The White House and Department of Defense released statements Wednesday night regarding an attempt earlier this summer to free hostages held by the Islamic State in Syria, including journalist James Foley, whose execution was announced Tuesday by the militants.
According to Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby, the U.S. had hoped to reclaim multiple hostages on the mission:
"This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within ISIL. Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location."
White House national security official Lisa Monaco said in her statement that the president had authorized the unsuccessful operation. Monaco praised the soldiers involved:
"Their effort should serve as another signal to those who would do us harm that the United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable."
The Washington Post reports that the mission was spurred in part by intelligence provided by other Western hostages that Islamic State militants had released.
Note: Today's show is a rerun. It originally ran in September 2013.
Sure, some college degrees lead to higher paying jobs than others. But what's shocking — at least, it was shocking to us — is just how big the gap can be.
The most lucrative majors typically lead to jobs with salaries over $100,000 a year. The least lucrative lead to salaries of around $30,000.
On today's show, we run the numbers. We talk to people who majored in the most- and least-lucrative subjects. And we hear from an economist who says, when it comes to income, choosing a major is more important than choosing a college.
I s#&% you not: The world's most expensive coffee is now being produced in Thailand's Golden Triangle, a region better known for another high-priced, if illegal, export: opium.
Canadian entrepreneur Blake Dinkin, 44, is betting his life savings he can turn his idea into, well, gold. Here's the catch: His Black Ivory Coffee is made by passing coffee beans through the not insubstantial stomachs of elephants and then picking the beans out of, well, yeah, that.
It's similar to Kopi Luwak, the civet coffee that was all the rage a few years back; Dinkin has just supersized the idea.
He knows Kopi Luwak's image has been trashed because of concerns over counterfeiting, disease and animal abuse. But he insists there's nothing fake — or frivolous — about Black Ivory Coffee.
"Look, there are easier ways to make money," he says. "I wouldn't spend 10 years and put my life savings if I didn't think it was real, or I thought it was just going to be an overnight gag."
Gag. Right. Let's just dispense with the jokes here and now, shall we?
"Crappacino," "Brew No. 2," "Good to the last dropping" — Dinkin has heard them all.
And while he's a good sport about it, it's clear he's tired of them, too. He'd rather talk about what makes his brew different — and better — than Kopi Luwak. And it starts with the idea that elephants, unlike humans or civets, are herbivores.
"They eat a lot of grass, green leafy matter. So a herbivore, to break that down, utilizes fermentation to break down that cellulose," he says. "Fermentation is great for things like wine, beer, coffee because it brings out sugar in bean and imparts the fruit from the coffee pulp into the bean."
And that fermentation that helps remove the bitterness, Dinkins says, is what makes his coffee unique.
"I want people to taste the bean, not just the roast," he says. "The aroma is floral and chocolate, the taste is chocolate malt with a bit of cherry. There's no bitterness. And it's very soft, like tea. So it's kind of like a cross between coffee and tea."
To get to that point, the coffee beans are mixed into a mash with fruit then fed to the elephants either by mouth, or hoovered right up the trunk. The latter pretty much sounds like a whole lot of change being sucked up a vacuum cleaner hose.
Then you wait anywhere from one to three days for the elephant to offload its cargo, pick the beans out of the elephant dung (if you can find it), lather, rinse, repeat. It's not always easy finding "the result," which is one of the reasons it takes about 33 pounds of coffee beans to make just one pound of Black Ivory Coffee.
And it's not just the slower cooker that makes the coffee different, Dinkin says. He sources his Arabica beans from hill tribes in the north of Thailand near the border with Myanmar. The drying process is long and the roasting process is precise.
And then there are the elephants. Specifically, how do you go about finding willing vessels? What would you do if some guy cold-called you and said he wanted to use your elephants as slow cookers?
John Roberts, the director of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, remembers this.
"As long as we could prove there wasn't any caffeine or anything harmful leaking out then it was worth trying, at least," he says.
Was Roberts worried about the elephants hitting the mash a little too hard? Not really.
"It's not necessarily elephants getting buzzed I'm too worried about, it's more elephants missing their caffeine fix and getting headaches and being bad tempered ... it's very dangerous. The last thing you want is a cranky elephant," says Roberts.
So what does brew No. 2 taste like? I bought a serving — five or six espresso cups — for $70, and sat on the terrace of the five-star Anantara Golden Triangle hotel to watch Dinkin prepare the "experience."
First, he ground it lovingly. Then he brewed it, again with love. And then, after it cooled, I was ready.
The first thing that came to my (admittedly) juvenile mind was a scene from an Austin Powers movie where he says, "It's a bit nutty."
And in fact the elephant poop coffee was a bit nutty. But also very flavorful and not at all bitter — just as Dinkin had promised.
I then went inside to pimp a few cups to hotel guests. And as luck would have it, the first I met was a Finn. And the Finns drink more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world. Which made Juha Hiekkamaki the perfect subject as he sipped—tentatively.
"Yes, that's kind of very interesting, because usually I use a lot of sugar with coffee, but this is a very gentle taste and I really quite like it," he noted.
And then it got better, because his wife, Claire is a Brit. And she doesn't even drink coffee. Her verdict?
"It's sort of fruity. Well, OK, it's raisin-y to me," she said. "I normally describe drinking coffee as bit like drinking puddle water. But it doesn't have that terrible muddy water flavor afterward. It's really nice. I really like it."
Don't expect Black Ivory in a Starbuck's near you. Dinkin is selling an experience, limited — for now — to five-star hotels and resorts in Asia and the Middle East. And one tiny store in Comfort, Tex., called The Elephant Story, where the profits go to elephant conservation.
"I'm not looking to sell a lot of it," Dinkin says. "I want to keep as small, niche business, I get to work with people in enjoy being with and I can make a decent living doing it and everyone's happy, that's what I want."
So far, he's still not quite there. But he says he's close to breaking even.
Military service once defined the lives of many men in the United States, particularly before the end of the draft in 1973. But today, many younger adults have no direct family ties to the military at all.
For the men in Mark and Jeremy Pierce's family, however, military service is a tradition dating back to the Civil War.
"My father always taught us growing up that there's service to the community, service to the church and service to the country," says Mark, of Fillmore, Utah, who retired in 2010 after nearly four decades as a Green Beret. Jeremy, his son, is a veteran of the U.S. Army, and Jeremy's brother has also served.
NPR's Audie Cornish talks with Mark and Jeremy about how military service contributed to their coming of age as men, how service has often been tied to masculinity across the generations — and how that may be changing as the share of women in the military has grown.
On Jeremy's decision to enlist as a family rite of passage
Mark: At the time Jeremy joined, I was in Iraq. We were getting rocket fire, and I would be talking to Jer about joining up, via Skype, and they'd hear the explosions and the sirens — and then I would have to leave. And my wife was going, 'Jeremy, are you sure you want to do this? Look what your dad's going through.' And he said, 'Well, it's the family tradition; it's what we have to do.'
On how military service contributed to their sense of becoming a man
Mark: I'll boil it down to you: In the crucible of combat, you will learn more about yourself and the people around you in five minutes ... than you will the rest of your life. It's a tough lesson, and a hard way to learn it, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Jeremy: When I joined the Army I was very immature, and I thought that being a man was just being able to grow a full beard and having a deep voice. But similar to what my father said, you just take an unpolished look at yourself and you know exactly how you are as a person and what you need to do to improve.
On whether military service is tied to masculinity
Mark: Because of our family tradition, I always said to [the] boys, 'You can go into military if you want. I told my daughter I didn't want her to, because I'm 62 and I grew up in an era when women stayed home and raised kids. And you know, we're all subject to the paradigms we learned when we were raised growing up, and that's mine.
Jeremy: My wife is in the Army. ... I feel like military service isn't tied to any sort of machismo or masculinity per se. It's just throughout the media, it's twisted towards [men]. ... Whenever you see anybody in the military, they're usually like, you know, Sylvester Stallone or something ridiculous, where they're over-the-top manly.
On how having a military spouse makes Jeremy's and Mark's experiences differ
Jeremy: It was actually good to have my wife ... in the service, because I could open up and talk to her more than some of my peers [can talk to their spouses]. ... They can kind of fool their wives and be like, 'Oh, that faint mortar fire in the background, that's nothing, that's a training exercise.'
Mark: By the way, I am very proud of my daughter-in-law. You know, she outranks me! I gave her her first salute when she was commissioned, which I thought was terrific.
For me, the hardest thing was my poor wife. You know, we've been married almost 30 years now and so she's been on board. ... It was tough on her, especially when I would come back from the combat missions, because I'd never talk about it. ... And I'd sit there and she'd say, 'What's bothering you?' And I'd say, 'I can't even talk about it.'
On Mark's advice to his sons about combat
Mark: The main thing I told both of my boys is that once you make a decision to pull the trigger, or to do something that's going to end a life, you make absolutely sure that those conditions under which you do that are clear in your mind, because you'll relive that the rest of your life.
Jeremy: And there were a few times that I really had to take that advice to heart. ... Once I got into Iraq and there [were] a few confrontations, [that advice] just kind of seemed to slow the world down. ... We had one point where a person was trying to drive a car through our gate, and we didn't know if they were lost or if they had a car bomb. And it ended up that he was just an innocent civilian who was just trying to turn around at our gate.
On how both men feel about the prospect of Jeremy's son serving
Jeremy: I wouldn't want him to join, but if that's his decision, I'd support him in it.
Mark: No, [I wouldn't be disappointed]. Times change. People change. You know, I encourage everyone to try the military, or try something to challenge yourself, because as I said back in high school ... 'When I'm old I wanna have a lot of neat stories to tell' and I do. And now both my sons, now they have some stories to tell. And so hopefully, as the grandchildren get older, we'll be able to bore 'em to death at family reunions.
A father takes his three sons to a hypnotist's show. Called onto the stage, the father's cool self-possession and confidence seem to prevail, and he walks away, claiming no effect. They leave the show, he drops his sons off and drives away. We learn later that he has taken his passport and emptied the family bank account. The boys will not see him again until they are adults.
Arthur Friedland's abandonment of his children is the tragedy at the center of this beautifully translated novel by German-Austrian author Daniel Kehlmann. When we next meet the brothers, they are grown, and each is experiencing a crisis of sorts. Martin, the son of an earlier marriage, is overweight, socially awkward and still obsessed with the Rubik's Cube his father gave him as a boy. Although now an ordained priest, he cannot manage to conjure actual belief in even the most basic tenants of faith.
Martin's half-brothers — identical twins Eric and Ivan — had been inseparable (and indistinguishable) as boys but are now drawn apart by the secrets they keep from each other. Eric is a businessman whose financial misdeeds are about to catch up with him; Ivan is an art dealer and forger. In fact, all three brothers are fraudsters of one kind or another, and through them, Kehlmann, with dry wit, philosophical wonderings and relentless pessimism, examines the detail of lives lived without integrity.
None of the Friedland men are very good at life. Plaintively, one of them muses: "How did other people know how to behave, where was it written, how did you learn it?" Do their problems all stem from Arthur's disappearance? Did something happen to him on that stage with the hypnotist to make him run away from his life and his family? Or is the state of mind that makes for disconnection and disaffection just our lot as humans in complex modern times?
In chapters that switch point of view to focus on each family member in turn, Kehlmann narrates the lives of the brothers during the summer of 2008, just before the global financial crisis, as the deceptions upon which their respective existences are built are threatened with exposure.
This is a book for the reader who doesn't mind working hard. In one exceptional chapter, there is an anecdotal genealogy-in-reverse that tracks the lives of Arthur's ancestors across the globe and through the centuries. It's an object lesson in compression made all the more intriguing by the fact that, taking into account the abandoned babies and disappearing fathers, it's a lineage that cannot possibly be verified. And yet the reader is compelled by the recurring talents and fates that mark the family history.
Kehlmann's prose is sophisticated and often dense, his musings on religion, art and life are intellectually rigorous, and his plotting masterful in the linking of the story's separate narratives with overlaps that, when revealed, surprise and shock the reader. Despite the fact that I did not find a single likeable character here — each too deeply flawed and unpleasant to be comfortably deserving of empathy — the challenge made this a hugely rewarding read. After all, as Arthur tells one of his sons: "A life doesn't last long, Ivan. If you're not careful, you squander it in stupidities."
Recent research shows that works in translation account for approximately 3 percent of all books published annually in the U.S. and the U.K. Fiction's slice is an even smaller fraction. Thank the publishing gods, then, for the work of translators such as Carol Brown Janeway. Even a writer of Kehlmann's proven skill needs a sensitive and equally talented translator to transform images, jokes and all the complexities of well-drawn characters believably into another language. So well attuned is Janeway to the author's style and sensibility that I did not find a single false note in the entire book.
Although I persuaded myself that I was reading a tale with a distinctly German "personality," there was much in Kehlmann's study of a family in crisis that I connected with: the thoughtless disloyalties and acts of selfishness along with mutual co-dependence; the sense of shared fates even as each seeks to forge a separate life.
Kehlmann's rendering of life's mysteries, and Janeway's seemingly effortless brilliance as a translator allow the reader a window to another world, another language, as if looking (and listening) through clear, highly polished glass.
Ellah Allfrey is an editor and critic. She lives in London.