National News

Clerical Error Puts Church On New York's 'George Carlin Way'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 14:03

The street named after the late comedian, who was known for his blistering attacks on religion, ended up being a block longer than city officials intended.

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This Fine Wine Made At An Italian Penal Colony Is No 2-Buck Chuck

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 13:57

Off the coast of Tuscany, prisoners serving the end of their sentences are learning to make wine from a 30th-generation winemaker. It's a unique approach to rehabilitation that seems to be working.

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One and done: First-year students who bail on college

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-10 13:56

Are they leaving to take jobs, disillusioned with college life, or being crushed by sky-high tuition?

The report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center doesn’t offer an answer. But whatever the reason, the percentage of first-year students, who started in the fall of 2012 and returned to any U.S. institution the following year, has dropped 1.2 percentage points since 2009.

That may seem like a small increase in what’s known as the “persistence rate,” but it looks a lot bigger when you consider there are millions of college students.

The slide was biggest among students under age 20.

Since the study does not examine the causes for the change, several experts agreed it is difficult to know what’s behind the drop-out rate. It could be better job opportunities, or rising tuitions and loan burdens or new alternatives to traditional learning.

The difficulty of transferring from one institution to another could also be keeping the rate down, said William Tierney, a professor of higher education at the University of Southern California.

Whatever the cause, it’s a study people should pay attention to, said Dewayne Matthews of the Lumina Foundation, which helped fund the study.

“Anytime you see those numbers going down that way it’s a cause of concern,” said Matthews.

Beth Akers, from the Brookings Institution, says maybe the numbers aren’t as bad as they appear. She said one-third of students don’t complete their degrees and it’s unclear whether there is any economic benefit to having more years of schooling, if you don’t finish.

“In that case, it’s probably better to opt out sooner rather than later,” Akers said.

A Growing Number Of Veterans Struggles To Quit Powerful Painkillers

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 13:39

Service members are prescribed narcotic painkillers three times as often as civilians. For some vets, dependence on those pills becomes a bigger problem than their original ailment.

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Obama's Request For Immigration Funds Meets Pushback On The Hill

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 13:19

President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion to address the influx of immigrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Senate Appropriations Committee is holding a hearing about the request.

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How a 19-year-old started the Rollerblade revolution

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:45

There’s a large plot of land tucked in the woods of Waconia, Minnesota that has been home to some very interesting inventions.

It’s the birthplace of a giant, outdoor version of ping pong called Kong Pong; a bike that can be rowed instead of peddled (dubbed, fittingly, Rowbike); a globe-enclosed bed made for sleeping under the stars named LunarBed, plastic penguin lawn ornaments that waddle in the wind, and hundreds of feet of suspended track that can send you peddling or rowing through the air in a device called Skyride.

The brain behind all of these products is Scott Olson. He lives in a barn on this playground property that he converted into a house, with no air conditioning and one small heater. It’s a quiet lifestyle for a man who has been forging inventions for 30 years. His first? One that would make him wealthy and go down in history as one of the top 100 products of the 21st century according to Time Magazine: Rollerblades.

But Olson is quick to point out that he didn’t invent inline skates, or even the concept.

“The inline skate started back before roller skates were even invented, back in the early 1800s,” Olson says.

Olson was just 19 when he stumbled across a pair of inline skates in a catalog while playing junior hockey in Canada. He dreamed of being an NHL goalie, and thought they would be a great way to train in the summer. When he got home to his Minneapolis suburb, his brother had picked up a pair and was skating all over the driveway.

Olson tried them on and knew right away they would be a huge hit. But they hadn’t been so far - SSS had been producing the skates for years, and the guy who ran the local sporting goods shop said the few pairs he had in stock had been collecting dust for years. No one was buying them.

So Olson began tinkering. He made the wheels softer and faster, and put them on a track that could be attached to hockey skates. When he got nowhere peddling his new product at local sporting goods stores, he started approaching hockey players and coaches directly. He offered them a money back guarantee, and soon players all over the Minneapolis suburbs were zipping around on Olson’s creation.

Olson bought a patent off of a Chicago company and eventually crafted a more comfortable and sturdy boot. In 1981, he formed a company and named it Rollerblade, an obvious nod to the hybrid between roller and hockey skates.

“A lot of people thought Rollerblades must’ve started in Southern California,” Olson says. “But in reality, it started in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hockey capital of the world.”

Olson wore his creation everywhere, and when people saw how fast and effortless the skates were, Rollerblades sold themselves, first in the hockey community and then rippling outward.

Olson hired his friends to work for him, and one of them ended up embezzling from him. He was on the brink of losing the company altogether when two investors made him a deal. They would keep the brand alive and give him a tiny percent. Olson says he made enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life.   

He now spends his time dreaming up new inventions like the ones that are strewn about his Waconia farm.

Rollerblade sales shot up to $10 million in 1988 and the industry peaked at nearly half a billion dollars in the 1990s. But by the early 2000s, popularity slumped, and sales have waned steadily since.

Olson says even though he doesn’t have a stake in the company anymore, he’s still frustrated that you don’t see as many of them as you used to.

“I haven’t figured it out, but I think like a lot of product,s they kind of go in cycles,” Olson says. “Skateboards and roller skates in their day would climb and drop off and climb again. What we need right now is a hit in one a movie out in (Hollywood). We need somebody taking those blades out and using them like they’re meant to be used.”

Olson may be waiting for the American Rollerblade resurgence, but the skates are still popular in some places. In fact the people of France have been described as “obsessed.”

Signs Emerge Of A Compromise On Obama's $3.7B Immmigration Request

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:45

The president wants the money to deal with the thousands of minors from Central America who have crossed into the U.S. Republicans said they want some policy changes; Democrats aren't opposed.

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Alcohol Test: Does Eating Yeast Keep You From Getting Drunk?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:33

When we read about a way to stave off intoxication in Esquire, we were dubious. So we bought a Breathalyzer and a few IPAs and tested out the kooky theory.

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Doctors Face Ethical Issues In Benching Kids With Concussions

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:31

There's plenty of evidence that playing with a concussion increases the risk of long-term problems. But athletes, coaches and parents can be reluctant to call a halt. Then how can doctors do no harm?

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No Charges For Police Who Killed Woman After D.C. Chase

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:18

Miriam Carey, 34, was fatally shot by two police officers last fall after she led them on a high-speed pursuit from the White House to the U.S. Capitol.

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A New Device Lets You Track Your Preschooler ... And Listen In

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:08

LG's KizON wristband lets you keep tabs on your child. But some experts say such devices send the wrong message about the world we live in. And the gadgets raise questions about kids' privacy rights.

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Maasai Warriors: Caught Between Spears and Cellphones

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:02

One of Kenya's oldest tribes has held on to a traditional lifestyle but it's not uncommon to see members holding a cellphone in one hand while wearing their cultural robes, or shukas.

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Justice Dept. Declines To Step Into Dispute Between CIA And Senators

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:02

The Justice Department has declined to bring criminal charges against anyone at the CIA or the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a dispute over access to sensitive materials on enhanced interrogations. The power struggle relates to a long-running Senate probe over the mistreatment of detainees after Sept. 11.

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Amid Eroding Trust, Germany Expels America's Top Spy In Berlin

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:02

Germany has asked the CIA station chief in Berlin to leave the country. This comes as two Germans are under investigation for spying for the U.S. in Germany. While tensions between the allies are high, both countries are trying not to strain relations too far.

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Deaths Mount Into The Dozens As Gaza Strip Bombardment Builds

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:02

Israeli air strikes continue to pound the Gaza Strip. NPR's Emily Harris reports from Gaza on the intensifying conflict there.

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After Losing An Only Child, Chinese Parents Face Old Age Alone

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:02

China's one-child policy, introduced more than three decades ago, has had some unintended consequences. One is that, in the event of a child's death, many older parents lack a source of support.

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In West Africa, Officials Target Ignorance And Fear Over Ebola

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 12:02

Health officials are trying to convince families to bring the ill to health centers and to change the way their bury their dead to rein in the disease, which has killed hundreds across the region.

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Gini: the measure of inequality

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-10 11:26

Not everyone has the same amount of money. Some are richer. Some are poorer. That's pretty obvious. But just how much more money do the rich have? How much poorer are the poor?

Those are questions that not that long ago, people didn't really know how to answer.

The going theory in the early 1900s was that in any country, at any point in history, wealth distribution was constant.  That “everywhere, at all time, the top 20 percent have 80 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 80 percent split the 20 percent remaining,” says Professor Jean-Guy Prevost, who studies the history of statistics at the University of Quebec in Montreal. 

A century ago, Prevost says, before there were many wealth or income statistics available, influential economists like Vilfredo Pareto argued there was a natural order to the ratio between the haves and the have-nots.  One that could not be changed.

Then a handsome and stubborn Italian statistician named Corrado Gini came along. Gini found the idea of wealth distribution being always the same absurd. Being a statistician, he expressed this in a 35-page paper called “On the Measurement of Concentration and Variability of Characters,” published in 1914. 

(Courtesy:International Journal of Statistics, 2005)

 In the paper, Gini analyzed as much economic data as he could find from different parts of the world— records on income distribution in Denmark versus Norway, on the varying size of inheritance to residents of Swiss cities, on the distribution of property holdings in Tasmania compared to South Australia.

In the process, Gini created what we now call the Gini Index. Basically it’s a scale from zero to 100 that allows you to measure just how concentrated income or wealth is in a given country at a given time.

A perfectly unequal country, where one person has all the wealth, would rank 100 on the Gini Index. On the other end of the spectrum, a country where everyone has exactly the same amount of money would rank as a zero. 

Of course, in the real world countries fall somewhere in the middle. On the relatively equal end, Sweden comes in at about a 23 on the Gini Index*.  The U.S. has gone from the low 40s to the high 40s in the last few decades. South Africa, one of the most unequal countries, is about a 62.

When Gini invented the index at the beginning of the 20th century, many countries, including the U.S., were headed into an era of rising equality and a growing middle class. Today many of those same countries seem headed in reverse, which has made the Gini Index a central measurement for everyone from the Wall Street Occupiers to President Obama.

But in case you're thinking the guy behind this inequality measurement was some kind of liberal softy? Guess again. Corrado Gini was a card-carrying fascist.

Yes, that Fascist Party. The one known for embracing racial supremacy, totalitarianism, and jack boots. Gini wasn't just a member. He built and defended the ideology in his book “The Scientific Basis of Fascism.”

“He was even more fascist than the Fascist Party at the moment,” says Giovanni Favero, an economic historian at Ca'Foscari University in Venice.

For Gini and the Fascist Party he belonged to, measuring inequality wasn't important because they cared so much about the poor, explains Favero. Instead, they cared about maintaining the proper balance between rich and poor. If a country got “too equal,” Gini worried you’d “lose social differences, you have people who are not used to have wealth using their wealth in bad ways and things like that,” says Favero.

But a society that was “too unequal” could also be bad in Gini’s eyes. If kids from wealthy families started inheriting too much money, “they would kind of make a retreat from the productive sector, and became people who lived on their interest only,” explains Prevost. In other words, lazy. “And so lose their function as a ruling class.”

Even though Corrado Gini was a fascist, once he let his Gini Index out of the bottle, so to speak, it became a tool that transcended fascist ideology. Or any ideology at all.

“Just having that measure changes the conversation,” says Andrew Berg, an economist at the International Monetary Fund. What made Gini's work important-- and still relevant 100 years later--is that by having a way to measure inequality you could start asking new questions, from all different points of view, about the way a society's wealth is distributed.

“There's a set of political, ethical or moral questions you might ask whether we care about the ratio between the rich and poor for example, about how inequality matters for things like well being. Or you might ask, is the crime rate higher in unequal countries? Do unequal countries grow faster?”

These are questions that have since been asked by people across the ideological spectrum. From Marxists (some of whom were Gini’s students) to World Bank economists, to market strategists at multi-national corporations.

And if you want to find the most comprehensive list of Gini numbers for countries around the world?  It's on the CIA's website. 

 

*Measured after taxes and government safety net programs. Gini coefficients for countries can vary depending on  survey data used, and whether incomes are measured pre or post-tax.  For example, two of the most comprehensive lists of Gini measurements, from the CIA World Factbook and the World Bank have slightly different rankings for countries.

Eileen Ford, Creator Of The Supermodel, Dies At 92

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-10 11:14

As co-founder of the Ford modeling agency, she was instrumental in promoting such superstars as Lauren Hutton and Christie Brinkley.

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