhere. My students were smart, huge nerds, and they were in hostile, unfriendly territory. Other students would be waiting outside my room to ambush the chess club members who met in my room every day at lunch. During my tenure as a teacher, I gained the reputation of being a slayer of bullies and defender of nerds. I promise you: bullies can be mean, but they knew Mr. Hopkins was much worse.

Maybe intellectuals have always been persecuted and shoved in lockers, but something in my gut tells me we’re at a low point — where social media interaction has replaced genuine debate and political discourse, where politicians are judged by whether we’d want to have a beer with them, where scientific consensus is rejected, where scientific research is underfunded, where journalism is drowning in celebrity gossip.

I see Kim Kardashian’s ass at the top of, and I am scared.

Maybe it’s all harmless fun. Like the good-spirited laughter of a live studio audience? Maybe. But I am sincerely worried we have not done enough to cultivate intellectual curiosity within our culture.

Fortunately, there’s a resistance forming. People with grit, who aren’t afraid to begin a sentence with “Did you know…” These are the Rosses of the world. I saw them in my chess club. And I see them in my city, hiding at the art museum, crouching at used book stores, exchanging sideways glances at the public libraries and coffee houses, and sneaking around at our schools, community colleges, and universities.

There was no hope for Ross. He went insane, and yeah, he did get annoying.

So, how do we retain our sanity in a dumb, dumb world? I wouldn’t be a good teacher if I didn’t come prepared with a few ideas.

No. 1: read a f****ng book. Something special happens when you set aside the inane distractions of modern culture and immerse yourself in a novel. You open yourself up to new ideas, new experiences, new perspectives. It’s an experiment in patience and mindfulness. The New School for Social Research in New York proved that reading literature improves empathy. It’s true. Reading makes you less of a jerk. So, read often. Read difficult books. Read controversial books. Read a book that makes you cry. Read something fun. But read.

No. 2: learn something. Your brain is capable of so much. Feed it. Learn something new. The greatest threat to progress is the belief that something is too complex to fix. Poverty is permanent. Racism will always exist. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too difficult to understand. The public education system is broken. Educate yourself, so you can be part of the conversation. Learn something scientific, something mathematic. Explore philosophy. Study paleontology. Try to learn a new language. You don’t even have to make fluency your goal, just get a few more words in your head. Listen to an educational podcast. Professors from colleges — such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford — are offering their lectures online for free. Think of what you could learn. One of my greatest challenges as a teacher was convincing students they were smart after someone had told them they were dumb.

No. 3: stop buying so much shit. This may seem like a non sequitur, but I’m convinced consumer culture and idiot culture are closely linked. Simplify your life. Idiocy dominates our cultural landscape because it sells more Nike tennis shoes and Big Macs. When we thoughtfully consider what we bring into our home, we are less likely to be manipulated by empty impulses.

And finally: protect the nerds. A computer programmer from Seattle is doing more to alleviate world poverty, hunger, and disease through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation than any other person in America right now. Nerds create vaccines. Nerds engineer bridges and roadways. Nerds become teachers and librarians. We need those obnoxiously smart people, because they make the world a better place. We can’t have them cowering before a society that rolls their eyes at every word they say. Ross needs better friends.

An earlier version of this article was shared as a spoken essay for Naked Stage in Dallas, and then published on D Magazine’s Frontburner blog.


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If you challenge the hackers, you’re gonna get hacked

Journalist Kevin Roose did exactly that and is sooo embarrassed.



A hacker hard at work. (Photo: Patrick Lux/Getty Images)

We all know the drill: Choose a great password. (Get a new pet every six months as a prompt.) Kevin Roose thought he knew the drill; he is news director of Fusion, and he knows his way around a computer. He also thought he knew what he was doing when it came to his personal Internet security — using strong passwords, a password manager (1password, I use it too) and two-factor authentication, where you have to enter a number that’s sent to your phone. He writes, “If I had to give myself an overall digital security grade, I’d give myself an A-.”

As a test of how good his security was, Kevin challenged some hackers to get into his computer and do their worst. He had no idea what he was in for.

Like most of us who write on the Web, Kevin has public profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This was a great place to start. Hacker Chris got Roose’s address off a dog tag. His partner Jessica “vished” (voice phished) his cellphone company and changed his password.

phishingGetting phished with a fake page. (Photo: Fusion/YouTube)

But this was nothing compared to what Dan Tentler did. He “phished” Roose into clicking on a fake Web page and essentially took over his computer. He could then do whatever he wanted — and did. He stole the login for the password manager, giving him access to every account. He tapped into Dropcam and could spy on Roose’s house. He started snapping photos through the laptop camera and taking screenshots. When Roose and Tentler met in Las Vegas, Tentler told him how far he could have gone.

“I have control of your digital life in its entirety. I have all your credentials. I have all your access to all your financial information, all your work information, all your personal information. I can pay people with your bank account or your Amex account. For all intents and purposes, he said, ‘I am you’.”

Essentially Tentler could have left Reese broke and homeless and on the street.

Kven RooseRoose is so embarrassed. (Photo: Fusion/YouTube)

However, it’s not really as bad as it seems. Roose spoke to Morgan Marquis-Boire, a security expert, who wonders why a top-notch hacker would bother with Kevin Roose.

This principle is called “privacy through obscurity.” Basically, the idea is that although anyone can theoretically be hacked by anyone with enough skill and time on their hands, the vast majority of us simply aren’t interesting enough for hackers to care about.

Basically he’s saying that if you’re not a CEO or a celebrity, why would they bother? Take the basic steps (good passwords, don’t click on suspicious links, turn on two-factor authentication) and don’t panic. He notes:

The goal of these tools isn’t to make yourself hack-proof; no app or service can do that. But using good security practices can deter hackers, or at least convince them to move on to an easier target.

However I wonder now if that’s enough. Everyone does online banking now, and I wonder if the most important passwords, like to my bank, iCloud and my Google accounts, should be in my password manager anymore; perhaps the biggies should be written down on a piece of paper and memorized. And if I should then eat that piece of paper.


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Starbucks to donate leftover packaged food

The coffee giant estimates its FoodShare program will donate 5 million meals by the end of the year.



Starbucks employee Kienan McFadden collects food for donation to Feeding America. (Photo: Starbucks)

News of Starbuck’s new Caramelized Honey Latte may have grabbed my attention this morning, but it was another headline that kept it: The company has announced the Starbucks FoodShare program, which will help feed the hungry and curb food waste.

Through FoodShare, all of Starbucks 7,600 company-operated stores in the United States will donate ready-to-eat meals to food banks through the company’s existing relationship with Food Donation Collection and a new partnership with Feeding America.

The company already has been donating leftover pastries through the Food Donation Connection since 2010, but it did not have a method to donate perishable food that needed to be refrigerated.

Starbucks can immediately begin donating perishable food to Feeding America because the nonprofit has refrigerated vans that can pick up the food and distribute it each day. The organization is the country’s largest domestic hunger-relief and food-rescue nonprofit, and already works with companies like Dunkin’ Donuts and Walmart.

The next step is to create a method by 2017 to donate perishables to Food Donation Collection.

By the end of 2016, Starbucks estimates it will have donated 5,000 ready-to-eat meals to those in need. It will also save many of those 5,000 meals from ending up in the landfill, helping the company reach the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s and Environmental Protection Agency’s food waste reduction goal, which encourages charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, the private sector and local, state and tribal governments to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030. Starbucks falls under the private sector.

“This food is going to make a difference, whether it’s a child not going hungry for the night or a family that’s able to enjoy a protein plate that they would not have otherwise been able to afford at Starbucks,” Kienan McFadden, a Starbucks store manager, said in the online announcement. “Rescuing food in this way from being thrown away will change lives. It makes me proud to know our partners are the heroes in this.”


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