Earlier this week, the FBI posted a video on their website. It's a 25-minute movie called Game of Pawns, based on the true story of Glenn Shriver, an American college student who was recruited as a spy by the Chinese government.
According to the FBI's website, the film is aimed at college students about to study abroad themselves. The message is obvious: Don't be a spy. The rationale is that a dramatic movie will capture young people's attention better than public service announcements or PowerPoint.
In recent years, the FBI has been making movies to get their message across — both to the general public and their own agents. In fact, the FBI spends between $500,000 and $800,000 each year on videos for training and development.
"They really demand accuracy," says Sean Paul Murphy, the film's screenwriter. He tells NPR's Arun Rath "they want something that is as close to reality as possible."
When it came to actually writing the script, Murphy says FBI agents were far easier to work with than Hollywood types.
"Generally, everybody's on the same page, and you're not being pulled in different directions by people's egos. On this, everyone was pulling in the same direction."
Murphy has written movies for two other FBI films. Betrayed, his first film, is about an inside threat in the intelligence community. His other film, called Company Man, is about selling trade secrets to foreign powers. Both are short, dramatic narratives that emphasize the importance of national security.
In the week since its release, Game of Pawns has generated a lot of Internet ire and snark. Critics call it cheesy and cliche.
"I think it actually has very decent production values," Murphy says. "Some people were complaining about cliche dialogue, and some of the things they cited as examples were things that Glenn had actually said in the interviews."
Shriver himself cooperated extensively with the FBI in the making of Game of Pawns. Murphy says Shriver was pleased with the final result.
"He didn't like the way his father was presented," Murphy says, "but other than that, he had no complaint that I'm aware of."
Jordi Savall has made a career of reviving ancient music. Whatever the age of the songs, though, he doesn't play them as museum-piece recreations, preserved in isolation. Savall takes great pleasure in smashing together music from different times and different cultures.
At his concerts, it's difficult to predict what might happen — or who might show up. There might be musicians from Afghanistan or Africa onstage; those same musicians might perform an medieval French song or a Jewish lullaby.
His latest project, Bal-Kan: Honey and Blood, requires no such mashup of regions. Instead, he delves deeply into the music of the Balkans and uncovers a truly incredible variety.
Of Blood, Beauty And Belief
Savall says his fascination with the Balkans stems from the period when the region was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks were the first to give the region the name "Balkan," shortly after conquering it in the 15th century. As for what exactly that name means, well, dispute persists.
Not surprisingly, Jordi Savall prefers the poetic version: a combination of two words, "Bal" and "Kan." He explains, "'Bal' means in Turkish 'honey,' and 'kan' 'blood.' [The Turks] found a beautiful country, but they found also a very strong population who resist in a very exceptional way. And they tell that this is the country of the honey and blood."
Savall says the Ottomans gave locals a certain degree of independence, tolerating religious and cultural differences. Because it was essentially a place where East meets West, the Balkans were extraordinarily diverse. The region was home to more than 20 distinct ethnic groups, including Jewish refugees expelled from Spain. This gave rise to many styles of music, all of which could be played freely.
Out of the Balkans came music untouched by the Renaissance or the Baroque period. Despite its diversity, or perhaps because of it, the Balkans were a place outside of time — where songs may be a thousand years old and yet still swing like jazz. And as he studied the modern-day Balkans, Savall noticed how many cultural traditions remained, while in other places they had succumbed to globalization.
He says of the project: "It's a way to reflect this extremely big diversity of ways to sing, to play music — to believe also. And this is, I think, for me it's one of the most exciting projects that happened in the last 20 years."
The Musician's Language
It's a project that's too big to contain on one record. The three CDs of Bal-Kan come in a small book fit for the coffee table, filled with essays on the music, art culture and history of the region, along with photos and art reproductions.
His last several projects have been issued this way. It's all part of a master plan by Savall: In this day of downloads, he's trying to revive the idea of a record album as a thing to be held and experienced.
"This is something you can take your time to read, to listen," he says. "I think it's also important to bring to the music all the elements to understand the music — to know about the history, about the political situation. What are these societies? What are these people? What they represent in our world today, no?"
And it's impossible to shy away from the political history. The 20th century saw a lot of bloodshed in the Balkans. The different cultures don't mix as well anymore.
Remarkably, the inspiration for this Balkan project came from a performance in memory of the victims of the siege in Sarajevo. For that concert, Savall had assembled a potentially volatile blend of ethnicities. He lists them: "Serbian musicians, Bosnian musicians, Armenian musicians, Turkish musicians, Sephardic musicians, Christian musicians. It was clear to see in the ambience was a certain electricity. People was happy to be there, but many of these people had never played together."
But he says that after only a few hours of rehearsal, the atmosphere had completely changed. Between the different ethnicities, above the different melodies, a universal language took hold — a language common to all musicians.
"What makes one a musician is having sympathy to another musician," he says. "It's when he understands the other musician, has the same language as he has, the same sensitivity, the same virtuosity. Then it's a respect. And then it's creating something fantastic."
In a classroom across from the coal mine exhibit at the Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, students are huddled around tables, studying petri dishes of bacteria.
But these aren't school-age kids — these students are all teachers, responsible for imparting science to upper-elementary or middle-school students.
That's a job that many here — and many teachers in grammar schools around the country — feel unprepared for.
"That's why I'm here," says fifth-grade teacher Joel Spears. "I teach all the subjects. I went in not knowing how to teach science, really. I didn't have the materials or the know-how to even teach it properly."
Once a month, Spears and dozens of other teachers come to the museum for a day of lessons and materials to then take back to their classrooms across the Chicago metro region.
Teacher Jonathan Fisher, a philosophy major who avoided life science in college but now teaches it to fourth-graders, taught genetics to his class with an activity he learned here.
"The students used Styrofoam blocks and different body parts — so limbs and dowel rods and different-sized eyes — [and flipped] coins to figure out which genes would be passed on to their kids," he explains. "The classroom couldn't have been more excited."
Sparking Kids' Interest At The Right Time
Today, the teachers here at the museum will be given diagrams of cells, petri dishes, bottles of Glo Germ (a lotion that exposes bacteria on hands), and even instructions for a simple incubator that enables students to grow bacteria from their own dirty hands.
"One of the challenges in the U.S. in getting kids engaged in science is that we don't have enough really high-quality science teachers in the middle grades," says Andrea Ingram, who oversees education at the Museum of Science and Industry. "And that's kind of like the early childhood of science. We either capture kids' enthusiasm there, get them committed to science, or we don't."
Ingram says museums are important partners in improving science instruction, especially given tight school budgets. Museums are popular with business and civic leaders, for one, and where else can you find tornadoes, lightning and real cow eyeballs to dissect?
But the real test of this teacher training program is in schools like Sawyer Elementary on Chicago's Southwest Side.
Graciela Olmos, a teacher at Sawyer, first saw a lesson about mechanical engineering taught with marbles and rulers at a class at the museum. Now she's teaching it to her eighth-graders, who are rolling marbles down incline planes and measuring how far the marbles push a little Styrofoam cup.
Olmos says she's used to being told to teach to higher standards. The museum program, she says, has shown her how.
"They model for us, 'This is how it's going to look.' And that's something that we lack," she says.
That's not the only thing she lacks, she says. "We need so many things. We need to have science labs with gas lines and sinks."
Helping Teachers Who Are Spread Thin
Another challenge, she says, is not being able to focus strictly on science. "If my specialty is science, well, let it be science," she says. "Don't give me so many other things to do aside of that."
Joanne Olson, a professor of science education at Iowa State University and president of the Association for Science Teacher Education, says that "has been a perpetual challenge for us in science education, particularly at the elementary grades."
For years, Olson has been advocating for schools to have science specialists, much the way many P.E. teachers teach only physical education.
"You have one teacher who's dedicated to that particular subject area, and that way the teacher can be very well-prepared ... and doesn't have to take on literacy instruction, math and these other areas," she says.
Olson says a majority of elementary teachers have gotten fewer than six total hours of science training in the last three years. "Anything that can be done to help is a good thing," she says.
The Museum of Science and Industry plans to train 1,000 Chicago-area teachers in the next five years. A study of the program by Michigan State University has found that the teachers trained there know more science than they did before participating — and so do their students.
Here's a stumper: How many parts can you divide a line into?
It seems like a simple question. You can cut it in half. Then you can cut those lines in half, then cut those lines in half again. Just how many parts can you make? A hundred? A billion? Why not more?
You can keep on dividing forever, so every line has an infinite amount of parts. But how long are those parts? If they're anything greater than zero, then the line would seem to be infinitely long. And if they're zero, well, then no matter how many parts there are, the length of the line would still be zero.
That's the paradox lurking behind calculus. The fight over how to resolve it had a surprisingly large role in the wars and disputes that produced modern Europe, according to a new book called Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World, by UCLA historian Amir Alexander.
The Jesuits: Warriors Of Geometry
Today, mathematicians have found ways to answer that question so that modern calculus is rigorous and reliable. But in the 17th century, those questions didn't yet have satisfying answers — and worse, the results of early calculus were sometimes wrong, Alexander tells NPR's Arun Rath. That was a sharp contrast with the dependable outcomes of geometry.
"Geometry is orderly. It is absolutely certain. And once you get results in geometry, nobody can argue with you," Alexander says. "Everything is absolutely provable. No sane person can ever dispute something like the Pythagorean theorem."
That orderliness had captured the attention of the Jesuits, who had been trying to cope with the crisis of the Reformation.
"If we could have theology like that," Alexander explains, "then we could get rid of all those pesky Protestants who keep arguing with us, because we could prove things."
But the debate over infinitesimals threw a wrench into that thinking.
The whole point of mathematics was to be certain, Alexander says. "Everything is known, and everything has its place, and there's a very orderly hierarchy of results there. And now, in the middle of that, you throw this paradox, and you can get all those strange results. That basically means that mathematics can't be trusted, and if mathematics can't be trusted, what else can?"
So the Jesuits waged a war of letters, threats and intimidation against the supporters of the infinitesimal, a group that included some of Italy's greatest thinkers — Galileo, Gerolamo Cardano, Federico Commandino and others. In Italy, the Jesuits' victory was complete.
"Italy was — before the 17th century and into the 17th century — it was really the mathematical capital of Europe. It had the greatest mathematicians, the greatest mathematical tradition," Alexander says. "And by the time the Jesuits were done, that was gone. All of it. By the 1670s, Italy was a complete backwater in mathematics and the sciences."
An Infinitesimal Victory For The People
Meanwhile a similar situation was playing out in England, where civil war was also threatening upheaval. The aristocracy and propertied classes were desperate to hold onto their traditional power while lower class dissent fermented underneath. Thomas Hobbes, remembered today for his works of political philosophy like Leviathan, was also acknowledged at the time as a mathematician.
"He thought the only way to re-establish order was much like the Jesuits: Just wipe off any possibility of dissent. Establish a state that is absolutely logical, where the laws of the sovereign have the force of a geometrical proof," Alexander says.
Part of Hobbes' strategy included a campaign against the infinitesimal, championed in England by Hobbes' greatest rival, a mathematician named John Wallis. Today, he's remembered best for introducing the familiar ? symbol, and he helped found the Royal Society of London. Over three decades of correspondence between the two, Wallis argued vehemently for the infinitesimal — and for democracy.
Wallis argued, "What you have to build now is some space where dissent can be allowed, within limits at least," Alexander says. "Build a society and build a social order from the ground up rather than imposing it by one single law."
Wallis' ideas eventually prevailed; Hobbes' opinions proved too unpopular, and fearing retribution from the rebels after they executed King Charles I, he pledged his allegiance to their new government in the 1650s.
A World Without Calculus: Would It Add Up?
What might have happened if the Jesuits and Hobbes had won out? What if the infinitesimal had been successfully stamped out everywhere?
"I think things would have been very different," Alexander muses. "I think if they had won, then it would have been a much more hierarchical society. In a world like that, there would not be room for democracy, there would not be room for dissent."
And more materially, he says, we might not have all the modern fruits of this kind of math. "Modern science, modern technology, and everything from your cell phone to this radio station to airplanes and cars and trains — it is all fundamentally dependent on this technique of infinitesimals."
Cannon Michael runs an 11,000-acre farm in California's Central Valley. His family has been farming in the state for six generations.
Michael's multi-million-dollar operation usually provides a wealth of crops including tomatoes, onions and melons. But recently, he's pretty pessimistic about work.
"It is going to be a year that's probably, at best, maybe break even. Or maybe lose some money," Michael tells NPR's Arun Rath.
Michael says about one-fifth of the land will lie fallow this year. So come harvest season, he won't be able to hire as many people to work the fields.
The reason that Michael and farmers all around the Valley are cutting back is California's severe and ongoing drought.
"Without surface water, it's all a big strain, and people are finding whatever means they can to survive," he says.
Running On Empty
Nearly half of the country's fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California, a state that is drying up. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire state of California is considered "abnormally dry," and two-thirds of California is in "extreme" to "exceptional" drought conditions.
Earlier this year, many farmers in California found out that they would get no irrigation water from state and federal water projects. Recent rains have helped a little. On Friday, government officials said there was enough water to give a little more to some of the region's farmers; 5 percent of the annual allocation, instead of the nothing they were getting.
Michael says his farm has been a little bit luckier because of their long history here. His family has what are called "senior water rights," and a stronger guarantee to the region's water.
Those water rights mean they're getting 40 percent of their normal water allotment, and sprinklers are still spraying water across some of the soil, but the farm has still had to cut back.
Many fields remain fallow or are growing a placeholder crop to keep the soil from eroding. Thanks to the drought, much of his wheat crop isn't suitable for human use, so it's already been cut to make hay for livestock. Michael says because of this they're also buying less equipment, like big tractors that can cost upward of $400,000.
"We had ordered one last year in October in anticipation of using it this spring ... [and] based on the outlook this year, we just can't take it," he says.
Stories like this are playing out throughout the Central Valley. With less water, farmers are making fewer big purchases, fallowing hundreds of thousands of acres and hiring fewer farm laborers. All of this means they're putting less money into the local economy.
No Crops, No Work, No Money
Economists say it's too early to accurately predict the drought's effect on jobs, but it's likely as many as 20,000 will be lost.
That might not sound like a lot, but many of those workers are already living paycheck-to-paycheck and live in communities that depend on that work.
Mendota, Calif., is a small farming town of about 11,000 people, not far down the road from Fresno. The majority of the town's residents work in agriculture.
"The ordinary citizen here is going to be facing some of the most drastic situations that I've probably seen," says Robert Silva, the town's mayor.
Silva says Mendota struggles even in wet years. Nearly half of the people here live below the poverty line, and unemployment often hovers around 30 percent.
They've been through bad droughts before; the last hit in 2009, brutally coinciding with the nation's foreclosure crisis. Silva says he's been thinking a lot about that year recently.
"We know exactly, more or less, what's going to happen because we saw what happened," he says. "We experienced these bad problems; the crime went up, there was a lot of spousal abuse [and] expulsions from the school system as a result of those people not working."
Silva says it's been especially hard for men and women used to working hard in food production, to turn around and stand in food lines for handouts. Most hiring happens during harvest season, closer to the summer, so people here say the worst is yet to come.
Along Interstate 5, it's impossible to miss the signs of drought: dead almond trees and unattended fields. There are signs everywhere along the road expressing anger about what people here call "The Water Wars."
Signs in Spanish and English say things like: "No Water Equals No Jobs," "Pray For Rain" and "Congress-Created Dust Bowl."
Both the federal and state government has promised to help. President Obama has promised $183 million in federal funds for drought relief, while California has put forward nearly $700 million on top of that. But farmers and local officials insist that more is needed.
A Ripple Effect For Schools
One area that has officials worried is the effect on education in places affected by the drought.
Jane Brittell, the principal at Lorena Falasco Elementary School in Los Banos, a town about 35 miles north of Mendota, says she's worried the drought will force families to leave and pull their kids out of school.
"We have an agricultural community, and even if the student's parents aren't involved in the agricultural field, the community is," Brittell says. "So when that starts to dry up and there's not the money generated for the businesses, employment starts to dwindle and parents have to move for better jobs."
The Los Banos Unified School District could lose up to 5 percent of its students, says Superintendent Steve Tietjen. For a district like Los Banos, with 10,000 students, that's about 500 kids. California distributes education funding based on attendance, so losing students means losing dollars — after years of cutbacks already.
"We're still deficit spending this year, so if we were to lose ... 500 students, that's somewhere around $3 million we would be out," Tietjen says. "How many teachers would we have to cut to save $3 million?"
Tietjen says that would mean laying off as many as 20 teachers in the district.
At least this year, he won't have to make that decision. The California Department of Education says it's going to work with schools hit hardest by the drought to make sure they don't lose funding.
Hanging On To Hope
Back in Mendota, 54-year-old resident Sergio Valdez, who grew up here, says he's proud of his town and has hope that it can survive the drought. While there's talk of people leaving to find jobs elsewhere, he says he's staying.
"It's a little town and it's home, you know, it's home for us," he says. Valdez's parents left Mexico to work in the fields here, and he worries that the new group of people moving to the Central Valley won't have the same chance to succeed.
Valdez says every town has its problems, and right now, in Mendota, they're waiting to find out just how bad the drought will get.
"They say, oh we're gonna become a ghost town, we're gonna dry up ... No," he says. "Mendota will continue to live. It's not gonna be as big and prosperous as everybody wants, [but] we'll be like the little train that said, 'I think I can, I think I can.' "