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Ledisi performs on a balcony in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a Field Recordings video shoot. (NPR)

Ledisi Steals The Show

Aug 27, 2014

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Reported by

Frannie Kelley

There's too much happening in New Orleans' French Quarter — especially on a holiday weekend, and especially when hundreds of thousands of people are in town for the annual Essence Music Festival. There are living statues and five-piece bands and drinks a foot and a half tall and people from all over the world ambling in the middle of the street.

But Ledisi, singing on a balcony in her hometown, stopped the whole thing dead. For a few minutes, with a song about the complications of being a woman, she held an unsuspecting, audibly appreciative crowd in the palm of her hand.

Set List

  • "Pieces Of Me"

Credits

Producers: Mito Habe-Evans, Frannie Kelley; Event Manager: Saidah Blount; Videographers: Mito Habe-Evans, Olivia Merrion, Colin Marshall; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Editor: Mito Habe-Evans; Special Thanks: Sam Malvaney, Mark and Rachel Dibner of the Argus Fund; Executive Producer: Anya Grundmann.

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International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde. (Getty Images)

French Prosecutors Put IMF's Lagarde Under Investigation

by Eyder Peralta
Aug 27, 2014

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Reported by

Eyder Peralta

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, says French prosecutors have put her under formal investigation.

The New York Times reports:

"Ms. Lagarde said in a statement through her lawyer that she was being investigated for 'simple negligence,' by the Court of Justice of the Republic, the judicial body that is charged with investigating the conduct of high government officials.

"Ms. Lagarde, who has denied wrongdoing from the start, said in a statement that the decision by a judicial committee to place her under formal investigation was 'totally unfounded' and that she would be returning to work in Washington on Wednesday afternoon.

"'After three years of investigation and dozens of hours of interrogation, the committee concluded that I had not been guilty of any infraction,' the statement said, 'so it was reduced to claiming that I had been insufficiently vigilant during the arbitration.'"

The BBC explains that this dates back to a 2008 case involving businessman and Sarkosy supporter Bernard Tapie. When Tapie sold Adidas, he claimed that the partly-state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais "had defrauded him by deliberately undervaluing the company."

Lagarde, then the finance minister, referred the matter to an arbitration panel, which decided in Tapie's favor, awarding him $527 million.

The Times explains that under the French system, "a formal investigation suggests prosecutors believe they have enough of a case that they may ultimately bring criminal charges and trial."

Reuters adds:

"The inquiry has already embroiled several of Sarkozy's cabinet members and France Telecom CEO Stephane Richard, who was an aide to Lagarde when she was Sarkozy's finance minister.

"In previous rounds of questioning, Lagarde accused Richard of having used her pre-printed signature to sign off on a document facilitating the payment, local media has said. However Richard has stated that Lagarde was fully briefed on the matter.

"Investigators are trying to determine whether Tapie's political connections played a role in the government's decision to resort to arbitration that won him a huge pay-out."

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President-elect Barack Obama waves to his supporters after delivering his victory speech at his election night party Nov. 4, 2008, at Grant Park in Chicago. (AP)

Book News: Calif. Law Calls For Textbooks To Teach Significance Of Obama's Election

by Annalisa Quinn
Aug 27, 2014

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The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • California history textbooks will now be asked to cover "the significance of President Barack Obama's election," under a law signed this week by Gov. Jerry Brown. The new law requires California's Instructional Quality Commission "to consider including, and recommending for adoption by the state board, instruction on the election of President Barack Obama and the significance of the United States electing its first African American President, as appropriate." The author, Democratic Assemblyman Chris Holden, said in a statement: "We want to make sure that future generations understand that the election of our nation's first African American president was a historic step in the effort towards equality and that previous elections involved intimidation and violence that prevented millions of African Americans from voting."
  • Idra Novey has a poem, "House-Sitting With Approaching Fire," in Guernica:

"Dear friends

the ash-fall is thickening here

it's filming over the pool

I tell the cats we'll be fine

the flames will not reach us..."

"If there's no need for movement, then no need for a brain, I've learned,

a fact demonstrated by the sea squirt, a small creature that swims

freely in its youth until it settles on a rock. Then it devours its own brain."

  • Architect Zaha Hadid is suing The New York Review of Books for defamation over a book review that Hadid says implies she was unconcerned about working conditions for the laborers building her design for a 2022 World Cup stadium in Qatar, Reuters reports. Architecture critic Martin Filler, who was reviewing Rowan Moore's book Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture, wrote that Hadid "has unashamedly disavowed any responsibility, let alone concern, for the estimated one thousand laborers who have perished while constructing her project [Qatar's Al Wakrah stadium] so far. 'I have nothing to do with it,' Hadid has claimed. 'It's not my duty as an architect to look at it.' " Filler has acknowledged that construction on the stadium isn't scheduled to begin until 2015, and, according to Reuters, will print a retraction apologizing for the error. Hadid has not said whether she drop the lawsuit.
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President-elect Barack Obama waves to his supporters after delivering his victory speech at his election night party Nov. 4, 2008, at Grant Park in Chicago. (AP)

Science Crowns Mozzarella The King Of Pizza Cheese

by Maanvi Singh
Aug 27, 2014

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Any way you slice it, Americans are obsessed with pizza. One in eight of us are noshing it on any given day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the average American consumes pizza about 39 times a year, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm.

The signature of a great American-style pizza is not the toppings du jour but the cheese: hot, gooey mozzarella, with big, dark splotches of caramelization.

Pizzerias didn't happen upon that winning recipe by coincidence. Food scientists have been studying and finessing the low-moisture part-skim mozzarella we now put on most of our pizzas for decades. Pizza companies fighting for consumers' loyalty are especially invested in such work.

But a few researchers are interested in studying the chemical and physical properties of pizza simply for the sake of science. Bryony James, a professor of materials engineering at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, is one of them.

It's been known for a while that mozzarella melts and blisters better than most other cheeses. But James and some colleagues wanted to investigate further: Why do different cheeses look and taste different when they're baked? Their paper, titled "Quantification of Pizza Baking Properties of Different Cheeses, and Their Correlation with Cheese Functionality," appears in the August issue of the Journal of Food Science.

The researchers started by cooking up a bunch of pies using various cheeses, including mozzarella, cheddar, Edam and Gruyere, as James explains in a video. Then, they analyzed the pizzas using cameras and special software designed to precisely measure the amount of browning, blistering and oil content.

To further tease out the physical properties of the cheeses, the researchers measured water content and elasticity. They also developed detailed diagrams of what happens to each cheese as it bakes.

The unique browning patterns on mozzarella come from the way it bubbles, James says. Since it's made by repeatedly stretching and molding fresh curds, "mozzarella has a lot of elasticity," she explains. "If you look at it under a microscope, you see it has these channels of fat surrounded by protein."

In the oven, the water in the cheese evaporates to create of steam, which causes it to bubble. Since mozzarella is so stretchy, the bubbles can expand and become fairly big. As the bubbles grow, the oil sitting on top slides off and the exposed mozzarella starts to brown. "Finally, the bubbles pop and recede back down," James says.

Cheddar isn't very elastic, so it barely bubbles, the study found. Yet a cheddar pizza will bake to an even, golden brown.In contrast, Gruyere bubbles really well but barely browns. It's a lot more oily than mozzarella, and the fat keeps the moisture in the cheese from evaporating.

"As a home consumer, you might want play around with these things," James says. Want a pizza with the traditional blistering, but sharper flavor? Try mixing mozzarella with another cheese.

Eventually, James says, the sort of research she's doing could be used to manipulate the properties of foods, like a low-fat cheese that tastes and looks just as good as the fattier stuff. Or maybe food scientists will figure out how to make a pizza crust that stays crisp, even after a day in the fridge. "When we understand food right down to its micro-structural level," she says, "it gives us the levers we need to change the way it behaves."

We'll raise a slice to that.

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President-elect Barack Obama waves to his supporters after delivering his victory speech at his election night party Nov. 4, 2008, at Grant Park in Chicago. (AP)

'Lock In': A Cop Story For Robot Lovers, A Robot Story For Cop Lovers

by Jason Sheehan
Aug 27, 2014

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When I'm reading for fun and not sitting up in my ivory tower reviewing books for NPR, I generally gravitate toward two kinds of stories: science fiction and procedurals. In both cases, I like my books grimy and lived-in. I have no love for utopias, shiny spaceships where nothing is ever broken, or Teflon detectives who don't come with baggage. If there isn't a bullet hole in someone or something before the story starts, there'd better be one put there within the first couple of pages.

But crossing those streams — creating a science fiction procedural — is almost always a bad idea. By nature, your garden-variety procedural has to start with a bang that drops you not into the world, but into the middle of a mystery. And in science fiction, all but the best (or trickiest) authors have to front-load their stories with exposition and world-building that roots you in a place, but not necessarily in the action. Thus, the conundrum: Right from page one, the author either has to short the action or short the world. So it's a good thing that John Scalzi seems to have missed that memo.

Lock In is a cop story first. It begins with a neat and effective free fall into the near-future world in which the story is set, laying out in dry, almost academic terms the history of Haden's Syndrome, a global, meningitis-like pandemic that, in addition to killing lots of people, also left a certain percentage of them completely paralyzed. This paralysis is called "lock in."

The world has been irrevocably altered by it — socially, politically, culturally and technologically. Those suffering from lock in get around using robots or by renting time in the bodies of nonparalyzed Haden's survivors called integrators. Right now (or in the "right now" of the story, anyway), the United States is on the brink of another massive upheaval, as generous government subsidies to Haden's sufferers are about to end. And Scalzi knocks all this out in a tidy, seven-paragraph frontispiece, complete with convenient bolded highlights, attributed to the (fictional) HighSchoolCheatSheet.com — a brilliant way to root his fiction in a believable reality.

Then the book actually starts. There is blood, a body, a couch pushed out a hotel room window from a high floor. There is Chris Shane, rich son of a real estate bajillionaire (and a locked in Haden's survivor) reporting for his second day as a rookie FBI agent and meeting for the first time with his partner, a veteran investigator named Leslie Vann who comes with enough baggage to satisfy Dashiell Hammett. She drinks, she smokes, she sleeps around. She's got tragedy baking off her like radiation, and with that, Scalzi hits all the required tropes like checking items off a form — a body, a mystery, a damaged investigator, even a robot partner (because Agent Shane spends almost all his page time tooling around in, and repeatedly destroying, a variety of robot bodies).

The balance established in the first pages of Lock In serves Scalzi well throughout most of the rest of the book. He moves the story along from clue to clue and suspect to suspect, dropping out of the flow only occasionally to build neat little additions to the world he's playing in. There's an expository dinner scene at the home of Agent Shane's rich parents that drags on a bit (until it's interrupted by something blowing up), and a distractingly heavy use of coincidence. (What? You mean the perfect person to move the plot along just happens to be Agent Shane's new roommate? What are the odds?) But seriously, by the time any of this matters, the bodies are stacking up, there are ninjas leaping out of the kitchen, and Scalzi has the pot boiling in exactly the way you're supposed to in a proper procedural.

And that's not to say it's formulaic, but just that he knows the book he's writing. Once he's gotten past the tricky part of building a near-future world and putting a dead body in it without getting bogged down in the details of either, the rest is all cake and hand grenades. It's about laying down the pieces for an end game — the murder solved, the bad guys brought to justice, all the things you expect.

Which is, of course, where Scalzi plays his second neat trick: Pulling off a half-twist ending that couldn't work anywhere but in this world and yet, at the same time, is so perfectly cop-story-esque that it could've been ripped right from a 1940s pulp novel. It is satisfying in that it's the resolution you expect, but it catches a spark from the postmodern sense that Scalzi and all his characters seem to know precisely what they're doing. They understand that the story is coming to a close, too, and can't help being proud of themselves for the clever job they've done.

Jason Sheehan is an ex-chef, a former restaurant critic and the current food editor of Philadelphia magazine. But when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about spaceships, aliens, giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his newest book.

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