In many parts of the developing world, drinking a glass of water can be deadly — especially for young children, who can die of diarrheal diseases contracted from dirty water.
So getting clean water to people in the developing world has been a top priority for aid groups for a long time. But it's been a surprisingly hard problem to solve.
For a while, aid workers largely treated clean water as an engineering problem: If there's no clean water in a village, dig a well. But when researchers actually tested the water in the homes of people who got water from clean wells, they often found contamination.
"It was a surprise," says Alex Mwaki of Care Kenya, who worked on one of the studies that found contamination. "My reaction, I would say, was, well, we still need to do more. We have not done much."
There are lots of ways water can get contaminated between the time it comes out of the well and the time someone actually drinks it. Maybe the container the family used to fetch the water wasn't clean. Or the container was clean, but the cup people used to scoop the water out wasn't. Or the water got stored in a big clay pot at the house, and kids stuck their hands in it.
All of those problems can be solved by adding just a tiny bit of chlorine, which keeps water free of germs for days. So aid workers started trying to get people to use chlorine. In Kenya today, you can buy little bottles of chlorine, made just for purifying water, for pennies.
"If only it were that easy," says Evan Green-Lowe, who works in Kenya for a group called Innovations for Poverty Action. Surveys show that only a small percentage of people in Kenya buy the chlorine, even though it's cheap and widely available.
"Getting it to happen in every household every time proved to be an extraordinarily difficult task," he says.
So here's the latest iteration for helping families in rural areas get clean water: chlorine placed right next to the spring or well. It's basically an upside-down bottle of chlorine with a dispenser that releases a measured amount into the containers people use to carry water. A tiny bit is enough for 20 liters of water. It's free to use.
"It's very simple," says Green-Lowe. "A lot of its success is in its simplicity."
Success, though, is a relative term. It turns out that if you test the water in people's homes in villages where the dispensers have been installed, only 40 percent test positive for chlorine.
Some people don't like the taste; some people don't believe in it, "Sometimes you're in a rush, or you're thinking about something else and you just don't do it."
This would be frustrating, says Green-Lowe, if it weren't so familiar.
"I've had malaria five times now, he says. "I have a bed net hanging above my bed, and I don't use it."
People everywhere — in rural Kenya, in New York, wherever — just don't always do all the things we're supposed to do. The developed world has solved the water problem by essentially taking people out of the loop: We pipe clean water to everyone's houses. But it's going to be a long time before that happens in rural Kenya.
Supplies of oil have been surging this year, and U.S. drivers, who have been switching to more fuel-efficient cars, are using less gasoline.
That would seem to be the right economic combination to push down prices at the pump, but gasoline prices have remained stubbornly high this summer.
Even some people in the industry are wondering whether the law of supply and demand somehow has been repealed.
"I'm actually quite dumbfounded," says Azam Zakaria, vice president of Lone Star Petroleum, a family-owned company that owns and operates 15 gas stations in the Houston area.
Zakaria, who has been in the business for nearly three decades, used to believe that more oil would mean lower prices, but he hasn't been seeing that lately.
The disconnect between supply and demand seemed to get even wider Wednesday, when the U.S. Energy Information Administration released its latest data, showing that U.S. crude oil inventories rose by 0.3 million barrels last week. Most experts had been expecting the oil inventory to decline by 0.6 million barrels.
That sort of surprise keeps happening as more and more domestic oil gets pumped. In fact last year, the United States saw the largest-ever yearly rise in oil production, according to a statistical review released last week by BP, the global oil giant.
At the same time, global oil reserves continue to grow, the BP report said.
The price of crude oil, however, continues to hover around $100 a barrel, and an average gallon of regular gasoline is still running above $3.62 nationwide. At the start of this year, the price was about $3.20 a gallon.
Zakaria worries that speculators are pushing up prices beyond what the usual balance of supply and demand would dictate. "Just to be blunt with you, I think that it's a commodity now that is being exchanged at Wall Street," he said.
Industry experts generally cite unrest in the Middle East as a key reason why oil prices remain at relatively high levels. Violence in that region could disrupt production or transport, and that makes a lot of people want to buy oil now and stockpile it.
Jim Burkhard, vice president of oil market research at IHS CERA, says he's surprised prices aren't even worse given the spreading violence from Syria's civil war.
"If you look at the turbulence in the Middle East and look at the oil price, you could wonder, 'Gee, why aren't oil prices higher?'" Burkhard says. "One very important reason why that's the case is this very strong growth in production from the United States."
But a lot of that additional domestic fuel is being turned into diesel fuel to support global trucking fleets. Matt Pietrowski, Washington bureau chief for Energy Intelligence, looks at it from the point of view of the refiners.
"If the margins are better for diesel, both inside the U.S. and also outside [refineries are] going to want to maximize their output of diesel instead of gasoline," Pietrowski said.
So this summer, U.S. drivers are faced with these realities: They're driving more fuel-efficient cars, and their country produces a lot more oil. That helps holddown gas prices. But in a world thirsty for oil — and still so dependent on producers in the turbulent Middle East — it's hard to restrain prices at the pump.
Andrew Schneider is a reporter for KUHF in Houston.
As the Senate debates a massive overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, one of its newest members has emerged as a leading opponent of the bill's most controversial feature: a path to citizenship for millions living in the country unlawfully.
The views of that freshman senator — Texas Republican Ted Cruz — have been significantly colored by the saga of his own father, an immigrant from Cuba.
"In my opinion, if we allow those who are here illegally to be put on a path to citizenship, that is incredibly unfair to those who follow the rules," Cruz has said.
And the example he frequently points to is his father, 74-year-old Rafael Bienvenido Cruz.
"I came to this country legally," Cruz's father says. "I came here with a legal visa, and ... every step of the way, I have been here legally."
In an interview near his home outside Dallas, the elder Cruz says that as a teenager, he fought alongside Fidel Castro's forces to overthrow Cuba's U.S.-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista. He was caught by Batista's forces, he says, and jailed and beaten before being released. It was 1957, and Cruz decided to get out of Cuba by applying to the University of Texas. Upon being admitted, he adds, he got a four-year student visa at the U.S. Consulate in Havana.
"Then the only other thing that I needed was an exit permit from the Batista government," Cruz recalls. "A friend of the family, a lawyer friend of my father, basically bribed a Batista official to stamp my passport with an exit permit."
The Rafael Cruz that his son Ted portrays is a kind of Cuban Horatio Alger — arriving in the U.S. with only $100, learning English on his own and washing dishes seven days a week for 50 cents an hour.
"Since he liked to eat seven days a week, he worked seven days a week, and he paid his way through the University of Texas," Ted Cruz says of his father, "and then ended up getting a job and eventually going on to start a small business and to work towards the American dream."
Only he did that in Canada, where Ted was born. His father went there after having earlier obtained political asylum in the U.S. when his student visa ran out. He then got a green card, he says, and married Ted's mother, an American citizen. The two of them moved to Canada to work in the oil industry.
"I worked in Canada for eight years," Rafael Cruz says. "And while I was in Canada, I became a Canadian citizen."
The elder Cruz says he renounced his Canadian citizenship when he finally became a U.S. citizen in 2005 — 48 years after leaving Cuba. Why did he take so long to do it?
"I don't know. I guess laziness, or — I don't know," he says.
Peter Spiro, a legal expert on U.S. citizenship at Temple University, says Rafael Cruz followed "sort of a zigzag path to citizenship." Spiro says Cruz's multicountry odyssey did not follow traditional models for immigration.
"Ted Cruz himself seems to be an advocate of those traditional immigration models," Spiro says. "Maybe he should be a little more tolerant of the nontraditional versions, given his own father's history."
And yet Ted Cruz wants to change the immigration bill with an amendment removing the path to citizenship.
"The 11 million who are here illegally would be granted legal status once the border was secured — not before — but after the border was secured, they would be granted legal status," he says. "And indeed, they would be eligible for permanent legal residency. But they would not be eligible for citizenship."
And they would thus be ineligible to vote. Such immigrants would most likely vote Democratic — and Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa says that's the real reason Cruz opposes a path to citizenship.
"All these specious arguments that are being made about, 'Whoa, my dad got in here the right way and, therefore, everybody else should' are just — are bogus and everybody knows that," Hinojosa says.
Speaking Wednesday with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, Ted Cruz said that by promoting what he called "amnesty" for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, Senate Democrats are indeed hoping to get a lot more Democratic voters — but not among immigrants who did things the right way, like his father.
When Dave Nezzie met his future wife, Amanda, they quickly fell in love over a galaxy far, far away.
"I think that was one of the first things that bonded Dave and I together, was our love for Star Wars," says Amanda Nezzie. "Our children have also caught the Star Wars bug."
The family lives in Albuquerque, N.M., and one of the biggest struggles they've had living off the reservation is teaching Dave's native Navajo language to their kids.
"Rosetta Stone has something, there's an app on the iPad, and having alternatives is what we need," says Dave. "Having more resources available will help us teach the language to more people."
Enter Star Wars.
On July 3, the 1977 movie Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope will premiere dubbed in Navajo. It's the first time a major motion picture has been translated into a Native American language.
Manuelito Wheeler, director of the Navajo Nation Museum, got the ball rolling. He approached the Navajo Nation and Lucasfilm, and the project took off from there.
"This was an idea that I felt was a way to promote our culture, promote our language, a way to save our language," says Wheeler. "There are definitely Star Wars nerds out there who can repeat that movie verbatim, and they speak no Navajo. And so when they're watching this and it's in Navajo, it's them learning Navajo."
But translating the film into Navajo was no easy feat. When dubbing a film into another language, syncing the translation with the character's lip movements is crucial to the pace of the film. Wheeler's wife, Jennifer, a professor of English at the University of New Mexico, Gallup, was a translator for the project. Some words, like "droid," she says, are difficult to translate because of how complex the words are.
"R2D2 would be the short metal thing that's alive," she says.
So, the translation for droid? That won't be revealed until the premiere.
But in some ways, the syncing process might be somewhat easier for Star Wars because characters, like the infamous villain Darth Vader, deliver their lines behind a mask. Beyond the fun of translating phrases like "Death Star," Jennifer Wheeler says the whole project demonstrates that the Navajo language is still alive.
"This will be one historic event that will celebrate and recognize the fact that we're just part of society here, in this Western society, in this country," she says. "But who we are as Navajo people living in this century, we really need to celebrate."
Dave and Amanda Nezzie, and their kids are looking forward to sitting down to watch Star Wars in Navajo. They're traveling to Window Rock, Ariz., for the premiere, which is taking place as part of the Navajo Nation Fair. At this time, Lucasfilm has no plans for a wider theatrical release or DVD version of Star Wars in Navajo.
"I wanna hear what 'Millennium Falcon' is in Navajo. I'm very curious," says Amanda Nezzie. "And our daughter, she'll be able to speak Navajo, she'll understand who she is. And what more of a beautiful way to do that than put that in Star Wars?"
Visit this page at 12 noon EDT Thursday to join my live Google+ conversation with Harvard behavioral scientist Francesca Gino and Slate's Human Nature correspondent William Saletan about the role of ritual in human life.
All over the world, people employ rituals. For millions, it's as simple as making a cup of coffee the same way, every day. Books and movies are filled with characters who employ lucky charms and superstitions. And some works explore the darker side, when ritual spills into obsession and psychiatric disorder.
Surprisingly, though, there has been little effort to examine rituals quantitatively. A study slated for publication in the journal Psychological Science attempts to rectify that: Harvard Business School researcher Francesca Gino and colleagues focused on the way rituals influenced adults' experience of eating.
People who employed rituals before eating savored their food more and found it tastier, the researchers discovered. That was true for chocolate and even carrots. Steve Inskeep and I explore why that might be true on Thursday's Morning Edition.
Along with the science, during Thursday's online conversation, we'll talk about some of the rituals that NPR listeners have been sharing with us via Facebook. Here's a small sampling:
I walk the same path to class between two buildings because it has pretty trees that bloom and brighten my day. When it rains there are 3 puddles where the concrete has broken. When I pass those puddles I touch the surface of each one with the tip of my shoe to make it ripple. It is the prettiest part of campus. — Rhea Bumpass
Every evening when I prepare for bed, I use the exact same face cream that my mother did. I used to think this had something to do with going to bed with a clean, moist face. Now that she is gone, I know that I have done this for 30 years, rubbing my cheeks, closing my eyes and staring into the mirror. The smell, the lighting, my own eyes; and there, I have been with her for five minutes. The same thing — every night. — Margaret Rhodes Stinnett
Every morning I give our golden retriever, Jake, a drink from his favorite fountain: the bath tub faucet. Then I open the front door and say "Paper!" and he retrieves the newspaper, and we go in the kitchen for coffee and dog treats. It's an idyllic existence, so soothing and joyful, and such a wonderful partnership. It's pretty much a perfect way to start the day. — Claudia Finseth
Everyday, I light a tealight and let it burn 'til it goes out on its own. It is very comforting. — Richard Savedra
What sort of rituals do you employ throughout the day? We're eager to hear, and you can share them in the comments section below.