With so many members of Iraq's Yazidi religious minority killed, abducted or left homeless in recent weeks, one more death - due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound - might almost pass unnoticed. But friends and family of 33-year-old Naif Khalif Omar say his suicide is resonating in a community that sees only a bleak future ahead.
In a long white funeral tent in Deraboun, a haphazard collection of makeshift encampments lining the road to Syria, Omar's father, Khalil Omar Khalifa, sits with family and friends who hail from one of the Yazidi villages around Mount Sinjar that were brutalized by Islamic State fighters last month. On the question of why Omar killed himself, opinions are divided.
Some say the final straw happened at the camp at Deraboun. Omar had survived the worst of the violence and hardship, and had landed a job in the camp's kitchen. But when the World Food Program closed the kitchen, Omar was out of work. His father, though, says it was the senseless, random killings, the abduction and abuse of women, and the terror-stricken flight up Mount Sinjar and then back down again that caused something to snap in a once-healthy young mind.
"By the time we got here he was psychologically hurt somehow," says Khalifa. "He didn't eat much, he stopped talking. It was just too much for him."
In An Instant, Lives Scarred Forever
While Iraqi officials celebrate military gains against the militants calling themselves the "Islamic State," human rights advocates warn of perilous circumstances for hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the north, especially those from the Yazidi religious minority, a group that has been persecuted for centuries for its unusual beliefs. Omar's suicide is a stark example.
Khalifa says his son was fine back in the village, working as an Iraqi border guard and preferring to spend much of his spare time at the family farm, tending crops and working the fields. Another villager who knew Omar, Ibrahim Fundi Ibrahim, is a 30-year veteran of the Iraqi army. He blames the security forces for abandoning the village, bringing on the chaos and trauma that claimed Omar's life.
"We left with nothing, just our lives," Ibrahim says. "And when he came here he sees the children crying, every time the TV is on people are being shot or beheaded."
"Now we're sitting in his funeral tent," he adds. "This is like a five-star hotel compared to where other people are - look over there, people living under a truck. This isn't right."
Women And Girls Abducted, Rumors Fly
Omar's father wants to return to the village, if it can be made safe. Many others, like Ibrahim, don't think it's possible.
"OK, maybe they'll take Sinjar back but what about our women?" he asks. "They've been sold! They're in the Arab Gulf countries, they bought our women, can you believe it? How can we stay here?"
Ibrahim and other Yazidis call it genocide. Human rights advocates say the evidence points to war crimes. Donatella Rivera with Amnesty International says what happened to the Yazidis in the Sinjar region is a "momentous" example of ethnic cleansing.
But as for the anecdotes about Islamic State fighters being modern-day slave traders, she treats those allegations cautiously, believing most are being held in Iraq.
"We know where the overwhelming majority of the women who've been abducted are, there are communications," says Rivera. "But some of them are missing, and those are the ones that obviously we're particularly concerned about. Certainly the families are very concerned about the possibility that these women and girls may be subjected to sexual abuse, and to be forcibly married, for example to fighters."
Rivera doesn't believe that has happened yet in most cases, but says the plight of these women and girls remains dire.
Trying To Find Normal Again
Some semblance of normal life can be found amid the lean-tos and blankets lining the streets near the Syrian border. In a concrete irrigation trough, young boys splash about, striking goofy poses for passersby.
But Yazidi families wonder how many young people will bear lasting scars from what they've witnessed in the past few weeks. Others wonder about the international response to this crisis, which Rivera describes as "extremely slow."
In a better world, Naif Khalil Omar would have received psychiatric as well as basic medical care. He might have decided that he did have a reason to live - perhaps for his wife and infant daughter, who were not among those taken by the Islamic State.
But on a dusty roadside in the desert, where people sleep under trucks or do whatever it takes to get through another day, one young man who survived unthinkable horrors had no one to help him survive his own memories.
Along with the U.S. Open in tennis, early September means baseball's pennant race is in full swing ... and no sports term has become a more maddening cliche than baseball's "walk-off."
At first it was applied only to a walk-off home run — that is, when the home team would win in the last inning with a homer — game's over, so it's a walk-off, because there's no need to run. Then there became walk-off triples, doubles, singles, sacrifice flies — even walk-off walks with the bases loaded. It's creeping walk-offism.
The expression apparently was created a quarter-century ago by Dennis Eckersley, the Hall of Fame pitcher, and the irony is that he was looking at it, negatively, from a pitcher's point of view. That is, if he gave up the homer that ended the game, the poor pitcher just lowered his head and walked off the mound.
Over time, though, a walk-off became a positive phrase, featuring the triumphant hitter, not the woebegone pitcher. And never mind that when somebody gets a "walk-off" now, there is no actual walking off. The batter who made the hit and his teammates all run and hop and jump and do everything in ambulatory celebration except walk.
Nonetheless, the expression has become horribly rampant in baseball, so I thought it was time to imagine what sportswriters would be saying about some historical moments.
Starting, of course, with the most famous duel, which was a walk-off by Aaron Burr. When Robert E. Lee left the McLean House at Appomattox: walk-off surrender. Brad leaving Jennifer for Angelina: walk-off breakup.
Pope Benedict XVI: walk-off papacy. There's a tie between Robin Hood splitting the other guy's arrow and William Tell splitting the apple for the all-time great walk-off bulls-eye. Adam and Eve getting tossed out of Paradise: walk-off sin.
And let's give credit where credit is due: Surely Blackbeard produced the most walk-offs the plank. Aye, Matey.
And now to the strains of that great inspirational ballad, "You'll Never Walk-Off Alone," let us never forget Neil Armstrong as he departed the LEM: "That's one small walk-off for man, one giant walk-off for mankind."
Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's commentary.
After years of criticism for being too lax on campus sexual assault, some colleges and universities are coming under fire from students who say the current crackdown on perpetrators has gone too far.
Dozens of students who've been punished for sexual assault are suing their schools, saying that they didn't get a fair hearing and that their rights to due process were violated. The accused students say schools simply are overcorrecting.
More than 70 campuses are under federal investigation for violating the civil rights of alleged victims, and some students say schools are running so scared that they're violating the due process rights of defendants instead.
"Right from start they treated me like I was the scum of the earth," says one young man, who was a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst this past fall when he was told he was being investigated for sexual misconduct — and had just hours to move out of his dorm.
It started at a party. He says a classmate invited him to her room, asked him to bring a condom, texted her girlfriends about it, gave no signs of being drunk and repeatedly indicated that she wanted to have sex.
So, he says, they did.
"Then we kissed and fooled around for a few more hours, and then eventually she told me her roommate was coming back at some point and that I should leave, but that she had a lot of fun," he says.
In her version of events, according to a university report, she started to "freak out" shortly after he left. She began to feel pain throughout her body, and realized that something had happened, but she didn't know what. She told the school she had been drinking and had no memory of most of the night — until a day later when she remembered "him having sex with me and holding me down."
She told a friend, who told a dorm adviser, and two days later the school launched an investigation that he says was rigged from the start.
"They were going through the motions," he says. "I felt like I was just trapped in the tidal wave."
This student is one of several dozen now suing. He filed as John Doe, fearing damage to his reputation, and agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity. The lawsuit identifies the victim as Jane Doe.
In his complaint, the male student alleges the hearing process was inherently biased against men, and violated Title IX by denying his rights to equal protection. The university, he says, withheld information he needed for his defense, and wouldn't let him have an attorney to speak for him.
He says he was grilled by a hearing board that he says was hostile and poorly trained. The panel ruled against him and he was expelled, which he says was emotionally devastating.
"I had some dark days," he says. "It's hard, you know? It hurts down to your bones."
UMass Amherst officials won't comment on pending litigation, but they say that due process for all parties is "central" to their procedures, and that all board members are trained thoroughly.
Columbia, Williams, Vassar, Brown, and other schools being sued by students who say they were victims of a rush to judgment also haven't commented.
Universities Are 'Jittery'
Attorney Andrew Miltenberg, who represents about a dozen men suing their schools, says UMass Amherst officials knew the school was being investigated by the federal government and was desperate to prove it was not soft on sexual assault.
"I think 'witch hunt' is a dramatic phrase, but I would tell a group of young men right now, 'woe is to you if someone makes an allegation,' " Miltenberg says. "This young man was in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the sense that there was an attempt by the university officials to say, 'Oh yeah? Well, watch how we do this one!' "
Some rush to judgment is inevitable, says Robert Dana, dean of students at the University of Maine, speaking generally about the current climate on campuses.
"I expect that that can't help but be true," he says. "Colleges and universities are getting very jittery about it."
But to some, the growing number of lawsuits against universities only goes to show that school administrators should not be in the business of playing detective, judge or jury in the first place.
"Colleges need to understand their limitations," says Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "When it comes to felony crimes, that should be the task of law enforcement."
Victims may be more comfortable taking a complaint to school administrators than to the police, Shibley says, but if the criminal justice system is seen as retraumatizing or otherwise failing, then the answer should be to fix the criminal justice system, not to make schools do the job.
Shibley says going through the courts would guarantee accused students basic protections, including the right to have an attorney and to cross-examine their accusers.
On campus, he says, accused students effectively are presumed guilty; instead of requiring accusers to prove they were assaulted, the accused students have to prove they had consent.
And he says, it's also troubling that on campus, cases hinge on the very lowest standard of proof — "preponderance of the evidence" — which Shibley calls little more than a "hunch" that a person is guilty.
Still he concedes, it's not easy to rally support these days for accused perpetrators.
Students Are 'Deluding Themselves'
Attorney Colby Bruno, who represents victims, says that just because a lot of young men are suing their schools doesn't mean the process is actually unfair — only that it suggests some students are having trouble adjusting to the changing norms on campus sexual assault.
"I don't have sympathy for the guy who assaults somebody and thinks he's been railroaded," Bruno says. "The cases where students are deluding themselves into thinking that what they did wasn't rape and sexual assault? I think those are 85 percent of boys coming forward saying, 'I was railroaded.' "
While numbers are hard to come by, she says there are still far more perpetrators getting away with a slap on the wrist than innocent students wrongly expelled. She says false accusations are rare; far more often, real crimes go unreported.
Annie Clark, a student survivor turned activist, says everyone wants the process to be fair. But she says, more due process doesn't automatically advance the cause of justice.
For example, she says, giving alleged assailants the right to cross-examine alleged victims would make victims even more reluctant to report assaults.
"If a survivor is told that they would have to face their rapist, and that person would be allowed to interrogate them, that could absolutely have a chilling effect," Clark says.
Ultimately, the courts will weigh the costs and benefits of more due process and decide if schools have struck the right balance. And with all the cases now pending, experts say the answer may well be "it depends."
For example, a student accused of assault, who might only be required to change dorms, may be entitled to less due process than someone facing the more severe punishment of expulsion — which might permanently mar his record and impact his life.
In other words, higher stakes would demand greater protections.
Pittsburgh International Airport employee Bob Mrvos jokes that you could golf in the terminals' corridors — they're that empty, especially compared to other airports he flies into in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.
"You walk through those airports and you can barely get through the hallway there's so many people," Mrvos says. "And when you land in Pittsburgh, it's like the airport's closed."
But the airport isn't closed - it just feels that way with its unused gate doors and baggage carousels. Mrvos works at the Airmall's PGA Tour Shop. He remembers when the airport was a hub for US Airways.
"At that period of time I was working in a steel mill, and I traveled almost weekly. The airport was packed at that period of time," Mrvos says.
The airport was built for bustle. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says it was transformed in 1992 with extreme optimism — for 30 million passengers a year, many of them US Airways fliers.
"They basically designed the airport. We built it for them. And we built it for them and entered into a long-term lease that they were going to use it as their hub," Fitzgerald says.
At its peak, 20 million passengers were passing through annually.
But then came Sept. 11, 2001. US Airways stopped using Pittsburgh as a hub three years later. Airlines merged, fuel prices rose and the recession hit. That's reduced the annual number of passengers the airport sees to 8 million.
Deborah McElroy of Airports Council International - North America says many airports are making money not just from gate fees but from services for fliers such as dry-cleaning or pet care.
"Over the last 10 years, airports have doubled the amount of non-aeronautical revenue. Again, the focus being how can we increase the revenue that we generate in order to keep air service?" she says.
At Dallas-Ft. Worth, there is gas extraction. The largest blueberry producer in Georgia is at an airport. Lots of airports have retail. Some have golf courses; others generate solar energy. Some have explored water or grazing rights.
Pittsburgh's airport sits on 9,000 acres. Under those acres is the Marcellus Shale, a fertile and profitable rock formation full of natural gas. Consol Energy just broke ground and will begin extracting gas deep underneath the airport — including under the runways.
Fitzgerald says fracking won't be the end-all. Eventually office space will be built on the land. And he hopes the revenue will offset the costs of running the airport.
"By lowering the cost using some of the shale money we will be able to attract the flights and start to stabilize those revenues," Fitzgerald says.
Over the next 20 years, the county hopes to make $500 million from gas royalties.
What can yesterday's weather tell us about how the climate is changing today? That's what an army of volunteers looking at old ships' logs is trying to answer through the Old Weather project.
One of those volunteers, or citizen scientists as the project calls them, is Kathy Wendolkowski of Gaithersburg, Md.
She uses her laptop to read from the logbook of the Pioneer, a ship out measuring ocean depths near Alaska. An image of the Pioneer's log from 1925 was posted online by the National Archives at the website OldWeather.org. Her task is to transcribe the logs handwritten notes, from their elegant cursive script, to something that can be digested by computers.
It's harder than it might seem, she remembers chatting with one of her fellow transcribers:
"One poor guy said 'everyday in the logs at six o'clock they have suffer in the logbook.' So I'm like wait no that's 'supper' 'cause there's a tall thing on the 'p' so it looks like 'suffer.'"
Mariners have long kept meticulous logbooks of weather conditions, and descriptions of life on board ship, and the Archives has pages and pages and pages of them recorded by sailors on Navy and Coast Guard vessels.
Along with the basic weather observations, the logbooks contain amazing stories of adventure, survival and mystery. A bouquet of dried flowers was sandwiched in one logbook. Another log describes a 1600-mile overland journey to bring reindeer to some stranded whalers. And then there are the logs of the U.S.S. Jennette. Its journey began in San Francisco in 1879, an ill-fated attempt to find an open-water passage to the North Pole. Two months later, the Jennette was surrounded by ice north of Siberia.
Pack ice has always been a grave danger to ships. The Jennette's engineer called what he heard blood-curdling.
Here's how the logbook reads: "Calm light airs from the northeast. All hands employed cutting the ice away from the rudder."
Archivist Mark Mollan says the Jennette was trapped in the ice for nearly two years, before the sailors were forced to abandon ship.
"They all had to make for small launches dragging their scientific equipment and all the records they kept for those 21 months while they were drifting in the ice. So all of these logbooks and the equipment were part of the expedition and they rest on our shelves today," he says.
Its a great story, but what does any of this have to do with weather now?
Kevin Wood is a research scientist with NOAA and Old Weather is his brain child. He says the weather observations in the Jennette's logbooks and in all the other logbooks tell their own stories and fill in the gaps of our climate knowledge. Take the observations of the ice, for instance. Wood says the ice that trapped the Jennette in September all those years ago, doesn't even exist that time of year anymore.
"As we recover more and more data and we can reanalyze the global weather patterns for those years. We're going to understand more about the way arctic ice drifts and moves about in those days which it may or may not do today."
And he says scientists are able to do another cool thing with those long ago climate observations. They can plug them into a computer, and produce a detailed weather map for that time, kind of like the wayback machine in those old Mr. Peabody cartoons.
But Wood says whats really important is what this tells us about the climate, and its effects from storms to ice flows today. "Whether those kinds of events have stopped happening, whether they're going to happen more often or less often. That's power of having a very long term, complete reconstruction of the earths atmosphere," he says.
For volunteer Kathy Wendolkowski, an historian by training, transcribing the old logbooks is a way of honoring those who served on the ships, and collected the data. She finds the project hard to resist: "Its just the human stories that are in these log pages, that just....how can you not?"