National / International News
A Colorado program has allowed more than 30,000 women to get long-term contraception for free, lowering teen birth and abortion rates. Now lawmakers have to decide if it can qualify for state funding.
A new poll shows that fewer young people see gender as limited to female and male. Youth Radio reporter Nanette Thompson talks with two students about their experiences at school.
Even at low doses, the potent poison damages organs and causes cancers. Now scientists have found a population high in the Andes Mountains that has adapted to the toxic metal over thousands of years.
Argonne National Laboratory, a non-profit research lab operated by the University of Chicago for the Department of Energy, last weekend shut down one of the nation's oldest online educational tools, one that pre-dated the Internet itself.
NEWTON Ask A Scientist had been online in its current form since 1991. It offered a platform for students to ask science questions long before you could simply Google a query like "Why is the sky blue?" Answers were written by vetted scientific experts, who did their best to provide uncomplicated responses to complex questions such as "How long did the big bang last?"
Occasionally – when Pluto was reclassified as a planetoid, or when the Higgs-Boson particle was discovered – the site took on a newsy feel. Most of the time, however, it was a place where students indulged their curiosities by asking general-knowledge questions.
"You'd think over 25 years all the questions had been asked, but heck no," says Nathan Unterman, a 39-year Illinois high school science teacher. Unterman moderated the site with another, now-retired teacher, Steve Sample. They were employed as part-time staff at Argonne but mostly served as volunteers during the more than two decades they ran the site.
By the time Argonne finally pulled the plug, more than 110 volunteer scientists had answered questions, which were still coming in a steady stream. Still, the site was "limping along," says Meridith Bruozas, manager of educational programs and outreach at Argonne.
The institutional and funding structure that created NEWTON are long gone, she says, plus the site and the technology behind it are outdated. In an email, Sample said the high cost of updating the software was a factor in shutting the site down. Argonne spent about $10,000 per year on NEWTON over the past few years, spokesman Christopher Kramer said in an email, but to keep it running "is akin to supporting the telegraph in the era of smartphones."
Indeed, many Argonne's educational efforts now live on social media, and are centered around the lab's current research. Argonne now hosts Google Hangout tours, offers Reddit AMAs, posts lectures online, produces a series of videos called "Ask Argonne" and more.
"So instead of random questions on any topic, like 'Why is the sky blue?' we're actually talking about 'What does the next generation battery look like?' and 'What does supercomputing look like and how does modeling look like when you're crunching big data?'" Bruozas says. "Those are the things that kids need to be focused on now... because that's our the next generation of scientists and researchers."
Still, there was some value in the question-and-answer style, Unterman and Sample say. Often multiple scientists would chime in, arguing and adding to each other's responses. That type of dialogue isn't easily replicated with a Google search.
"Let's say you want to describe a cow. A very, very first attempt might be 'Well, let's make it a sphere.' That might be the level for a kindergartener, or a third grader. Another scientist might come in and say, 'Well, that's not really so,' and they'd start adding a head and legs. And somebody else might say, 'You could look at it that way but really...' and they'd start adding a tail and ears and horns and all of that," Unterman says. "Just how far do we simplify it, and have we simplified it to the point that it's just no longer true? We had some interesting interactions like that, which were stimulating and enriching."
Both teachers said they are grateful for impact the site had were disappointed to see it go, but ultimately understood its time had come. Unterman notes that if Argonne let the site simply stay online, the information could become outdated and NEWTON would be doing more harm than good.
Still, for those who still want to poke around, this relic of early ed tech lives on via the Internet archive.
"There were real people behind [the site]. There are all kinds of facts and figures and numbers ... and that's great, but there's also a human side to it, which – while it lasted – was great fun," Unterman says. "It's a little bit of a time capsule, I suppose."
Foods from Fukushima, Japan, are back to pre-accident levels of radiation but people still aren't eating them. One way to ease concerns: a chemical that blocks radioactive cesium from entering plants.
Sixty percent of parents think there is too much emphasis on testing. Are they right?
The distinctive white arches looming over the Edmund Pettus Bridge are in pretty much every photo about the Selma-to-Montgomery marches in Alabama. But many folks don't know about the man the bridge was named for, and like many people, he has a complicated past.
The Edmund Pettus Bridge is a sacred place in America's civil rights history. It also was named after a Grand Dragon of the state Ku Klux Klan. There's a strong generational divide on renaming it.
The Nigerian Islamist militant group has traded grainy videos for slick productions. This week, Boko Haram posted a video purportedly showing the bodies of two beheaded men accused of spying.
Think of this as a corporate restructuring 2.0.
A secret document penned by D.C. Federal Reserve governor Daniel Tarullo in 2010 set in motion a silent centralization of powers within the organization. Now, the change is having some unforeseen consequences.
Up until 2008, the New York Fed was in charge of keeping tabs on the nation’s banking industry.
"After the financial crisis," says the WSJ’s Jon Hilsenrath, "Tarullo came along with Ben Bernanke’s assent and said, basically, ‘we’re gonna do it a new way.’” This “new way” included stripping oversight powers from the New York Fed and placing them in the hands of a special committee based in Washington.
Referred to as the “Triangle Document,” the six-page document provided a blueprint for a new era. Now, oversight of all 12 Federal Reserve banks is managed by Tarullo’s committee.
Hilsenrath says, though, that the change hasn’t necessarily made the process any easier. “There are critics who say the banks feel burdened by the whole process … There are also complaints even within the system that the new system makes it a little bit harder for the information to flow up to the most senior people in the Fed.”
There is a small village called Wasteland in the Northeast China region. Despite its name, looks nothing like a wasteland, according to Michael Meyer, author of "In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China."
Meyer spent three years living in Wasteland, while his wife pursued a legal career in Hong Kong. He explains early on that Wasteland was his wife’s childhood home, however, she had no interest in returning to the village.
"In the village, there is that divide right down the middle where there’s an older generation, say people over age 40 like myself, who want to stay and want to keep their roots there," says Meyer. "And then there’s this younger generation that says 'no there’s nothing for us here, we want to leave.'"
Villages surrounding Wasteland have similar names. There is Dunes, Mud Town and Lonely Outpost. So, Meyer spent some time investigating why the villages have these names.
"Although the villages were all founded in the early 18th century, the closest I could come to why they have these names is this sort of Greenland, Iceland name reversal – where the people who originally settled these areas didn’t want other migrants to come there, they didn’t want bandits to stop there," says Meyer. "So they gave them these very undesirable names, but in fact, they look nothing like what they are named."
In his book, Meyer finds that a privately owned rice company, called Eastern Fortune, buys the farmers off their land and moves them into company-built apartments, in order to use the land to grow rice. Some villagers welcome the new apartments and crop prices the company offers, while others don’t.
Read an excerpt from "In Manchuria":
In winter the land is frozen and still. A cloudless sky shines off
snow-covered rice paddies, reflecting light so bright, you have to shield
your eyes. I lean into a stinging wind and trudge north up Red Flag Road,
to a village named Wasteland.
The view is flat, lifeless, and silver fresh. The two-lane cement road
slices through the paddies like the courses plowed across frozen lakes in
my native Minnesota, but there are no icehouses to shelter in here. Ten
minutes ago, I set off from the coal-fueled warmth of Number 22 Middle
School, where I volunteer as an English teacher. Already my beard is
beaded with ice.
Tufts of dry husks sprout through the snow, resembling ripening brooms.
To my left, the sun sinks over the far horizon. It is 3:22 p.m. at December’s
end—or, as Chinese farmers know it, dongzhi (Winter Solstice), one of
twenty-four fortnight-long periods describing the seasons based on the sun’s
longitude. The previous solar term was Major Snow, which fell on schedule,
blanketing Wasteland in white. Next up, in early January, is Slight Cold,
which, given today’s high temperature of minus 8 degrees Fahrenheit, makes
me fear what “slight” will feel like. At school, a red nylon propaganda
banner lashed to the accordion entrance gate urges us to PREVENT HAND, FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE and, less helpfully, announces that WINTER BRINGS THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN TEMPERATURE.
Red Flag Road’s single traffic sign displays a speed limit of forty kilometers
an hour. On school days I never see anyone break it; bicycles and
three-wheeled motorcycles saunter and sputter to the crossroads’ Agricultural
Bank, seed store, noodle shops, and train station. Painted bright pink and
crowned with a peaked tin roof whose cobalt-blue matches Wasteland’s
usual sky, the station has been rendered all but obsolete: the new highspeed
trains that cover the seventy miles between the cities of Jilin and
Changchun do not stop here. For passengers in the sealed compartment,
Wasteland whooshes by in a silent four-second blur, looking like any other
village in northeast China.
Closer inspection reveals a dotted line of trash aside Red Flag Road:
empty boxes of expensive Panda brand cigarettes and bottles of Moutai
brand liquor; broadsheets of stock tips, real estate flyers, and fortune-telling
booklets advising the most auspicious days to buy property; and selfpublished
circulars, sold in big cities, with titles such as Intriguing Stories
and Strange Affairs. In addition to the latest gossip about the private lives
of top officials, the pamphlets answer questions such as Will our capital be
moved from Beijing? (No.) Did the 1989 student protest movement fail? (Yes.)
How many people were killed during the Cultural Revolution? (Lots.)
Today the only sound on Red Flag Road comes from another banner,
strung between two Manchurian ash seedlings, whipping in the wind. The
cloth twists and unfurls, then twists again. Between gusts spin the Chinese
characters for plant, then seeds, then record and yield. I pass the banner
every day and, unlike the farmers, study its message. In the Chinese
countryside—free of newsstands and street signs—propaganda is my
primer, even when written by Comrade Obvious. This red ribbon teaches
me the characters that form: PLANT QUALITY SEEDS TO PRODUCE A RECORD YEILD.
For decades, the three-story middle school was Wasteland’s tallest structure.
From my English classroom window I can see all the village’s homes,
whose clusters make an archipelago across the fields. Now I walk toward
a billboard whose message I can read a mile away: BUILD THE NORTHEAST’S TOP VILLAGE. It was erected by Eastern Fortune Rice,
a private agribusiness company based in Wasteland. I never thought about
this propaganda—just another exercise in blatancy—until Eastern Fortune
began making it come true.
Gossip says that, like the railroad, Red Flag Road will be upgraded, too.
Locals wonder if it’s their way of life that will be made obsolete. There’s
even talk of changing the village’s name.
No one can say for certain why the place is called Wasteland. It may
have been a ploy by homesteaders to discourage other migrants from moving
to this fertile floodplain, stretching from the western banks of the Songhua
(Pine Flower) River to forested foothills. Neighboring hamlets, also
comprising a few dozen single-story homes abutting table-flat rice paddies,
include Lonely Outpost, Zhang’s Smelly Ditch, the Dunes, and Mud Town.
In the movie Caddyshack, Rodney Dangerfield boasts that he and his
partner, Wang, just bought some land at the Great Wall: “On the good
side!” Wasteland is in the other direction. Beyond the wall begins China’s
northeast, or Dongbei (rhymes with wrong way). Chinese say a map of their
country resembles a chicken, which makes the Northeast its head, squeezing
between Mongolian grasslands and the Ever-White Mountains before
bumping up against Siberia.
The cause was cardiac arrest, the Archdiocese of New York said in a statement. Cardinal Edward Egan was 82.