What a week it's been for giant pandas. We know because for the past seven days, we have been Google Frecking for pandas.
Google Frecking is an info-gathering game we devised — at the suggestion of our creative editor — for drilling a little deeper into a subject that intrigues us. In this case: pandas.
Last weekend we set up a Google Alert for pandas. We directed Google to send us news about pandas "when it happens" and we asked for "all results."
We call it frecking because it's a hunt-and-peck extraction process - a little like fracking - that helps us find untapped resources for stories. Plus we like this line from a James Russell Lowell poem about a cathedral: Painted windows, frecking gloom with glow.
Google Frecking teaches us that pandas can be:
1) Sad: On Orange Jasmine Purple Yam we read the story of Sijia - a giant panda living in a Yunnan wildlife park - who was distraught and stopped eating when her panda pal Meiqian was shipped away. Zookeepers set up a monitor that shows videos of Sijia and Meiqian playing together in happier times.
2) Inspirational: Through Google Frecking, we stumble on the Hungry Panda Club, a New York City group that shares interests in food and networking. Co-founder Alicia Dai of IAC / InterActive tells NPR: "Apart from a majority of our constituents being Asian, the name had a nice ring to it and pandas are just lovable, innocuous creatures."
3) Sweet of Tooth: Researchers recently reported that pandas - whose diet consists mostly of bamboo - have a "sweet receptor" in their DNA, similar to humans. This suggests that ancestral pandas were able to eat fruits before they were shooed-away from the lowlands to the mountains by human expansion. Do pandas in captivity come to prefer sugary foods to bamboo? NPR asks lead researcher Danielle Reed of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "Our data would suggest that liking for sweet food is a function of inborn biology and not the effects of captivity," she says. "Pandas in the wild would immediately accept sweet foods if they were available."
4) Symbolic: In the aftershocks of Flight 370's disappearance on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, relations between Malaysia and China have been frayed. Tensions could affect the delivery of a panda to Kuala Lumpur scheduled for May 31, an important diplomatic anniversary for the two countries. "Delays beyond this date would make the event less meaningful," reports Sin Chew Daily, a large Chinese-language newspaper in Malaysia.
6) Bashful: At the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, panda couple Tian Tian and Yang Guang have been having trouble making a baby panda. So Tian Tian was artificially inseminated. Apparently, we won't know if the procedure worked until Tian Tian has a cub - or not.
The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers - Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers - of NPR. @NPRtpj
Even before he finished his eight-film run as Harry Potter, actor Daniel Radcliffe spent a considerable time devoted to the stage, both in London and New York. He appeared on Broadway in Equus and spent a year playing J. Pierrepont Finch, the lead role in the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
On Sunday night, the 24-year-old actor opens at Broadway's Cort Theatre in a production of Martin McDonagh's dark Irish comedy, The Cripple of Inishmaan.
When Daniel Radcliffe makes his first appearance, it's something of a shock; his left arm is lifeless, his left leg is locked straight, his body twists as he shuffles uncomfortably across the stage. Radcliffe is the title character in The Cripple of Inishmaan: Billy Claven, an orphaned 17-year-old boy whose parents drowned in a mysterious boating accident and who dreams both of love and of a better life.
"I responded to the character of Billy," Radcliffe says, "just because he is such a beaten, battered-down, abused character, who retains such a sense of dignity and integrity and strength and actually still retains his compassion for other people, which is pretty remarkable, given the way he's treated."
The play takes place on a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland in 1934, where the villagers live a harsh, impoverished existence. Several of the characters decide to leave, in hopes of appearing in a movie that's being filmed nearby. Playwright McDonagh has created a world that is both cruel and sympathetic, according to director Michael Grandage.
"What's lovely about the play is that it offers an insight into a very small community," Grandage says. "We, the audience, sit and observe something from outside; watching a past life, a past world, this little remote island off Ireland from the early 1930s and the people that inhabit it and their need, in some cases, to get away from it."
The characters in McDonagh's comedy can almost seem like they come from a parody of classic Irish theater, but actress Sarah Greene, who hails from Cork and plays Billy's love interest, Helen, says these are not caricatures.
"The mad thing is that there are still characters like this, living on the Aran Islands, so these are real people," she says. "And what's funny watching it is they don't seem like real people, because they're so bizarre! They are very, very strange human beings."
McDonagh uses a clever device to get their dialect across to audiences: line repetition. "He's got a very particularly poetic voice, actually, and he's got a musical voice, I think," Grandage says.
"What's fascinating about that is he knows that the play's going to open with an accent that is probably, for most people watching it, different to the way that they speak," he says. "He gives us, therefore, the first line in duplicate, so just in case we miss it in the very first voice that gets heard, as our ear starts to adjust, the second voice gives it to us again, in a different form.
"So by the time we've heard two voices say it, while the voice might need an adjustment to our ear, we at least are following it," Grandage says. "It's a rather brilliant device that he does quite a lot and consistently, right the way through the play."
Accessibility is important for Grandage. When he founded his company last year, he asked name actors, like Radcliffe, if they'd be interested in not just acting, but training young directors and designers, and performing free for schools from disadvantaged areas in and around London. Throughout their five-play season, the company made 100,000 tickets available at a lower cost to help young people see the work.
On Broadway, The Cripple of Inishmaan is making a block of 10,000 tickets available at $27 for the length of the four-month run, in the same spirit. For the actors in the company, "it makes a difference to the way they approach the work," Grandage says. "It's not just about playing a role."
Grandage sent Radcliffe five plays, and the actor says the role of Billy Claven in The Cripple of Inishmaan was the obvious choice. While Radcliffe continues to have an active film career, he's also committed to the stage.
"I'd definitely like to come back and keep doing theater for hopefully the rest of my career," he says. "It's something that I feel like every time I come away from it, I come away from it a better actor."
A shootout at a checkpoint killed at least two people in eastern Ukraine Sunday, according to multiple reports. The violence comes on the heels of an agreement between Ukraine, Russia and the West that calls for armed groups to disband; that pact led officials to announce a truce for this Easter weekend.
The shootout took place at a separatist checkpoint near Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian militants have held a government building since last week. The occupation of buildings in eastern Ukraine led Kiev to launch an "anti-terrorist" campaign.
From Paris, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley filed this report for our Newscast unit:
"A 20-year-old pro-Russia guard said a car of unknown assailants opened fire when asked for their IDs at the checkpoint. Journalists from two news agencies reported seeing two dead bodies with gunshot wounds to the face and head.
"The Ukrainian interior ministry confirmed there was an 'armed clash.' Moscow, which has tens of thousands of troops amassed on Ukraine's eastern border, quickly seized upon the violence, saying it was outraged at this provocation.
"Moscow blames the deaths on a Ukrainian nationalist group that was at the vanguard of protests in Kiev that ousted Ukraine's pro-Kremlin president in February."
Reuters reports that the groups involved are trading blame for the incident:
"The separatists said gunmen from Ukraine's Right Sector nationalist group had attacked them. The Right Sector denied any role, saying Russian special forces were behind the clash."
In addition to the reported deaths, several people were wounded in the gunfight.
Russia's foreign ministry says the violence "proves Kiev's authorities are not willing to control and disarm the nationalists and extremists" as required in the recent agreement, according to Russia's state-run Tass news agency.
Despite the diplomatic agreement, pro-Russian militants have refused to surrender their weapons or give up government buildings they're occupying in eastern Ukraine.
A crowd estimated at more than 150,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square for an Easter Mass led by Pope Francis Sunday. The pope gave his traditional blessing on the most important day of the Christian calendar; he also called for help for people who are living in desperate conditions.
From Rome, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports for our Newscast unit:
"Looking tired after an intense holy week, Francis stressed that Easter is 'the basis of our faith and hope.' If Christ were not raised, he said, Christianity would lose its very meaning. The whole mission of the church, added Francis, would lose its impulse.
"He appealed to the lord to help overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by immense wastefulness for which, he added, we are often responsible.
"He also appealed for African victims of the Ebola virus, for kidnapping victims, and for migrants seeking a better life and religious freedom.
"He called for an end to violence in Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic, Nigeria and South Sudan and urged negotiations and reconciliation in Venezuela and Ukraine, and between Israelis and Palestinians."
You can read the pope's complete 'Urbi et Orbi' message (Latin for `to the city and to the world') at the Vatican website.