Sen. John Walsh of Montana was appointed to his seat in February, and he's preparing to face voters for the first time. The Democrat's bid will likely be complicated by allegations of plagiarism, reported by The New York Times. It seems that in a paper Walsh submitted for his master's degree from the U.S. Army War College, long passages were borrowed without attribution.
Women and girls are less likely to undergo female genital mutilation, or FGM, than 30 years ago. That's the encouraging news from a UNICEF report on the controversial practice, presented this week at London's first Girl Summit.
The rate has dropped in many of the 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East where FGM is practiced. In Kenya, for example, nearly half the girls age 15 to 19 were circumcised in 1980; in 2010 the rate was just under 20 percent.
But there's a sobering side to the report. In countries like Somalia the rate has gone down slightly but is still over 90 percent.
And because the population is growing in parts of the world where the practice takes place, total numbers are on the rise. Unless the rate of decline picks up, another 63 million girls and women could be cut by 2050.
The report is "exciting and worrying," says Susan Bissell, the chief of child protection at UNICEF. "The population growth will far surpass the gain we've been seeing if we don't step it up."
The report shows that more than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of genital cutting or mutilation in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East.
The practice involves removing, partially or completely, the female genitalia - sometimes just the clitoris, other times also the labia or "lips" that surround the vagina. In extreme cases, the vaginal opening is narrowed by sewing up the outer labia.
In many communities, the custom has long been perceived as a rite of passage into womanhood. Because sexual contact is painful, the practice is also seen as a way to prevent a woman from losing her virginity before marriage. Some see it as ensuring fidelity during marriage, as the procedure eliminates sexual pleasure.
The practice persists partly because it's a social norm in male-dominated societies. Mothers have said they only have their daughter's best interest in mind. "The decision to cut is partly based on your interest in your daughter being able to marry within your community," Bissell says. "If she is the only who isn't cut, her marriageability prospects go down dramatically."
In some countries, like Egypt and Indonesia, FGM gets added legitimacy because doctors perform the surgery. There's the idea that "Oh, if a doctor does it, it's ok," says Shelby Quast, the senior policy director of Equality Now, an international human rights organization.
"There are laws in the book that say that if you do this through a medical doctor, it's not a crime."
But "it's a human rights violation regardless of who does it," she states.
In countries where FGM is prevalent, simply condemning the practice isn't enough. Education needs to be strengthened and attitudes toward women and girls need to be changed, says Bissell.
Quast points to Kenya as a success story, citing their laws against female genital mutilation and prosecutors who actively go after people who cut girls. Kenya has also tackled an underlying economic issue that other countries ignore: being a circumciser is somebody's livelihood.
"The government is helping find other ways for those people to make a living," she says.
It helps that more people are becoming involved in the fight to end FGM.
Despite the staggering numbers from report, Bissell is excited to see progress in the number of women taking a stand. Young girls who are at risk are less afraid to speak up. And women have drawn attention to the problem by sharing their own experiences and protecting their daughters.
Public figures like Sister Fa, a hip-hop star from Senegal who was cut, have spoken out as well. "She's a rapper so she's got this young following," Bissell says.
Bissell calls her a brave "change-maker" who campaigns despite disapproval from those in her community, who accuse her of casting a bad light on Senegalese culture.
"Ten years ago, it was like a handful of feminist organizations talking," Bissell says. "But now everybody's talking and when you have public discourse, things change."
This summer, All Things Considered has been exploring what it means to be a man in America today — from a second look at popular notions of masculinity and men's style, to attitudes towards women — and how all those ideas have shifted over time.
There are few people more acquainted with those shifts than David Granger. In 17 years as editor-in-chief of the men's magazine Esquire, Granger hasn't just had a front-row seat to changing notions of manhood in America — he has taken an active role in helping to define them. The magazine, which purports to cover "Man at His Best," has done so for more than 80 years.
(And what has that magazine — and that man — looked like over the past eight decades? We've included a collection of some of Esquire's myriad covers below.)
Ask Granger about the most striking changes he's noticed, and he says that chief among them is the growing slate of fashion choices for men. As he tells NPR's Audie Cornish, "This is one of the great — if not the greatest period for men's style in the United States."
On changes in men's attitudes toward style
The shift toward men being comfortable with how they look and taking care of themselves has been radical. Twelve years ago, 15 years ago, if you were interested in style, then you just were [considered] gay. And I think it's really an interesting symbol of how the definition of manhood and masculinity has been expanding to include more and more options.
On the magazine's treatment of women, and whether it's evolved
Our next issue features Cameron Diaz, and we write a lot about the 42-year-old woman — I mean, she happens to be turning 42. And we note that in whatever it was — 1968, when The Graduate came out — Mrs. Robinson was 42. And it was just unspeakable to think of a 42-year-old woman being a sexual object, and now, I think the most appealing, accomplished women of our time are women who are approaching their middle age.
We acknowledge that men are attracted to women. We do [a series called] "A Funny Joke from a Beautiful Woman," and it's been a very useful form because we allow these women — young actresses, mostly — to sort of participate with us in creating an entertaining environment, rather than just sexualizing or objectifying them.
On the cover of Esquire's May 2014 issue, which calls Lake Bell one of her generation's greatest filmmakers — and depicts her half-naked
Are we supposed to only be one thing? Are we supposed to be an attractive and sexually appealing human being to the exclusion of our professional lives? It was funny: That issue, we happened to have two covers. One was Lake Bell on half the covers, and the other was the actor Tom Hardy on half the covers. And on both of them, they were topless. We were trying to be an equal-opportunity objectifier.
On the guidance Esquire offers in relationships with women
We do, on occasion, write about relationships. We did an entire issue on women, in which we tried to suggest ways that men could get along better with the women who are important in their lives.
I think part of the cultural shift, in young men especially, has been to treasure and prize their relationships with the significant others in their lives even more — probably more — than any previous generation of American men. So, we're trying to reflect that. We've done quite a bit on the sort of "lean in" thing from the man's perspective — that there is just as much work-life conflict for men as there is for women. And men actually stress to a greater degree about that.
On examining and taking an active role in redefining what it means to be a man
We, in an older or more established generation of men, need to take a more active role in helping younger men develop into good men — the idea of creating a new generation of mentors.
As the mentors of the past — coaches, priests, the Boy Scouts — have become more complicated, we need to have a new generation step up and help the next generation to become stronger, better and more committed members of society.
Esquire has published more than 950 issues since 1933. The covers below offer a glimpse of what the magazine has emphasized across its long history. You'll note that some of those themes can appear outdated today.
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Join The ConversationUse #menpr to join in the conversation about men in America on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Like it or not, plastic packaging has become an ingrained part of the food system.
While it's clearly wasteful to buy salad, sandwiches and chips encased in plastic and then promptly throw that plastic away, we take for granted how it keeps so much of what we eat fresh and portable.
And behind many of those packages that allow us to eat on the go or savor perishable cookies or fish imported from the other side of the globe is a whole lot of science and innovation.
The plastic revolution in food packaging began in the 1960s, says Aaron Brody, a food packaging consultant and an adjunct professor of food science at the University of Georgia. It took off because plastic was lighter than glass, more protective than paper and relatively cheap.
"But there is no such thing as the perfect plastic material," Brody says. So a lot of our packaging is made by combining different types of food-grade plastic.
Take a bag of potato chips. It's mostly made out of a plastic called oriented polypropylene. "It's an excellent moisture barrier," Brody notes. And that's key, "because potato chips first start to deteriorate by absorbing moisture. People don't like soggy chips." To further strengthen the material, many chip bags have a thin aluminum coating on the inside.
A layer of polyethylene (the stuff plastic grocery bags are made of) is sandwiched between this inner layer and the outer layer, which displays the brand and nutrition info.
Before the bags are all sealed up, most companies fill them with nitrogen gas, Brody says. "It keeps the chips from getting crushed," he says. And whereas oxygen would cause the fat in the chips to oxidize and taste funny, nitrogen doesn't cause any chemical reactions that affect the flavor.
Food companies often spend a lot of time coming up with the perfect packaging to best preserve each product they sell, Brody says. So does the military. As we've reported, the Army figured out how to package a sandwich that stays fresh for up to two years.
Like chip bags, bags of ready-to-serve salad are made of polypropylene, and packed with a bunch of nitrogen gas. But unlike chips, salad leaves need to breathe with a little bit of oxygen. That's why salad bags have microperforations, Brody says. "The holes let oxygen come in and carbon dioxide get out."
And often, the inside of these bags has a thin, anti-fog coating, Brody adds. "So there's no condensation, and you can see the beautiful green leaves."
With a lot of packaging, manufacturers have to worry not only about keeping air out, but also locking in the moisture they want to keep in the food. That's a big one when it comes to packaging ice cream, Brody says. A tub of ice cream has to be easy to open and close, but it has to have a tight seal to keep in the water that helps give ice cream its smooth texture.
Inside a freezer, sublimation can sometimes occur — that's when water goes from a solid state directly to a gas. "The water is irreversibly lost," Brody says. "And if you lose moisture, the ice cream becomes sandy, grainy."
That's why paper tubs of ice cream are coated with polyethylene, Brody says. And the fancier tubs are made of thick, sturdy materials.
Of course, even after all the research and development, most plastic packaging won't hold up in extreme environments, says Herbert Stone, a consultant for the food industry and a past president of the Institute of Food Technologists.
"When food companies use a plastic container, they have to be sure that it won't change the way the product tastes," Stone says. Plastic isn't an inert material, he adds, so it can react with other chemicals. And unlike a lot of glass and metal, it can let air through.
Have you ever left a plastic bottle of water in a hot car for too long? It'll probably taste funny. But despite what you might think, that's not because chemicals from the plastic are leeching into the food.
Tiny amounts of air can pass though plastic — and when it's hot, the air starts moving faster, Stone says. Heat also speeds up chemical reactions. And when chemicals inside the bottle react with each other, or with chemicals from the outside environment, your water can start to taste pretty funky, he says.
Leave a bottle of soda in a hot car, and the carbonation can quickly escape out of the container. "So you end up with flat soda," Stone says. "Plastic is very convenient, but it's not perfect."
Beyond its technical limitations, all the plastic packaging we use these days generates a lot of excess trash. In 2012, Americans generated 14 million tons of plastic waste from packaging and containers. Because plastic doesn't biodegrade easily, it sometimes ends up in our oceans where it hurts marine life and may even contaminate seafood.
And though we're able to recycle many types of plastic, all the nifty packaging that uses multiple layers of plastic is hard to recycle, since different plastics are processed separately at recycling centers.
But we are getting better at making effective and environmentally friendly plastics, Stone says. We're even figuring out how to take waste products like whey protein and turn them into plastic.