National / International News

U.K. University Finds Muhammad-Era Quran Among Its Possessions

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 13:09

The manuscript is one of the earliest versions of Islam's holy book to survive. Radiocarbon analysis dates the parchment on which the text is written to between the years 568 and 645.

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Soundtracks have a life beyond the movies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

A movie’s soundtrack can have big impact on the movie itself. However, sometimes a soundtrack can take on a life of its own, says Los Angeles Times writer Gerrick Kennedy. Case in point, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and its use of the track “Earned It” by The Weeknd.

Gerrick Kennedy

Tony Wagner/Marketplace

“['Fifty Shades of Grey' is] not the greatest movie. Decent enough book. Soundtrack — super hot. And I think...we saw what just happened with really successful music, and how you build that into the film,” Kennedy says.

While Kennedy says that Weeknd fans may not identify with the film, "everybody that saw 'Fifty Shades of Grey' [knows 'Earned It'], so the song is killing pop radio."  

Kennedy says that the trend of creating a soundtrack that has consistency — which also extends to music from films like "Furious 7" and "The Hunger Games" — isn’t new.

“That brings you back to what was happening in the '90s, where it was always about the whole body; the entire soundtrack was what you bought,” he says.

Although this trend may have lulled for a few years, Kennedy says “now I think executives are working a little bit hard to make the music play into the film a little bit better.”

New York City gives up in Uber cap dispute

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

Uber has won a big one. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been going after the pioneering sharing-economy company in a very public way the past couple of weeks,  saying he wanted to limit the number of Uber vehicles on city streets.

As of Wednesday, the mayor's administration has blinked, announcing it'll stop pushing for the cap

The city is now going to study the effect of for-hire cars on — one would imagine — the taxicab industry in New York. 

Moral of the story? You can indeed fight City Hall. 

Oil is cheap, but gas is still expensive in California

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

Willie Hudgins drives a 2006 Ford Expedition stretch limo. Earlier today, he pulled into a Mobil station in Birmingham, Alabama to get gas. He paid $2.39 a gallon. Happily.

"Oh, it's like, man, pennies on the dollar," he says, compared with before global oil prices collapsed.

The national average for gas is $2.74 a gallon. Then there's California, where prices are almost always higher.

"Typically, California prices should be about 40 cents above the national average," says Severin Borenstein with the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

But in Los Angeles right now, people are paying a dollar and a half more than the national average, he says.

Part of that is because California requires a cleaner burning fuel, Borenstein says, "and as a result, we can't trade gasoline with other parts of the country. We need this special blend."

Because there's no quick way to relieve a shortage, he says, prices spike when there's a hiccup in the production of that special blend — like an explosion at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Los Angeles in February. Borenstein says those usually fizzle out within a month or so, but not this time.

"It has definitely raised concerns that this isn't just natural shortages," he says.

One explanation: the California Energy Commission says refineries are making more than twice the profit per gallon than a year ago.

And finally, analysts say, when other states have shortages, they bring gasoline in through pipelines...but California doesn't have pipelines, so when the gas finally comes, it comes by barge or tanker, which costs more. Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston, has a message for California residents: "You guys are screwed!"

"Those are highly technical industrial terms," he adds. "You're screwed in California."

Hirs says California's refineries can't meet consumer demand. And he says when you combine that with a lack of infrastructure, you're going to pay. Just like consumers did in New England this past winter. There, Hirs says, there were no pipelines to bring in enough natural gas to meet electricity demands.

Apple's drop illustrates the power of expectations

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

Apple announced Tuesday that it made a boatload of money in the third quarter (without saying boatload). Revenue was up more than 30 percent and CEO Tim Cook called it “an amazing quarter.”

But many investors just didn’t see it the same way, as they expected Apple to sell more iPhones than it actually did. That disappointment sent the company’s stock down more than 4.5 percent Wednesday– and experts say that demonstrates the danger of high expectations.

“Companies would like to exceed the expectations,” says Len Rosenthal, a finance professor at Bentley University. “It looks much better to do that, rather than disappoint.”

Companies will regularly issue guidance in order to try manage investors’ expectations, Rosenthal says. He says some companies might even try to game expectations, intentionally setting them low so the company can exceed them.

“That’s not a new thing,” he says. “It’s been going on for a long, long time. I think it’s kind of silly in some ways, but that’s the way the game is played.”

Rosenthal thinks the markets often overreact, putting too much emphasis on quarterly numbers.

Expectations can come from published reports from analysts or from investors, in so-called whisper numbers, “the collective expectation from investors who own a stock about a specific metric. In Apple’s case, how many iPhones they’re going to sell in a quarter,” says Gene Munster, a research analyst with Piper Jaffray.

Whisper numbers can be a bit murky, he says, but if companies miss those expectations, their stock may go down. Alternatively, he says if they exceed them, the stock may rise. However, investors may come to expect too much from companies with consistently strong track records, Munster says. He thinks Apple may have been the victim of its own success over the last decade.

“The success has created this underlying belief from investors that they can always do a little bit better,” he says. “That expectation has kind of fueled these whisper numbers to get to points where they’re not even achievable.” 

E! Network pins hopes on new Caitlyn Jenner series

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

This Sunday at 8 p.m., E! Entertainment TV will premiere Caitlyn Jenner's show "I Am Cait."

The network is calling the show a "documentary series," in an attempt to differentiate it from the reality shows featuring the Kardashians that have helped sustain the network's ratings for years.

While those reality shows still perform relatively well, the network's overall ratings in recent years have been slipping. E! averaged 648,000 primetime viewers in the 2011-2012 TV season, but in the TV season that just ended, its prime time average was down to 540,000 viewers, according to figures provided by the ratings firm Nielsen.

The Kardashian franchise has begun to show its age, says Joe Adalian, West Coast editor for New York Magazine's

"E's problem is what a lot of cable networks face," Adalian says, "which is splintered audiences and not a lot new coming on board" to capture audiences' attention. "And that's why 'I Am Cait' could potentially be a game changer for E!," he says.

A game changer, because the intense media and public interest in Caitlyn Jenner is likely to fuel huge audiences for the show, at least initially. Jenner's interview on ABC's news magazine "20/20" reached almost 17 million viewers. Those are numbers "20/20" hadn't seen in 15 years, Adalian says.

"I have no doubt that E!, especially after the Diane Sawyer interview came out and did so well, was able to go back to advertisers and say, 'I think you want to be here,'" he says.

Initial reviews of the series have been somewhat positive, which may give E! executives hope that "I Am Cait" might help improve the network's fortunes.

"The E! Network has had problems in the last couple of years, because they haven't been able to launch new original programming, and some of their go-tos lagged in recent years," says Michael O'Connell, TV writer for The Hollywood Reporter.

"It's sort of had to rely on these sort of celebrity-focused docu-series," says O'Connell, "But it really is the Kardashian brand that carries them in prime time, especially in between award season, when they do so well with their red carpet coverage."

Developers look to create disability apps

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 13:00

It’s the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The federal law opened up services and opportunities for millions of Americans.  Today, developers in the tech world are testing new ideas with the disabled community in mind.

Take Chad Hebel. Sometimes he'll go to a restaurant with friends only to find himself physically cut off from his company.

“You’re looking under the table at everybody else,” Hebel says of his experience being in a wheelchair in those settings. 

Hebel is a businessman with an eye for innovation. Both of those factors make him a valuable resource for developers looking to design assistive technologies to bring to market. Hebel, who mentors startup companies for the Dallas accelerator Health Wildcatters, says where there’s a need, there’s a business opportunity.

An Opportunity For Developers

Just like buildings constructed decades ago weren’t designed for people with disabilities, many of the gadgets and apps created today leave out a segment of the population. For example, Google Maps doesn’t tell you whether the sidewalks are wheelchair accessible. Another example: you still need to use your hands to make a drawing on your tablet.

Which is exactly why student Mohammed Azmat Qureshi is spending his days in a lab at UT Arlington surrounded by loose cables and pieces of robotics.

Oluwatosin Oluwadare (L) and Mohammed Azmat Qureshi 

Lauren Silverman

“There’s a huge potential of using the technology that is out there in a different way for the differently-abled people,” Qureshi says.

Qureshi and his partner Oluwatosin Oluwadare comprise one of several dozen teams that have submitted a proposal to a tech challenge called Connect Ability. The competition, which is sponsored by AT&T and New York University and has a $100,000 prize, is meant to empower people with disabilities.  

Collaboration Is Key 

Oluwadare says the device he's created with Qureshi, called “EyeCYou,” will help the visually impaired “see” people in front of them.

To show how it works, Oluwadare puts on a pair of glasses with a camera attached and snaps my photo. The software analyzes the image and the tablet reads aloud a description: "Person one is wearing an orange dominate shirt, has a light-skinned complexion.  She is a female adult."

So far, the device analyzes age, gender skin and shirt color. Oluwadare admits that some of the features it’s programmed to report may be sensitive – like skin color or age. But guidance from people living with disabilities is helping shape the technology. Xian Horn likes that.

"Unless you talk to the people that you’re trying to help, you’re not going to know — even with your best intentions — how to help," says Horn. Horn is a writer from Manhattan who has cerebral palsy, which impacts her mobility. She’s also working with developers in the Connect Ability Challenge.

For Horn, the priority is hands free technology. She has poor balance and muscle control.

“So the fact that I walk around the world with shiny blue ski poles means that my hands are occupied," Horn says.

Xian Horn

Rick Guidotti of Positive Exposure

One device she likes is called Pallette. It transforms your tongue into a mouse that can control anything from a wheelchair to a light setting. That might help people who have conditions like multiple sclerosis. Another technology called DrumPants gives a voice to people with difficulty speaking. They just have to tap sensors on their pants or shirt. Horn says the control box might be too large to fit well on a cane, and she got to give that group feedback.

“We can collaborate and create things that not only work in theory but actually have an impact on the future of someone’s life," Horn says. "This kind of technology can be life changing.”

The winner will be announced on July 27, the day after the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Eggs Go AWOL, And Bakers Scramble For High-Tech Substitutes

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 12:48

The national egg shortage is hitting bakers hard. Some are replacing eggs with highly engineered ingredients that promise to work just as well.

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Practice makes perfect for summer learning

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 12:34

Summer is time for kids to relax and enjoy a vacation from school and learning. But that vacation can lead to a lot of kids losing a lot of knowledge, especially if they are from low-income households, according to researchers.

Traditionally, summer learning loss has been addressed through summer school, but that's never been popular with students, according to a New York company called Practice Makes Perfect. It's trying to change that, using new methods to reach students and create a summer school model that kids will actually want to attend.

Karim Abouelnaga is the CEO and founder of Practice Makes Perfect. He says his upbringing made him acutely aware of the struggles of learning as a low-income student.

“I was raised by a single mother on government aid and went through some of New York City’s most struggling public schools,” he says.

Abouelnaga developed Practice Makes Perfect with a group of friends while he was in college. Today the company works to eliminate summer learning loss for students every year by training students to teach peers that are four years younger than them.

“When I first pitched the idea of having a sixth grader mentor a second grader, people thought we were crazy,” Abouelnaga says. “I can tell you in practice it works wonders. Education still is very much a relationship-based business. The number one reason kids show up to our programs every single summer is because of the relationships they build with their mentors.”

Given the negative perceptions that surround summer school, Abouelnaga says he hopes that Practice Makes Perfect can be an example of how to make summer teaching effective.

“We give our kids a pre-test and post-test, and every single year to date so far we’ve eliminated the summer learning loss for 100 percent of our participants,” he says.

Liverpool seal £32.5m Benteke move

BBC - Wed, 2015-07-22 12:27
Liverpool sign striker Christian Benteke from Aston Villa for £32.5m to take their number of summer arrivals to seven.

Guantanamo end plan 'nearly complete'

BBC - Wed, 2015-07-22 11:56
The White House is in the "final stages" of drafting a plan to close the controversial US military prison Guantanamo Bay, a spokesman says.

Trump to visit US-Mexico border

BBC - Wed, 2015-07-22 11:47
US presidential candidate Donald Trump is to visit the border with Mexico on Thursday after making illegal immigration the focus of his campaign.

Robson to enter US Open main draw

BBC - Wed, 2015-07-22 11:30
British number two Laura Robson enters the main draw of next month's US Open courtesy of her protected ranking.

PM to chair key Heathrow committee

BBC - Wed, 2015-07-22 10:51
Campaigners against Heathrow expansion accuse PM David Cameron of "excluding" critics from a cabinet committee which will decide whether to back a new runway.

In Pakistan Death Row Case, A Rare Glimmer Of Hope

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 10:47

Asia Bibi, a 50-year-old mother of five sentenced to death in 2010 for insulting Islam, has been granted a reprieve — for now. Pakistan's Supreme Court will hear her appeal, but no date has been set.

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Aussies 'happy' about Pietersen snub

BBC - Wed, 2015-07-22 10:28
Australia's players are "very happy" that Kevin Pietersen is not playing for England, says his former county captain.

Police cams center of story again in Sandra Bland case

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-07-22 10:00

Video from a Texas state trooper’s dashboard camera is being scrutinized after capturing the officer’s violent encounter with a citizen who later died in jail. 

That citizen was Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Chicago native who had just moved to Texas for a job at Prairie View A&M University. On July 10, she was pulled over by state trooper Brian T. Encinia for failing to signal a lane change. The exchange that followed soon escalated. Bland refused to put out a cigarette, after which the officer pulled her from her car.

As the New York Times reports, a dashcam video released Tuesday shows most of the ensuing violent encounter, including Encinia’s threat to use a stun gun on Bland, and audio from a portion of the video where the two are out of frame includes Bland saying, “You just slammed me, knocked my head into the ground.”

After three days in a jail cell, Bland was found dead, in what was originally deemed a suicide. Details continue to emerge, and authorities are now treating the case as a murder investigation.

With the release of the dashcam footage comes troubling revelations. As Buzzfeed writes, the Texas Department of Public Safety says the arrest violated several rules of conduct.  

The investigation into Sandra Bland’s death is the latest story fueling an ongoing national conversation about civilian deaths during arrests and while in police custody, racial violence and the flaws in our nation’s incarceration system.  

The Marketplace series,“Behind the Blue Line” explored some of the same issues that are surfacing in this case, namely questions about use of excessive police force and whether the filming of police can increase accountability and transparency.  

Police departments grapple with body camera costs  

Cases involving allegations of excessive police force have prompted proposals to equip police officers with body cameras to monitor their behavior. 

According to a survey by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), many police chiefs reported that the use of body cameras correlates with a decrease in complaints against officers.

However, there are monetary barriers to the cameras' implementation, which can cost up to millions of dollars annually for a city-wide program. Another survey from PERF reports that 39 percent of police executives have said that cost was one of the main reasons they don’t use body cameras within their departments.

Body cameras spread, changing how cops do their job

Aside from President Obama, who requested $263 million to fund body cameras and training for police officers across the country, others are trying to devote financial resources to increase accountability in policing. At the federal level, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced in May that that the Justice Department would spend $20 million on body cameras for select police departments throughout the nation. 

Some places have already invested in the use of body cams. Take the Seattle Police Department.  It announced plans to spend $2 million on 1,000 cameras, and currently uploads police body cam footage to its YouTube channel.

Since 2012, Rialto, California's police department has also been using body cams.  Officers must turn them on “before any significant encounter with a member of the public, a witness or a suspect.”  

A study by the Cambridge University Institute of Criminology  in the United Kingdom found that in the first year of the department’s use of body cameras, there was an 88 percent decline in civilian complaints against police and a 60 percent decline in use-of-force by police. As a result, Rialto police chief Tony Farrar has supplied the entire department with body cameras. 

However, despite bodycams’ advantages, some officers and criminal justice experts have contested their use.  They argue that filming may prevent police officers from acting as they normally would, or inhibit them from using “adequate force when they need to.”

Training is in short supply for police forces  

Questions about Bland's mental health have been raised amid the Wednesday release of booking documents. The documents reveal discrepancies, with two forms indicating that Bland had attempted suicide in 2014 and 2015, respectively. 

Texas State Sen. Royce West has criticized jail officials for their treatment of Bland, saying he thinks they should have put her on suicide watch, which would require 15-minute face-to-face checkups, instead of the standard hourly ones. Bland's family, however, refutes the claim that she committed suicide. 

Ongoing police training is expensive and in short supply. Of the country’s 18,000 local and state police departments, just 15 percent “do comprehensive mental health crisis training,” according to a program manager with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kevin Dillon, a retired police officer and owner of KFD Training and Consulting, says he thinks that police officers aren’t getting enough training in areas such as use of force.

Tight budgets can make spending on training difficult, he says. 

“[Training can cost] anywhere from $100 for a one-day course for one officer to over $10,000 for a whole department for a week,” Dillon told Marketplace's Sally Herships. 

Better method for building with DNA

BBC - Wed, 2015-07-22 09:59
Scientists come up with an improved method for building tiny 3D structures out of strands of DNA.

Sting Videos Part Of Longtime Campaign Against Planned Parenthood

NPR News - Wed, 2015-07-22 09:50

The young anti-abortion activist who planned the recent sting videos on Planned Parenthood staff members has ties to larger group that oppose abortion.

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Oil prices hit as US stocks rise

BBC - Wed, 2015-07-22 09:48
Oil prices have slipped after official US government data showed an unexpected rise in oil stocks last week.