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Jeremiah Jae and Oliver the 2nd of Black Jungle Squad. (NPR)

Jeremiah Jae And Oliver The 2nd: 'Take It Back To The Essence'

Apr 17, 2014

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Jeremiah Jae and Oliver the 2nd are cousins who grew up in Chicago and Los Angeles, respectively. Already from a musical family — Oliver's father, Phil Perry, is a smooth jazz R&B singer and Jeremiah's played keys with Miles Davis and produced a few of his records — they have formed Black Jungle Squad, a collective of relatives and close friends. "Taking it back to the days when there was a lot more crews in hip-hop," says Jeremiah. "Like Native Tongues or Boogie Down Productions. Just the vibe of different people coming together and making stuff."

Last year the two of them made made a conceptual mixtape called RawHyde. This spring Jeremiah produced Oliver's first solo project, called The Kill Off. The next project from the crew, nominally Jeremiah's, builds from another iconic TV show — Good Times. It's a lot of work, but they don't plan to slow down any time soon. When asked what the end goal is, Jeremiah says "If I could just keep doing this 50 years later." "Keep doing this and, more importantly, keep control of this," adds Oliver. "That's the measure of success to me: it's when we substantiate ourselves."

Credits:

Producers: Mito Habe-Evans, Frannie Kelley, Ali Shaheed Muhammed; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Olivia Merrion, A.J. Wilhelm; Editor: Olivia Merrion; Special Thanks: Friends & Neighbors, Cedric Shine; Executive Producer: Anya Grundmann.

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An artist's rendering of Kepler-186f, the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit in the habitable zone of a distant star. (NASA/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech)

Scientists Spot A Planet That Looks Like 'Earth's Cousin'

Apr 17, 2014

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The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that Earth-size planets exist in the habitable zone of other stars.

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Scientists who have been hunting for another Earth beyond our solar system have come across a planet that's remarkably similar to our world.

It's almost the same size as Earth, and it orbits in its star's "Goldilocks zone" — where temperatures are not too hot, not too cold, and maybe just right for life.

But a lot about this planet is going to remain a mystery, because it's 500 light years away.

Researchers detected the planet while poring over data collected by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. The telescope spent years staring at 150,000 stars, watching for tell-tale dips in brightness that might mean a planet was circling around a star.

One small star in the direction of the constellation of Cygnus showed signs of five planets. Four of them are tucked in close to the star, so they're probably too hot for life.

But the fifth planet looked special.

"This planet orbits its star every 130 days," says Elisa Quintana of the SETI Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center. It's called Kepler-186f, and it's just 10 percent bigger than Earth.

At least in our solar system, Earth-sized planets are made of rock and iron and gas, says Quintana, "so we can guess that Kepler-186f, being so close in size to Earth, has a high probability of being rocky also and composed of those sorts of materials."

Conditions on the surface would depend on what kind of atmosphere it had, if any. If it was like Earth, temperatures wouldn't be balmy, Quintana says.

"Being on this planet would probably be like being in San Francisco on a cool day," she says. "It would be a much colder place to live."

It would be warm enough, however, for one thing that's thought to be essential for life. "If this planet had the right atmospheric conditions, and if there were water on the surface, it would be likely in liquid form," says Quintana.

But if it has oceans, they would look different.

"It's not going to have a deep rich blue ocean, such as we have, because there's less blue light coming from the star," says Tom Barclay of NASA's Ames Research Center, another member of the team that describes the planet in the journal Science. "So the ocean would probably be a duller, grayer blue."

And because this planet orbits a dim, red dwarf star, he notes that midday on this planet wouldn't be bright — it would look more like an hour before sunset on Earth.

"It's very romantic to imagine there'd be places out there that look like Earth, and that's what we're trying to find — places that remind us of Earth," Barclay says.

Although Kepler-186f shares characteristics with Earth, "it's not an Earth twin," he notes. "It isn't around the same type of star. It's perhaps more of an Earth cousin."

Still, it's the first time anyone has found an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a distant star, Barclay adds. "This is a really profound discovery. It's a major milestone."

Other experts on planets beyond our solar system agree that this discovery is a big deal.

"This planet really is the same size as the Earth and the same temperature," says David Charbonneau of Harvard University. "Up until this point, planets satisfied one of those two, but we really didn't have one that was both those things together."

Both those things are key to life on Earth, Charbonneau says, but we'll probably never know if this new planet has life. "And the reason," he explains, "is that this star system is just too far away from us."

Even though this planet is too distant for follow-up work with other telescopes, it suggests similar worlds might be out there orbiting other red dwarf stars, which are very common.

If scientists could find another planet like this around a nearby star, he says, "we could really study the atmosphere and really figure out something about whether it truly is Earth-like and maybe whether it actually has life on the surface."

That's why Charbonneau and other scientists will keep searching for other Earth-like planets closer to home.

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New research has traced chili peppers back to their origin in eastern Mexico. (iStockphoto)

Chili Say What? Linguistics Help Pinpoint Pepper's Origins

by April Fulton
Apr 17, 2014

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Rows of chilies for sale in the market of the Mexican town Cholula in 1955.

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Count us among those who just can't get enough chili pepper news.

These spicy fruits are beloved around the world for their ability to sex up nearly any cuisine. They're the world's most widely grown spice crop, so it's hard to imagine that their reach was once limited to the early farmers in what is now eastern Mexico.

Now we know just a little bit more about where they came from, thanks to archeologists using paleobiolinguistics — namely, studying ancient languages for words that mean pepper — along with the more traditional ways of figuring out how and where plants are domesticated.

To sleuth a crop origins, scientists typically use plants' genetic makeup in geographic areas with the most diversity and where they have found archaeological remains.

This study added linguistics — "the earliest linguistic evidence that a cultivated chili pepper existed" — to the mix, according to an international team of researchers led by University of California, Davis plant scientist Paul Gepts. They also modeled the areas most environmentally suitable to the plants and their ancestors.

While the genetic evidence had pointed to northeastern Mexico as the domesticated chili pepper's birthplace, the collective evidence from all four lines of study "supports a more central-east region as the area of origin," a UC Davis press release says.

"By tracing back the ancestry of any domesticated plant, we can better understand the genetic evolution of that species and the origin of agriculture — a major step in human evolution in different regions of the world," says Gepts.

The study, which will appear in the April 21 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at 30 ancestral languages of the region and at the words for 41 different crops, including chili pepper, to determine when it was discussed, according to the paper. And it turns out it was discussed a lot.

Scientists say that studies of crop origins like these help us create better breeding programs for chilis and other fruit in the future.

Chili peppers have long attracted creative people who have a yen for thrills and a way with words. The pepper's introduction to the European world in the 16th century via New World explorers inspired English poet Robert Herrick to opine: "Thou never Plow'st the Oceans foame / To seek, and bring rough Pepper home." (Yes, the "gather ye rosebuds" guy. Do we sense a theme here?)

More recently, The New Yorker's Lauren Collins profiled the cutthroat subculture of folks working to grow peppers that burn up the heat chart — the Scoville chile heat chart, that is.

We here at The Salt have also written our fair share about the chili-heads who "have a penchant for sensation-seeking. Think rollercoasters and action flicks," as correspondent Allison Aubrey describes them.

Besides the feelings they invoke, chilis are beautiful. As Collins writes:

"There is a reason no one makes Christmas lights in the shape of rutabagas. Superhots come in the brightest colors and the craziest shapes. Their names, evoking travel and conquest — Armageddon, Borg 9, Naga Morich, Brain Strain — sound as though they were made up by the evil twins of the people who brand body lotions."

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Bintel Brief ( )

'Bintel Brief' And 'Hellfighters': American Stories, Powerfully Illustrated

Apr 17, 2014

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Rows of chilies for sale in the market of the Mexican town Cholula in 1955.

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A Bintel Brief and The Harlem Hellfighters are two New York Stories. That's why I'm combining them in this review; not because — as some purists still think — they're lesser works of literature because they're graphic novels. If Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Bayeux Tapestry, and Art Spiegelman's 1991 classic, Maus, haven't yet convinced the high-art holdouts of the value of stories told in visual sequence, nothing I say now about these two books is likely to. Which is a shame because A Bintel Brief by Liana Finck and The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks and illustrated by Caanan White are two of the most powerful books I've read so far this year.

A Bintel Brief takes its title from the column of the same name that first appeared in 1906 in the Yiddish language newspaper The Daily Forward. Literally translated as "a bundle of letters," the Bintel Brief was an advice column in which Jewish immigrants new to New York City could ask practical questions, as well as give voice to their loneliness, dreams and fears. The Forward's legendary editor, Abraham Cahan, answered the letters himself and the column made The Forward the most widely read Yiddish-language newspaper in the world.

Author and illustrator Liana Finck places herself in this story, as a young woman who opens a notebook of old clippings from The Forward and finds herself confronted with the cranky apparition of Cahan. Together they walk the streets of the Lower East Side, past abandoned synagogues and pickle factories, talking about the immigrants' letters. Finck has adapted 11 actual letters from The Forward; they range from the daffy (a barber obsessed by a nightmare in which he slits the throat of a customer) to the tormented: I'm thinking especially of the final letter in this collection, written by a desolate young woman whose fiance died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911.

Finck's illustrations intensify the emotional resonance of these letters, invoking the buoyant magic of Marc Chagall, but also sometimes descending into the cramped world of the tenements. One page here, for instance, shows a couple, despairing over their infertility, sinking and dissolving into their old sofa. Wisely, Finck appreciates that the power of the Bintel Brief stories derives from the fact that they're eternally open-ended. What happened to that "mad barber" or that young man in Brooklyn who didn't want to bring his father over from the Old Country? Or that baker cursed with a two-timing wife? Cahan gave them his best advice, but we'll never know if they took it.

The Harlem Hellfighters begins and ends in New York, but it spends years mired in the trenches and battlefields of France. That's because Max Brooks and Caanan White have dramatized the history of the 369th Infantry Regiment during World War I. This African-American regiment — called "The Men of Bronze" by their French allies and "The Harlem Hellfighters" by their German enemies — spent 191 days in combat, longer than any other American unit, white or black, and were one of the most decorated units in the entire American expeditionary force. They helped make "the world safe for democracy," even if, as one Hellfighter in this story ruefully says, "democracy wasn't exactly 'safe' back home."

As Brooks and White detail in panel after vivid panel, The Hellfighters fought a two-front war: against the enemy "over there" and racial prejudice everywhere, but particularly from their fellow Americans and their own government. The Hellfighters' story stretches from enlistment halls in Harlem to training camps in Spartanburg, S.C. — where these soldiers were handed broomsticks instead of rifles and were confronted with signs in local shops that read, "No dogs or coloreds." The Hellfighters were deployed to Europe quietly, while the rest of the New York National Guard — the so called Rainbow Division — were given a grand parade send-off by the city. The Hellfighters were told, "Black is not a color of the Rainbow."

This is a stunning work of historical recovery and a very graphic graphic novel: bodies explode, rats feed on corpses, men are strafed and gassed. It's not pretty, but the "in your face" style of The Harlem Hellfighters is suited to dramatizing a crucial part of American history that hasn't been thrust forcefully enough into our collective faces.

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Look, Ma! Behind our backs! (Courtesy of the artists)

Classical Quartet Gets All Twisted

Apr 17, 2014

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Rows of chilies for sale in the market of the Mexican town Cholula in 1955.

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A German quartet calling themselves the Salut Salon is surging in social media right now with a bout of one-upwomanship that mixes together music, acrobatics and some good slapstick timing.

Classical comedy isn't new, of course. Just for starters, there's Igudesman and Joo (whom we've had perform in our Washington studio), Mnozil Brass, P.D.Q. Bach and, going back a few decades, Victor Borge.

But in this age of viral videos, Salut Salon's mash-up of Vivaldi, Mozart, Kurt Weill and the Mission Impossible theme is delighting global viewers — to the tune of more than 2 million YouTube hits so far. All we can say is: Keep up that flexibility, ladies, though the cellist may want to look into some Alexander technique. She looks like she's in a lot of pain much of the time. Yeowch.

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