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Margot Adler, seen here in 2006, was a longtime reporter for NPR. She died Monday following a battle with cancer. (NPR)

Margot Adler, An NPR Journalist For Three Decades, Dies

by Eyder Peralta
Jul 28, 2014

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Margot Adler, one of the signature voices on NPR's airwaves for more three decades, died Monday at her home in New York City. She was 68 and had been battling cancer.

Margo joined the NPR staff as a general assignment reporter in 1979. She went on to cover everything from the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic to confrontations involving the Ku Klux Klan in Greensboro, N.C., to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Her reporting was singular and her voice distinct," Margaret Low Smith, NPR's vice president for news, said in an announcement to staff. "There was almost no story that Margot couldn't tell."

The granddaughter of renowned Viennese psychiatrist Alfred Adler, Margo was born in Little Rock, Ark., but she spent most of her life in Manhattan.

More recently, Margo reported for NPR's Arts Desk. She landed the first U.S. radio interview with author J.K. Rowling, and this past June, she released "Out for Blood," a meditation on society's fascination with vampires.

Margo explained to NPR's Neal Conan that research for the book began when her husband of 33 years was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

"He was the healthiest man on the planet, I mean literally," Margo said. "You know, he was a runner. Unlike me, he'd never done any drugs in the '60s. He'd never smoked. He ate perfectly, you know, one of these people. And he only lived nine months."

During that time, Margot read 260 vampire novels.

"Basically I started out, it was a meditation on mortality and death, and I started realizing that some of the different attitudes that he and I had about death, he was definitely kind of the high-tech guy, rage, rage, rage, you know, take every supplemental, blah, blah, blah, blah," she said. "And I was kind of more like we're all part of the life process, you know."

Margot had a long standing interest in the occult. "Margot was not only a brilliant reporter, she was also a Wiccan priestess and a leader in the Pagan community," Low Smith notes. "That was deeply important to her and she wrote a seminal book about that world: Drawing Down the Moon. She also wrote a memoir called Heretic's Heart."

In a note she sent to NPR's staff last week, Margo explained that she had been fighting cancer for three and a half years. Until three months ago, she had been relatively symptom-free.

What began as endometrial cancer had metastasized to several parts of her body.

"She leaves behind her 23-year-old son Alex Dylan Glideman-Adler, who was by her side caring for her throughout her illness," Low Smith notes.

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Summertime fun (AP)

It May Be Summer, But For Economists, This Week Feels Like Christmas

Jul 28, 2014

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This week is summer's sweet spot — the peak time for pool parties, fresh-picked berries and cool drinks. But for economists, it may feel more like Christmas — so much to unwrap!

Each day will bring new decisions and reports that could have a big impact on the nation's economy. So economists, investors and workers will have plenty to ponder. Here's what's happening this week:

  • Tuesday and Wednesday: The Federal Reserve Board's policymakers are meeting over two days this week to chew over economic data and decide whether to continue the current policies that restrain interest rates. They will announce their decision at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday.
  • Wednesday : At 8:30 a.m. ET, the Commerce Department will release its first estimate of GDP growth for the second quarter. This is a big deal because the first quarter was dismal - with the economy actually shrinking. Most economists believe the second quarter will show a healthy bounce back, with GDP expanding at about 3 percent.
  • Thursday: At 3 p.m. ET, the USDA will report on farm prices. Earlier this year, a lot of prices shot up for food — especially meat. High grocery prices can hit consumers hard. So economists will be watching for signs of what's to come for consumers when they head to the grocery store this fall.
  • Friday: The Labor Department will release its July jobs report at 8:30 a.m. ET. This report is always a big deal because a healthy labor market is the key to economic growth. In recent months, jobs have been growing rapidly. Did the pace continue in July?

In addition, economists will be watching for lots of wild cards this week. For example, Congress will be finishing up some work before starting its August recess. Lawmakers could make decisions involving issues with big economic impacts, such as on immigration and federal highway spending.

The stock market may be in for a wacky week with so much key economic data hitting, along with a surge of corporate earnings reports.

And there's no shortage of geopolitical tension. Any number of developments in Gaza, Libya or Ukraine could upset economic expectations.

So if ever there was a week to pay attention to economic reports, this is it. Just keep a tall, cool drink handy. You may need it.

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First Lt. Patrick Romanofski, center, and 2nd Lt. Andrew Beckner (right) practice the launch of nuclear weapons. Promotions are now more strongly influenced by hands-on performance in this simulator. (U.S. Air Force)

To Stop Cheating, Nuclear Officers Ditch The Grades

Jul 28, 2014

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The launch of nuclear weapons is a task with little room for error.

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The young officers at F.E. Warren Air Force Base have an enormous job: to keep 150 nuclear-tipped missiles ready to launch at a moment's notice.

Understandably, they're expected to know exactly what they're doing.

Three times a month, they're tested on the weapons and the codes used to launch them. Anything less than 90 percent is a fail.

But until recently, even 90 percent wasn't really good enough. "I was told that if I got a 90 on a test, I was a D student — and I would be treated that way," says Lt. Daniel Sharp of his first year with the Air Force's 90th Missile Wing.

Now, in the wake of a major cheating scandal among missile officers, the Air Force is changing the way it grades. From here on out, all tests are pass-fail, and individual scores are not recorded.

It marks huge a shift from the ethos that's driven the missile forces. "There was a tag line that's been with missiles for forty years that perfection is the standard," says Lt. Col. Barry Little, who heads up training. "That idea that you have to be perfect no longer applies."

The change comes because behind the perfection standard was another, unspoken rule: Be perfect, even if you have to cheat to do it. The cheating culture became public in January, when an investigation turned up evidence that officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana were texting each other answers on tests. Nine officers were eventually relieved of duty and dozens of others were reprimanded.

The Air Force does not publicly acknowledge that the cheating went on outside Malmstrom, but NPR has interviewed former Air Force officers who claim there was cheating at F.E. Warren. It came down to a choice, former missile officer Edward Warren told NPR in March: "Take your lumps and not have much of a career, or join in with your fellow launch officers and help each other out. And that is what most people did."

The new regime shifts the weight away from paper tests, and toward practical skills. Inside a full mock-up of a nuclear launch control center, lieutenants Andrew Beckner and Patrick Romenafski practice the launch of nuclear weapons with the turn of a key. How these two perform in this simulator will play a greater role in their future promotions, Lt. Col. Little says. "Your crew proficiency, your reputation among your peers, and your credibility ... all weigh in," he says.

The Air Force is trying to improve morale in other ways as well. They are giving more responsibility to officers in the field, replacing aging equipment and refurbishing old facilities.

Not everyone thinks these fixes will resolve the missile force's problems. Fundamentally, the mission is a holdover from Cold War days, says Bruce Blair, a former missile officer and head of Global Zero, a campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons. Missile crews often feel like "orphans of the Air Force," Blair says. "Out of the very accurate sense that their mission is no longer the priority it once was, [they] are just trying to do whatever it takes to get by."

Lt. Col. Little acknowledges more changes are needed to reinvigorate a sense of importance in the job, but he says that changing the perfection culture is an important first step. The pass-fail testing sends a message, he says: "As a team, they need to make the right decisions, but as individuals they're not required to be perfect."

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New HBO Documentary 'Love Child' Looks At Gaming Addiction

Jul 28, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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In 2010, there were headlines around the world that a South Korean couple had let their 3-month-old daughter starve to death while they spent up to 12 hours a day playing “Prius Online” at a local internet cafe.

Ironically, in “Prius,” players take care of an “anima,” a child-like character, so the couple was neglecting their real life child to care for a virtual one.

But the courts found that the couple suffered from an addiction to the Internet and gave them minimal jail time.

Now, the new HBO documentary “Love Child” goes in-depth into the story. Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks to director-producer Valerie Veatch.


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The human Y chromosome, left, holds the code for "maleness;" that's the X on the right. (Andrew Syred/Science Source)

With Men's Y Chromosome, Size Really May Not Matter

Jul 28, 2014 (WBUR-FM)

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Basic biology has it that girls are girls because they have two X chromosomes — the things inside cells that carry our genes. Boys are boys because they have one X and one Y. Recently, though, there's been a lot of debate in scientific circles about the fate of that Y chromosome — the genetic basis of maleness.

Very early in the evolution of the Y chromosome, explains Dr. David Page, a geneticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, something pretty dramatic happened: The ancestral Y lost most of its genes. And scientists basically ignored the little that was left.

"The Y chromosome was essentially written off as the runt of the human genome," Page says, "as a sort of genetic wasteland that didn't really merit anyone's serious attention."

When the Y did get any attention, it wasn' t good news. Some scientists, like geneticist Jennifer Graves at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, speculated that the Y might be destined to just keep, sort of ... rotting away.

"As soon as it becomes a male-determining chromosome, then the rot sets in," La Trobe says. "That's kind of the kiss of death for that chromosome" — meaning the Y chromosome could be headed toward oblivion, completely disappear.

But other scientists, including Page say: Not so fast. Step away from my Y chromosome.

"I've really spent the better part of my career defending the honor of the Y chromosome in the face of insults of this sort," Page says.

For the Y, size really doesn't matter, he says. Page has done a detailed analysis of the chromosome's evolution and says the string of genes has been solidly stable now for millions of years.

"The idea that the Y chromosome might disappear altogether, possibly taking men with it — I think that idea has now been firmly dismissed," he says.

In fact, the relatively few precious genes that are left on the Y look like they're special — very special.

"There are genes on the Y chromosome that are active throughout every nook and cranny of the body," Page says, "the skin, the blood, the brain, the lungs — you name it. They look to be sort of global entrepreneurs within the human genome. They are sort of master regulators."

Still, Jennifer Graves remains skeptical.

"I don't think that one can assume just because they're there and they do something useful they'll be there forever and ever," she says. "A small accident could tip it over the edge, or the evolution of a new sex-determining system that works better."

Graves says she is always surprised by the ferocious reaction she gets to any suggestion that the male chromosome might be vulnerable.

"I've been accused in print of being, you know, a ball-breaking feminist," she says. "Well, no — not really. I'm just pointing out that things change and evolution is wonderful, and it can do thing lots of different ways."

Graves has a theory about why the reaction is so intense, especially among men.

"There's some deep-seated insecurity that men have about their Y chromosomes," she says, half-joking. "When I give lectures about the demise of the Y chromosome, I see men sort of hunching up into this protective stance as though I'm physically attacking them."

And there's a twist in all this. Even if the Y chromosome is here to stay, that may be something of a double-edged sword for men. Even if those master genes on the Y chromosome are important, they may also help explain why men are more prone to certain diseases than women are — and tend to live shorter lives.

Jan Dumanski, of Uppsala University in Sweden, and his colleagues recently reported, for example, a possible link between the Y chromosome and an increased risk for lots of cancers. He sees the human Y chromosome as "the Achilles heel for men."

"It's making us men," Dumanski says, "but also causing us some trouble when we are getting older."

Clearly, our relationship with Y continues to be complicated. And it's not all about size.

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