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Workers with the aid group Doctors Without Borders prepare a new Ebola treatment center near Monrovia, Liberia, on Sunday. The facility has 120 beds, making it the largest Ebola isolation clinic in history. (Getty Images)

How Much Bigger Is The Ebola Outbreak Than Official Reports?

Aug 21, 2014

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The latest numbers on the Ebola outbreak are grim: 2,473 people infected and 1,350 deaths.

That's the World Health Organization's official tally of confirmed, probable and suspect cases across Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. But the WHO has previously warned that its official figures may "vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak."

So how bad is it really?

That's the question NPR put to several people who have been carefully watching the outbreak.

There's no scientific way of knowing exactly how wrong the official numbers are, says Joseph Fair, an infectious disease doctor, who has been acting as a special advisor to the health minister of Sierra Leone. "At a bare minimum, I would guess they're probably off by 20 percent," he says.

Once public health workers identify someone with this disease, Fair says, they have to find every one else who might have gotten exposed through contact with that person. And that hasn't been easy.

Even if someone tests positive for Ebola, he says, public health workers may return and find that the person has simply disappeared.

"They're traveling, usually by public transport, and coming into contact with a lot more people," Fair says.

The health agencies of these poverty-stricken countries don't have the staff they need to track down all these people who may have been exposed. Unlike previous Ebola outbreaks that hit isolated, rural areas, this one is affecting many more people in a more urban environment.

Adding to the difficulty is a climate of distrust created by years of war and conflict.

"Because people are so afraid, in some instances, if a relative dies in a home, all the others run away instead of going toward the clinic to report themselves," says Roseda Marshall, a Liberian pediatrician, who is president of the Liberia College of Physicians and Surgeons. She's currently in the U.S., trying to raise funds and support to help fight Ebola.

"Obviously, the statistics we're getting is just scratching the surface," Marshall says. "When we say we have so many suspected cases, so many probable cases, so many confirmed cases, that's just the ones who are coming in for testing."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, agrees that people running away from hospitals and quarantines are a real problem, making him fear that this outbreak will get worse before it gets better.

"A considerable number of people are going to die before we get it under control," Fauci says. "Obviously, as a physician and as a health person, that bothers me."

But he says some government workers who have been to West Africa actually think the official numbers aren't that far off.

"They think it's likely a bit under-reported, but not substantially," Fauci says. But the number of people affected is not likely to be "many, many, many-fold greater" than what the WHO has estimated, he added.

One simple reason the numbers are wrong is that there's currently a backlog in getting cases entered into the official counting system, says Barbara Knust, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who has been working on the outbreak.

"We probably will have much more accurate numbers in the coming weeks," she says.

Having good numbers, she says, is key to understanding where Ebola is really spreading and where public health workers need to focus their efforts.

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Workers with the aid group Doctors Without Borders prepare a new Ebola treatment center near Monrovia, Liberia, on Sunday. The facility has 120 beds, making it the largest Ebola isolation clinic in history. (Getty Images)

Holder Seeks To Sooth Nerves During Visit To Ferguson

Aug 21, 2014

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The nation's top law enforcement officer traveled to Ferguson, Mo., on Wednesday to wrap his arms around a community in pain.

Attorney General Eric Holder hugged community leaders, a highway patrol captain and the mother of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old killed by a white police officer earlier this month.

From the moment he walked into a soul food restaurant in Ferguson, the attorney general found friends and began getting reports on the community's mood after days of protests and sporadic violence.

Viola Murphy, the mayor of nearby Cool Valley, Mo., boasted about economic development and talked about the need to move past images of streets filled with tear gas and armored vehicles.

"There are a lot of good things that are going on in this community, so we kind of need to stick together and get this thing solved," Murphy told Holder at the restaurant. "Now eat some chicken wings."

A few minutes later Holder met the face of the recent police response to the protests, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson. Holder reached over and drew the captain in for a hug and a few words of encouragement, telling Johnson that Tuesday night protests in the city had looked a little better and that Johnson was helping things improve.

Johnson said he had been so engulfed in work that he had forgotten his wedding anniversary, and Holder encouraged him to get some rest.

The captain said that he thought Holder's visit would show Ferguson residents that they were being heard, but that it will take time to heal the breach in the community.

"It's obvious that the community here does not feel that there's a connection with them and law enforcement, so that has to change," Johnson said.

That was the main reason the attorney general took some time on this heavily symbolic visit to meet with students at St. Louis Community College Florrisant Valley in northern St. Louis.

"We just need some answers, some questions, some changes, and we need some inspiration," said Molyric Welch, a sophomore at the college and a mother of three. "And by him being here now, that's giving us inspiration. We won't no longer be profiled because I have a hat to the back. ... No more profiling, no more war — we just want peace, and that's all."

During Holder's meeting with Welch and about a dozen other students, he shared his own story of being profiled — even after he'd become a successful lawyer — by police in Washington, D.C.

The attorney general also spoke by phone with the rapper Nelly, a Ferguson native who says he wants to help. A Justice Department spokeswoman says the two talked about maintaining peace and helping to inspire confidence in the justice system.

Later in the day at the U.S. Attorney's office in St. Louis, Holder held a short private meeting with Michael Brown's mother, who had just come from viewing her son's body at the morgue. Holder promised the family a "fair and independent" inquiry.

Holder also met at the office with the the top prosecutors and FBI agents that the Justice Department has assigned to the case, as well as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and members of the state's congressional delegation.

"There's nothing that can replace actually coming to the office that's handling the matter and being able to look in the face the people who are — very ably, to my mind — handling this investigation," he said.

Still legal, experts say the odds for a federal criminal prosecution of the officer who shot Brown remain long, which means the attorney general's visit to Ferguson was more of a listening tour than a prelude to indictment.

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A brochure for Futurama, a World's Fair ride, that showcased dioramas of how the future might look (General Motors)

Typewriters, Underwater Hotels And Picture Phones: The Future, As Seen From 1964

Aug 21, 2014

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The 1964 World's Fair showcased jetpacks and new miracles of science. There was an entire house made from Formica. You could wipe it clean with a sponge!

The people who put the fair together tried to imagine how the future would look. Here are a few predictions, and how they actually turned out.

1. We had picture phones back then?

Vito Turso was at the fair when he used one of the first picture phones. Back then, he was a boy selling pizza at the fair. He says, the picture phone was one of his favorite exhibits.

"To walk into this room and have a conversation through what was like a small television. It was incredible," Turso said. "The lines to use the picture phone were unending."

But the picture phone was expensive back then — and it took decades before the technology became affordable. Also, it turns out, people don't always want to see the person they're talking with. Even now, in the era of Skype and Facetime, people mostly just want to talk on the phone, without seeing the person on the other end.

2. The fair basically missed the computer and the internet.

IBM had an exhibit at the fair. But it focused mostly on the Selectric Typewriter, according to Larry Samuel, who wrote a book about the fair.

Samuel says while the exhibit did include computers, they just seemed like machines for adding numbers together. "At the time, it really was just a business machine," Samuel says.

The fancy new electric typewriter seemed like a bigger deal.

3. Why don't we have underwater hotels?

Futurama was a ride at the fair that took you past dioramas of what the future might look like. One showcased an underwater hotel.

Alas, there aren't many underwater hotels open today. But there is the Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida. It isn't fancy. It's at the bottom of a lagoon, and you have to scuba or swim down to it. There's no stove (but there is a microwave).

Neil Monney, who developed the place, said he's tried to build a fancier underwater hotel. But investors are hard to find. The World's Fair brought together futurists and the diorama-makers. But they didn't invite bankers.

A fantasy utopia

The fair presented a Utopian vision of the future, where technology and science could solve problems. But, Samuel says, even back then people didn't quite believe it. JFK had been assassinated a few months before the fair opened; there were civil rights protests; the Vietnam War was happening; and the economic optimism of the 1950s was fading.

People went to the fair, Samuel says, because it was a fantasy.

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Robert Rodriguez ventures into Hollywood for the premiere of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. (Getty Images)

A Maverick Director, At Home On The Range

Aug 21, 2014

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Robert Rodriguez's newest film, Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For, is about to hit theaters — it's a 3-D crime thriller based on the Frank Miller's graphic novel series, laden with booze, broads and bullets.

But Rodriguez has also made comedic spaghetti Westerns, vampire flicks and four Spy Kids movies, about a young brother-sister duo of super sleuths — all from his home base in Austin, Texas. Though he's been in and out of Hollywood recently, putting the finishing touches on Sin City 2.

"It's a very professional town, I mean people really know what they're doing here and I learned a lot from them," Rodriguez says. But he's quick to tell you that this town is not really for him. With his trademark Stetson cowboy hats and jeans, the hunky six-foot-two director is really an Austin, Texas guy. "I love being at home in Texas around my family and that's kind of where my inspiration comes from."

It's where Rodriguez started making movies as a boy, growing up third in a family of ten kids in San Antonio. With his siblings, he shot 8 millimeter movies in the back yard — like the 1991 comedy Bedhead, about a girl who gains superhuman powers. "It has my little sister in it, and my little brother," Rodriguez says. "It won a bunch of awards. And it's pretty funny. And you can see it's a precursor to, like, Spy Kids."

As a student at the University of Texas, Rodriguez drew a comic strip, "Los Hooligans," and he made El Mariachi, a comedic action movie set on the U.S. - Mexico border. It's the story of a traveling musician who's mistaken for a criminal bent on revenge; to finance the film, Rodriguez subjected himself to experimental drug trials. He used the $7000 he made to shoot El Mariachi on 16 millimeter, editing it offline at a local public access cable station at night when no one else was around.

"I literally made it so that nobody would see it," he laughs. "I made it in Spanish, to put in the Spanish video market and the action market and it was called basically the Guitar Player — who's gonna rent an action movie called the Guitar Player? It was kind of a joke. I was kind of making a fun joke. I really just wanted to see if I could get it made and see how much I could sell it for."

Columbia Pictures took notice. The studio bought the rights to El Mariachi, and asked the then-23-year old director to remake it as a sort of sequel, called Desperado, starring Antonio Banderas and Selma Hayek. But Rodriguez insisted on doing it his way. "I shoot very unusually, I shoot with editing in mind, so I don't shoot correctly," he says.

"If you got my footage, you'd be going, 'what do I do with this?' But I know how I'm gonna piece it together, so I would shoot little pieces. And I asked to edit the movie, and then I remember Columbia said, 'hmmm, you can't really, because no director has ever edited his own movie.' It just hadn't been a precedent. That's not how the business was run. They were probably just afraid I didn't even know what I was doing ... Now that I look back, I was only 23. I probably wouldn't have trusted me either!"

But Columbia agreed, and Rodriguez has been doing it all ever since — even making his own movie trailers, posters and soundtracks. "He's a one-man film industry for Austin," says Rebecca Campbell. She's the executive director of the Austin Film Society, and she adds that Rodriguez has inspired a new generation of filmmakers, especially in Texas. "People have a ton of affection and respect for him. He's always pushing the envelope when it comes to production. He really prides himself on having figured out ways to make films cheaply, and the importance of making films cheaply is that you can retain independence."

In Austin, Rodriguez has his own film studio, Troublemaker, located at the defunct Austin airport. Inside the old hangars are production offices, sound stages and a huge green screen for filming special effects. It's also where he runs his own Comcast cable TV network for young English-speaking Latinos called El Rey.

"It's his own backlot, it's his own studio, it's his own kingdom," says fan and fellow Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater — whose latest, Boyhood, is drawing praise of its own. The two have known each other since the early 1990s. They're both independents, and Linklater says they're following in the footsteps of an earlier generation of indie filmmakers. "It was very revolutionary when Lucas and Coppola and people like that went up to the Bay Area and did it. And I think Robert's setup here in Austin is a new version of that. And the industry's totally come to him. I mean, Robert is a visionary."

Rodriguez began shooting in digital 3-D in Texas long before it became the trend in Hollywood. "By living in a bubble over there in Texas, making my own studio, you kind of innovate new ways of doing things that maybe people maybe are surprised by the methods sometimes that I'll use," he says. "It's kind of, when you're out in left field, and George Lucas told me that. He said it's good you're in Texas, that's why I'm in Marin County. When you're outside of the box like that, you just automatically kind of question everything and you won't really know how it is done, and you'll sometimes stumble upon a new way of doing things."

Sometimes, that new way means relying on the old way: Making movies with his family. His ex-wife is his producing partner; one of their sons came up with the idea for The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D. In fact, his five children were the inspiration for the Spy Kids series.

And loyalty is also important to Rodriguez. He resigned from the Directors Guild of America when it refused to give graphic novelist Frank Miller co-directing credit for the Sin City movies. "The system stepped in and said you can't be directors together because that's not part of the rules. Well, we just have to continue anyway. So you have to sometimes break rules and regulations in order to follow your passion and your heart and something you know you have a burning desire to do. Even if it seems like really bad career advice," he says.

It doesn't seem to have turned out that way. The maverick Robert Rodriguez is already promising Sin City 3.

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Robert Rodriguez ventures into Hollywood for the premiere of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. (Getty Images)

U.S. Reveals Failed Special Forces Mission To Rescue Hostages

Aug 20, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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