Marketplace - American Public Media

The 'war on coal' is no fight to the death

Tue, 2014-06-03 13:42

The EPA's proposed rules on greenhouse-gas emissions will have a limited effect on coal in the U.S. That's partly because a lot of coal-fired power plants were already on their way out. Since 2010, coal plants that produced about a sixth of the country’s coal-based electricity were slated for closure. About a third of those are already gone.

That’s partly because other regulations already on the books, like rules about mercury emissions, meant old plants were going to need pricey upgrades.

But even as more plants get pegged to close, the carbon rules won’t necessarily be to blame every time, says Christopher Knittel, an energy economist at MIT. "It’s going to be difficult to know exactly why a power plant shut down," he says. "It’s going  to be a combination of cheap natural gas, mercury rules, carbon rules and all the other environmental policies."

However, he also thinks the new rule could have been a factor in plant closures that have already happened. "They shut down because of the rule that happened today, but they shut down two years ago, because of the expectation of that rule," he says.

But the new and existing rules will only touch a minority of coal-fired plants. Travis Miller, a utilities analyst at Morningstar,  says  not all coal plants score badly on the metric the EPA cares about: carbon intensity. "Some new coal plants are very efficient," he says, "and can emit relatively little for the amount of electricity they produce."

Even with some older plants, closure may not the the best strategy for some utilities. "We don’t see a whole lot of coal-plant closures in states where you have the opportunity to lower the carbon-intensity with other sources," says Miller.

The new rules let states take credit for bringing in more wind and solar— or for increasing energy efficiency. Older plants could keep running as part of that mix.

The 'war on coal' is no fight to the death

Tue, 2014-06-03 13:42

The EPA's proposed rules on greenhouse-gas emissions will have a limited effect on coal in the U.S. That's partly because a lot of coal-fired power plants were already on their way out. Since 2010, coal plants that produced about a sixth of the country’s coal-based electricity were slated for closure. About a third of those are already gone.

That’s partly because other regulations already on the books, like rules about mercury emissions, meant old plants were going to need pricey upgrades.

But even as more plants get pegged to close, the carbon rules won’t necessarily be to blame every time, says Christopher Knittel, an energy economist at MIT. "It’s going to be difficult to know exactly why a power plant shut down," he says. "It’s going  to be a combination of cheap natural gas, mercury rules, carbon rules and all the other environmental policies."

However, he also thinks the new rule could have been a factor in plant closures that have already happened. "They shut down because of the rule that happened today, but they shut down two years ago, because of the expectation of that rule," he says.

But the new and existing rules will only touch a minority of coal-fired plants. Travis Miller, a utilities analyst at Morningstar,  says  not all coal plants score badly on the metric the EPA cares about: carbon intensity. "Some new coal plants are very efficient," he says, "and can emit relatively little for the amount of electricity they produce."

Even with some older plants, closure may not the the best strategy for some utilities. "We don’t see a whole lot of coal-plant closures in states where you have the opportunity to lower the carbon-intensity with other sources," says Miller.

The new rules let states take credit for bringing in more wind and solar— or for increasing energy efficiency. Older plants could keep running as part of that mix.

My six weeks with Google Glass

Tue, 2014-06-03 13:31
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 04:53 Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales tries on 'Google Glass' spectacles as he visits 'Innovation Alley'

Google Glass may be the product you've heard most about without ever having been able to try. It's certainly still a hot ticket item: the company is set to unveil new, limited edition frames for Google Glass from fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. But in terms of its actual functionality, not that many people can say they've gotten a chance to really ingrain the technology into their daily life.

That's why Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent for the BBC, has been rocking Google's frames for six weeks, and fielding questions about the device from curious strangers. The most common question: "What's it for?"

Cellan-Jones says it's great for taking pictures, but he found that the Glass's voice command feature - the easiest way to navigate through its interface - had trouble translating from "English English" to "American English": 

"I wanted to put a caption on a photo I took of my garden. And I wanted to say, 'Garden looking unusually tidy,' in a rather British way, and it came out as, 'Gordon looking for usual Thai tea.'

Unfortunately, translation issues aren't the only problem Cellan-Jones found with the smart frames. He says that because of its lack of functions, and its generally clunky feel, Google Glass is still a ways off from being the must-have item that everyone will rush to buy.

Marketplace Tech for Wednesday, June 4, 2014by Ben JohnsonPodcast Title My six weeks with Google GlassStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Lace up and cover some ground

Tue, 2014-06-03 13:18
Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 14:15 David McNew/Getty Images

Mount Whitney is seen in the distance (R) as David Ploskonka of Baltimore, Maryland approaches the town of Lone Pine after completing more than 100 miles of the AdventurCORPS Badwater 135 ultra-marathon race on July 16, 2013 outside of Death Valley National Park, California.

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Wednesday, June 4:

In Washington, the Commerce Department reports on international trade for April.

The Senate Budget Committee holds a hearing on "The Impact of Student Loan Debt on Borrowers and the Economy."

The Federal Reserve releases its latest Beige Book summary of commentary on current economic conditions.

And it's a day to run around town...or many miles. June 4 is National Running Day.

by Podcast Title Datebook: Lace up and cover some groundSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Sharing our personal health data – for good

Tue, 2014-06-03 12:35
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 05:33 Josep Lago/Getty Images

The 'Flex', an 'electronic coach', device by Fitbit. 

Health privacy can, at times, be at odds with a major cultural shift happening in healthcare: a demand for greater transparency.

The Health Data Exploration project is another example where sharing trumps privacy.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – in collaboration with several California schools – aims to convince consumers to share the personal health data that’s being generated from an avalanche of apps and wearable devices like Fitbit.  

The question behind the Health Data Exploration project is how to harness that data, and do something other than make money off of it.

“With these technologies, we can get to a space where we are getting more realistic data. It’s capturing that everydayness of heatlh," says Matthew Bietz with the University of California Irvine, and one of the project’s lead investigators.

Bietz says the data would allow researchers to look at how stress affects eating, or how caffeine impacts sleep, on a scale that’s currently impossible.

This project will launch a research network that helps link businesses and their consumers with researchers.

University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Anita Allen says before consumers share their data to help solve some of healthcare’s most pressing questions, consumers must know they will be protected.

“Like it or not, some employers might find out information about us and use it against us when it comes to making hiring decisions,” she says.

“Are you a smoker? Are you overweight? Do you have diabetes? Do you have an irregular heart beat? These kinds of things might be used to our disadvantage.”

Bietz agrees that one of the trickiest tasks ahead is figuring out how to best protect consumer privacy.

Though, if done correctly, Bietz is convinced that “we could actually say new things about connections between the way we live and our well being.”

Marketplace Morning Report for Wednesday June 4, 2014by Dan GorensteinPodcast Title Sharing our personal health data – for good Story Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Khaled Hosseini on the economics behind 'And the Mountains Echoed'

Tue, 2014-06-03 12:14
Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 11:44 Elena Seibert

Author Khaled Hosseini.

Success in publishing is about a lot of things. Sales, of course. Staying power. And the business of words.We've asked some of our favorite contemporary authors to share the numbers they think about as they write -- how they infuse the economic world around them into storytelling. 

Listen to this installment from best-selling author Khaled Hosseini ("The Kite Runner", "A Thousand Splendid Suns") in the audio player above. He talks about the very real, very human economics in his new book, "And the Mountains Echoed". We've reprinted the first chapter here:

Back home, in Shadbagh, Pari kept underneath her pillow an old tin tea box Abdullah had given her. It had a rusty latch, and on the lid was a bearded Indian man, wearing a turban and a long red tunic, holding up a steaming cup of tea with both hands. Inside the box were all of the feathers that Pari collected. They were her most cherished belongings. Deep green and dense burgundy rooster feathers; a white tail feather from a dove; a sparrow feather,dust brown, dotted with dark blotches; and the one of which Pari was proudest, an iridescent green peacock feather with a beautiful large eye at the tip.

This last was a gift Abdullah had given her two months earlier. He had heard of a boy from another village whose family owned a peacock. One day when Father was away digging ditches in a town south of Shadbagh, Abdullah walked to this other village, found the boy, and asked him for a feather from the bird. Negotiation ensued, at the end of which Abdullah agreed to trade his shoes for the feather. By the time he returned to Shadbagh, peacock feather tucked in the waist of his trousers beneath his shirt, his heels had split open and left bloody smudges on the ground. Thorns and splinters had burrowed into the skin of his soles. Every step sent barbs of pain shooting through his feet.

When he arrived home, he found his stepmother, Parwana, outside the hut, hunched before the tandoor, making the daily naan. He quickly ducked behind the giant oak tree near their home and waited for her to finish. Peeking around the trunk, he watched her work, a thick-shouldered woman with long arms, rough-skinned hands, and stubby fingers; a woman with a puffed, rounded face who possessed none of the grace of the butterfly she’d been named after.

Abdullah wished he could love her as he had his own mother. Mother, who had bled to death giving birth to Pari three and a

half years earlier when Abdullah was seven. Mother, whose face was all but lost to him now. Mother, who cupped his head in both palms and held it to her chest and stroked his cheek every night before sleep and sang him a lullaby:

I found a sad little fairy

Beneath the shade of a paper tree.

I know a sad little fairy

Who was blown away by the wind one night.

He wished he could love his new mother in the same way. And perhaps Parwana, he thought, secretly wished the same, that she could love him

Reprinted from And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,  Copyright © 2014 by Khaled Hosseini.

Marketplace for Tuesday June 3, 2014 Gillian Flynn on the economics behind 'Gone Girl' And the Mountains Echoed Author: Khaled Hosseini Publisher: Riverhead Trade (2014) Binding: Paperback, 448 pages Produced by Nancy FarghalliPodcast Title  Khalid Hosseini on the economics behind 'And the Mountains Echoed'Story Type CommentarySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

For American Express, low-income is the new black

Tue, 2014-06-03 11:44
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 05:03 Pixabay

A new documentary from the director of "An Inconvenient Truth" is called "Spent: Looking For Change."  It’s about people living on the margins of the American financial system. And it has an unlikely sponsor: American Express.

"Spent" profiles several families as they navigate check cashing services, payday lenders and, of course, the fees that come with low balances and overdrafts.

About one in three Americans has no relationship with a bank at all, or a tenuous one. All told, this segment of the population spends around $90 billion a year on fees. AmEx wants a piece of that pie. The company, which has traditionally focused on the wealthy, is redirecting that focus to low income consumers.

"We really want to move our brand from being an exclusive brand to being a welcoming and inclusive brand," says Dan Schulman, president of enterprise growth at American Express.

Amex teamed up with Walmart to offer an all-mobile banking service called Bluebird. They've also rolled out a line of pre-paid cards. The services don’t rely on steep fees that usually come with financial products targeted at low-income customers.

"We’re trying to reimagine the consumer financial services landscape in a way that’s very different from traditional bank branches," explains Schulman.

Thanks to the ubiquity of smart phones and internet access, there’s currently a race to the bottom in financial services.

"We’re talking about tens of millions of people," says Andrew Zolli, author of "Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back." "Not all of them with lots of money, but if you put them together, it’s real money."

Case in point: last year, venture capitalists put almost $1 billion into financial start-ups, mostly catering to low and middle income Americans.

"We're talking about new kinds of accounts that provide the same kinds of functions of a traditional financial services relationship without the same kind of high cost," says Zolli.

American Express is the first major financial institution to aggressively target lower income consumers in this way, but Zolli expects other big players will soon follow suit.

Marketplace Morning Report for Wednesday June 4, 2014by Stacey Vanek SmithPodcast Title For American Express, low-income is the new blackStory Type FeatureSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Curveball: Where teachers play hooky

Tue, 2014-06-03 11:37
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Curveball: Where teachers play hooky

Tue, 2014-06-03 11:37
<a href="http://marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/absentee-teachers">View Survey</a>

Lace up and cover some ground

Tue, 2014-06-03 11:15

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Wednesday, June 4:

In Washington, the Commerce Department reports on international trade for April.

The Senate Budget Committee holds a hearing on "The Impact of Student Loan Debt on Borrowers and the Economy."

The Federal Reserve releases its latest Beige Book summary of commentary on current economic conditions.

And it's a day to run around town...or many miles. June 4 is National Running Day.

Lace up and cover some ground

Tue, 2014-06-03 11:15

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Wednesday, June 4:

In Washington, the Commerce Department reports on international trade for April.

The Senate Budget Committee holds a hearing on "The Impact of Student Loan Debt on Borrowers and the Economy."

The Federal Reserve releases its latest Beige Book summary of commentary on current economic conditions.

And it's a day to run around town...or many miles. June 4 is National Running Day.

Majoring in computer science with a minor in breezy summer style

Tue, 2014-06-03 10:53

Conde Nast, publisher of  InStyle, The New Yorker, and Allure among others is planning to partner with universities to create certificate programs, and, down the line, master’s degree programs. We’ve envisioned some course offerings, just for fun, of course…

  • Summer Style Made Easy: Creating a shared cultural language for the modern woman

    Department: Gender studies; Instructor: Wintour 

    Explores the vast differences in pseudo-fashion culture among women of different socioeconomic and geographical backgrounds.  The class will consider the value of a shared language for these women and the strong connections created by a depth of understanding of the sundress and capri pant.  We will examine  the way that fashion allows for greater communication of self, community and social identity, while connecting with that which is uniquely feminine.  And we will consider the way that summer 2014’s signature graphic tees can facilitate such communication without traditional speech. Pre-requisite: “Must-Have Fall Looks” or “The Fall Fashion Extravaganza”
  • Finally! A Cure for Your Hangover: A scientific exploration of a health epidemic

    Department: Biology; Instructor: Dadich

    An introduction to the molecular, cellular and biological processes involved in inebriation and subsequent veisalgia (the scientific term for a hangover).  We will explore what scientists do and don’t understand about the hangover—marked by symptoms including headache, fatigue, nausea, and repeated absences from your 8:30 a.m. Philosophy of Modern Dance class. We will research common explanations for veisalgia, including dehydration, too little of the enzyme NAD+, and an over abundance of acetaldehyde in the body.  We will also consider correlations between cytokines and hangovers and we will look at why drinks with higher levels of congeners can contribute to more severe hangover symptoms. Required Reading:  “If You Build It, They Will Drink” ; "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"
  • A Geek’s Guide to Grilling: Roasting meat and human advancement

    Department: History, Archaelogy; Instructor: Reichl; ONLINE ONLY CLASS

    We will delve into the history of cooking food over open flame, looking at evidence that the practice may go back to Homo erectus. This class will explore how the introduction of cooking was one of the most important moments in human history, allowing primitive humans to eat more things, and waste less time chewing.  There will be extensive consideration given to the ways that consuming more calories and protein with less work has allowed humans to flourish as a species.  This class is required before you can register for ARCH 302: “10 Foods You Didn’t Know You Could Grill.”
  • 28 Tips for your SEXIEST Body Ever!: The art and science of using numbers to tell stories

    Department: Folklore, Neuroscience; Instructor: Wells

    We will revel in the classic examples of numbers in storytelling, including "A Tale of Two Cities", "TheThree Musketeers", "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest", "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", and "18 Real Breakthroughs in Beauty Products". We will consider the power of the numbers to stimulate the mind, looking at what neuroscience can tell us about tapping into the brain’s innate desire to understand the world around us. 
Please bring your favorite examples of numbers in storytelling to the first class.

Majoring in computer science with a minor in breezy summer style

Tue, 2014-06-03 10:53

Conde Nast, publisher of  InStyle, The New Yorker, and Allure among others is planning to partner with universities to create certificate programs, and, down the line, master’s degree programs. We’ve envisioned some course offerings, just for fun, of course…

  • Summer Style Made Easy: Creating a shared cultural language for the modern woman

    Department: Gender studies; Instructor: Wintour 

    Explores the vast differences in pseudo-fashion culture among women of different socioeconomic and geographical backgrounds.  The class will consider the value of a shared language for these women and the strong connections created by a depth of understanding of the sundress and capri pant.  We will examine  the way that fashion allows for greater communication of self, community and social identity, while connecting with that which is uniquely feminine.  And we will consider the way that summer 2014’s signature graphic tees can facilitate such communication without traditional speech. Pre-requisite: “Must-Have Fall Looks” or “The Fall Fashion Extravaganza”
  • Finally! A Cure for Your Hangover: A scientific exploration of a health epidemic

    Department: Biology; Instructor: Dadich

    An introduction to the molecular, cellular and biological processes involved in inebriation and subsequent veisalgia (the scientific term for a hangover).  We will explore what scientists do and don’t understand about the hangover—marked by symptoms including headache, fatigue, nausea, and repeated absences from your 8:30 a.m. Philosophy of Modern Dance class. We will research common explanations for veisalgia, including dehydration, too little of the enzyme NAD+, and an over abundance of acetaldehyde in the body.  We will also consider correlations between cytokines and hangovers and we will look at why drinks with higher levels of congeners can contribute to more severe hangover symptoms. Required Reading:  “If You Build It, They Will Drink” ; "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"
  • A Geek’s Guide to Grilling: Roasting meat and human advancement

    Department: History, Archaelogy; Instructor: Reichl; ONLINE ONLY CLASS

    We will delve into the history of cooking food over open flame, looking at evidence that the practice may go back to Homo erectus. This class will explore how the introduction of cooking was one of the most important moments in human history, allowing primitive humans to eat more things, and waste less time chewing.  There will be extensive consideration given to the ways that consuming more calories and protein with less work has allowed humans to flourish as a species.  This class is required before you can register for ARCH 302: “10 Foods You Didn’t Know You Could Grill.”
  • 28 Tips for your SEXIEST Body Ever!: The art and science of using numbers to tell stories

    Department: Folklore, Neuroscience; Instructor: Wells

    We will revel in the classic examples of numbers in storytelling, including "A Tale of Two Cities", "TheThree Musketeers", "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest", "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", and "18 Real Breakthroughs in Beauty Products". We will consider the power of the numbers to stimulate the mind, looking at what neuroscience can tell us about tapping into the brain’s innate desire to understand the world around us. 
Please bring your favorite examples of numbers in storytelling to the first class.

Complying with the EPA, state by state

Tue, 2014-06-03 08:58
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 05:54 Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Cows graze in the shadow of the coal fired Chalk Point Generating Station, on May 29, 2014 in Benedict, Maryland.  

The EPA’s plan to curb carbon-dioxide emissions lets each state figure out how its going to reach its goal. 

There are already big differences among states in one area: the cost of electricity for their residents.

In March, folks in Wyoming were paying ten cents per kilowatt hour, but people in Massachusetts paid nearly double.

“The biggest factor here is that there’s just a lot of different generation mixes across the states," said Harrison Fell, a professor with the Colorado School of Mines.

Wyoming gets almost all of its energy from coal, while in Massachusetts it’s mostly natural gas, according to the Georgetown Climate Center.

 “The more coal intensive you are, the bigger impact the rules will be,” said Andrew Kleit is a professor of energy and environmental economics at Penn State.

Marketplace Morning Report for Wednesday June 4, 2014by Conrad WilsonPodcast Title Complying with the EPA, state by stateStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

The Secret Service wants sarcasm detection software

Tue, 2014-06-03 08:46
Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 16:45 www.dizkover.com

A teen from the Netherlands was arrested back in April for sending a threatening tweet to American Airlines while claiming to be part of the terrorist organization Al-Qaida.

This final note on the way out, which I'm sure will work...

The Secret Service wants sombeody to invent a piece of software that'll, "detect sarcasm and false positives," according to the work order. So, if you're a teenager on Twitter and you threaten to blow up a plane because you're bored, this would in theory prevent the FBI from knocking on your door.

You got less than a week if you're up to the challenge because next Monday is the deadline.

What could possibly go wrong.

Sarcasm.

Marketplace for Tuesday June 3, 2014by Kai RyssdalPodcast Title The Secret Service wants sarcasm detection softwareStory Type BlogSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

All of a sudden, everyone's buying new cars

Tue, 2014-06-03 08:45
Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 16:44 Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Anthony Gordon looks at a Ford Mustang on the showroom floor at a Ford AutoNation car dealership on September 4, 2013 in North Miami, Florida.

Car makers have reported their May sales figures, and the news is surprisingly good. Sales are at a seven year high.

Even high-end dealers are celebrating.

“Both BMW and Audi were up quite a bit this year verses last year,” says George Liang, president of DCH Auto Group.

Kelley Blue Book says car sales nationwide were up about 11 percent over May of last year, for all kinds of reasons. For one, dealers advertised big Memorial Day sales. With home-grown talent:

Car buyers were also lured into showrooms by easier credit.

“Lenders have opened up their books to those with less-than-perfect credit," says Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Alec Gutierrez.

There’s also a lot of pent up demand for cars. The average U.S. car is 11-years-old. Car-crazy consumers even flocked to GM showrooms, in spite of its recall troubles. 

GM sales were up 13 percent over May 2013, with most models selling well.

“Pickups and big sport utilities, but now it’s started to feed through to their car lines,” says George Magliano, a senior economist with IHS Automotive.

Even Mother Nature smiled on the auto industry. In some parts of the country, every weekend in May was sunny. Perfect car buying weather.

Marketplace for Tuesday June 3, 2014by Nancy Marshall-GenzerPodcast Title All of a sudden, everyone's buying new carsStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Khaled Hosseini on the economics behind 'And the Mountains Echoed'

Tue, 2014-06-03 08:44

Success in publishing is about a lot of things. Sales, of course. Staying power. And the business of words.We've asked some of our favorite contemporary authors to share the numbers they think about as they write -- how they infuse the economic world around them into storytelling. 

Listen to this installment from best-selling author Khaled Hosseini ("The Kite Runner", "A Thousand Splendid Suns") in the audio player above. He talks about the very real, very human economics in his new book, "And the Mountains Echoed". We've reprinted the first chapter here:

Back home, in Shadbagh, Pari kept underneath her pillow an old tin tea box Abdullah had given her. It had a rusty latch, and on the lid was a bearded Indian man, wearing a turban and a long red tunic, holding up a steaming cup of tea with both hands. Inside the box were all of the feathers that Pari collected. They were her most cherished belongings. Deep green and dense burgundy rooster feathers; a white tail feather from a dove; a sparrow feather,dust brown, dotted with dark blotches; and the one of which Pari was proudest, an iridescent green peacock feather with a beautiful large eye at the tip.

This last was a gift Abdullah had given her two months earlier. He had heard of a boy from another village whose family owned a peacock. One day when Father was away digging ditches in a town south of Shadbagh, Abdullah walked to this other village, found the boy, and asked him for a feather from the bird. Negotiation ensued, at the end of which Abdullah agreed to trade his shoes for the feather. By the time he returned to Shadbagh, peacock feather tucked in the waist of his trousers beneath his shirt, his heels had split open and left bloody smudges on the ground. Thorns and splinters had burrowed into the skin of his soles. Every step sent barbs of pain shooting through his feet.

When he arrived home, he found his stepmother, Parwana, outside the hut, hunched before the tandoor, making the daily naan. He quickly ducked behind the giant oak tree near their home and waited for her to finish. Peeking around the trunk, he watched her work, a thick-shouldered woman with long arms, rough-skinned hands, and stubby fingers; a woman with a puffed, rounded face who possessed none of the grace of the butterfly she’d been named after.

Abdullah wished he could love her as he had his own mother. Mother, who had bled to death giving birth to Pari three and a

half years earlier when Abdullah was seven. Mother, whose face was all but lost to him now. Mother, who cupped his head in both palms and held it to her chest and stroked his cheek every night before sleep and sang him a lullaby:

I found a sad little fairy

Beneath the shade of a paper tree.

I know a sad little fairy

Who was blown away by the wind one night.

He wished he could love his new mother in the same way. And perhaps Parwana, he thought, secretly wished the same, that she could love him

Reprinted from And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,  Copyright © 2014 by Khaled Hosseini.

Why it's so hard to serve healthy food in schools

Tue, 2014-06-03 06:29

The White House waded into in the middle of a Congressional food fight over how to regulate school lunch. 

The debate stems from the Health Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which put in place new rules aimed at getting kids to eat healthier by requiring schools to serve whole grains and more fruits and vegetables.

But now many school districts argue the new rules are too expensive.

The federal government reimburses schools $3.01 for a lunch, which is supposed to cover everything: the food, the labor and things like new kitchen equipment or repairs.

But to get the money, schools need to follow the rules.

Gitta Grether-Sweeney runs the nutrition program for Portland Public Schools in Portland, Oregon, where every day the district serves about 20,000 kids lunch.

“The rules went into effect last year where you had to serve more fruits and vegetables,” she said --  half cup of either with every meal.

Starting in July, the guidelines get stricter. Nationwide, schools have to serve more whole grains and less sodium.

Now Congress is debating whether to relax some of those rules -- a move First Lady Michelle Obama and her supporters vowed to fight.

“What we still believe is a big fight is holding steady on the sodium requirements and the whole grain requirements for school lunches,” said Claire Benjamin, managing director of Food Policy Action, a Washington DC-based group that scores lawmakers votes on food and farming policy. “When we did these rules we knew that some of these changes were going to be hard and it was going to take some time to implement.”

To help school districts out, the feds offered to pay six cents more per lunch.

But Grether-Sweeney said to meet the new federal requirements Portland Public Schools had to order more fruits and vegetables last year -- a lot more.

“I spent over $200,000 more in produce. But that six cents only covered about 60 percent of that,” she said.

Along with the requirement to serve healthier lunches came an unfortunate consequence, Grether-Sweeney said. 

The district saw a dramatic increase in trash from students dumping the unwanted produce. One small school threw away 55 gallons of fruits and veggies every week.

“In a number of our schools, we started composting because of this,” Grether-Sweeney said. 

She argued that the current mandates aren’t working and that kids should be able to choose which healthy foods they want.

“They’re not going to eat it necessarily just because you put it on their plate,” she said.

Before the new rules, the number of kids eating lunch in the Portland Public School District had been steadily increasing.

Now Grether-Sweeney said the district is serving three percent fewer students school lunch compared to last year. Nationally, nearly one million fewer kids are eating school lunch this year, according to USDA data.

Parke Wilde, a food economist at Tufts University, said it’s hard to know if schools are just having a difficult time transitioning to the new rules or -- more troubling -- that kids today are more reluctant to eat healthy foods.

“Everybody can sympathize with what it’s like to be a school food service director, reading all the small print on the new school meals requirements and thinking to him or herself, ‘How am I going to do this?'" Wilde said.

But on the other hand, he said, without rules there would probably be districts that don’t serve healthy meals.

Congress is still debating what will happen with the school lunch program, but as of right now schools will be serving even healthier -- and more expensive meals -- next fall.

Girls who game could turn into girls who code

Tue, 2014-06-03 06:28

It has been well established that there is a large and problematic gender gap in the tech industry. Last week's unprecedented report from Google on the company's diversity was just one of the latest headlines. A lot of people tend to think that, like many things, the problem starts in our education system -- Girls don't get the encouragement they need to get into tech areas like coding.

It's an issue that Nitasha Tiku*, co-editor of tech news site ValleyWag, has been thinking a lot about. In an op-ed piece for the New York Times this week, Tiku posits that the easiest way to get girls into coding might be to look at what already interests them: gaming.

Games like Minecraft, which has a "creative" mode where gamers can use Java to build their own worlds, are introducing players to coding without them realizing that they are developing a skill. It's these kinds of covert methods of getting a diverse group of people interested in programming that Tiku thinks will ultimately be more effective. 

Certainly groups like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code are doing their part as well. Tiku says these programs are important for thinking about how to get more girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields:

"These after school programs...their goal is to be incorporated into the classroom. They think of themselves as a sandbox where you can sort of experiment with different languages."

*CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this article, ValleyWag co-editor Nitasha Tiku was misidentified. The text has been corrected.

2/27/07, 416, 546 and the day the market broke

Tue, 2014-06-03 06:18

Stephen Millbrook jumped up from his desk, dashed across the trading floor and looked out the window. The Empire State Building was still there.

On the streets, people were walking calmly through midtown Manhattan, dressed in thick coats and covered with scarves to fend off the near freezing February air. No one looked panicked. There were no signs of another attack.

The evidence for an attack was confined to Millbrook's trading screens. In a matter of minutes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had dropped 200 points. That was on top of a 346 point decline that the market had already registered. A 546 point drop meant something had gone seriously wrong. We're talking 9/11 wrong. On the first day of trading following the 2001 attacks, the Dow dropped 684 points.

Shares of Goldman Sachs had cratered. Goldman Sachs! Millbrook dialed a friend's number at Goldman just to see if Goldman was still there. The guy on the other end of the phone — Thank God there was a guy on the other end of the phone! — asked him if everything was alright in midtown. Goldman traders located at the southern tip of Manhattan were wondering if someone had attacked Times Square.

Later Millbrook would learn that the sudden drop was due to a "glitch." Something had gone wrong with the computer systems of the New York Stock Exchange, triggering a flash crash. This was on February 27, 2007, however, and no one had invented the term "flash crash" yet.

Traders on the floor of the NYSE would wind up having to keep their books open past the official closing bell as the exchange struggled to put things in order. None of the traders had ever been called upon to keep trading open after the bell. One trader told me over drinks that night that this marked "the death of the God of the closing bell."

In the end the Dow closed for a decline of 416.02 points. That was the still the biggest point drop in the market since it had reopened after the September 11, 2001 attacks. It was the seventh ever biggest one-day decline.

Earlier in the day, trying to limit the declines following a 200 point drop, the NYSE had imposed trading curbs. The effect, however, was to give traders more time to worry.

The talking heads on television blamed the crash on Chinese economic data and comments about a possible recession from Alan Greenspan. Most ignored something that was arguably far more important — the announcement by Freddie Mac that it would stop buying subprime loans.

The housing boom had ended two years earlier. Freddie's subprime exit indicated that the mortgage bust was upon us. Within a few months, subprime lender New Century and a pair of Bear Stearns hedge funds focused on investing in subprime would go down. Over the summer, highly unusual market movements would trigger massive losses by quant hedge funds over the course of weeks that became known as "the quant bloodbath." The housing bust was quickly transforming into a financial crisis.

The numbers 416 and 546 were indicators that something was seriously wrong. Millbrook (obviously not his real name) was right to panic. But few of us understood this on that cold day in February.

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