National News

Pakistan's Mixed Message: Celebrations Amid A Security Lockdown

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 08:24

The country's Independence Day was a study in contradictions. The effort to mark the occasion in the capital Islamabad kept bumping up against anxiety over protest marches against the government.

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Roundtable: The Past And Present Of 'Yellowface'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 08:10

Have more non-Asian actors, musicians and others been trying to don makeup or clothes in an attempt to look "Asian," or are we just better at noticing it? Three experts weigh in on the phenomenon.

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Roundtable: The Past And Present Of 'Yellowface'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 08:10

Have more non-Asian actors, musicians and others been trying to don makeup or clothes in an attempt to look "Asian," or are we just better at noticing it? Three experts weigh in on the phenomenon.

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Beneath These Masks Is An Artist Conflicted By Junk Food

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 07:05

James Ostrer slathered himself and a few friends with cream cheese and then piled candy, doughnuts and fries on top. As he photographed these human sculptures, he found a sort of catharsis.

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California could stay dry enough to make food pricier

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 07:00

In an ongoing drought that’s often described as epic, California’s legislature has approved a proposal to ask voters for more than $7 billion in water-infrastructure projects.

Among those who were pleased:  The California Farm Bureau. Much of California’s water goes to growing crops, and the state produces a big chunk of the nation’s fruit, veggies, and nuts.

The drought has been extremely tough on farmers, and the bad news is:  It’s probably reasonable to expect more of the same, over the very long term. Recent research shows that the last hundred years were probably the long-term equivalent of the rainy season.

“All of our water-management decisions in the West were made based on a really, really wet period, comparatively speaking, looking at the last thousand years of record,” says Richard Heim a meteorologist for the Climatic Data Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Climate change will amplify any natural drying-out. “It’s going to be hotter and drier in the western United States,” says Heim. “Bad.”

Given that, California agriculture might need a major re-think. “It’s not clear that  we should be growing these kind of crops— vegetables, nut trees, grapes— these kinds of very thirsty crops— in a region like California,” says Yusuke Kuwayama, an economist at Resources for the Future.

He thinks the long-term alternative is probably more-expensive broccoli.

California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger says: OK, but where else are you going to grow tomatoes in December? Nebraska? 

“Our Mediterranean climates are the richest growing regions in the world,” Wenger says. “And by definition, they have good soils, they have temperate climates, and they don’t have water. We have to bring water to them.”  

California currently imports a significant amount of water from the Colorado River.

An animation depicting the past six weeks of drought conditions in the United States. (Graphic courtesy of United States Drought Monitor.)

 

Wanted At Barneys New York: An 'Anti-Profiling Consultant'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 06:59

The high-end retailer settled a nine-month investigation by the New York state attorney general's office by agreeing to hire an independent expert on preventing racial profiling.

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How People In Ferguson See The Police in Ferguson

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 06:35

Some residents say that even before Ferguson police killed a teenager, they saw the police as a potential threat. Increasingly this week, they're seeing the police in military gear.

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Building a school with a future

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 05:48

If you've gone back to visit your old elementary or high school recently, you may have been surprised to find it’s still there.  And, it’s pretty much the way you left it — dark classrooms, narrow hallways.

A typical "cells and bells" school building. Hillel Academy in Tampa, FL, before renovation. (Prakash Nair)

But after a big slowdown during the recession, spending on new school construction — renovating old schools and building new ones — is slowly picking up again. It was more than $13 billion last year.

School Construction 101 | Create Infographics

Many newer schools are being designed with the latest technologies and teaching models in mind,  schools like the new Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep charter school in San Jose, California.

Bright blue, purple and orange paint cover the classroom walls. The design is clean. The spaces are open. Natural light streams into the building from skylights above. There’s open duct work. Throughout the school, there are small, private “breakout spaces” where kids can work with teachers or each other.

At the center of it all is a wide-open computer lab, about the size of four classrooms, with polished concrete floors. It’ll soon be full of 160 kids, each on their own laptop, working on their own lessons.

The computer lab at Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep in San Jose. (Adriene Hill/Marketplace)

“Individualized instruction for students is the right way to go,” said Laura Kozel, vice president of facilities at Rocketship, a network of elementary charter schools where computers are a part of every kids’ day. Kozel is in charge of making sure everything is ready in time for the hundreds of students from kindergarten through fourth grade, who’ll pour into the school next week. "You have to meet every child where they are at, and that’s really what this model is designed to do,” she said.

Kids learning on cutting edge technology raises two important questions. The first: How will a fragile computer ever survive a year with a kindergartner and a concrete floor?

And, second: How do you design a school that won’t be obsolete in 20 years, when no one has any idea what tech or teaching might look like in five?

“If we do a good job, it’s to give the teacher something that is going to be adaptable to however they want to teach,” said architect Michael Pinto, from NAC|Architecture, a firm that specializes in school design.

“The challenge is to both be specific to the things they want to do, but also preserve some generality, flexibility, that agility that adapts to new technologies, new philosophies of learning.”

In other words, the school of the future is a school that knows how to get out of the way.

Pinto shows me just such a place: Playa Vista Elementary School in Los Angeles.

Playground area at Playa Vista Elementary School. (Edmund Barr)

There are no docks to park your jetpack. Or cubbies for Google glasses.

Instead the three-year-old school is characterized by moveable partitions, open spaces and furniture that doesn’t screech across the floor when you rearrange it.

A multipurpose space, at Playa Vista Elementary, used as an event space and cafeteria, with automated roll-up doors to open up to the outside. (Edmund Barr)

Teacher Rachel Henry calls her classroom "amoebic."

“I’m a firm believer that children need change, and they can get bored easily just with their physical environment,” she said.  She changes the classroom setup about once a month.

Spaces at the school are built to transform into other spaces, in the simplest of ways. The architects made the outside walkways wider than usual so they can also be learning spaces.

There’s a bridge over the courtyard intended for dropping things over the side. In the school of the future, kids still wrap eggs in paper and cardboard and hope for the best.

All the flexibility is meant to encourage a new type of learning: Learning by doing. Learning with new technology. Learning that is collaborative, personalized. Learning that architect Prakash Nair said more traditional schools are no good at. 

Nair is the founding president of Fielding Nair International and the author of the forthcoming book “Blueprint for Tomorrow: Redesigning Schools for Student-Centered Learning.”

He calls traditional U.S. schools “cells and bells.”

“Kids are in a cell called a classroom for a certain period of time,” he said.  A bell goes off. “And then they go to another fairly identical cell.”

Nair says we currently have $2 trillion worth of “cells and bells” type school facilities around the country.

“If you look at the research about how we learn, it has nothing to do with being trapped in a room with people of the same age,” he said.

Nair imagines schools without big auditoriums, with cafes instead of large cafeterias.

He says schools with open, flexible space can cost less to build than traditional schools.

Remember those lockers at the beginning of the story? This is the same space, post-renovation. (Prakash Nair)

Old-school schools use about two-thirds of the space for learning. New-school schools, said Nair, use as much as 85 percent of the space.

The Rocketship school in San Jose cost about $10 million to build, compared to about $16 million for a traditional elementary school.

Around the country, teachers and architects are working toward the same goal: to be prepared for the stream of kids headed their way in a few days and a few decades from now.

The NPR Ed Mailbag: The Participation Trophy

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 05:18

Is it "killing our sense of competition" or "simply something to commemorate their time as part of a team"? Here are some of your many responses to our story on giving kids awards for participating.

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A Fiasco At The Burial Ground, A Prank At The Shop: Covering Ebola

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 04:48

Jason Beaubien reports on his body temperature (you won't believe it), a burial fiasco (you won't believe that either) and a prank that made his driver laugh.

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Gaza Quiet After Israel, Hamas Reach Cease-Fire Extension

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 04:46

A few tense hours were marred by Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes, but since then, things seem to be quiet.

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Tear Gas And Arrests: Ferguson Police And Protesters Face Off

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 04:09

Police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson used helicopters and armored vehicles to try to control an area torn by racial tension and outrage over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

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PODCAST: Now playing in digital

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 03:00

Some not so great economic news out of Europe: gross domestic product is out for the second quarter, and across the board, economic growth was flat in the Eurozone. Germany, Europe's largest economy, contracted in the second quarter. But some say the future is already looking better. Plus, many companies have wellness programs that encourage workers to exercise or manage conditions such as diabetes. But the workplace has lagged in dealing with mental health issues. More on addressing employee well-being beyond physical conditions. And when you catch a new movie at the multiplex, chances are it's digital projection technology-- that means no scratched frames or dropped dialog. But digital is proving a tough sell to smaller theaters who can't afford the high cost of converting screens

 

End of the reel for old-school movie film?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 02:00

Film snakes around the projection booth of the Parkway Discount Cinema in Warner Robins, Georgia. Theater manager Alicia Bowers is in the booth. She has a love/hate relationship with film these days.

“Run too fast and it will throw the film to the ground,” Bowers says, “or if they’re moving it from one platter to another – if they drop it, it’s a big pile of mess.”

By contrast, a digital blockbuster is delivered on a six-inch by four-inch hard drive. When you drop it, there’s a thud, but no mess.

The Parkway’s run is coming to an end this summer. It’s closing, rather than converting to digital.

Bill Stembler, CEO of the Georgia Theater Company, says the reason is pretty simple: “It’s questionable whether you could recover your investment. It’s something like $50,000 to $70,000 a screen to convert to digital.”

Stembler says when you do the math for a 16-screen multiplex, you get the picture.

Luckily, the movie studios have a solution. They offer theaters a subsidy called Virtual Print Fees. Every time you buy a ticket at the multiplex at what the studios call full price, the studios pay to help retire a piece of the theater’s digital debt.

“The film companies are basically paying for about 80 to 85 percent of our cost to be digital,” Stembler says.

But this equation doesn’t work for discount screens. The studios take about a 60 percent cut out of every ticket sold. At full ticket price, that adds up. It doesn’t work at the dollar theater.

“They don’t care about the discount theaters,” Stembler says.

So how do Virtual Print Fees work at your local arthouse theater? Sara Beresford is a board member at Ciné, an independent theater in Athens, GA. She says the arthouse is a different beast.

“I think for a lot of the arthouse cinema operators there were too many strings attached to that agreement,” Stembler says.

Remember, Virtual Print Fees come with studio demands about which movies will be shown. Arthouse operators like their independence.

Back at the Parkway Discount Cinema, Alicia Bowers has reset the film for the next show.

“You know, it’s rewarding to get it up on the screen and seeing it play... it’s definitely a nostalgic feeling. It moves, it bounces,” Bowers says.

But film lovers only have a little time left to indulge that nostalgia. One studio, Paramount, no longer distributes film prints at all.

Is Wal-Mart rethinking its business approach?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 02:00

Thursday is a busy day for Wal-Mart. The retail giant is playing host to this year's U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Denver, and the company reports its second quarter earnings. Between slower store traffic and dwindling sales, analysts aren't optimistic. But the company has a plan.  

When you think of social responsibility in the corporate world, Wal-Mart is not the first company that comes to mind. The company is working on initiatives from cutting the amount of water in detergent to partnering with women-owned businesses.

"I think certainly PR's gotta be part of it, right? I mean, I don't think it's all altruism," says Peter Mueller, an analyst at Forrester Research. "So if they pull it off, it will look good for them, right?" 

And after years of bad press over employee relations, that could be a smart move, says Steven Brown, who teaches marketing at the University of Houston.

"It's kind of in tune with the zeitgeist in corporate America where corporations increasingly realize that their employees need to identify with a good employer who does good for them as employees and also for their community at large," Brown says.

The challenge, he says, is doing good while continuing to make a profit. And, Brown says, getting the skeptics to buy it.   

Web cookies to track apps

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 02:00

Google is busy rolling out a new kind of web tracking cookie to give the company an even deeper insight into individual online browsing habits. So what's so special about how this cookie crumbles?

“Google is introducing a way to track you on your mobile apps,” says Will Oremus of Slate.

The company is already adept at tracking users on the open web, but more and more web browsing is done through apps on their phone, which are not subject to Google’s web tracking cookies. This makes it harder for it to deploy targeted advertisements.

With this new technology, Google is trying to is link the cookies on the web with the anonymous trackers that already log activity through apps.

Why that backache could really be all in your head

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 02:00

Ever take a day off from work and tell your boss you needed a sick day, when what you really needed was a mental health day?

Deborah Jacobs, an HR professional who sits on the advisory council of the Disability Management Employer Coalition, says you're not alone.

"We had a lot of employees that have physical disabilities, but we find out as we're looking into their cases that they also have a mental behavioral health issue going on at the same time," she says.

"Behavioral health” – essentially a mash-up of mental and physical health – is getting more attention in the workplace, Jacobs says.

A report from Employers Health says that workers miss more days of work and are less productive due to mental illness than chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and even back pain.

Pamela Warren is doctor of psychology and a University of Illinois faculty member. She says depression, for instance, may cause physical ailments that can result in disability or employee absence.

"Over time and actually pretty early in my practice, what I started seeing were individuals who they focused on the reported work issues, but found they couldn't or wouldn't go to work," she says.

According to some estimates, this is costing employers upwards of $100 billion dollars.

 

 

Reporter's Notebook: A Not-So-Grand Tour Of Ethiopia's Top Hospital

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 01:02

The reporter asks the nurse what the hospital needs. The nurse says, "If you don't help me, why do you ask me?" Welcome to Black Lion, said to be the country's best hospital.

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Min Headroom: Pop artificial intelligence t 30

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 01:00

For some reason, the 1984-born TV icon Max Headroom came up in conversation this week, and I immediately went down a very deep YouTube rabbit hole. Headroom was the star of a British sci-fi movie and TV show, talk show host and music video jockey, a David Letterman interviewee, and one of many Coke-hawking celebrities.

He was also one 0f the earliest forms of fictionalized artificial intelligence (along with the "Flight of the Navigator" spaceship and C-3PO) that I came in contact with as a kid. I am four years older than Max, but I wasn't even really conscious of him as a kind of AI. What I could discern: his glitchy and pitch-shifted vocal delivery, as well as his backdrop, was computer generated. Or at least it was meant to look that way. I was kind of scared of him. He yelled a lot and twitched and the lined walls of his rotating digital box of a room seemed weirdly prison-like. Here's an example. 

 

Kind of scary, right? The character's origin story is scary, too. In the 1985 television show, a TV reporter named Edison Carter has a bad accident after discovering a dubious television company's experiments and then gets his brain dumped into a computer program. The whiz-kid who does the dump tells a bad-guy network executive, "I could make a memory dump of his synaptic circuits...the brain is only a binary computer. A series of on-off switches. That's the basis of my computer generated people program." An interesting line to hear the same month IBM unveiled computer chips that mimic brain functions.

As a way to understand what was happening with lots of technologies in the 1980s, Headroom is a fascinating example in pop culture. While tape decks were first giving way to CD players, while popular music was featuring more synthesizers and digital drum sounds over their acoustic forbears, Headroom was also straddling the analogue-digital world. The rotating block that served to house Max's disembodied head was apparently first created with analogue animation technique, and later replaced with computer graphics. Max himself couldn't be made by a computer yet, so instead he was portrayed by the actor Matt Frewer and a ton of makeup. Max's visage also appeared in one of the strangest and most significant US cases of broadcast signal hijacking to date. Doubly strange because the intro to the show's first episode has network engineers talking about "intermittent loss" in a network link of some kind. 

I think what's most interesting to me about Max is how people in the 1980s were imagining AI, and how the character and the production compares to our current AI projects. These days a lot of our artificial intelligence work is embedded in faceless, voiceless algorithms and machine learning, while other forms, like Google Now and Siri -- whose inventors are right now working on a more powerful kind of AI -- are not disembodied heads but disembodied voices. Like a lot of the future we imagined in the past, Max delivers an entertaining picture. Definitely a 1980s picture. But is he as weird as his AI successors? 

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