Among the latest developments related to the crisis in Ukraine:
— "The United States and the European Union will respond on Monday with a 'serious series of steps' against Russia if a referendum on Ukraine's Crimea region goes ahead on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday. Kerry told a congressional hearing he hoped to avoid such steps, which include sanctions, through discussions with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, in London on Friday." (Voice of America)
— "Russia has begun military exercises, involving more than 8,000 troops, close to the border with Ukraine. The defense ministry in Moscow confirmed that artillery such as rocket launchers and anti-tank weapons would also be involved in the exercises. They come at a time of high tension ahead of Crimea's referendum on Sunday on whether to join Russia." (BBC News)
— "In an unusually robust and emotionally worded speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of 'catastrophe' unless Russia changes course. 'We would not only see it, also as neighbors of Russia, as a threat. And it would not only change the European Union's relationship with Russia,' she said in a speech in parliament. 'No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically.' " (Reuters)
Less ominous news: In what he said might be a "big step forward," the chairman of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe announced that Russia now supports the idea of an OSCE mission in Ukraine, including Crimea, to monitor the situation. But, as Reuters also reported, an OSCE team that tried to enter Crimea on Thursday said it was turned away by armed men.
Need a refresher on what this crisis is all about?
As we've previously said, Crimea has been the focus of attention as the ripple effects of the protests that led to last month's ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have spread.
Summing up the history and importance of Crimea to Russia and Ukraine isn't possible in just a few sentences, of course. The Parallels blog, though, has published several posts that contain considerable context:
We've recapped what set off months of protest in Kiev and ultimately led to Yanukovych's dismissal by his nation's parliament last month this way:
"The protests were sparked in part by the president's rejection of a pending trade treaty with the European Union and his embrace of more aid from Russia. Protesters were also drawn into the streets to demonstrate against government corruption."
It was after Yanukovych left Kiev and headed for the Russian border that troops moved to take control of strategic locations in Crimea.
Many of us have those friends who insist that they're coffee connoisseurs and drink exclusively drip brews. But really, there aren't many academic programs that train people in the taste and science of coffee.
That might all change soon. The University of California, Davis, recently founded a Coffee Center dedicated to the study of the world of java. This week, the center held its first research conference.
"There aren't a lot of things that so many people consume several times a day, every day," says J. Bruce German, who directs of the Foods for Health Institute at Davis. But given how much coffee people all over the world chug, there's a surprising lack of academic research on the topic, German says.
There's a lot we still don't fully understand about coffee, German says. What's the best way to treat the beans while they're still green? What's the most environmentally friendly way to roast them? And why are we so obsessed with how it smells?
And since the university is already well known for its winemaking and beer brewing programs, German says coffee seems like a natural next step.
The idea grew out of a seminar called "Design of Coffee," developed by two professors in the chemical engineering department.
"It's basically a non-mathematical introduction to chemical engineering," says Bill Ristenpart, one of the course developers. The idea was to illustrate some of the basic principals of chemical engineering though the process of making the perfect cup of Joe.
But the concept blew up. What started out as a small seminar grew into a class of 170. More than 300 students have signed up to take the course next quarter.
The chemistry of coffee is only one aspect of the new center.
During this week's conference, Ristenpart presented a sample curriculum that included a range of courses to nurture students' palettes, as well as their technical know-how. "One of the classes would definitely be on the chemical and physical properties of milk," he says, and how it interacts with coffee.
"The program is in the nascent stages right now," he says.
For now, the center will offer classes, but not degrees. The next step is to reach out to the coffee industry and raise funds to expand the program, Ristenpart says. If all goes well, Davis might start offering a major in coffee science within the next few years.
Davis' Coffee Center isn't the first research institute dedicated to the magic beans. The World Coffee Research program at Texas A & M University focuses on the agricultural aspects of coffee. Ristenpart says he envisions the program at Davis will delve more deeply into coffee processing.
"There are more than a thousand identified molecules that give rise to the unique flavor of coffee," Ristenpart says. "Nobody has turned the full might of academic research on it — yet."
So the next time your friend starts going off about how he's a "coffee expert," you can say "Oh, yeah? Well, did you major in coffee?"
With members of the House and Senate scrapping over a Ukraine aid bill, Republicans say a magic bullet could break the logjam.
It has nothing to do with the former Soviet republic, its ability to withstand Russia's military intervention in Crimea, or this weekend's referendum in the Ukrainian territory.
It has everything to do with conservatives' fury at the IRS, which they say has waged a partisan, and unconstitutional, war against President Obama's opponents.
First, there was the grindingly slow, intrusive scrutiny the agency gave to Tea Party and other groups seeking tax-exempt status as 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations. The IRS gave similar treatment to liberal groups, though not nearly as many of them. And then, last year, the IRS proposed new rules that would make it harder for groups to veer from their social welfare missions into electoral politics. Conservatives call it a vendetta targeting them. Then again, liberal 501(c)(4)s are against the proposed rules, too.
This matters — to American politicians if not beleaguered Ukrainians — because social welfare groups are the hot item in campaign finance; they get to raise unlimited contributions from donors they don't have to disclose. So far, conservatives have a big advantage in this realm of secretly funded politics.
But back to Ukraine. The financial package for Ukraine itself has strong support in Congress. But Democrats want to add another element, boosting the lending power of the International Monetary Fund. Many Republicans never liked the IMF, but they might be persuaded to go along on the bill if it also includes a provision forcing the IRS to stop work on its new regulations.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday, "To get it passed on the floor, the (c)(4) issue is going to have to be dealt with."
He said House Speaker John Boehner is "not going to bring it up on the House floor unless the (c)(4) issue is dealt with. But then maybe those tied together is what pulls through the IMF piece."
It may also be what pulls through the Ukraine aid, which was the original point.
Malaysia Airlines announced Thursday that it will stop using two flight numbers associated with the plane that disappeared over the Gulf of Thailand on March 8, following a long-standing practice of retiring codes after similar incidents.
Flight MH370 mysteriously vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard. That number, which Malaysian Airlines uses to denote that particular route, will no longer be used after Friday as a "mark of respect" for the passengers and crew. MH371, the code used for the return flight, also will be retired.
Those two flights will now be known by the designations MH318 (Kuala Lumpur to Beijing) and MH319 (Beijing to Kuala Lumpur).
As The Wall Street Journal reports, "Airlines often retire flight numbers following fatal crashes so as not to evoke negative emotions among other passengers and crew. This is particularly true with high-profile accidents, say aviation analysts."
Korean Airlines, for example, no longer has a Flight 007 in deference to the airliner that was shot down by Russian fighter jets in 1983 after allegedly straying into Soviet airspace. Likewise, Delta Air Lines retired Flight 191 after a Lockheed TriStar with that designation was caught in a microburst on approach at Dallas-Fort Worth and slammed into the ground, killing more than 130 people.
More recently, Asiana Airlines announced it would change the call sign after Flight 214 crashed on approach to San Francisco last year, killing three passengers. Asiana spokesman Suh Ki-Won was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying the routes from Seoul to San Francisco and back (214 and 213) would be renumbered to 212 and 211.
"The reason for the change is that many people remember the flight number," Suh told the Times, adding that the airline didn't want its customers to have "that kind of image."
Salon.com notes that "the decision-making process behind flight number retirement, however, is completely opaque. ... A review of historic accidents, however, suggests that the decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, seemingly guided in part by how familiar the public is with the flight number."
In 2011, United Airlines blamed a computer glitch for inadvertently reactivating flight codes 93 and 175, both retired after those flights were seized by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. Flight 93 was commandeered en route to San Francisco and crashed near Shanksville, Pa., killing all 44 people on board after passengers tried unsuccessfully to gain control of the plane. And Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center, killing all 65 passengers and crew.
The Times says of the computer foul-up three years ago: "The flight numbers were assigned by a computer ... for sales of future flights, said airline spokesman Rahsaan Johnson. Early Wednesday, airline officials noticed the error and immediately removed them from the system."
Some inspired by method RSVP — rapid serial visual presentation.
"Rather than read words
from left to right,"
says Marc Slater, managing director of Spreeder parent company eReflect.
A few at a time."
But maybe we've got it wrong. Maybe it's not about reading faster. But writing faster.
Only essential ideas. Omit extra words. Few prepositions, fewer articles. Boil down.
Why make readers work harder? Make writers do heavy lifting. Decide important things. Write those.
Americans have been intrigued by speed-reading for a long time. Back in the 1930s, researchers were exploring systems to help people read faster. At Stanford University, according to the New York Times in 1934, researchers took photos of people's eye movements, then taught participants new methods of reading in phrases — not words — and using a sort of metronome to increase reading speed.
In the late 1940s, the University of Virginia's Reading Clinic devised a new method of speed-reading, using vertical lines and an alarm clock. "There are two ways to read: microscopically — which is the old way — and telescopically," professor Ullin Leavell, the center's director, told the Los Angeles Times in 1949. "Today we are attempting simply to develop an individual to see a thought unit, instead of individual parts."
Some fast thinkers — Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, for example — were natural born speed-readers, according to the website of the late speed-reading pioneer Evelyn Wood. From the moment she opened her Reading Dynamics school in Washington in 1959, the LA Times reports, her name was synonymous with readingreallyfast.
Now RSVP the new rage.
Readers "less likely to subvocalize — say the words in their head as they read — when using RSVP," Marc Slater says.
This increases reading speed "because saying words in your head is often the slowest link in the reading chain."
Speed reading "not usually appropriate for reading difficult content or abstract concepts," Marc says.
"In these cases, it is understanding that limits comprehension, not the rate of input."
Extreme example: "You might read about a really difficult concept in one paragraph and think about it for a week before you truly understand it."
Speed-reading, Marc says, "definitely won't help in cases like that."
The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers - Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers - of NPR. @NPRtpj