Jessica Harris speaks with David Kelley, co-founder of IDEO, a global design firm that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations in the public and private sectors innovate and grow. She also sits down with David Carmel, co-founder of Jumpstart, a non-profit organization that pairs college students and community volunteers with pre-schoolers from low-income households.
Since the beginning of December, our colleagues at Tell Me More have been hosting a wide-ranging conversation about blacks in tech fields on #NPRBlacksInTech. The tech sector is growing so fast that there's likely to be more jobs than Americans are able to fill, but black folks remained wildly underrepresented: only about four percent of software developers are black, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The Code Switch crew chimed in early on the conversation when we looked at the world of open source coding, which should have fewer barriers to entry, but suffers from the same racial disparities.)
As part of the ongoing Twitter conversation, folks in the tech world have been answering questions about the ins and outs of their professional lives and talking about what it's like to be one of the few African Americans in that sector. It's been a voluminous conversation. Here are some of the highlights.
Today, Flipboard crafted a digital magazine crafted around the #NPRblacksintech convo, which will continue for the rest of the month. It all culminates in a Google Hangout on Dec. 17. You can (and should!) join in on the discussion at the hashtag #NPRBlacksInTech.
Being an incumbent ain't what it used to be.
Texan John Cornyn is the number two man in Senate GOP leadership and by most measures holds high conservative ratings — according to National Journal's rankings, he was the second most conservative senator in the last Congress.
But this week, Cornyn joined the crowded ranks of incumbent Senate Republicans who are now facing a primary challenge.
"The unhappiness people have with government opens the door to any challenger," says Michael Berlanga, a former GOP legislative aide in Texas. "Any incumbent needs to be on guard."
That may be particularly true in Texas. Just last year, Ted Cruz came out of seemingly nowhere to beat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, his better-known and better-funded opponent, in the Republican Senate primary.
"Everyone in the Republican Party is running on the Ted Cruz model," says Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democratic state representative. "You have to give credit to a winning model."
For Cornyn, there's another Cruz factor at play. Much of his vulnerability stems from the fact that party activists feel he was insufficiently supportive this fall of Cruz's effort to defund Obamacare, even at the cost of a government shutdown.
"I won't vote for John Cornyn," says Ron Brandin, a retired police officer in San Antonio, the senator's political base. "He hung Ted Cruz out to dry."
But Brandin admits he knows almost nothing about Cornyn's challenger, Rep. Steve Stockman. That's not uncommon, even in Texas Republican circles.
And that's precisely Stockman's problem. Having just met the filing deadline for the March primary he has four months to introduce himself to voters around the huge state, and to raise the money to be competitive with the incumbent.
Cornyn begins with an enormous cash advantage as the No. 2 Senate GOP leader. According to their most recent filings, Stockman had about $32,000 in cash on hand, while Cornyn had $7 million.
"He's going to spend 120 days asking for money, as far as I can see," says Jim Lunz, aformer Bexar County GOP chairman. "I don't see how in 120 days you can expect to cover 36 other [congressional] districts."
Not Cornyn's Crowd
Lunz was among some 150 people who crowded into the new Bexar County Republican Party headquarters, in an office building alongside Interstate 410 in San Antonio, for its grand opening Thursday.
The crowd — a mix of party volunteers and candidates for local and state offices — should have been favorable to Cornyn. He attended college and law school in San Antonio and got his start in politics 30 years ago with his election as Bexar County state district judge.
Not many people at the gathering showed much love for Cornyn, however.
"The Tea Party people are unhappy he didn't support Ted Cruz," says Thomas Marburger, a GOP precinct chair. "I think Cornyn is vulnerable."
Like a number of Republican incumbents, Cornyn managed to anger contingents of his party with a few votes that continue to rankle.
"I was not happy with him for voting with the rest of the Senate for Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State," says Warrington Lee Austerman, a GOP precinct chair in Converse, Texas.
But for Republicans in San Antonio, Stockman remains mostly a question mark. He served one term in the House during the 1990s and is now less than a year into his second stint representing a district east of Houston.
"I think I heard the name," says Austerman, "that's all I can say."
The Cruz Model
Stockman not only lacks name recognition but has a problematic record to run on. He's known for making controversial statements and recently fired two aides for having made improper contributions to his campaign.
Stockman's effort lacks several factors that helped make Cruz successful last year, according to James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. Cruz had laid the groundwork for his longshot bid months in advance and was able to take advantage of an extended primary season.
"I think a lot personally of Congressman Stockman and he's always been a friend of conservative ideals, but I think a race now against a sitting U.S. senator is very late," says Cathie Adams, president of Texas Eagle Forum, a conservative advocacy group. "Six months ago, or even three months ago, that would have been very well received in the state of Texas."
Adams complains that Cornyn "has not convinced enough Texans that he is on our side when it comes to repealing Obamacare." But Henson's polling shows that, while the Tea Party wing may have soured on Cornyn lately, he maintains a reservoir of support from many years of casting conservative votes.
"Saying he's vulnerable overstates the case," Henson says. "Stockman poses much less of a threat to Cornyn than Cruz did to Dewhurst."
Where The Action Is
Stockman's bid is just one reason Texas Republicans are in for a lively primary season. Gov. Rick Perry's decision to retire set off a game of musical chairs, with nearly every statewide office set to change hands next year.
Republicans hold all those offices, but some of this year's candidates are seeking to present themselves as more conservative than the incumbent. That's certainly the case in the lieutenant governor's race, where no fewer than three officeholders are seeking to unseat Dewhurst.
"There seems to be a moving definition of what being a conservative means," says Martinez Fischer, the Democratic state representative.
Lunz, the former Bexar County GOP official who helped recruit Cornyn for his first political race, says all the intraparty fighting isn't necessarily helpful, but it's not entirely surprising, either.
The GOP dominates Texas now, but Lunz recalls that when he first got involved in politics back in 1960, Republicans held a grand total of two elected positions throughout the state, out of a total of more than 5,000.
"We've been fighting each other ever since," Lunz says. "If there's any power you can perceive in being a Republican official when there is no Republican Party, you can imagine the fighting when we're as powerful as we are now."
Navid Khonsari worked on blockbusters like Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and Max Payne. These are all violent and aggressive games, set in fictional cities where you shoot your enemies. But for the past two years Khonsari, a video game director, has led a small team, some of them fellow Iranians, working on something very different — a documentary game about the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
It looks like Grand Theft Auto, but instead of just shooting back, you help the wounded, sneak around to take pictures and smuggle banned cassette tapes. After all, this is based on the real world.
"If I had conflict thrown at me in this particular situation, I'm not going to pick up a gun and charge soldiers, I'm going to try to get to safety and I'm going to try to find the closest people to me and get them to safety," Khonsari says. "Traditionally, controversy is not something that game publishers want to embrace, and obviously Iran, revolution and so forth, has got controversy written all over it. So it fell on my shoulders that if I want to make this game, I have to do it myself."
The game 1979 Revolution puts the player back inside the Iran of the late 1970s. You play as Reza, a young man who's excited by the revolution and the possibility of changing Iran, which was previously ruled by the Shah. Reza becomes a revolutionary against the Shah and an enemy of the state, though not a religious radical. Like most Iranians at the time, Reza was stuck in the middle.
To make sure the game gets things right, the creators interviewed Iranians and used original photos and audio from that time. One of those interviewees and a voice actor for the game is Navid Negahban, a star who plays the terrorist Abu Nazir on the acclaimed TV drama Homeland.
"When Navid gave me the script and I read it, some of the storylines, the things that's happening, the way the guy's getting shot, the way that the whole story moves forward, it was very close to home," Negahban says. "[It] brought back memories."
Negahban was a high school student in Iran in 1979. He hadn't picked a side, and was curious about what was happening. A sequence in the game basically mirrors what he lived through.
He recalls walking with other anti-Shah demonstrators towards soldiers and tanks barricading the streets. The soldiers aimed their rifles at the crowd.
"The captain, or whoever was at the top of the tank, he ordered the soldiers to open fire," Negahban says. "And some of the soldiers resisted, they didn't want to do it, and they were giving warning shots."
The soldiers eventually shot into the crowd. Some of the demonstrators fell, but the others all charged forward. Eventually they reached the tank, pulled the captain down and beat him up.
"At the end, it was very gruesome. They tore him apart," Negahban says.
This is the chaotic world you have to navigate in the game; it's full of moral dilemmas. At one point, you have to decide whether to save your cousin, or your friend. How do you deal with spies in your group? Do you support the revolution you believe in, or your skeptical family members?
Although it's a personal story for them, the game makers know what's most important is that people actually play the game and have fun.
People have made "documentary games" like this about conflicts including Afghanistan, Libya and South Korea, but they haven't been commercial successes, says Ian Bogost, a game designer and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
"It's just not a magic bullet ... . You're not going to have a single game that gets everyone interested in one moment in history that they've never heard of before," Bogost says. "Unless we actually have many examples of documentary games that people really play, then the genre in general and the specific examples in particular can't be considered successful."
But Bogost also points out it's not fair to compare 1979 Revolution to a game like Grand Theft Auto, just like it's not fair to compare a documentary film to a Hollywood blockbuster. He says this game is worth consideration, particularly in a medium like video games that could do with more diverse subject matter.
And some say this is exactly the time to look back on that moment in history. Fathali Moghaddam also experienced the revolution first hand, and he's now a psychology professor at Georgetown University.
"If you look at the Middle East region and near east region at the moment, there's no doubt that there is an Islamic resurgence and that the Iranian revolution [in] 1979 was a huge trigger point," Moghaddam says. But he also points out there are multiple versions of what exactly happened.
"So it's a game that's going to raise more questions than it answers, but that's often the best type of historical examination," he says.
Game creator Navid Khonsari is crowdfunding the project on Kickstarter. He's invested his own time and money over the past two years, and he plans to keep working on the game even if he doesn't reach the goal of $395,000. But the financial risk is not his only concern.
"I was deemed a spy by the conservative newspapers in Iran. What kind of weight does that hold? You know, I'm not ready to test that right now to be totally honest with you," Khonsari says.
For now, he's staying away, even though he still has friends and family in Iran. Three other Iranian artists working on the game are remaining anonymous to prevent repercussions. But, if it goes well, they hope to have the game ready next year.
Mammograms are no woman's idea of fun, but if someone suggests that you could skip that aggravation just by vacuuming a little bit of fluid from the breast, think again.
Nipple aspirate tests being offered in doctors' offices are no substitute for mammograms, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.
Several companies have been marketing nipple aspirate tests, which use a device similar to a breast pump, as a "breast Pap test."
There's just one problem with that pitch. And it's a big one. There's no evidence that looking for abnormal cells in the fluid from milk ducts is any good at screening for cancer, unlike the Pap test, which has long been the standard in cervical cancer screening.
"Did they ever do studies to assess cancer risk using the nipple aspirator? No," says Dr. Tarik Elsheikh, medical director for anatomical pathology at the Cleveland Clinic. "It has nothing to do with evaluating cancer risk in women."
Indeed, the FDA had approved the devices only as being safe for extracting breast fluid. But the fact that these tests are being sold to women and their doctors for cancer screening says a lot about the state of medical marketing these days.
We called up Elsheikh because he had reviewed the research on nipple aspirate tests in 2009. And frankly, we wanted to find out why a pathologist with his academic cred was writing about them.
Gynecologists and primary care doctors he knew had started asking him if they should buy the machines for their practices, Elsheikh says. The sales reps were saying it was a procedure that women would have each year. The test takes five minutes, costs about $100, and is not covered by insurance. "They're convincing these docs that they can make a lot of money," Elsheikh says. "They're finding an audience, unfortunately."
The idea of looking for cancer in breast fluid isn't completely unfounded. No less an authority than George Papanicolaou, the inventor of the Pap test, suggested back in the 1950s that changes in the cells in breast fluid might be used to predict a woman's cancer risk.
But no one has yet come up with a way to do that, especially in women who don't already have a higher risk of cancer.
One problem with using breast fluid as a screening tool is that breasts often don't produce fluid. The machine sold by Halo Healthcare, of Irvine, Calif., manages to extract fluid just half the time, according to the company's website. And only 1 percent of women have atypical cells in that fluid, the company notes.
Finding atypical cells doesn't mean a woman has cancer, or even has higher risk. In 2103, guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network stated that nipple aspiration is still being evaluated and should not be used for breast cancer screening. "It could have potential as a research tool," Elsheikh says. "I don't think it's ready for clinical practice."
In September, the FDA issued a Class I recall of nipple aspirate tests sold by Atossa Genetics of Seattle, saying that they could cause "serious adverse health consequences or death," including false alarms for breast cancer when none exists, and false assurances that could lead a woman to avoid treatment.
A spokeswoman for Halo Healthcare, which was mentioned in the FDA statement but whose product was not recalled, told Shots that its test wasn't meant to exclude mammogram or biopsy. "We were surprised when we saw what the FDA issued yesterday," Arlene Bumb says, "I think we've been very diligent in saying that in our literature."
In its warning, the FDA says that mammograms, imperfect as they are in finding cancer early, remain the best way to screen for breast cancer.
Women who have had a nipple aspirate test for breast cancer screening should have a mammogram according to current guidelines, the agency added.