National / International News

America's lengthy courtship with the metric system

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-04 13:00

Meters and litres. It's an unusual plank for a presidential platform, but Lincoln Chafee, the former US senator from Rhode Island — who was first a Republican, then an independent, and now a Democrat — said in his campaign announcement this week that the U.S. ought to convert to the metric system.

It highlights our lengthy history with the measurement system used by everyone else, besides fellow holdouts Liberia and Myanmar.

But the U.S. wasn’t always so lonely. The U.S. started down the highway to metrication, but pulled over the side of the road. Don Hillger, the president of the U.S. Metric Association, says the golden period for metric fans was around 1980. "Many former British Commonwealth, English-speaking countries in the world decided that they were going to adopt the metric system," he says.

Canada went metric in the 1970s. They had a plan and a public awareness campaign. One of their ads, which featured a cartoon shoveling his stoop, says "100 centimeters of snow … is an awful lot of snow."

That’s what works, apparently, a cultural change that helps people imagine the differences between old and new. Hillger says the problem here is the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 had one deadly word: voluntary. "I think they thought that, well, it would probably happen because big, larger companies change and then the other ones follow."

As you know, that didn’t quite happen.

But Elizabeth Gentry, the metric coordinator at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology says a lot of big companies did convert after that act: Caterpillar, GM, IBM. Plus, an entire industry: booze.

"They modified the law to permit the use of metric units on the packaging," Gentry says.

She says that business-focused change helped Americans become comfortable with liters and grams… that’s why you know what a two-liter bottle of coke looks like:

Daniel Case/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

In fact, metric is officially America’s preferred system for trade and commerce. Meters in the office, inches at home. This exact problem was identified in our own metric cartoon from the 1970s:

How do you parody a parody?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-04 13:00

What is it about those salacious, outrageous Lifetime movies that keep us coming back for more?

Well, for one thing, they're kinda awesome.

Take this trailer for the new high school-thriller "Double Daddy." The plot? Oh, just your average 17-year-old who is shocked to learn her boyfriend has impregnated a new girl at school ... but even more shocked when she discovers that she too is pregnant. Cue the dramatic music.

So when Lifetime put up a poster announcing a movie called "A Deadly Adoption," starring the comedians Kristen Wiig and Will Farrell, it got us wondering: How exactly do you pull off a spoof of yourself, without alienating your fans?

Emily Newman, art professor at Texas A&M University-Commerce, is writing a book on Lifetime. She's a big fan.

"Most Lifetime viewers are in on the joke," she says. "We know we are watching these movies that are ridiculous and terrible and over the top, and that’s part of the fun of it."

Which seems to raise another important question: How do you parody a parody?

David Isaacs, professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the co-head of the Comedy @SCA initiative, says the trick to pulling it off will be playing it dead on. Straight ahead.

But, regardless of the quality of "A Deadly Adoption," Lifetime has already scored, he says.

"When you are competing with so many other broadcast entities, cable, pay, this gives them an absolute promotional bonanza, I would suppose," Isaacs says.

Salmond rebuked over 'behave' remark

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-04 12:58
Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond is rebuked by Business Minister Anna Soubry for telling her to "behave yourself, woman".

Verstappen under fire from drivers

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-04 12:43
Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen is taken to task by several drivers for his behaviour during and after his Monaco Grand Prix crash.

EPA Finds No Widespread Drinking Water Pollution From Fracking

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-04 12:32

The report says there are few incidents of tainted water given the number of wells. Energy companies agree. Environmentalists accuse the industry of undue influence over the study.

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Test unravels history of infection

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-04 12:18
US researchers claim to have developed a single test that is able to identify past exposure to every known human virus infection, using a single drop of blood.

Warming pause 'no longer valid'

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-04 12:15
US researchers say new evidence casts doubt on the idea that global warming has "slowed" in recent years.

Gatlin beats Bolt's 100m Rome record

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-04 11:58
Justin Gatlin beats Usain Bolt's Rome Diamond League record with 9.75 seconds in the 100m as Sally Pearson falls in the hurdles.

In A First For Online Media, Gawker Writers Join Union

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-04 11:53

One of the site's writers says organizing the workers is a sign the digital media are growing up. The CEO says he's pleased with vote.

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Bergdahl Hearing Postponed Until September

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-04 11:48

The hearing that will decide whether the U.S. Army sergeant accused of desertion will face a court martial has been pushed back from July to September.

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When graduating from high school is just the first step

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-06-04 11:39
When I first met Raven Gribbins almost three years ago, she was 17, a senior at Oyler School, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her light brown hair was slicked back in a ponytail after volleyball practice. Raven grew up in Lower Price Hill, one of Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhoods. No one in her family had ever finished high school.

"Everybody used to tell me all the time, 'You’re not going to make it through high school,'" she said then. "You’re going to have a baby by 16. So I'm glad to prove all them wrong."

Now, Raven is sophomore at Penn State State Greater Allegheny, a small campus outside Pittsburgh. Her long hair is dyed black, to match her name. And her old teenage defiance now sounds a bit more like confidence.

"Since I've been here, I done [sic] grew up a lot more," she says. "To be in the first in my family to go to college, and to make it here and still be here, it's a good feeling."

Raven almost didn't make it. When she started college last year, she acted like a lot of students away from home for the first time.

"I was trying to live the college life like you see on TV and movies and stuff," she says. "You get to turn up and drink and have fun and don't worry about school work."

She ended up failing several classes. As a result, she lost her financial aid for this year, and had to borrow more than $18,000 to stay in school. Her bad grades also got her tossed from the volleyball team. Volleyball was the reason she'd been recruited to Penn State.

"It broke my heart going to the games," she says. "I was like, 'I can't do it no more, I've got to get my stuff together. I've got to get these grades up so I can play.'"

So she's been getting help, from people like April Belback, who runs a program on campus called ACE, the Center for Academic and Career Excellence. It's a federally funded support program for low-income and first-generation college students. The push to enroll more low-income students in college has left schools grappling with how to help them succeed. Those students are much more likely to drop out than students from more affluent backgrounds.

Raven comes to the center for tutoring, workshops and advice about classes. On a recent day, she and Belback go over a presentation Raven will give later in her criminal justice class.

"Do you want to practice?" Belback asks.


"Do you have a PowerPoint?"

Another "nope."

Belback keeps pressing until Raven fishes a paper out of her bag for Belback read.

This is known as intrusive advising. It's a strategy to keep at-risk students on track. Belback says last year she needed to intrude a lot more. She went to Raven's classes to make sure she showed up, and even woke her up for class on occasion.

"She just doesn't need me to do that anymore, which is kind of cool," Belback says. "The second year, I just feel like she’s coming into her own."


Raven wanted to be a math teacher, but struggled with college-level math. So she also switched her major this year, from Education to Criminal Justice. And she's brought her grades up enough to get her aid back, and play volleyball again next fall.

But Raven's second year hasn’t been easy either. Her dad, who had been clean for almost seven years, started using heroin for a while. Raven blamed herself for not being around. Her grandfather, who pretty much raised her, got really sick.

"A lot of times I was ready to just transfer and be back home with my family," Raven says. Her grandfather told her she was better off staying in school.

"I'm going to do it for him," she says. "To prove to him that he raised a great granddaughter and I'm going to make something out of my life. To show him that we can do it."

There is a lot of pressure on Raven. For one, Marketplace has been reporting on the progress of Raven, and her old school Oyler, since 2012. A mentor who heard one of those stories paid for half of Raven's tuition. Raven is also well aware a close cousin who finished high school the same year she did dropped out of college after one semester.

"It makes me feel like I can't fail," she says. "If I fail, then I'm letting my whole family and everybody else down."

That evening, Raven gives her presentation about domestic violence in front of her criminal justice class. She's nervous, but she nails it. Afterward, we go out for milkshakes, and a guy who's visiting from Cincinnati — just a friend, she says — comes along.

On the ride back to campus, Raven fiddles with the radio, and then chats with another guy on the phone. Guy number one sits in the backseat, becoming increasingly agitated. When we get to Raven’s dorm, she tells him to wait outside while we finish the interview in my car.

She tells me she wants to be a juvenile probation officer and work with kids in her old neighborhood, so she can tell them, "Hey, I came from the same place you did — look where I'm at."

Meanwhile, her visitor has started yelling outside the dorm. Someone calls the cops. Raven jumps out of the car to see what's going on. After a while, the guy is led away in handcuffs. Raven says she almost went to jail with him.

"What happened?" I ask when she gets back in the car.

After a long sigh, she says, "Life."

Life. The old one keeps threatening to pull Raven back as she tries to build a new one.

Sexual Violence Against Children Is A Global Problem But Few Get Help

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-04 11:37

Young people in seven developing countries were interviewed about past sexual violence. On average, more than 1 in 4 girls and more than 1 in 10 boys reported abuse.

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Blatter 'working on Fifa reforms'

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-04 11:33
Outgoing Fifa president Sepp Blatter says he is working on a "comprehensive programme of reform" for world football's beleaguered governing body.

VIDEO: Staying safe at SA's Lion Park

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-04 11:25
Milton Nkosi visits Lion Park near Johannesburg, where an American tourist was killed, to see how to view the animals safely.

A Raft Capsizes; Can Spanish Rescuers Reach Everyone In Time?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-04 11:13

Eleven African migrants were squeezed into a tiny rubber raft attempting to travel the nine miles from Morocco to Spain. NPR's Lauren Frayer joins Spanish rescuers responding to the distress call.

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Girl dies after being hit by car

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-04 11:12
A young girl dies after she was hit by a vehicle in Bangor, County Down.

EU rejects bid to ban animal testing

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-04 11:05
An EU-wide campaign to stop laboratory experiments on animals fails to persuade the European Commission to impose a ban.

Prince Harry knighted by the Queen

BBC - Thu, 2015-06-04 11:03
Prince Harry is made a made a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order by his grandmother, the Queen, for "services to the sovereign".

Ukraine's President Warns Of Russian Invasion

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-04 10:59

Petro Poroshenko, addressing parliament, said there is a "colossal threat" of an upsurge in attacks by pro-Russia separatists and a "full-scale invasion" by Moscow's forces.

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California's War Over Water Has Farmer Fighting Farmer

NPR News - Thu, 2015-06-04 10:41

Drought-stricken Central Valley farmers are pointing fingers at the Sacramento Delta, where water still flows reliably. There's more pressure than ever to change a long-standing water rights system.

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