Browsing articles from "February, 2015"

Iraq’s National Museum To Open For First Time Since 2003 Invasion

Feb 28, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Iraq’s National Museum To Open For First Time Since 2003 Invasion

A man looks at ancient Assyrian human-headed winged bull statues at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad on Saturday.i

A man looks at ancient Assyrian human-headed winged bull statues at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad on Saturday.

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A man looks at ancient Assyrian human-headed winged bull statues at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad on Saturday.

A man looks at ancient Assyrian human-headed winged bull statues at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad on Saturday.

Reuters/Landov

Days after video emerged showing self-declared Islamic State extremists taking sledge hammers to pre-Islamic antiquities inside the Mosul museum, the Iraqi government has reopened the country’s national museum, shuttered since the 2003 U.S. invasion of the country that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The National Museum’s reopening was moved up as a retort to the move by ISIS in Mosul, which has been almost universally condemned as a most uncivilized act in a part of the world widely considered the cradle of civilization.

“The events in Mosul led us to speed up our work and we wanted to open it today as a response to what the gangs of Daesh did,” Iraq’s Deputy Tourism Minister Qais Hussein Rashid said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

The National Museum, which displays artifacts from the Mesopotamian era, was looted and then closed after the U.S. invasion. Agence France-Presse quotes Rashid as saying that around 4,300 of the roughly 15,000 looted pieces have been recovered in the past 12 years. Authorities are still tracking down more than 10,000 items in markets and auctions.

Remembering The Relics And Rich History Of Mosul, Before ISIS

Feb 28, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Remembering The Relics And Rich History Of Mosul, Before ISIS

Then-U.S. ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill (right) tours the Mosul Museum of History in May 2009. This week the self-declared Islamic State posted a video online that showed militants going through the museum, pushing over statues and smashing artifacts with sledgehammers.i

Then-U.S. ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill (right) tours the Mosul Museum of History in May 2009. This week the self-declared Islamic State posted a video online that showed militants going through the museum, pushing over statues and smashing artifacts with sledgehammers.

Mujahed Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images


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Then-U.S. ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill (right) tours the Mosul Museum of History in May 2009. This week the self-declared Islamic State posted a video online that showed militants going through the museum, pushing over statues and smashing artifacts with sledgehammers.

Then-U.S. ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill (right) tours the Mosul Museum of History in May 2009. This week the self-declared Islamic State posted a video online that showed militants going through the museum, pushing over statues and smashing artifacts with sledgehammers.

Mujahed Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images

When I visited the Mosul museum in 2010, it was as cool and damp as any tomb. It was winter; the power was out and the lights were off.

But as a State Department visit, escorted by U.S. soldiers, made its way around the gloomy rooms, the enthusiasm of the staff lit up the treasures that gradually became apparent.

The Nineveh plain in northern Iraq, where Mosul is, saw mighty civilizations rise and fall, but their relics endured for millennia. In the museum were depictions of the great winged Assyrian beasts called lamassu. There was a stone tablet that might be the world’s oldest menu: a record of a banquet given by King Ashurbanipal II of Assyria.

I was dwarfed by friezes of giant Assyrian warriors, with vast, muscular bodies and finely sculpted details: the petals of the chamomile flowers, the curls of the beards.

Little, it seems, has been spared. The latest video by the militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State — though not footage of human slaughter — is also painful to watch. Bearded men take sledgehammers to the artifacts of the museum and go to archaeological sites nearby.

When I visited the remnants of the cities and palaces at Hatra and Nimrud, they were guarded only by a few men living in trailers. They were in rural places, and the main concern was that rain and pigeon droppings were erasing carvings — not that fanatics with power tools would come and wreak destruction.

Despite claims to the contrary, the statues and friezes they destroy are all originals, thousands of years old, said one expert who worked at the museum for 10 years but didn’t want to be identified for fear of ISIS.

“We expected this,” says the former museum worker. “Nobody can do anything … they did what they want.”

When ISIS arrived last summer, the worker says, some of the museum staff — the men — tried to negotiate. They tried to strike a bargain, for example, that ISIS destroy only the tomb said to be that of Jonah, but not the ancient church-turned-mosque built on top. It didn’t work.

In this latest video, an unidentified man says Islam calls for the destruction of all idols. The museum worker was dismissive of this piety, saying the militants “don’t care about the statues” but rather are trying to “send a message to all the world.”

As we walked around the ruins of Hatra five years ago — as the American soldiers snapped photos of themselves next to statues — the museum director, Hicket al-Aswad, told me that most of the city still was unexcavated.

At the time, he wished they could get funding and peace so they could begin exploring the history. As things stand, maybe it’s better it remained underground.

Microphone Check Live: ‘The Spook Who Sat By The Door’ Screening

Feb 28, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Microphone Check Live: ‘The Spook Who Sat By The Door’ Screening

The panel at our screening of The Spook Who Sat By The Door (from left to right): Dr. Greg Carr, Jamilah Lemieux, Cedric Shine and K. Nyerere Ture.i

The panel at our screening of The Spook Who Sat By The Door (from left to right): Dr. Greg Carr, Jamilah Lemieux, Cedric Shine and K. Nyerere Ture.

Frannie Kelley for NPR


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The panel at our screening of The Spook Who Sat By The Door (from left to right): Dr. Greg Carr, Jamilah Lemieux, Cedric Shine and K. Nyerere Ture.

The panel at our screening of The Spook Who Sat By The Door (from left to right): Dr. Greg Carr, Jamilah Lemieux, Cedric Shine and K. Nyerere Ture.

Frannie Kelley for NPR

This week, in honor of Black History Month, we went down to NPR’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to screen Sam Greenlee’s 1973 film The Spook Who Sat by the Door and host a conversation about its resonance.

In case you’re not familiar with the cult classic, the main character is Dan Freeman, who’s trained by the CIA to be its first black agent. After he masters the agency’s tactics, he goes home to the southside of Chicago on a mission to train street gangs to be “Freedom Fighters.” When a young man is shot dead by the police, Freeman’s trainees spring into action. What happens in the end is open to interpretation, as you’ll hear at the start of this recording of our panel discussion.

The members of our panel are Dr. Greg Carr, Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, Jamilah Lemieux, Senior Editor at Ebony Magazine, and K. Nyerere Ture, an anthropologist and professor at Morgan State University.

The panel and the audience discussed the film’s themes of resistance and intra-racial tension as well as the erasure of the Black Arts movement from mainstream discussion of black history. “The villain of the film,” said Dr. Carr, “is the idea of the nation-state.”

Special thanks: Erin McIntyre, Dennis Herndon, Keith Woods, Darlene Barkley, Justin Lucas, Brittany Brown, Neil Tevault, Bobby Carter, Eleanor Kagan, Morgan McCloy, Joe Hagen and Anya Grundmann.

After Second Round Of Talks, Cubans, Americans Emerge Upbeat

Feb 28, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on After Second Round Of Talks, Cubans, Americans Emerge Upbeat

Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. division at Cuba's Foreign Ministry, smiles at the start of the Cuba talks at the State Department in Washington, on Friday.i

Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. division at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, smiles at the start of the Cuba talks at the State Department in Washington, on Friday.

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Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. division at Cuba's Foreign Ministry, smiles at the start of the Cuba talks at the State Department in Washington, on Friday.

Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. division at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, smiles at the start of the Cuba talks at the State Department in Washington, on Friday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

After a second round of talks, Cuban and American diplomats emerged upbeat about the potential to reestablish diplomatic ties between the long-estranged neighbors.

In a press conference following the talks, Roberta Jacobson, the diplomat leading the talks for the Americans, said: “Today we saw the kind of constructive exchange that advances us toward a more productive diplomatic relationship.”

Her counterpart, Josefina Vidal, who is leading the talks for the Cubans said: “We are confident that there can be civilized relations and coexistence between Cuba and the United States and that we would be able to recognize and respect our difference so that as neighbors we can identify areas of mutual interest to cooperate for the benefit of our two countries, the region and world.”

In diplomatic speak, those are some pretty positive words.

Coming into the meeting, two issues loomed large: Cuba’s demand that the U.S. remove it from the State Department’s State Sponsor of Terrorism list. And the U.S. demand that its diplomats in Havana have complete freedom of mobility, meeting whoever they want, whenever they want.

Vidal said that the U.S. had assured them they were working on reviewing the country’s spot on the terrorism list.

“For Cuba it is a matter of sheer justice,” she said. “Cuba strongly believes that it should have never been included in these limited list of countries and today there is no ground to justify the inclusion of our country on that list.”

But, leaving an opening, she added that the removal of Cuba from the list is a “priority” but not a “precondition” for reopening embassies.

Jacobson said talks took on a “very cooperative spirit” and the two sides made “progress on a number” of issues.

Jacobson said one sign of how well the talks have gone is that right now there are about six other dialogues that are planned or happening. One of those talks, she said, involves opening up telecommunications on the island and the other, which Jacobson called the “most challenging but most important,” is about human rights.

Jacobson added that she thought the U.S. embassy in Havana could be open as early as April, as the Summit of the Americas gets going in Panama.

“I certainly think that with the kind of cooperation that we had today I certainly leave those conversations today optimistic but committed and recognizing the work that still has to be done, but certainly not daunted by the idea that there is a desire to move forward as quickly as we can,” Jacobson said.

Pokey LaFarge, ‘Something In The Water’

Feb 27, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Pokey LaFarge, ‘Something In The Water’

Pokey LaFarge‘s passion for women, storytelling and American blues and gospel all come together on this song, the title track of his new album, Something in the Water. LaFarge wrote to us to tell us that the song “is about the ups and downs of a Midwestern love affair. The female character in the song doesn’t always treat her man right, but no matter how crazy things can get and how hard things sometimes seem to be, he realizes that all of her quirks and eccentricities are a big part of why he loves her and that ultimately he can’t live without her. I guess that’s what they call love, or at least can be one definition of many.

“The initial inspiration for the song came from a band member’s girlfriend, who at one point literally had an El Camino in her front yard up on blocks. I developed a melody for that line and couldn’t stop singing it. From there, my own personal experiences sort of fed into the rest of the songwriting process and things really got fleshed out when I was in the studio with Jimmy Sutton.

“The video was shot on and around Cherokee Street in South City, St. Louis. Since the lyrics of the tune tell a vivid story, we wanted to make the video a pretty literal interpretation of the lyrics. Working on the concept for the video, we kept hitting back on the idea that in any relationship, no one from the outside knows quite what it’s like behind closed doors. We wanted to shed light on the crazier side of love, and on a reality that many people face but don’t necessarily share. One really important thing too was that no matter the pitfalls of their love, the humor and chemistry the two lovers share is the real takeaway, and what keeps them together.”

Something in the Water will be out on Rounder Records April 7.

#LLAP: Tributes Flow For Leonard Nimoy

Feb 27, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on #LLAP: Tributes Flow For Leonard Nimoy

The death today of actor Leonard Nimoy, best known for his role as the half-Vulcan, half-human Mr. Spock in Star Trek, at age 83 prompted an outpouring of grief on social media.

Many people pointed to his own final tweet, which at the time of writing has been retweeted more than 120,000 times.

The “LLAP” in the tweet refers to “Live long and prosper,” the line Mr. Spock is arguably most associated with (from the Vulcan “Dif-tor heh smusma”).

Here are some reactions to his death.

Many of the tributes online came in the form of this line – or a variation of it from The Wrath of Khan, the second Star Trek movie.

NPR’s Neda Ulaby is remembering Nimoy and his legacy on tonight’s All Things Considered. She says:

“As Dr. McCoy says in a scene after Spock’s death in Star Trek II: ‘He’s not really dead as long as we remember him.’ And as Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy said goodbye to us so many times: ‘Live long and prosper.'”

Living Small In The City: With More Singles, Micro-Housing Gets Big

Feb 27, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Living Small In The City: With More Singles, Micro-Housing Gets Big

Jay Austin's tiny house in Washington, D.C., has 10-foot ceilings, a loft bed over the bathroom and a galley-style kitchen.i

Jay Austin’s tiny house in Washington, D.C., has 10-foot ceilings, a loft bed over the bathroom and a galley-style kitchen.

Franklyn Cater/NPR


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Jay Austin's tiny house in Washington, D.C., has 10-foot ceilings, a loft bed over the bathroom and a galley-style kitchen.

Jay Austin’s tiny house in Washington, D.C., has 10-foot ceilings, a loft bed over the bathroom and a galley-style kitchen.

Franklyn Cater/NPR

Back in 2012, something unusual got started in an alleyway in an already tightly developed part of northeast Washington, D.C.

On an 11th-of-an-acre lot next to a cemetery, behind a block of row houses, tiny houses started to go up. And not just one little house in backyard, like you might see in many places. The builders billed this as an urban tiny house community.

While the average size of new houses gets bigger every year in the U.S., some people are trying to do more with less. A lot less. Tiny houses and micro apartments are now a niche trend in the housing market. Smaller spaces are touted as more environmentally friendly, more affordable and perhaps even more communal. The idea is you might be more likely to get out and be social if you live in a smaller space.

Lee Pera, 36, co-founded Boneyard Studios, that tiny house community space in D.C. For Pera, an EPA worker who says she finds Washington a little too gray-suited at times, this was a step towards a dream: a dream of living simply, in a creative community, using underused urban space.

Lee Pera (left) and Jay Austin conduct a seminar on tiny house building at Boneyard Studios, a former tiny home showcase community in Washington, D.C. The community has since split, and the homes on the space have been moved to separate lots.i

Lee Pera (left) and Jay Austin conduct a seminar on tiny house building at Boneyard Studios, a former tiny home showcase community in Washington, D.C. The community has since split, and the homes on the space have been moved to separate lots.

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Lee Pera (left) and Jay Austin conduct a seminar on tiny house building at Boneyard Studios, a former tiny home showcase community in Washington, D.C. The community has since split, and the homes on the space have been moved to separate lots.

Lee Pera (left) and Jay Austin conduct a seminar on tiny house building at Boneyard Studios, a former tiny home showcase community in Washington, D.C. The community has since split, and the homes on the space have been moved to separate lots.

Franklyn Cater/NPR

Motor Home Meets Proper House

She teamed up with other tiny house enthusiasts: a solar company executive named Brian Levy, who purchased the lot, and a HUD employee named Jay Austin. Each of them put a house on the lot facing a small central yard. The houses are all smaller than 220 square feet, but are sleek in design and ingenious in their use of space.

Tiny Apartments, Common Spaces

Tiny living enthusiasts are big on community — but it can be a tricky thing to build.

Some of the micro units yet to come in Washington, D.C., will boast even more extensive common spaces.

Matt Steenhoek is a developer with PN Hoffman Associates, which is in the process of transforming a huge slice of waterfront property along the Washington Channel in the southwest part of the city. Roughly one-quarter of the apartments will be 350 square feet.

The building will be “designed for sociability, for meeting the neighbors,” he says. “Rooftop dog park. Gardens which you’ll be able to have your own plot in. The bocce courts on the roof.” Inside you’ll find club rooms and a library/lounge. “Easy interaction” is the goal, he says.

And there will be a rock and roll club on the first floor, run by a popular D.C. nightclub. And the sound won’t carry to the apartments upstairs, Steenhoek adds.

Steenhoek says The Wharf is going to be a bustling place 18 months from now, and not just because of this apartment building. “As great as our amenities are in the building … you’re probably still going to be drawn out to the clubs and the bars and the cafes and the bookstores and the bikeshops … outside your front door,” he says.

Urbanist scholar Chris Leinberger says the idea that spaces like these will create more community than the average apartment building may be true for some residents. But most, he says, are likely to bring their friends from outside the building to enjoy the amenities.

In other words, the notion of more community, he says, is likely “more in theory, than in practice.”

The group has held seminars on tiny house building for the past couple of years, as well as open houses to give other people a chance to see a tiny house community in action. Last fall, NPR visited while a couple dozen people milled around the site.

Some were visitors, like Santo Garcia, of Fort Myers, Fla. He called his interest in tiny houses a “crazy fascination,” and was enamored with Jay Austin’s house, called the Matchbox. “A wonderful use of the space,” Garcia said. “The windows just kind of bring you right into it.”

The house has a 10-foot ceiling, with a loft bed built over the bathroom and shower. There are two couches and a galley-style kitchen area with 6-foot countertops on each side. The kitchen also has a two-burner stove. It’s all laid out a little bit like some motor homes, but feels much more like a proper house.

Austin says the Matchbox cost around $45,000 to build — cheap for a house right in one of the nation’s most expensive cities.

Pera says this little community could be a model for others. “A lot of folks have been talking about tiny house communities, but most tiny houses are in someone’s backyard or in a rural area,” she says. “I really wanted to see what we could do creatively in D.C. with urban infill, and just another form of affordable housing.”

Zoning Limitations

Urban infill, a big theme these days in city planning, is essentially the opposite of “urban sprawl.” As cities grow, planners are looking for ways to pack more people into places that are already developed.

But there is a major catch. City rules pose obstacles to tiny house communities — and Boneyard Studios is an example of that. In this case, the lot is classified by the city as “nonbuildable,” because the alleyways on all sides are less than 30 feet wide.

Cities impose rules like this to ensure access for emergency vehicles, among other reasons.

So, like many tiny houses that exist in a gray area of zoning and building code, Boneyard’s structures are all built on big, metal, tow-able trailers, which skirts some code and zoning issues. They are legally parked on the lot. But according to the city, no one can legally reside in the homes. In other words, Boneyard Studios was limited to being a showcase community.

Doing this elsewhere in D.C. could be equally problematic. Putting more than one house on a single residential lot would raise some zoning issues. And city rules aside, the marketplace might be a barrier. If the lot were a build-able one, developers would likely be ready to pay a lot of money to put a full-size home on it.

Julie Williams (left), in her 350-square-foot apartment in Washington, D.C., with Lee Pera. Pera owns a tiny stand-alone house, and says she'd rather be able to step outside her front door than live in an apartment.i

Julie Williams (left), in her 350-square-foot apartment in Washington, D.C., with Lee Pera. Pera owns a tiny stand-alone house, and says she’d rather be able to step outside her front door than live in an apartment.

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Julie Williams (left), in her 350-square-foot apartment in Washington, D.C., with Lee Pera. Pera owns a tiny stand-alone house, and says she'd rather be able to step outside her front door than live in an apartment.

Julie Williams (left), in her 350-square-foot apartment in Washington, D.C., with Lee Pera. Pera owns a tiny stand-alone house, and says she’d rather be able to step outside her front door than live in an apartment.

Franklyn Cater/NPR

For Denser Living, Micro Units

One kind of tiny community that many cities are saying yes to is micro apartments. A half-dozen buildings are now either built or in the works in the nation’s capital alone, and renters are snapping them up.

One popular building is the Harper, right in the middle of a bustling area of new restaurants and shops known as the U Street Corridor. The apartments, all between 350 and 450 square feet, aren’t formally called micro units by the property owners, Keener Management — the company calls them “studios” and “junior one-bedrooms.” But “micro” is the term of art that has taken hold in the real estate world for this kind of unit.

Julie Williams, 37, lives in a studio here — one of those 350 square foot spaces with a combined kitchen, bedroom and living area, roughly 11 by 13 feet. It also has a good-sized separate bathroom.

Williams, who works for the National Institutes of Health, says she pays $1,795 a month, including utilities. Williams saw her rent as a deal compared to neighboring buildings when she moved from a suburban condo – the efficiencies across the street, she says, start at $2,300. Now she reverse commutes to her suburban job.

“My social life now is a lot better,” she says. “Because I am single, I like knocking on my neighbors’ door and being like, ‘Hey Dericka. … Or she’ll knock on my door and be like, ‘I have a date, what should I wear?’ “

A key idea behind buildings like this is that people spend less time in their own apartments. There’s common space — think sharing economy, extra space when you need it. There’s a roof deck, a dining area that can be reserved, lounge with TV and Wi-Fi. This is where Julie Williams brings dates – not to her studio.

‘The Golden Age Of Rentals’

Chris Leinberger, an urbanist scholar at the Brookings Institution, outside The Harper apartments in Washington. Micro-apartments are often situated where young singles want to live, he says: near shops, coffee houses and restaurants.i

Chris Leinberger, an urbanist scholar at the Brookings Institution, outside The Harper apartments in Washington. Micro-apartments are often situated where young singles want to live, he says: near shops, coffee houses and restaurants.

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Chris Leinberger, an urbanist scholar at the Brookings Institution, outside The Harper apartments in Washington. Micro-apartments are often situated where young singles want to live, he says: near shops, coffee houses and restaurants.

Chris Leinberger, an urbanist scholar at the Brookings Institution, outside The Harper apartments in Washington. Micro-apartments are often situated where young singles want to live, he says: near shops, coffee houses and restaurants.

Franklyn Cater/NPR

Census numbers show a growing percentage of renters in the housing market nationwide. Chris Leinberger, an urbanist scholar with the Brookings Institution, says micro apartments are partly a response that — and neighborhoods like U Street, he says, are the perfect spot for them. “This is the golden age of rentals in this country,” he says.

“Across the street, you know, coffee bar, that’s where the Trader Joe’s is, a bank, restaurants left right and center.”

All of D.C.’s new micros are in happening spots like this — aimed at the demographic that includes Julie Williams and Lee Pera. “When you look at the fastest growing category of households, it’s singles,” Leinberger says. “By 2030, the largest category of households is singles.”

To developers, he adds, small apartments are a win-win. A bit cheaper for the renter — yet more profitable per square foot.

As for the idea of an urban tiny house community, Leinberger says “it makes sense if you’ve got a really tight-knit community. But, A, that’s hard to put together and B, they don’t last forever. Life happens. Some individual or some family has an argument with the group as a whole and they move out. How do you deal with ownership? How do you sell it?”

Rethinking Tiny Communities?

Leinberger’s market perspective may cut a little close for Lee Pera and her experience with Boneyard Studios; turns out, Pera’s house is no longer in that showcase community.

The tiny house owners had an ugly falling out. Pera is still building her house, but she had it towed to a friend’s backyard temporarily.

Pera says she’s seeking a new spot for that dream of an urban tiny house community – and is also rethinking what she really wants.

The exterior micro-house.

The 130-square-foot Fencl tiny house being pulled by a small truck.

Macy Miller's downsized from a 2,500-square-foot house.

“I’m not going to try and plan for what this house is gonna be in 10 years — I might not have it,” she says. “Maybe I’ll sell it – I could easily see it being on a piece of property that I have for, like, a little retreat area,” perhaps even somewhere less urban, she says.

But Julie Williams, the tiny apartment dweller is here, touring Pera’s house at it’s new location. And she’s liking the idea of the lone tiny house in a backyard.

“Even as you were talking about moving, I was like, ‘Wow, I could build one of these and move it to my sister’s backyard, and just be near her kids all day and still have my own space,’ ” Williams says. “My mind was all the way over here, that quickly. So, I think it’s nice.”

That is, she says, if she stays single. Because how we live is not all about good design and proximity to others – it’s also about stage of life.

Families Of Sept. 11 Victims Watch Guantanamo Hearings With Mixed Feelings

Feb 27, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Families Of Sept. 11 Victims Watch Guantanamo Hearings With Mixed Feelings

Relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks are periodically flown down to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to witness court proceedings against five men accused of plotting the attacks. For the witnesses of the most recent court session, the experience raised questions about justice, humanity and the ethics of the death penalty.i

Relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks are periodically flown down to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to witness court proceedings against five men accused of plotting the attacks. For the witnesses of the most recent court session, the experience raised questions about justice, humanity and the ethics of the death penalty.

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Relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks are periodically flown down to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to witness court proceedings against five men accused of plotting the attacks. For the witnesses of the most recent court session, the experience raised questions about justice, humanity and the ethics of the death penalty.

Relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks are periodically flown down to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to witness court proceedings against five men accused of plotting the attacks. For the witnesses of the most recent court session, the experience raised questions about justice, humanity and the ethics of the death penalty.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Thad Rasmussen, 36, lost his mother, Rhonda, in the Sept. 11 attacks; she died at the Pentagon. This month, he sat in a courtroom at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and looked at five men accused of planning those attacks.

“It was very difficult to see them as humans,” he says.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp are accused of helping plot the Sept. 11 attacks. For the past three years, they’ve faced death penalty charges, appearing periodically in the war court that is trying them, and the trial could take many years more.

Every time the defendants appear in court, relatives of the attacks’ victims, such as Rasmussen, are flown down by the Pentagon to witness the proceedings.

What do they think and feel as they sit behind a thick glass partition? After the latest court session, a small group of people — all of whom lost a close family member in the Sept. 11 attacks — sat in a circle in an old hangar near the war court and described the experience.

Values Being Tested

Joel Shapiro is a 67-year-old New Yorker whose wife, Sareve Dukat, died on the 86th floor of the World Trade Center’s south tower. Like Rasmussen, he was affected by the sight of the accused.

“I was, on some visceral level, surprised that they didn’t have two heads and four arms — they looked almost human in form,” he says. “And I say ‘almost’ because their actions, I believe, have taken away their right to be treated as humans, to be treated humanely.”

Robert Mathai was 8 when he lost his father, Joseph Mathai, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the World Trade Center. In 2003, Robert, then 10, carried a pot of flowers to the site of a planned memorial in Boston. Mathai, who is a student at Tufts University, recently traveled to Guantanamo Bay to witness court proceedings against the alleged Sept. 11 masterminds.i

Robert Mathai was 8 when he lost his father, Joseph Mathai, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the World Trade Center. In 2003, Robert, then 10, carried a pot of flowers to the site of a planned memorial in Boston. Mathai, who is a student at Tufts University, recently traveled to Guantanamo Bay to witness court proceedings against the alleged Sept. 11 masterminds.

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Robert Mathai was 8 when he lost his father, Joseph Mathai, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the World Trade Center. In 2003, Robert, then 10, carried a pot of flowers to the site of a planned memorial in Boston. Mathai, who is a student at Tufts University, recently traveled to Guantanamo Bay to witness court proceedings against the alleged Sept. 11 masterminds.

Robert Mathai was 8 when he lost his father, Joseph Mathai, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the World Trade Center. In 2003, Robert, then 10, carried a pot of flowers to the site of a planned memorial in Boston. Mathai, who is a student at Tufts University, recently traveled to Guantanamo Bay to witness court proceedings against the alleged Sept. 11 masterminds.

Pool/Getty Images

“I think I just really wanna … kinda push back against that, if I may,” says Robert Mathai, a student at Tufts University. “I think it behooves us to treat them better than they would necessarily treat the people that they do torture and do terrible things to, because if we want to be the better people, we have to hold ourselves accountable.”

Mathai was 8 when his father, Joseph, died at the World Trade Center, and he says there’s more on trial here than just the defendants.

“A lot of American values are being tested,” Mathai says, “and the idea of whether or not we can hold these guys indefinitely, without any reason behind them, as enemy combatants — whether or not that’s fair, under the Geneva Convention, whether or not they’re entitled to those rights — these are all very intense, elevated discussions, and I think the very fact that we’re having them is huge.”

Truth And Justice

One thing all the family members agree on is that this proceeding should be about the truth, even when it’s painful.

“What I’m encouraged by is, yesterday — for the first time — the Senate report on torture came up in open court,” says Shapiro, referring to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s recently declassified probe into CIA interrogation and detention of suspected terrorists — including some of the Sept. 11 suspects.

“That has been very much the elephant in the room that no one was allowed to mention,” Shapiro says. “Now that it is mentioned in open court, it will have to be dealt with. It will be.”

Defense lawyers for the accused have been looking at the report, as the descriptions of brutal interrogation tactics may serve as a mitigating factor in a trial where the death penalty is being sought

Defense attorneys for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are now allowed to introduce details regarding their clients' interrogations after the so-called torture report was released by the Senate Intelligence Committee late last year.

Meanwhile, the very possibility of the death penalty is opposed by 78-year-old Adele Welty, whose son Timothy, a firefighter, died at the World Trade Center.

“I feel that the death penalty is not something I want my government to be involved in,” she says. “So even though it’s a big hill to climb in this particular case — because I have an even bigger hill to climb with the presumption of innocence in this case — I don’t think deliberately killing people is a civilized way of handling retribution and accountability.”

Meeting The Defense

The family members had just met with the lawyers defending the men accused of killing their relatives, and they aren’t sure what to make of them. Robert Mathai came away impressed.

“The point of the defense attorney, like John Adams in the Boston massacre, is to take the unpopular decision, or role, in this case, and defend them as well as possible — to show that there’s no miscarriage of justice,” he says. “And as hard as it is for them, I thank them a lot for doing that, because it’s a very tough role.”

Rasmussen says he gets that.

Adele Welty, who lost her son on Sept. 11, says she opposes the death penalty — even though it's a big hill to climb in this particular case.

Adele Welty, who lost her son on Sept. 11, says she opposes the death penalty — “even though it’s a big hill to climb in this particular case.”

Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows


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Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

“I understand that their duty is not to presume judgment and to defend their client,” he says. “I just have a hard time understanding how they sleep easy at night, or wonder if they have a harrowing time performing their job duties.”

Shapiro, for his part, has extended an offer to each of the attorneys.

“One of the things I did with each defense team was invite them to come down to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, where I’m a volunteer docent,” he says, “and I will give them a private tour. Just as I saw that their clients don’t have two heads, I want them to see the faces of 2,977 individuals.

“They all responded warmly, positively, and I’m going to set up the visits for anyone who wants to come.”

‘An Alternate Universe’

For these family members sitting near the war court in Guantanamo, the events of Sept. 11 are woven into their present lives. But they understand that it’s different for some back in the United States.

“There’s a difference between the ever-presence of this event in, certainly in the New York psyche, and whether anyone knows or cares that there’s anything going on here” in Guantanamo, says Shapiro. “Because from the standpoint of news, which is stale the moment you report it, this is very much like watching paint dry.”

The legal case of the alleged Sept. 11 terrorists is slowly grinding its way through a war court at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“I don’t think anybody focuses on Guantanamo other than the families,” says Welty. “I’ve spoken to innumerable people who know very well that I lost my son on 9/11 and couldn’t understand what in the world I would be doing coming here. It’s as though we live in an alternate universe where we know about certain things that are going on, but the rest of the world has moved on from 9/11.”

But while the rest of the world may not be riveted by the slow-moving legal proceedings in Guantanamo, the family members all say that they’re glad they came down to view the court — even if it was “a roller coaster of emotion,” as Rasmussen put it.

Mathai came away with a better opinion of the war court than he had before he visited, and Adele says it is always a “healing experience” to spend time with other families who lost loved ones in Sept. 11.

When Shapiro was asked how he felt after the visit, he thought of his late wife.

“My wife’s first love was history,” he says. “She would’ve always wanted to be an integral part of this historic situation — not quite the way it unfolded for her, but I can’t think of any place that she would rather be than here witnessing the unfolding of these historical events.”

From Naked Mole Rats To Dog Testicles: A Writer Explores The Longevity Quest

Feb 26, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on From Naked Mole Rats To Dog Testicles: A Writer Explores The Longevity Quest


Spring Chicken

When journalist Bill Gifford turned 40, his friends gave him a cake shaped as a tombstone with the words, “R.I.P, My Youth.” As he reflected on his creeping memory lapses and the weight he’d gained, Gifford got interested in the timeless quest to turn back the aging clock — or at least slow it down.

His latest book, Spring Chicken, explores everything from some wacky pseudo-cures for aging to fascinating research that point to causes of aging at the cellular level.

“In high school biology we pretty much learn that cells divide and divide forever and that’s kind of what they thought up until about 1960,” Gifford tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies. “Now they know that cells actually have a kind of lifespan — they have a limit to the number of times that they can divide.”

Gifford says that after they’re done dividing, the cells go into a state called “replicative senescence.”

“So they go from being these lively dividing cells to basically retiring,” he says. “And they’re sitting there and they’re kind of grumpy.”

Scientists have learned that these cells are “basically toxic,” he says.

“It’s sort of like certain people bring everybody down,” Gifford says. “Senescence cells are kind of the same way. Some people think that senescence cells actually drive much of what we recognize as aging.”

Gifford’s book not only explores the research at the cellular level, but he also looks at the history of anti-aging, how exercise, diet and stress affect growing old and interesting phenomena in the natural world — like the naked mole rat. It lives long, shows no increase in mortality with age, never gets cancer and never experiences menopause.

“They live underground; they’re from Africa and they live in a colony,” Gifford says. “I held one in my hand and she was the size of between a mouse and a rat — and she was 28 years old, whereas a mouse lives to about two years old. In human terms, it was like a 600-year-old person … and she was pregnant.”

These animals, Gifford says, have repair mechanisms in their cells that allow the cells to survive damage and live longer.

Scientists “recently sequenced the mole rat genome so they’re looking pretty hard for what that might be,” he says. “On the other hand, it might just be an anomaly … we don’t know. The point is that nature knows how to let animals live a very long time.”

Interview Highlights

Bill Gifford is a contributing editor for Outside Magazine. His previous book was called Ledyard: In Search of the First American Explorer.i

Bill Gifford is a contributing editor for Outside Magazine. His previous book was called Ledyard: In Search of the First American Explorer.

Darryl Patterson/Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing


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Darryl Patterson/Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing

Bill Gifford is a contributing editor for Outside Magazine. His previous book was called Ledyard: In Search of the First American Explorer.

Bill Gifford is a contributing editor for Outside Magazine. His previous book was called Ledyard: In Search of the First American Explorer.

Darryl Patterson/Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing

On the late 19th century scientist Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard

He was one of the great scientists of the 19th century; he’s regarded as the founder of endocrinology, the study of glands. When he got to be about 70 years old he wasn’t feeling so hot and he started to wonder why. He thought the answer had to do with something produced in the gonads, so he mixed up a little mixture of crushed up dog testicles, testicular blood and semen, mixed it all up and injected himself with it for a period of about three weeks. In 1889, he gave a triumphant address to the society of biology in Paris describing this experiment and how it had miraculously rejuvenated him, an old man, he could work through the night now, he could lift much more weight, he could urinate farther, all these fantastic things and people were horrified. …

He was already 70 or 71 and he lived about another five years, so he did pretty well for the 19th century, but whether the treatment extended his lifespan, [it’s] difficult to say. They now think it was pretty much a placebo effect.

It became a cultural sensation. … It was called the Séquard Elixir and all kinds of quacks set up mail order businesses where you could get 10 syringes for $2.50. There were songs written about it; it was written up in all the papers. People went crazy. He never made a dime off it. …

In a way, Séquard’s elixir was kind of a precursor of the testosterone replacement and estrogen replacement therapies that are extremely popular right now. So he was onto something.

On the controversial pre-Depression era scientist John Brinkley

In between the elixir and the testosterone, there was an unfortunate intermediate step where a salesman named John Brinkley down in Texas began implanting goat testicles in worn out middle-aged men and he did similar surgeries in women. Obviously [this was] not a good idea and many people died on his operating table, but he became fabulously wealthy. He was one of the richest men in the pre-Depression era. He actually had a radio station down there. He was just across the border in Mexico because they kicked him out of the country, but he had this hugely powerful radio station that broadcast some of the early country music stars.

On the conference for anti-aging and human growth hormones

It was founded by these two doctors in Chicago who basically pioneered the use of human growth hormone as a treatment for aging back in the ’90s. And a study had come out in about 1990 saying that older men gained muscle mass when they were on an exercise program and human growth hormone.

So they kind of took this and ran with it, and now, 20 years later, older Americans inject themselves with about $1.4 billion worth of human growth hormone per year and the system of injections costs about $10,000 to 12,000 a year. …

[But] the scientists I spoke to feel that human growth hormone, far from reversing aging, actually accelerates aging. It turns on these pro-growth, pro-aging pathways. And there aren’t clinical trials of this stuff because it’s technically illegal for this use, but let’s just say the longest [living] laboratory mice had zero growth hormone. Their cells had no growth hormone receptors. So human growth hormone might make you feel better for a short time, but it’s very doubtful that it will lengthen your life and may do the opposite.

On anti-aging supplements

Related NPR Stories

Klotho (right) is one of the three Greek Fates depicted in this Flemish tapestry at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Daniel Horowitz for NPR

A new study linking animal protein-rich diets to increased mortality in middle age adds fuel to the controversy over how much protein — and from what sources — is ideal for health. One thing that seems pretty clear: It doesn't hurt to go heavy on the greens.

There’s very little evidence for most of these supplements that you see marketed to older people. Supplements are very poorly regulated in this country and there just aren’t the same evidentiary standards that you need for say, a drug. There was just a recent case where the attorney[s] general of several states found that supplements sold in places like Walmart had things like grass clippings in them.

On studying people who are over 100 years old

At [Albert] Einstein College of Medicine … the theory is that that they have genes that protect them from the diseases of aging that the rest of us get. So they get to 100 and they don’t have diabetes; they don’t have heart disease; they don’t have cancer; they’ve been protected somehow. So the question is: Do they have genes that protect them from these diseases and what are the genes and … can we make a drug that can kind of imitate the action of those genes.

On how exercise affects aging

Anything really, is better than nothing. Basically, we evolved to move around, to run, to walk, to use our bodies and not to just sit around the way most of us do for most of the day. There’s kind of an idea of use it or lose it and that’s really programmed into our biology. The more you use your muscles, the more you’re walking around, the more you’re going to hang on to your muscle as you get older. That’s really important because muscle wasting with age is the second leading cause of admission to nursing homes after Alzheimer’s disease.

On the theory that short-term, controlled physical stress is good for longevity

[Blogger Todd Becker] believes in small amounts of stress as a way of life. It sounds completely crazy but there’s actually a scientific basis to it. … He wakes up in the morning every day and he takes a freezing cold shower, that’s how he starts off. Then he’ll skip lunch at work and then at the end of the day, without having eaten all day, he’ll go for a trail run in Palo Alto, [Calif.], where he lives. … I started looking into the science and cold water exposure actually has some pretty interesting affects. [There are] studies of cold water swimmers and they are healthier than people who don’t go cold-water swimming. …

The idea is this concept of hormesis — that’s the stress response. That’s another thing we have hard-wired into our biology. Organisms that are exposed to stress in certain ways respond to it and become stronger. One obvious example is exercise. You stress out your muscles, you lift a weight or whatever, they’re damaged, and then they come back stronger. On the cellular level it also works. It has an effect of almost like cleaning up or reorganizing your proteins so they’re in better shape.

On the theory that eating less helps you live longer

[There is] something called the Caloric Restriction Society, and there are people who basically make a great effort to eat anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent less than most of us eat. So obviously they’re very skinny, but they’re doing this because research for decades has shown feeding mice and other animals a lot less seems to make them live longer. …

When we were hunter gatherers, we didn’t get three meals a day, we might get three meals a week. So the people who survived — or the critters who survived — were the ones who could go for pretty decent periods without food and even then, not eat a whole lot of food. So our biology is kind of tuned to survive famines, to survive low-nutrient conditions. What that does [is it] puts our cells in a sort of stress-resistant state that ends up prolonging life.

Read an excerpt of Spring Chicken

‘Battle Creek’ Has The Flavor Of A TV Throwback From An Earlier Age

Feb 26, 2015   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on ‘Battle Creek’ Has The Flavor Of A TV Throwback From An Earlier Age

The new CBS show about two very mismatched investigative partners plays like a comedy. The characters are complicated and surprising, and the dialogue is crisp and quick. It’s “a lot of fun to watch.”

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