A male sergeant at West Point has been accused of secretly videotaping at least a dozen female cadets, sometimes when they were showering, The New York Times reports.
Gen. John F. Campbell, the army's vice chief of staff, tells the Times that "once notified of the violation, a full investigation was launched, followed by swift action to correct the problem."
The accused, Sgt. Michael McClendon, was charged on May 14 "under four articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for indecent acts, dereliction in the performance of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and actions prejudicial to good order and discipline," according to the newspaper, and was transferred to Fort Drum, N.Y. He had been a staff adviser to a company of cadets.
This news follows a series of reports regarding allegations of sexual assault in the military. Among our related posts:
Other NPR reports include:
— Military's Sexual Assault Problem Is A Cultural One. (All Things Considered)
— Why Is There So Much Sexual Abuse In The Military? (Tell Me More)
— U.S. Military Faces More Accusations Of Sexual Improprieties. (Morning Edition)
After years of trying to conceive, novelist Jennifer Gilmore and her husband decided to pursue a domestic open adoption. They were told they'd be matched within a year; it took four. And along the way they faced complicated decisions and heartbreak.
Gilmore, who has channeled those decisions and heartbreaks into personal essays and articles for outlets such as The New York Times and The Atlantic, has now turned to fiction, her native genre, to explore the experience. Her latest novel, The Mothers, chronicles the struggles of Jesse and Ramon, a fictional couple trying to adopt who face many of the same challenges Gilmore and her husband faced in real life.
"While my husband and I were going through all this, issues started coming up, ideas about race and class and what motherhood was for us and what it was in America," Gilmore tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "and I thought, 'This would be great for a novel.' I'm sure that I could've written a memoir about it. I've read many elegant and beautiful memoirs that have affected me greatly, but I really think like a novelist, and I wanted to be harder on my character than I probably could be on myself."
The heartbreaks and difficult decisions she and the novel's protagonists share involve babies born too early and with developmental disorders, and women claiming to be pregnant seeking adoptive parents, but who are really just out to extort money from vulnerable couples.
Gilmore's aim is not to discourage hopeful adoptive parents, but rather to increase awareness of the potential challenges of the adoption process.
"I don't want to scare people away," she says. "We actually ended up with a happy ending. ... I also think that there are laws for the birth mothers, as there should be. There are laws for the child, as there should be. But there are no laws to protect these prospective adoptive parents, some of whom lose so much money, so much of their emotional reserves. ... I don't want to scare people away, but I want people to be aware how dangerous it is for you. It's not just you sit around, you wait, and you get this beautiful baby."
On choosing the race of her adopted child
"It was incredibly shocking to me. With domestic adoption, you get a form, you fill it out, and there are these boxes: African-American, African-American and Hispanic, and you check the boxes that you're comfortable with. Race is completely open in that regard. And in a way, it makes sense, because if you don't check the 'African-American' box, then by all means, you should not be parenting an African-American child. ...
"Jessie — the protagonist — knows that if she adopts a child from Ethiopia, that child will be black, but her concern more is, how is she going to celebrate that culture for her child? Because she really believes, as I do, that you really have to give the child a sense of where he or she came from. And there's sort of this notion of pillaging a country she feels like she doesn't have a connection to. But she's not against Ethiopia because of the color of the people there.
"I will say, in open adoption, all these choices you make about race, about the amount of mental illness you can deal with, about special needs and physical maladies, you have to lay all this out there before you know anybody's story. And as you know, when you know somebody's story, when anything is personalized, it changes everything. Sitting around the room and having people pick boxes and knowing what they're picking is really stunning to me."
On determining the exposure kids had to drugs and alcohol through the birth mother
"You can only determine that from talking to [the birth mother] ... all these medical forms you get are all self-reports. A lot of this is going on faith. You have to learn to trust people. Of course, that worked against me and my spouse in a lot of ways, as well as the person in the book, because we were scammed a lot. We were met with a lack of compassion that I still don't completely understand. But you do have to have a certain amount of trust or this is never going to work."
On selling herself to be appealing to the birth mother
"Of course, we thought, 'These babies need homes. And we're helping these babies have happy homes.' That didn't turn out to be the case. There are not as many babies as there are parents who want them. So you realize it is quite competitive. You join a pool of people, and it's sort of a business out there now, a booming one. And there are more people who want babies than can be satisfied.
"So what happens is, whatever route you take, whether you write this profile, you put it online, whether you do it privately, you're sort of saying, 'This is who we are as a couple' or 'We have this big ranch house' or 'We love museums' or 'We love soccer, we love children, we have nieces and nephews, and here are pictures of us with children.' My husband and I made a pact when we started this that we were never going to misrepresent ourselves or lie about who we were. We live in New York; we live in a fourth-floor walk-up, so the rest of the country is confused by that."
On getting scammed by a birth mother who wasn't actually pregnant
"I want to say that, in general, when it works, open adoption is great. Most birth mothers are doing the best thing they can do for their children, and it's done out of love. I do want to say that. However, sometimes it can go terribly wrong. In our situation, we had many people lying to us. ... [W]omen want emotional help, they want to talk to someone. They want power in a way that they don't have power in their lives.
"So I have maybe 100 emails from this person who insisted that we meet her; and we meet her, and I couldn't tell if she was pregnant. She didn't want to talk about an adoption plan, was very uninterested in her 'child' and an adoption plan for that child. And then we got texts from her that made us realize that she wasn't really pregnant at all. She was saying, 'I've been to the doctor! I've been to the doctor! Do you want to know the sex?' And she kept taunting us over and over again. It was really early in her 'pregnancy,' she was maybe four weeks pregnant. There were just signs. Even the agency was saying, 'You have to get out of this. She's not a real birth mother.' "
On a baby they almost adopted who was born premature and with Down syndrome
"I only had one conversation with [the birth mother] literally two days before she went into labor, so we didn't have a very long relationship. It was actually the day my sister had a baby. And she called, and I think I was vulnerable to a lot of things. So when she said she had a baby two months early, 'Here's the baby, come and get her,' we literally packed our bags and got on a plane. We talked to some people and were encouraged to do so, and we were told, 'You don't really know how early the baby is. You don't really know the due date.' We were told, 'Girls are strong. They'll make it through.'
"When we got there, no one would tell us any information. I've since found out you can tell quite easily if a child has Down syndrome. But also the baby was, in fact, nine weeks early, and you know, I'm still haunted by this experience, that I didn't go home with that child. I don't see how I logistically would've been able to stay there for nine weeks. It had just become so crazy and large, and so not the path that we had begun on, and as I said, we didn't know the birth family that well. It was a really difficult decision, I will say, and when we did make it, we knew that there was another family that would take this baby."
Scientists have completed an unusual survey: a census of the fungi that inhabit different places on our skin. It's part of a big scientific push to better understand the microbes that live in and on our bodies.
"This is the first study of our fungi, which are yeast and other molds that live on the human body," says Julie Segre, of the National Human Genome Research Institute, who led the survey.
Trillions of microbes live everywhere in and on our bodies. Most of these viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms are harmless. Many of them are actually helpful. But scientists are just starting to figure out exactly what they are and what they do.
"A lot of medicine has to do with not just our own human cells but really [is] about how humans interact with the bacteria and fungi that live on our bodies," Segre says.
To assess the fungal population, Segre and her colleagues collected samples from 14 different patches of skin on 10 healthy volunteers.
"We did an exploration where we looked at all the different little crevices of your body," she says.
The researchers then sequenced the fungal DNA in those samples and report what they discovered in this week's issue of the journal Nature.
"What we found was that the human body is an even more diverse ecosystem than we had known when we looked only at the bacterial communities," Segre says.
The survey turned up dozens of types of fungi — far more than anyone knew were there. In most parts of the body, fungi from the genus Malassezia dominated. One part of the body had an especially wide array: the feet.
For example, researchers found at least 80 varieties on the heel, at least 60 between the toes and at least 40 on toenails. Elsewhere on the body, they only identified between two and five types of fungi.
The researchers aren't sure why feet are teeming with such a broad fungal assortment. One possibility is that temperature of our feet fluctuates a lot. Segre says there may be another, simpler explanation: "Even those of us who wear shoes a lot still walk around barefoot, either in our homes or in locker rooms. And there's just great exposure to fungi."
Whatever the explanation, the survey could eventually lead to new ways to treat millions of people who suffer from all sorts of skin conditions, such as toenail infections and athlete's foot.
"It really would certainly underlie the idea that you really do need to take very good care of your feet," Segre says. "So, for example, I do wear flip-flops when I walk around a locker room because I know from these studies that I don't actually want to share the fungi with the, you know, 20 other people who are showering after just going swimming."
The researchers were also surprised when they discovered that one volunteer's fungi were still out of whack seven months after she had taken an antifungal drug.
"We want to think there is a resilience of our bacterial communities, of our fungal communities, and that as soon as we stop medicating that they would bounce back into a state of health," Segre says.
But the volunteer's experience provides more evidence that this expectation is far from the case. It suggests that all the antibiotics, antibacterial products and antifungal medications people use these days may be affecting the good microbes that live on our bodies more than we think.
"The scale at which people are being exposed to antimicrobial drugs is really substantial," says infectious disease specialist Martin Blaser, at New York University. "And it would be surprising if there were not consequences from that."
Researchers plan to use this survey to explore a number of questions, including why women tend to get yeast infections when they take antibiotics. And why do some people get dandruff and some babies get diaper rash while others don't.
"There will be many further follow-up studies looking at the disease state on the skin and what kind of perturbations are associated with both the bacteria and the fungi there," says Joseph Heitman of Duke University, whose research focuses on microbial pathogens.
The results may also yield insights into skin cancer, he says. "What if we were to find the microbes on the skin either increase or decrease the risk for skin cancer, for example? That might be very important information to have," Heitman says.
The man ArtReview magazine named the most powerful artist in the world is trying his hand at rock-stardom. In 2011, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei spent 81 days in detention. He was later let go and charged with tax evasion. Now, he has released his first heavy metal song, based on his time in police detention.
The video for the song, "Dumbass," opens with a scene showing Ai Weiwei sitting in a chair, a black hood over his head. Written on the hood are the words "suspected criminal." As he paces the cell, two guards pace with him. As he sleeps, one stands over his bed. Even seated on the toilet, they are just feet away, always present.
These scenes dissolve into the fantasies of one of the prison guards, including plastic blow-up dolls taking Ai's place in his bed, and the whole video ending with Ai, head shaved, dancing in drag. Ai says this dystopian nightmare — shot by cinematographer Christopher Doyle — reflects his detention experience,
"At least you shared my nightmares. I had terrible nightmares after I was released," Ai says during an interview in his Beijing studio Wednesday. "But think about so many political prisoners, they're still in jail. So I make my music to give to them."
Ai's voice is angry, and the lyrics are explicit, at one point comparing China to a prostitute. The music was written by Zuoxiao Zuzhou, known as "China's Leonard Cohen." The song's title refers to anybody, Ai says, "who still has illusions about this political condition, and have illusions to think there is possibility to make some kind of change. I think the system itself refused to make any kind of change."
This is the first track issued from "The Divine Comedy," an album set to be released on June 22, the anniversary of his release from detention.
As he taps away incessantly on Twitter, Ai Weiwei seems to be becoming a global brand.
He can't leave China because the government never gave him back his passport after he was released from his detention. But he has ongoing projects scattered around the world.
He has an exhibition in Indianapolis, and another piece in Hong Kong. Three projects are coming up in the Venice Biennale, as well as a traveling exhibition heading for Princeton, Cleveland, Toronto and Miami.
Ai Weiwei says he's "amazed" by the experience of watching someone portraying his experience on stage on the other side of the world. But playwright Howard Brenton sees the play as a collaboration, pointing out that it was Ai's own idea.
"We are part of his project really," Brenton told the BBC. "Ai Weiwei's work is like stones being thrown into a pond, the ripples, sort of like shock waves, get everywhere."
So what is his project anyway?
"My project is very simple," Ai answers. "It's freedom."
Though Ai Weiwei may not be able to carry a tune, he's not deterred. It may be dumb to speak out, he says. But Ai believes every citizen with a voice should use it to speak up for those who cannot.
"Courage," he says, "is not something you should sacrifice."
Last week I gave a lecture at a corporative event for some 200 executives in the insurance business. Although this happened abroad, my experience is that things would not have been very different here. My mission was to jump-start some macro-level reflection, gently pushing people out of their comfort zone, posing questions that, in the rush of everyday life, we tend to leave aside.
As I was asked to speak about our place in the Universe, I embarked on an exploration of how modern science sees the perennial questions of our existence: our origin, the search for meaning, our role as a thinking species, our future.
I started by mentioning how we are creatures bound by time, with a history that begins and ends. I argued that, just the same, stars and the Universe have their own histories, with a beginning and an end. The passage of time and our awareness of it is, perhaps, our most defining trait: knowing that we exist and that this existence has an end. (At this point, the folks from the life-insurance sector smiled.)
I also argued that much of the human creative effort, our poems and symphonies, our literature, the sciences and philosophical ideas, the sum total of our cultural output, can be seen as a response to the unease of being aware creatures, an attempt to have some measure of control and grace in face of the inexorable. Love, sex, power, relationships, are the road signs of our path ahead, leading this way or that according to our choices.
I then moved to the question of origins: of the Universe, of stars, of life, arguing that every culture that we are aware of, from the oldest to the most current, have offered a narrative of Creation, an attempt to understand where everything came from.
To stare at the night sky, far from city lights, and see hundreds, even thousands, of stars compels us to ask whether other creatures live out there, and how similar or different they are from us. Could there be another kind of intelligence in the cosmos? What kind of intelligence would that be? Individual? Collective? Machine-like? Something unexpected and new?
The case for extraterrestrial life becomes even more compelling when we learn that there are some 200 billion stars in our galaxy alone, the sun being but one of them. And now that we know that most stars do have planets around them, and that many of these probably will have moons, we arrive at the staggering figure of trillions of worlds besides ours in our galaxy alone, each unique, each with its own history and possibilities.
I showed breathtaking images from the Hubble Space Telescope and other space telescopes, of lunar modules and Mars rovers, explaining that these machines are our wonderful creations, small robots travelling for millions of miles across space, visiting and taking images of other worlds while being controlled from Earth by scientists and engineers. I suggested that we should celebrate such technological marvels as we celebrate other great works of human ingenuity such as the pyramids and medieval cathedrals, the architecture of Brasília and Barcelona, the Mona Lisa and Mahler's symphonies.
I argued that contrary to what most think, and as I explain in my book Tear at the Edge of Creation, the more we learn about the Universe the more relevant we become, molecular machines capable of seeing far beyond our limited perception of reality.
I tried, with words and images, to celebrate the human condition and the austere beauty of the Universe, both capable of amazing feats of creation and destruction. I argued that the tragic and the sublime are, like the two-faced Janus, two inseparable aspects of existence, part of the same whole. I argued that we matter because we are unique, that we can be special creatures without being specially created. I argued that our cosmic loneliness should not scare us but instill us to action, working as a unifying force in times of division.
At the end of all this, as inexorable as the passage of time, came the inevitable question, betraying our most ancient fears: "Sir, do you believe in God?"