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As School Starts, Classrooms Gear Up

Aug 29, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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As the new school year approaches, we’re taking a look at the shift towards a paperless classroom.

Google is one company trying to help create classrooms without pencils or notebooks, or excuses about dogs eating homework. Its web-based software Google Apps For Education already has roughly 30 million active users around the world. The latest tool is called Classroom.

Many teachers say it’s a helpful time-saver that lets them see how students are doing on assignments as they’re work on them. But others worry about commercializing the classroom, student privacy and whether this is just another passing technological fad.

NPR education blogger Anya Kamenetz talked to teachers about the program and discusses what she learned about the paperless classroom — and what it means for students — with Here & Now's Sacha Pfeiffer

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Mobile App Helps Transgender People Change Their Voices

Aug 29, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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Listening to voices, most of us assume that men have lower, deeper tones and women speak in a higher range. But for transgender men and women who are transitioning from one gender to the another, their voice often sends the wrong cue — and it can be the most difficult characteristic to change.

Now, there’s an app for that. Eva is a smartphone application that helps transgender men and woman learn to raise or lower the pitch of their voice. From the Here & Now Contributors Network, WBUR's Martha Bebinger reports.

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An Israeli soldier launches a drone that's attached to a military vehicle in southern Israel, not far from the border with the Gaza Strip, on July 29. Israel was a pioneer with drones and has developed a number of military technologies that it later sells abroad. (EPA/Landov)

With Home-Grown Technology, Israel Becomes Leading Arms Exporter

Aug 29, 2014 (WBUR-FM)

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Israelis run for cover seconds after the Iron Dome system, shown in the background,  fired an anti-rocket missile near the southern city of Ashkelon on Aug. 26. Israel developed the Iron Dome system itself and has used it to defend against Palestinian rockets from the Gaza Strip.

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Jackie Northam

One by-product of the recurring battles between Israel and its Arab neighbors is that Israel has developed a home-grown weapons industry that addresses its very specific needs.

Over the decades, this has included a number of cutting-edge technologies, from drones to night-vision equipment, which have been widely exported.

A more recent example is the Iron Dome, which was used throughout the latest conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The mobile missile defense system is capable of stopping short-range rockets from places like Gaza, the West Bank, and southern Lebanon.

Isaac Ben-Israel, a former director of the Defense Ministry's research and development program, says there was no technology in the world capable of doing that, so Israel had to develop its own system. The U.S. has subsequently provided funding to Israel to build additional anti-missile batteries.

"We did it because of our unique threat and our unique problem and ... this is what we do since 1948," he says, referring to year that Israel was founded.

As with previous battles, the Gaza conflict has damaged Israel's overall economy. The tally this time has been estimated at several billion dollars for Israel and is far greater for the Palestinians in Gaza.

But the fighting can also provide a boost to Israel's arms manufacturers, says Barbara Opall-Rome, the Israel bureau chief for the U.S. magazine Defense News.

Over the past five years, Israel has had military sales of around $7 billion annually, she says. "And it puts them the top five of the world's arms exporting nations," she adds.

In the latest operation against Hamas, new types of ammunition, bombs that can penetrate reinforced concrete buildings, and other equipment have been introduced on the battlefield. Opall-Rome says a new anti-guided missile defense system for tanks, called Trophy, performed well during ground operations in Gaza.

"It means a lot on the international arms market, and is certainly makes very good use of their added value that these systems are combat proven," she says.

Critics would object to that, saying the Israeli weapons are not so precise and caused heavy Palestinian civilian casualties. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed, and various estimates put the civilian deaths at 50 percent to more than 80 percent of that total.

In addition, the Israel-Palestinian feud imposes a major limitation in Israeli weapons sales: the Arab boycott of anything made in Israel.

"The whole Arabian Gulf market, which is the number one market for purchasing foreign-made weaponry, that's cut off to them," says Opall-Rome.

She says China is also cut off to Israel arms manufacturers because of U.S. security concerns. And Israel faces similar U.S. pressure when it comes to possible sales to Russia.

India is one Israel's biggest customers, buying everything from ship and air defense systems to anti-tank missiles and drones. Israel also sells to other countries in Asia as well as Europe and Latin America.

She says Israel is a tiny domestic market so its arms industry needs to export nearly 80 percent of its goods in order to break even.

Some of the weapons are so unique, that no one else wants or needs them. Case in point is the Iron Dome. It's proven generally effective against Hamas rockets, which are made in Gaza workshops and are relatively unsophisticated. But no other country faces this persistent threat from short-range rockets.

The same holds true for the Arrow, an anti-ballistic missile system. Uzi Ruben, the former head of Israel's missile defence program, says the Arrow was designed to destroy long-range missiles coming from Iraq or Iran. It went into development in 1991 and took nine years to bring it to operation.

"It was never used, it was just deployed," he says.

One of the new technologies likely to emerge from this conflict will focus on detecting and destroying tunnels, like those used by Hamas to move fighters and weapons underground. Former defense researcher, Ben-Israel, says it's not likely to be a big seller on the international market.

"No one in the world is digging tunnels in order to penetrate let's say into the United States of America, and for terrorist attacks," he says.

Still, Ben-Israel says there will always be a global demand for sophisticated weapons — something Israel has become better at producing with each war.

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After Two Disasters, Malaysia Airlines To Cut 6,000 Jobs

Aug 29, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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Israelis run for cover seconds after the Iron Dome system, shown in the background,  fired an anti-rocket missile near the southern city of Ashkelon on Aug. 26. Israel developed the Iron Dome system itself and has used it to defend against Palestinian rockets from the Gaza Strip.

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Malaysia Airlines announced a restructuring plan Friday that includes cutting nearly one-third of its workers and paring back its global network.

The airline has been losing ground for years, but the economic picture worsened in 2014 after two of its planes crashed, in March and July. The airline’s reputation has suffered in the wake of the crashes, and stiff low-cost competition on domestic and regional routes has dragged down the company’s bottom line.

Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd joins host Robin Young to discuss the company’s problems and whether these actions will be enough.

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  • Peter O'Dowd, assistant managing editor at Here & Now. He tweets @odowdpeter.
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Florida-Grown Fiction: Hiaasen Satirizes The Sunshine State

Aug 29, 2014 (Fresh Air / WBUR-FM)

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Israelis run for cover seconds after the Iron Dome system, shown in the background,  fired an anti-rocket missile near the southern city of Ashkelon on Aug. 26. Israel developed the Iron Dome system itself and has used it to defend against Palestinian rockets from the Gaza Strip.

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Novelist and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen writes with passion and purpose about the state he loves. His latest book, Bad Monkey, is an offbeat murder mystery set in Key West.

Originally broadcast June 13, 2013.

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