The Shiite Muslim clerics usually stay out of politics. But they've broken with tradition and issued a call to arms. Shiites are now volunteering — and dying — in the fight against Sunni Muslims.
My family likes to tell stories. Sometimes they get changed and exaggerated in the retelling: Dad got chased by a grizzly. No, it was two grizzlies. It was two grizzlies and he was on a horse. Wasn't it?
But one story I know to be true, at least in its simplest form: My dad used to hop trains out west.
I remember him telling me how dangerous it was. Sometimes the train would stop where you wanted to get off, sometimes it wouldn't. You had to hit the ground running as fast as you could just to stay on your feet and avoid falling into the tracks and under the wheels.
My family is from Colorado, and this is the type of story that reminds me of our roots.
That's why when I heard about Ted and Asa Conover's story, I had to talk to them. This father and son duo is from New York City, but they've both caught the train-hopping bug --Ted first, then Asa -- and went on an adventure together to do it.
I can vaguely remember adventures like that with my own father. Not as dangerous or as illegal, but walking the line. Linking arms so we could pull something out of the rubble at the town dump because it wasn't trash. Hopping a fence here or there. As a kid you have to learn boundaries by pushing against them, and if you're lucky you have a guardian who helps you learn how to do that and survive it.
The interesting thing about this week's conversation with the Conovers is that technology has changed the game of train-hopping. It used to be an oral tradition of sorts -- knowing the right moves and knowing when and where a train might stop. Heck, at any given time you could be riding a train and have no real idea how far you'd traveled or how close you were to your destination. But now there are smart phones and PDF documents shared among the hoppers that detail the gathered knowledge of this illegal pastime. There's even a rumor -- almost a tech ghost story -- about a special infrared scanner that law enforcement uses to catch people train-hopping near Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Ted Conover was saying that no matter how tech has changed the process, your success still depends completely on your own ingenuity. I thought that sounded like hacking, and he agreed.
We all see our world change as we get older, and we lament the change. School shootings make for exhaustive visitation rules. More lawyers make for neighbors who don't invite you to use their pool on a hot day. Smart phones make for staring at screens instead of interacting with and meeting strangers. In the case of train-hopping, technology seems to hinder and help; depending on how you define "bad" and "good," it's got a bit of both.
Yeah, I know hopping trains is illegal and dangerous, and I'm not trying to encourage others to do it. In fact I would discourage people from doing it (for the record, Ted Conover probably would too). But that doesn't mean it's a story we shouldn't tell. It's part of my own family history -- part that's always made me proud to have a connection to the west. Like riding horses or knowing how to start a fire in the snowpack, there's something about train-hopping that makes me feel proud of the people and place where I come from. This July 4th week, that feels just about right.
There's a broad international consensus that radical militants in Iraq pose a serious threat. But that doesn't mean the U.S., Russia, Iran and others will act in a coordinated fashion.
The federal program, which would pay for catastrophic damage if a U.S. city was attacked again, is up for renewal this year and some have begun to worry that it may be in trouble.
It's called chikungunya. And it causes severe joint pain that can last for months. A quarter of a million people have caught the virus in the Caribbean. So how big a problem will it be stateside?
In the city of Jericho in the West Bank, there's a new home that looks like it might be from another planet. But in fact, its designers took pains to use materials that were as local as possible.
Shinzo Abe's announcement follows Pyongyang's decision to create a committee to investigate the abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s. Japan will still abide by UN sanctions.
In a small study, people with peripheral artery disease who ate dark chocolate could walk farther than those who ate milk chocolate. Compounds in dark chocolate may make it easier to keep moving.
Indonesia has a population of 240 million people — 64 percent of whom live on less than $2 a day, and 33 percent of whom live without electricity. And yet, somehow, 64 million Indonesians - including those without electricity - are on Facebook.
In Elizabeth Pisani's new book, "Indonesia, Etc.", she talks about the country's changing economy and culture. Pisani has lived on and off in Indonesia for about 25 years, working as a journalist and an epidemiologist. In her book, she writes about how places that she once knew are changing rapidly, growing in population and experiencing an increase in the bourgeoisie culture.
Along with Facebook, the people of Indonesia are big on social media and high-tech gadgets such as iPhones. Pisani says that while the country is quickly evolving, it is having a hard time finding its footing in the modern world:
"Even if we had a more educated and industrious workforce, we would probably still not be able to use them effectively because of that underinvestment in infrastructure."
That lack of investment in infrastructure also affects the country's politics. According to Pisani, there has been a massive decentralization over the last 15 years. Today, there are about 500 different governments. In the past, all dictates came from one central location — Jakarta, Indonesia's capital.
We talked with Pisani about Indonesia's future. To hear her theory on how this country manages to function, listen to the full interview in the audio player above.
In a wide-ranging interview covering the economy, President Obama on Wednesday said that despite financial reforms, Wall Street continues to take big risks, and for his administration, "that is an unfinished piece of business."
Obama also said that despite the fact that the economy has seen recovery and the unemployment rate has improved since the Great Recession, many Americans still feel like they haven't shared in those gains, particularly middle-class Americans. The President said gains have been made during his administration and said middle-class issues drive much of his agenda:
"Although the economy has been growing, wages and incomes continue to be relatively stagnant, and that's been a 20- to 30-year trend, and that involves some structural issues that we've really got to work on. But, having said all that, what is indisputable is that the economy is much better now than it was when I took office and than it was the last time we spoke, and that does make a difference. It makes a difference that we've created 9.4 million new jobs, it makes a difference that manufacturing continues to strengthen for the first since the 90s, it makes a difference that we've been able to slow the rise of healthcare costs, it makes a difference that we have seen housing recover in many communities so that people are finally getting their houses back above water. So all these things add to confidence, add some momentum to the economy, but that underlying trend for middle-class families — that they don't feel like no matter how hard they work, they're able to get ahead in the same way that their parents were able to get ahead — that's something that we continue to tackle and drives a lot of my agenda now."
The President also criticized Wall Street — large banks in particular — for practices he said are aimed at generating revenue through "trading bets" instead of through investments that grow American businesses. Obama said that the United States has made significant economic reforms since the financial crisis in 2008, but there is still more work to be done:
The problem is that for 60 years, we've seen the financial sector grow massively. Now, it's a great strength of our economies that we've got the deepest, strongest capital markets in the world, but what has also happened is that as the financial sector has grown, more and more of the revenue generated on Wall Street is based on arbitrage -- trading bets -- as opposed to investing in companies that actually make something and hire people. And so, what I've said to my economic team, is that we have to continue to see how can we rebalance the economy sensibly, so that we have a banking system that is doing what it is supposed to be doing to grow the real economy, but not a situation in which we continue to see a lot of these banks take big risks because the profit incentive and the bonus incentive is there for them. That is an unfinished piece of business, but that doesn't detract from the important stabilization functions that Dodd-Frank were designed to address.
President Obama also took aim at the Republican majority in the House of Representatives for pushing back against policies he said would help the middle class, including immigration reform. The president spoke of House Republicans' "ideological predispositions," saying that they are "captive of a small ideological band inside their caucus."
I don't think this is a permanent state of affairs; I think over time the Republican Party will move back to the center, mainly because if they don't, they'll never win the presidency again. And at a certain point people are just going to get fed up. But in the mean time, what I have to make sure I'm doing is looking for every opportunity to go ahead and help the married couple that is struggling, working hard, paying their bills, but at the end of the month still don't have any savings and still don't feel like they're getting ahead. If I can help them on childcare costs, if I can help them boost their wages a little bit, if I can help them save for their kid's college education and keep college cost down, if I can do those things, then I will at least have the satisfaction of helping some people. And in the meantime I'm going to continue to reach out to Republicans wherever and whenever they're willing.
The last few weeks have been busy in the online music industry. First, Apple bought Beats Music. Then Amazon added a music service to its Prime subscriptions. Now, Google is buying Songza, a streaming service that recommends music based on your mood or activity.
There are categories like “going to a festival” or “twerk at werk,” which queued up Pharrell’s “Happy.”
“Everybody’s competing for that slice of consumers’ time,” says Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School. “You look at a service like Pandora, where the number of hours [users are] connected to the service per month is actually surprisingly high.”
When users aren’t on their computers, they can keep listening on smart-phone apps, which Shih says is appealing to advertisers. Since Google is already good at selling ads, this could be one more offering in their portfolio.
But users have also shown they’re willing to pay to opt out of ads – and pay over and over again, essentially renting the music instead of buying it, says Sam Hamadeh, the founder and CEO of PrivCo, a research firm that’s looked into the financials of several streaming services.
“That’s sort of the holy grail in the internet or e-commerce business,” he explains. “Once you sign up, it’s a one-time sale, and a one-time marketing effort to get you to buy it and then it pays off dividends for years, if not forever.”
However, Hamadeh cautions these services aren’t actually profitable yet.
So there’s another reason to be in this business - and it’s not really about music.
“Every service that Google can offer that keep web users or mobile phone users within the Google universe of applications and services adds value,” says Matthew Crain, a professor of media studies at Queens College CUNY.
It also keeps consumers away from Google’s competitors – which might be enough to make the company want to “twerk at werk.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District had plans to give every kid an iPad; a billion-dollar proposition.
But it turns out the one-size-fits-all approach may not be the best strategy after all.
So some LA schools will be allowed to choose between Apple, Microsoft and Google-based devices.
Broadening the choices makes sense, said Brandon Martinez from USC’s Rossier School of Education. “It allows students and teachers to see what works best for them. And then they can give feedback, they can swap devices, and give a more informed decision when they look to purchase at a larger scale.”
LA’s move isn’t great news for Apple. But it’s not going to knock the company off its throne, as king-of-the-educational-technology-market.
“Apple is in a very, very strong position,” said Mike Fisher, who studies the education technology market for Futuresource. “They are the number one in the U.S.”
But competition is coming on fast.
“The big trend we have seen in the last year is the rise of Chromebook,” said Fisher. Chromebooks run Google-based apps and they can be relatively cheap.
In 2012, Chromebooks accounted for only 1 percent of school devices shipped. By the end of last year, they had a quarter of the market.
Microsoft is also big player in the educational tech. It recently scored a big contract with Houston Independent School District.
And Fisher thinks Amazon may be next to jump into the education game.
What's more, he thinks they’ll all start hooking up with curriculum providers. “You’ll see some of the big publishers in the marketplace, people like Scholastic, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, partnering with hardware vendors.
Schools are a $13 billion global battlefield for makers of educational technology.
“It’s a green field,” said Stephen Baker, an analyst at the NPD group. “A place to sell that doesn’t have anything now, so it’s all new volume.”
By some estimates, only about a quarter of students and teachers in the U.S. have a classroom computing device.
As we move to a world where more kids are taking tests and learning online, schools are likely to want computers in everyone’s hands.
The storm is expected to affect Fourth of July travel plans. It's still unclear, however, what kind of weather will be felt along the Eastern Seaboard.
Target - itself the recent target of gripes from some gun owners - issued a "respectful request" that customers leave their guns at home. Its action follows similar moves by Starbucks, Sonic, Chili's and others.
Companies are increasingly taking stands on a host of hot-potato issues including gay rights, contraception, and guns, whether they want to or not.
"These things can actually be forced on you," said Neeru Paharia, a professor at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business. "You do have to take a stand, right? You have to pick a side."
Target was drawn into the fray after gun rights advocates toted their rifles into Target stores in Texas and elsewhere. In response, an anti-gun group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, collected almost 400,000 signatures protesting the carriage of firearms in stores.
Target says 80 to 90 percent of its customers are women and nearly 40 percent have children.
David Sutton, CEO of Top Right Strategic Marketing, said if a company takes a political stance, that stance should be aligned with the company's public image and private values.
"Whether it's gay marriage or gun control, if your inner identity is consistent with the statements you're making in public, I think you're on solid ground," Sutton said. "I think brands that take a stand on things they believe in - consumers appreciate that."
Not all consumers appreciate Target's decision. The company's interim CEO, John Mulligan, made the "no-guns" request in a post on the company's blog. It has received more than 2,000 comments, including some angry responses.
Target's request in no way affects gun carry laws.
Paul Argenti, a professor of corporation communication at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, points out that Target may have some tough decisions to make if customers insist on bringing their guns to the store.
"I think the really interesting question is: what happens when the people who are obviously going to oppose this decision start pressing the issue," Argenti said. "That's when we're going to see some real action here."
The strawberry breeding program at the University of California, Davis, is a big money-earner. It's created a unique hybrid of the public and private breeding sector, and that's led to conflict.
Derek Williams' dad was around when he was growing up, but it was his mom, he says, who taught him what it takes to be a good man. When she died in 2009, he had to learn from both parents' examples.
The Labor Department releases its latest jobs report this Thursday, and a lot of economists are talking about "slack" - the unused part of the economy.
“'Slack' means that there are significantly more people willing and capable of filling a job than there are jobs for them to fill,” said Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen during a speech in Chicago back in May. “There remains considerable slack in the economy in the labor market.”
Slack matters. But just how much of the economy isn’t being used right now is a matter of debate.
“Slack in the labor market is often one of the first things the Fed looks at in terms of setting monetary policy," says Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute.
And by monetary policy, he’s talking about interest rates and other ways the Fed fights inflation.
“To the extent there is slack in the labor market, slack in the overall economy, you’re not producing as much as you would otherwise," Calabria says. "You’re certainly falling short of the potential in terms of the economy.”
Calabria says slack means we’re a less wealthy society than we could otherwise be. It also matters for the un- or under-employed.
Justin Wolfers, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, says the economy is recovering from an "extremely unusual recession" that's left the labor market in a state it's never been in before. And that's causing some uncertainty.
“If we had run out of slack, then we should start to see wages and inflation really starting to rise right now," Wolfers says. "But we don’t see that at all. And so by that measure it suggests we’ve got quite a long way to go.”
And since the head of the Federal Reserve thinks there’s a lot of slack in the economy, it probably means lower interest rates for a longer amount of time.
We know some people are more at risk for abusing alcohol than others. Now scientists say they're getting closer to predicting which teenagers are most at risk.
In the remote cluster of rocks in the North Sea, knitting is a deeply ingrained tradition that stretches back for centuries — and persists despite the money that oil and gas have brought to Shetland.