National / International News

Migrant boats capsize off Libya

BBC - 10 hours 20 min ago
Hundreds of people are feared dead after two boats carrying up to 500 migrants capsize off the Libyan city of Zuwara.

Nation's Only All-Women MBA Program To Close

NPR News - 10 hours 27 min ago

Simmons College in Boston has announced it will transition its brick-and-mortar program to an online-only degree.

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Living in a wildfire zone

Marketplace - American Public Media - 10 hours 30 min ago

Hundreds of wildfires are burning in the West. The drought that's dried out the region got the fire season started early, and so far, this is shaping up as one of the worst years ever in the Pacific Northwest.

Lieutenant Kurt Stich of Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue fights fire — and boulders, snakes and bee stings — on the south side of Lake Chelan in central Washington state.

Anna King/Northwest News Network

But every year in the West there's a fire season. Malibu, not many miles from the city of Los Angeles, has had so many wildfires that the writer Mike Davis wrote an essay called "The Case for Letting Malibu Burn."

The community of Topanga sits deep in Topanga Canyon, in the Santa Monica Mountains, between Los Angeles and Malibu. It's an old hippie haven. Neil Young even wrote and recorded most of "After the Gold Rush" there. It's a beautiful place to live, but the scenery comes with a cost: worrying about nature.

More and more houses off Topanga Canyon Boulevard are being incorporated into the natural wildland.

Andy Uhler/Marketplace

Beth Burnham lives on 16 acres about a mile off the main road. She's got a big house, and she and her husband have horses and chickens. They call it paradise, but this is also California — a land of natural disasters. They say they're not worried about mudslides or flooding or even an earthquake.

"Fire is the devastating event that will happen out here," she says.
It will happen. Topanga Canyon is full of chaparral — shrubs and trees adapted to a dry climate that burn explosively.

Two men work for Burnham, armed with chainsaws and weed trimmers, cutting back dead trees and brush. 

This is maintenance. The hard work was done when Burnham bought the property 13 years ago. A crew worked for weeks cutting back the chaparral to create a clear area around her buildings.

It was expensive. But she knew it had to be done.
"I'm fortunate to have these guys, I'm fortunate to be able to pay them," Burnham says. "It's a balance. Most people don't have these kinds of people or these kinds of tools. If a person has a gardener, it's more of a typical mowing and watering — basically 'blow and go."  But most people in Topanga don't even have gardeners."
Burnham would know. She's co-president of the North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council. The group writes grants to help those residents without as much money make their homes safer.

For every multimillion dollar estate out here, there's a little cabin built in the 1950s and '60s. And Cal Fire maintains it's the responsibility of individual homeowners to make their houses fire-safe.

Janet Upton, Cal Fire's deputy director, says compliance is pretty steady. One problem the agency deals with now is timing, because clearing brush with power tools at the height of fire season can start fires.
"And so folks are well meaning, they listen to our prevention messages in the spring," she says. "They think, 'Mental note: I've got to do my clearance.' And then they don't get around to it."
Ed Smith teaches at the University of Nevada-Reno and coordinates Nevada's Living with Fire Program. He says clearing a defensible space around a house is imperative. But convincing homeowners to do it is another thing.
"There's a variety of reasons why people don't take action," he says. "One of them is the aesthetics and the desire to live in a natural setting."

Many people want a view of Lake Tahoe, so they're reluctant to augment the natural landscape to make their homes fire-safe.

Amy Ashcraft/Flickr

Smith said some people also just feel bad about cutting down a tree — even though that might save other trees.

"If a fire does occur, and the people in the community felt the same way, and you lose your forest, was that worth it?" he says. 
Even those who do all they can to protect their home live with the realization that fire is going to come some day.

Which raises the question: Does it make sense to live out here?

Whether or not it makes sense, lots of people are moving closer to the wildlands. Over the last 25 years, about 2 million acres a year have been converted into what firefighters and experts call the wildland-urban interface: houses in the fire zone.

Scott Ferguson lives in a part of Topanga where his house is close to his neighbors. It's landscaped with wooden staircases and paved pathways.
"Don't sit there and worry about it, because if you're going to worry about burning up, you should just move," he says. "Because the reality is, it's just something that's there. It's a possibility."
Next month marks the 10-year anniversary of the Topanga Fire, which burned nearly 40 square miles and caused $16 million in damages. Beth Burnham says she spends a lot of her time thinking about that possibility.

"This is a community of somewhere between eight and 10 thousand people with one road, basically, in and out," she says. "How are we all going to get out of here when the fire is coming down?"

The Topanga Fires of 2005 caused $15.8 million in damage to the area.

Justinm / Flickr

Froggy Went A-Courtin', But Lady Frogs Chose Second-Best Guy Instead

NPR News - 10 hours 30 min ago

Given two choices of attractive mates, female frogs pick the top vocalist. But add a third, inferior male to the mix, and females go for No. 2. The "decoy effect" shapes some human choices, too.

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'Knock could end North's career'

BBC - 10 hours 31 min ago
Coach Warren Gatland says safety is paramount as George North returns to win his 50th Wales cap after five months out.

Digital assistants: If they only had a brain

Marketplace - American Public Media - 10 hours 31 min ago

If you’ve ever used Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana or another so-called “virtual assistant” on your smart phone, chances are there has been some cursing involved. That frustration has created a big opportunity for whomever can make a better one. Now Facebook is stepping into the fray on a small scale at first. For a few hundred users in the Bay Area, Facebook’s Messenger app will now come with a feature called M.

M “can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more,” David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, wrote in a post announcing the pilot.

So why is it so hard to make a virtual assistant that actually works?

“Some of the problems are pure technical problems,” says Justine Cassell, co-director of a project at Carnegie Mellon to build what she calls “the next-next-next generation personal assistant.” The $10 million project is funded by Yahoo.

For example, it’s hard for machines to understand all of us all of the time — and not just what we’re saying, but what we actually mean.

To overcome some of the technical challenges, Facebook’s M will be text-only for now, avoiding the often comical limitations of voice-recognition technology. Human “trainers” will help interpret requests and supervise responses.

 “The trainers, very simply, will make sure that every request is answered appropriately, and each time that happens, that’s a lesson for the machine,” says Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

Over time, the machine will learn to do more on its own.

What Facebook and its competitors want, Etzioni says, is to be your mobile portal to internet and everything it offers. The easier they make it for you to get what you want without leaving their ecosystem, the more money they stand to make.


Just how strong are those fundamentals?

Marketplace - American Public Media - 10 hours 31 min ago

During this week’s wild ride for stocks, analysts have been telling people not to freak out because, essentially, the stock market is not the economy and vice versa. Kai Ryssdal says that on Marketplace so often that a fan built that phrase into a drinking game. (Which, by the way, is not to be played while driving!)

There’s a phrase politicians like to use: “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” As for economists, they answer questions about economic fundamentals by looking at an array of numbers.

There’s the gross domestic product, of course, which we learned Thursday grew at a 3.7 percent rate last quarter. Beyond that, analysts watch a mix of data including a range of employment and inflation numbers. Housing and industrial production data help too. Context is vital.

“There’s been a lot of talk about wages simply rising at around 2 percent,” says Bernie Baumohl of the Economic Outlook Group. “But that only tells half the story. You have to look at the rise in income relative to inflation.”

And with inflation currently low, 2 percent wage growth isn’t quite so disappointing.

It’s also important to look beyond the headlines, such as when the big employment report comes out a week from Friday.

“Certainly the overall unemployment rate is a number that a lot of people focus on,” says former Fed economist Ann Owen, now a professor at Hamilton College. “But I think when we wanna think about the health of the labor market right now, there are some really key numbers.”

She carefully watches the portion of Americans currently working or job hunting, a number that’s now stuck at 62.6 percent.

Add all this up, and many economists see a mixed bag.

“We’re not looking at growth in incomes or output that would make you, you know, wave your fist in the air and cheer,” says Michael Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute. “But we’re also not looking at a situation that you would describe as terrible.”

Mark Garrison: Asking economists to only pick three numbers is like asking kids at a birthday party to only take three bites of cake. No chance.

Michael Strain: I think it takes more than three.

Ann Owen: I wouldn’t always have the same top three.

That’s Michael Strain at the American Enterprise Institute and Ann Owen, a Hamilton College professor formerly at the Fed. But we can at least narrow it down to some key categories. There’s GDP of course, which we learned today grew at a 3-point-7 percent rate last quarter. Beyond that, they watch a mix of data including a range of employment and inflation numbers. Housing and industrial production data help too. Context is vital, says Bernie Baumohl of The Economic Outlook Group.

Bernie Baumohl: There’s been a lot of talk about wages simply rising at around two percent. But that only tells half the story. You have to look at the rise in income relative to inflation.

And with low inflation, two percent isn’t quite so disappointing. You also have to look beyond the headlines. That’s what Owen will do when the big employment report comes out a week from tomorrow.

Ann Owen: Certainly the overall unemployment rate is a number that a lot of people focus on, but I think when we wanna think about the health of the labor market right now, there are some really key numbers for people to be thinking about.

Like the percent of people working or job hunting, currently stuck under 63 percent. When Strain looks at all this and more, he sees a mixed bag.

Michael Strain: We’re not looking at growth in incomes or output that would make you, you know, wave your fist in the air and cheer, but we’re also not looking at a situation that you would describe as terrible.

So the fundamentals are Ok. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

China's Wanda buys Ironman race series

Marketplace - American Public Media - 10 hours 31 min ago

The Ironman triathlon competition has just been swallowed up by the Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group.

The company announced today it bought Florida-based World Triathlon Corporation for $650 million. Wanda already owns the AMC movie theater chain in the U.S. It recently bought a Swiss sports marketing firm and a portion of a Spanish soccer team. It calls the Ironman purchase part of its “comprehensive sports strategy.”

“There’s a possibility that they see this as an opportunity for vertical integration in a completely different area of sports entertainment,” says Karl Gerth, who studies China at the University of California, San Diego.

He says the company wants internationally well-known brands like Ironman to draw attention — and people — to the hotels and other properties it already owns.

Wanda says triathlons are “on the cusp of explosion” in China, but Jeff Wasserstrom at University of California, Irvine is skeptical.

“Well, we’ve heard stories about skiing being poised to explode, we’ve been hearing about other things," he says. "But they are real niche things, and there is a bit of oversell.”

But he does agree with the company’s assessment that China’s middle class is ready to move away from watching popular sports to joining in.

David Berri, a sports economist at Southern Utah University, says what makes triathlons appealing is that it’s not just for the most elite of athletes.

“Well, what we’re seeing as economies grow around the world," he says, "and incomes go up around the world, there’s more and more interest in all sorts of sports. One could argue this is a sport that lots of different people can participate in.”

And they need gear, hotels, training space and air time, which Wanda is happy to provide.

De Bruyne offered 'astonishing' wage

BBC - 10 hours 34 min ago
Manchester City make an "astonishing" wage offer to winger Kevin de Bruyne, Wolfsburg's director of sport says.

VIDEO: Obama marks Hurricane Katrina anniversary

BBC - 10 hours 36 min ago
US President Barack Obama is speaking at an event to mark the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

VIDEO: 'Mr President, you need to do this'

BBC - 10 hours 46 min ago
The father of slain journalist Alison Parker tells the BBC about the need for gun control in the US to prevent tragedies like Wednesday's shooting.

Boeing Case Is Latest Targeting 401(k) Plans With Excessive Fees

NPR News - 10 hours 53 min ago

The aerospace giant is moving to settle a suit accusing it of mishandling its plan. The case is part of a legal assault by an attorney to stop firms from offering workers high-cost retirement plans.

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Darryl Dawkins, The NBA's 'Chocolate Thunder,' Has Died

NPR News - 11 hours 2 min ago

Dawkins played 13 seasons in the NBA after being drafted out of high school by the Philadelphia 76ers. At 6 feet, 11 inches and more than 250 pounds, he broke two glass backboards in one month.

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National Portrait Gallery Won't Remove Bust Of Planned Parenthood Founder

NPR News - 11 hours 8 min ago

Conservative groups want the gallery to take down the bust of Margaret Sanger, who they say was racist because of her support for eugenics.

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Tropical Storm Erika Causes Massive Flooding, Landslides In Caribbean

NPR News - 11 hours 22 min ago

There were scenes of fast-moving water in the streets on the island of Dominica after the storm dumped 9 inches of rain in a few hours. It could hit Florida as a Category 1 hurricane next week.

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Can You Use That In A Sentence?: Dictionary Adds New Words

NPR News - 11 hours 22 min ago

The Oxford English Dictionary was updated with a number of new words today, so, naturally, we held a contest to see who could use the most in a single sentence.

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Obama: New Orleans 'moving forward'

BBC - 11 hours 36 min ago
US president Barack Obama is set to visit New Orleans, saying the city is "moving forward" 10 years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Froome close as Chaves leads Vuelta

BBC - 11 hours 47 min ago
Britain's Chris Froome remains in contention at the Vuelta a Espana as Colombia's Esteban Chaves reclaims the lead on stage six.

His Drum Talked And Everyone Listened: Remembering A 'Human Treasure'

NPR News - 12 hours 3 min ago

Senegalese percussionist Doudou N'Diaye Rose has died at age 85. He mastered his local drum language and brought it to the world, creating rhythms for the likes of Miles Davis and the Rolling Stones.

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Burnley sign Barton on one-year deal

BBC - 12 hours 22 min ago
Burnley sign former Queens Park Rangers and Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton on a one-year deal.