At nearly seven miles below the water's surface, the Mariana Trench is the deepest spot in Earth's oceans. And the site north of Guam is where director and explorer James Cameron recently fulfilled a longtime goal of reaching the bottom in a manned craft.
For the dive, Cameron designed a 24-foot submersible vehicle, the Deepsea Challenger — "this kind of long, green torpedo that moves vertically through the water," as he tells All Things Considered's Melissa Block. Cameron was able to watch his descent, he says, through a window that was about 9-1/2 inches thick.
He also had many cameras on board, as you would expect from the Titanic director. The landmark dive, made in March of 2012, is the subject of a cover feature in the June issue of National Geographic.
Cameron wrote about his experience for the magazine, describing what he saw and felt as he sank into the depths.
Here's how Cameron describes his call to his ship, after reaching his destination:
"Surface, this is DEEPSEA CHALLENGER. I am on the bottom. Depth is 35,756 feet ... life support's good, everything looks good." Only now does it occur to me that I might have prepared something more memorable, like "One small step for man."
On the ocean floor, Cameron used the submersible's thrusters to take a look around on the ocean floor.
"It's very lunar," he tells Melissa. "You don't expect a profusion of life, like you might see at, let's say, a hydrothermal vent community."
In addition to capturing photos and video, Cameron's equipment also took sediment samples.
"We did find 68 new species, most of them bacteria," he tells Melissa, "but some small invertebrates, as well, that were brought back."
At the spot Cameron visited, the water pressure is more than 16,000 pounds per square inch. By the time he reached the seafloor, several pieces of equipment had fallen prey to the immense pressure.
"A couple of my batteries are dangerously low, my compass is glitching, and the sonar has died completely," Cameron writes for National Geographic. "Plus, I've lost two of the three starboard thrusters, so the sub is sluggish and hard to control."
To reach the ocean floor, the submersible relied on two 536-pound weights to pull the craft down. To rise later, the weights were disconnected from the craft — something Cameron did after about three hours of exploration.
"What was going through your mind, right before you flipped that switch?" Melissa asks.
"There's always a little bit of a sigh of relief when it works the way it's supposed to work," Cameron says.
He adds that he'd been thinking about that system for years, noting, "We treated it like a space mission, and you have to go in with a lot of redundancy in the way you design it. So, I wasn't surprised when it worked. But you're always a little bit relieved, because the alternative is not pretty."
In National Geographic, Cameron describes his ascent, after releasing the weights:
"I feel the sub buck and rock as it fires upward. I'm going over six knots, the fastest the sub has ever gone, and I'll be on the surface in less than an hour and a half. I imagine the pressure coming off the sub, like a great python that was unable to crush it slowly giving up its grip. A feeling of relief washes over me as the numbers get progressively lower."
Cameron's visit to the seafloor at the Mariana Trench was the first manned trip to the area "since the U.S. Navy bathyscaph Trieste reached a depth of 35,800 feet in 1960, piloted by Lt. Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard," according to National Geographic.
During his time as the first black president in the White House, President Obama has occasionally been criticized by a group he once belonged to as a U.S. senator, the Congressional Black Caucus, for not doing more to ameliorate the difficult lives of many African Americans.
But Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat who was elected in November to head the CBC, doesn't see why criticism should be surprising. In a Thursday interview with NPR's Michel Martin, host of Tell Me More, Fudge said the CBC has often found itself at odds with presidents; Obama is no different.
Meanwhile, because of the solid support that black voters have shown the Democratic Party, African Americans as represented by the CBC and others, not only had earned the right to criticize but to be inside the rooms where decisions are made.
"We have been critical and disagreed with almost every president on some issue..." Fudge said. "I think that there is not any group of people in this country who do not believe that they should be a part of the process.
"We want a seat at the table just as everyone else and we believe we deserve a seat at the table...," she continued. "We are voting in higher numbers than we ever have. We are a political power base in this country. We are one of the most loyal groups of people to the Democratic Party and we believe we should be involved in the process.
"I am certainly pleased that the President has appointed both Mel Watt [a CBC member who Obama nominated to oversee mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] and to the cabinet Mayor [Anthony] Foxx [of Charlotte]. I believe they are both highly qualified. I certainly do hope that they will be confirmed but we are always going to have issues that are different than what the president wants, whoever the president may be."
In another part of the discussion in which Michel and Fudge discussed congressional immigration efforts, Fudge made a point that could have far-reaching implications if and when an immigration bill moves through the House. (The Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week passed legislation largely resembling that created by a bipartisan group of eight senators known as the Gang of Eight.)
Fudge conveyed the CBC's concern with the Senate bill provision, supported by the high-tech industry, to expand the H-1B visa program to allow into the U.S. higher numbers of highly skilled immigrants to fill jobs for which companies in Silicon Valley and beyond say there aren't enough qualified U.S. workers.
The CBC worries that making more of those visas available will have an adverse impact on blacks aspiring to such jobs.
Any House immigration legislation similar to the Senate's is likely to need the votes of Democrats since it's expected that many Republicans won't vote for a bill with a path to citizenship for immigrants now in the U.S. illegally. That means the votes of the 42 members of the CBC take on greater importance.
"We are concerned about how we build capacity within this country," Fudge told Michel. "When you talk about H-1B visas or high-skilled visas, we know for a fact that in this country there are African Americans who are already prepared to do this work.
"We know that [historically black colleges and universities] graduate more people in science, technology, engineering, and math than almost any other collective group of schools. We want our people not only to have these jobs but to build capacity, K through 12, to prepare young people for these jobs. But if you say you're going to have as many as 100,000 high-skilled visas come into this country every year, then that is saying to my children, 'You know what? Don't even go into that field because there's not going to be a place for you.' "
How this particular issue plays out in the House, especially given the CBC's position, is a key issue to keep an eye on.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's wicked, waggish sense of humor—and knowledge of baseball—were on full display Wednesday when she presided over a reenactment of Flood v. Kuhn, the 1972 case that unsuccessfully challenged baseball's antitrust exemption.
The event, put on by the Supreme Court Historical Society, took place in the Court Chamber, and as Sotomayor took her place at the center of the bench, normally the Chief Justice's chair, she remarked puckishly, "This is the first time I've sat here. It feels pretty good."
For those who don't remember, the case was brought by St. Louis Cardinals great Curt Flood, who challenged baseball's reserve clause, the provision that allowed teams to virtually own players, set salaries, and conduct trades, with the players, for all practical purposes, never able to negotiate freely with other teams. That meant that at the time Flood brought his challenge in 1970, he was earning what was then considered a top salary of $90,000. This, for a player who had signed with the Cards at age 18, with no agent or lawyer, and who in six of the next 12 seasons batted .300 and won seven Gold Glove awards. So, when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, a definitely lesser team at the time, he refused to go, and could not play for any team.
He wrote to the then baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, protesting that he was "not a piece of property to be bought and sold." Kuhn denied his request for free agency—a concept unrecognized by baseball back then—and Flood sued, seeking to block the perpetual use of the reserve clause.
All of these facts, and more, were detailed on Wednesday night by University of Wisconsin law professor Brad Snyder, author of "A Well Paid Slave."
In 1972, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Flood by a vote of 5-to-3. The decision, written by Justice Harry Blackmun, is widely disrespected today (more on that later). But because Blackmun frankly acknowledged that the court's previous rulings upholding baseball's antitrust exemption were wrong, his opinion led to the subsequent creation of a free agency system in baseball.
In 1994, however, nearly two decades after the Flood decision and the ensuing changes in baseball, the owners sought to effectively nullify the free agency system, and the baseball players struck, wiping out the playoffs and the World Series; the National Labor Relations Board went to court, contending that the owners were negotiating in bad faith, and the case came before a young federal district court judge named Sonia Sotomayor.
She agreed that the owners were colluding illegally to fix salaries and granted a temporary injunction barring them from doing that. Sotomayor, a wildly dedicated Yankees fan, issued her opinion in time to allow the new baseball season to begin as scheduled on opening day, with the old baseball contract in effect. She thus earned the title, "the judge who saved baseball."
So, it was no accident that the Supreme Court Historical Society got Sotomayor to preside over the reenactment of the Flood case this week.
Representing Flood at the reenactment was Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan, a frequent Supreme Court advocate, and ironically, a former Blackmun law clerk. And representing Major League Baseball was another frequent Supreme Court advocate, Roy Englert.
Karlan opened, noting that the Supreme Court's 1922 and 1953 decisions upholding baseball's antitrust exemption were outliers, that the Court had not permitted such an exemption for any other professional sport.
Sotomayor asked why the Court should "break with tradition," thus depriving the owners of their "reliance" on previous decisions.
Karlan shot back that if the Court were to side with the owners for a third time, it would amount to something done in baseball only once before—three errors on a single play.
Sotomayor, with a straight face, opined that the Court could apply another baseball rule: three strikes and you're out.
Karlan, undaunted, replied, "I'm swinging for the fences here, your honor."
Sotomayor asked what would happen if the Court were to take away the antitrust exemption. Wouldn't the players move around so much that fans would have no "team loyalty?"
No, rejoined Karlan, the owners would just have to pay the players what they are worth in order to hold on to them, and instead of year to year contracts that leave players with no leverage, the owners would have to negotiate longer term contracts.
Sotomayor, in mock horror, said that if the antitrust exemption were abolished and owners could no longer collude to set player salaries at will, the Yankees might have to pay Reggie Jackson $1 million a year!
Worse, replied Karlan, would be if the Yanks paid Alex Rodriguez a quarter of a billion dollars not to play.
"I can't imagine such a thing!" answered a shocked Sotomayor.
Returning to the legal question, Karlan noted that in the late 1800s and early 1900s baseball was competitive, with independent leagues, and that to interpret the antitrust law, as the Supreme Court did in 1922 when it said baseball was exempt, was ridiculous. Just as ridiculous was the Court's assertion that the sport was not involved in interstate commerce.
Next up to the lectern was Roy Englert, representing the baseball commissioner and owners. He noted that some 50 bills had been introduced in Congress over the years to eliminate the antitrust exemption, and none had passed. The Court, he said, should leave the question to Congress.
But Sotomayor asked, "Where are the rights of the players?" Quoting Curt Flood, she said that the baseball system was a form of "involuntary servitude" that does not exist in any other industry.
Englert replied that "these young men are making on average $28,000...as much as Supreme Court justices." Moreover, unlike other sports, he observed, baseball puts enormous investment into training players in the minor leagues.
Sotomayor, however, had a deeper question. What do we do "to the integrity of the court" when we let a "clearly erroneous decision stand?" And how long should we let it stand?
Do we let it stand, asked the judicial Yankee fan, "as long as it takes the Red Sox to win a World Series?"
At the close of the argument, Sotomayor summarized the late Justice Blackmun's opinion, noting that it was "notorious" for its seven-page sentimental opening, reciting the history of baseball, and listing some 88 best players of all time. It was so un-judge-like, she observed that Chief Justice Warren Burger (and Justice Byron White) refused to sign on to that section of the opinion.
They did, however, join those sections upholding the antitrust exemption and the reserve clause, a judgment based only on the doctrine of stare decisis, respect for precedent. Indeed, Blackmun conceded that the court had been wrong when it said the game was not involved in interstate commerce, and he concluded only that the exemption should continue because the Court had previously said so and Congress had done nothing to overrule the Court.
What would I have done, asked Sotomayor? Well, first of all she would have insisted that Joe DiMaggio be added to the list of baseball greats, and on that condition she would have joined the opening section of Blackmun's opinion.
But she would have dissented on the legal conclusions. There is "not much legal justification" for the ruling, she said, noting that the prior decisions were based on doctrine that was by 1972 "hopelessly outdated."
And in comments that might be read as applying to affirmative action or voting rights or abortion decisions of the past that the current conservative Supreme Court majority disagrees with, she had further observations.
"There are Supreme Court decisions that are wrong." The Court's 1896 decision upholding segregation was wrong, and the Supreme Court was right to reverse it in 1954. But sometimes, she said, the question is not whether the decision was wrong, but whether this is the right time to overrule it.
Today, she observed, we see as "horrible" the reserve clause that deprived players of any real negotiating power. But at the time, what both sides thought they were arguing about was "the very survival of baseball."
Radio in color? This was said by Morning Edition Host Steve Inskeep as he wrapped a radio story on one of the earliest color photographers. That story was part of an interactive documentary that is earning acclaim across the multimedia industry. Radio in color, indeed.
Combining on-air and online elements in the documentary, Lost And Found: Discover A Black-And-White Era in Full Color, tells the story of 1930s-era photographer and hobbyist Charles W. Cushman, who's vast body of work over 30 years was discovered recently, rather by accident.
The brains behind the documentary are Claire O'Neill, multimedia producer and editor of The Picture Show blog on npr.org, and Wes Lindamood, from the NPR UX Design team.
This year, "Lost and Found" won first place in the Feature Story category, first place in Innovation, as well as Best In Show from the White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA). The project also took third place in the prestigious World Press Multimedia competition, honorable mention in the National Press Photographers Association's (NPPA's) Best of Photojournalism contest and a silver medal in Best of Digital Design from the Society for News Design.
Experimenting With Popcorn.js
The Cushman photos were originally intended for a blog post at The Picture Show, but O'Neill said, "I had such great tape from [the first two interviews], it seemed like kind of a waste to do just a blog post." So she took the story to Lindamood, who's user experience team focuses on all things digital from NPR.
"He just had so many ideas," she said. Lindamood had just begun working with a new media framework called Popcorn.js and wanted to use it to tell a story in "a more rich and immersive way" on NPR, he says.
In the process of telling Cushman's story, O'Neill and Lindamood created a customized storytelling platform built to showcase his compelling life through the very images that defined it. One that enabled viewers to better experience the literal twists and turns of his life, navigating road trips and an attempted murder among other things.
"I see so much potential in audio-driven, long-form storytelling," Lindamood said.
Working In The Gaps
O'Neill and Lindamood started producing the piece during NPR's Serendipity Day. They also worked on lunch or coffee breaks, after work and during any free time in their schedules. After three months of working in the gaps, the finished piece was published.
While "Lost and Found" has been widely recognized by industry awards, O'Neill is sure to emphasize that awards "shouldn't be why you do what you do."
In May 2012, Lindamood joined NPR as senior interaction designer. With a background in visual design, journalism and front-end development, he likes to describe his job as turning "user needs and business goals into technically elegant user experiences."
O'Neill's start at NPR began as an intern in January 2009. Now, four years later, The Picture Show blog along with her other multimedia work, has been honored by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), WHNPA and Webby Awards, among others.
Working in the NPR multimedia department is perfect for O'Neill because she loves the depth of content she is able to explore. "We are unattached to a specific beat...we get to do deep dives," she said.
NPR is grounded in storytelling, and whether it's by mixing audio and visuals, or through new, interactive platforms, our visual teams are always looking for new and better ways to do just that. In "Lost and Found," which is built on O'Neill's background in visual storytelling and Lindamood's experience in digital design, this duo found such a sweet spot: radio in color.
Marie McGrory is a spring 2013 intern on NPR's Multimedia team. She was born and raised in NYC, is a lefty and loves temporary tattoos.
Radio in ColorLost And Found: Discover A Black-And-White Era in Full Color By the numbers:
- Photos in the collection: 14,500
- Amount of time it takes to sort through 14,500 photos: Too much
- Number of pet raccoons featured: 1
Follow The Picture Show BlogTwitter: @NPRPictureShow
More from this ProjectCheck out two other projects inspired by this technology, and the source code journalists/designers can take our skeleton and add to it, like Mother Jones did. From the Bronx to the Bench: The Family Photos of Justice Sotomayer (source code) NPR Music Presents: In Memoriam (source code)
Driving home from a screening of the ravishing new Israeli film Fill the Void, I caught sight of a young man in full Hasidic garb, trying to coax his toddler son across a busy Los Angeles street. My first thought was, "He's a boy himself, barely old enough to be a father, and they both look so pale."
My second was, "I wonder what his life feels like?" This is the more open mindset that director Rama Burshtein asks from audiences going into her first feature, a love poem to the ultra-Orthodox world as seen from within.
An insider by choice rather than by birth, Burshtein grew up in New York and only committed herself to Hasidic Judaism while at film school in Israel. Since then she has devoted herself to nurturing a small but growing cinema of Orthodox (Haredi) Judaism, especially for women.
That's pretty novel right there. Filmmakers tend to be a secular if not downright anti-conservative lot, which may be one reason why the handful of movies set in a Jewish religious milieu have essentially been hatchet jobs. Boaz Yakin's A Price Above Rubies (1998) and Amos Gitai's Kadosh (1999), both made by men, latched ferociously on to the second-class and abused status of women in Orthodox Jewish society, and saw nothing else.
Burshtein refuses to engage with the culture wars that flare fiercely between secular and religious types in Israel; in fact she's trying to avoid types of any kind, which may be why secular audiences and critics have embraced her rapturous depiction of a community living its life, more separate from than at odds with the society beyond.
Fill the Void is set in Tel Aviv (where Burshtein lives) rather than in Jerusalem, where most Israeli ultra-Orthodox live. But the outside world might be anywhere, for all the time the movie spends beyond the cloistered walls of a watertight community mobilizing to resolve an internal crisis.
No one feels oppressed here, or tries to escape. We meet Shira (Hadas Yaron), a dewy 18-year-old beauty, in a lather of girlish excitement after she catches a glimpse of the side-curled young Hasid who's been picked out as her future husband. But Shira's joy at finding her beshert doesn't last. When her older sister dies in childbirth, the wedding is put on hold.
Then Shira's mother, terrified of losing the sister's newborn baby when the widower, Yochay (Yiftach Klein), considers marrying a widow in Belgium, sets about engineering a match between between Shira and Yochay. Desolate enough at having her own hopes dashed, Shira is downright paralyzed by the ethical and emotional implications of marrying her beloved sister's husband, whom she has loved as a brother.
Other complications intrude to stack the deck against an orderly transition to a settled life; none of them, though, involves a direct challenge to a social order that many secular people argue consigns women to secondary roles as helpmeets.
And it's true that the stakes are low here. Shira's dilemma may be agonizing for her, but it involves no violation of Jewish law, threatens no status quo. The community's kindly rabbi implores her to consult her own feelings. One wonders how he would respond to a request to take a year off to travel by herself, or to train as a rabbi.
In light of the recent violent protests among ultra-Orthodox men (and women) against women who claimed the right to pray as men do at Jerusalem's Western Wall, some would call Kill the Void a roaring case of special pleading. And perhaps Burshtein does take a willfully rosy view of women's standing within the Haredi community. But if she may be willfully blind to politics, she excels at setting before us, in passionately intimate detail, a world to which she is devoted — and one in which women are placed front and center.
Ambience is everything in this director's gorgeous scene-setting. There's nothing remotely monkish or drab about the lavish physicality and rich lighting that infuses a sexually modest subculture with sensual pleasure and — yes — romance. In one achingly lovely scene, Shira squeezes out her grief in the plaintive notes of an accordion as Yochay sways in a hammock, his baby slumbering peacefully on his chest.
Elsewhere a richly soulful Hebrew rendition of Psalm 137 ("If I forget thee, O Jerusalem ...") underscores the transformative power of communal ritual, whose central premise — act, and the feelings will follow — guides Shira toward a decision.
There's nothing pat about this: In the final shot of the movie, on her wedding night, a young woman stands with her back against a wall. What is that look on her face? Is it doubt about the choice she's made? Fright? Or awe before the mystery of her own, and all, existence?
Radio in ColorLost And Found: Discover A Black-And-White Era in Full Color By the numbers:
- Photos in the collection: 14,500
- Amount of time it takes to sort through 14,500 photos: Too much
- Number of pet raccoons featured: 1