National / International News
Five years after the BP oil spill, the public has stopped asking whether seafood from the Gulf is safe to eat. But now there's a supply issue, and fishermen worry about the future of their industry.
The newspaper's series examined why South Carolina is among the deadliest states for women in the U.S. Anthony Doerr won the prize for fiction for All the Light We Cannot See.
People can pick up germs and parasites from their pets, and some of them can be nasty. Health care providers for all species could do a better job of communicating the risks, a study finds.
This week's mergers and acquisitions news involves a former fire breather, acrobats, contortionists and a group of high-flying private equity firms.
Cirque du Soleil, the no-animals, highly stylized performance troupes with shows around the world will be sold for $1.5 billion Canadian, a little over $1.2 billion U.S.
That's a long way from its origins.
Founder Guy Laliberte, "was a fire-breather and a busker who played an accordion," says New York Times reporter Ian Austen, who reported on the sale Monday. "It started as a kind of hippie commune with pay-as-you-want shows."
A grant from the provincial government of Quebec helped launch the company into its much wider renown and success. Fast-forward a few decades, and there's still a lot of local pride tied up in the company's success.
"Quebec is a pretty small place and [Laliberte] is literally one of six billionaires who live in the province, so it's hyper, hyper sensitive. Plus, they're a big employer in Quebec," Austen says.
The company is privately held and keeps its financials close to the vest, but it insists it's profitable, despite financial hurdles that were exacerbated in 2008.
"[Laliberte] had kind of pulled back to literally go off into space in a Soyuz capsule," Austen says. "For the first time in their history, 25 years at that point, they had shows that fizzled out."
Laliberte returned in 2012 and began implementing aggressive cost controls. Four hundred employees were laid off, and shows that weren't working out were cut. The phenomenon that started as a ragtag group of street performers had grown unchecked since its founding in 1985. It was time for financial discipline and focus.
Rather than gut the company further, Cirque du Soleil hopes the infusion of cash and influence from private equity will pull back the curtain on the biggest market it's yet to tap: China.
"What this is ultimately about," Austen says, "is to find a successful way into the Chinese market to take advantage of the growing middle class there."
Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrants enter Europe by sea from the South — and thousands from those groups drown as they attempt to make the voyage from places like Libya, Mali and Egypt.
At least 700 people are believed to have drowned after a boat was shipwrecked in the Mediterranean Sunday.
"It’s a problem that’s been building for years, and the numbers have continued to rise," says Chris Morris, with the BBC. "They’re not all political refugees, many of them are economic migrants."
Most people attempting the journey are trying to escape the violence and poverty in their native countries and find better job opportunities.
"London, in particular, is a magnet because it’s Europe’s genuinely international city," Morris says. "It’s a place where many people from many countries have friends, or relatives, or somebody from the village who has said, 'if you manage to get here, I’ll get you a place where you can kip on the floor and my cousin will give you a job at his bakery.'"
This disaster has prompted much criticism over the European Union’s response to the dangers migrants face crossing the Mediterranean. There's no final count yet of exactly how many people drowned in yesterday's sinking of that migrant ship.
What is clear, however, is that people will risk their lives to get out of where they are.
All of that cold fresh water has helped preserve the wrecked ships over the years. A Coast Guard helicopter recently snagged some striking images of historic ships.
Before today, a Twitter user could send direct messages only if the recipient was one of the user's followers. Now there's an option that would allow users to message anyone on Twitter.
A coalition of multi-ethnic Hollywood watchdogs are pushing talent agencies to add some color to their lineups.
About half a dozen people circle a large conference room in Google’s New York office, reviewing a series of color-coded spreadsheets projected a wall behind them.
“Let’s jump into some stations,” says Peter Asbill, who oversees editorial for Google Play Music after the company acquired his music start-up, Songza, last summer.
“These are all of the playlists that we have, all of the stations, within working-out experience right now,” Asbill says.
There are currently 86 different “work-out” playlists, each one made and revised by human beings. The process is reminiscent of the days of when music fans might have carefully crafted a mixed cassette tape or CD for a friend or crush. In today’s digital music world an increasing number of music streaming sites want listeners to outsource those playlist-making responsibilities to them, competing for the ever-increasing time consumers spend with earbuds in their ears.
But perhaps surprisingly in this digital age, even when playlists go corporate, human beings are still key to their success.
For Asbill, the key difference between yesterday and today’s process is data. The group focuses on their “Performance-Enhancing Pop” playlist. Data collected from users shows that the playlist gets selected frequently, but its “satisfaction score, a proprietary score that’s a mix of skips and thumbs up, thumbs down, and listening time,” is just okay.
The worst preforming song on the playlist is "Honey," by Mariah Carey, which the group decides is likely too slow compared with others on the list. A Kenny Loggins song also isn’t preforming well. While its tempo is faster, the team thinks it’s stylistically out of place with other, more popular songs, like Lady Gaga’s "Just Dance."
In the end, the consenus is that Kenny and Mariah should probably be cut from this mix, along with Britney Spears, “I’m a Slave 4 U,” which the group thinks should moved to their “Sexy Sweaty Workout” list.
But why is this human touch necessary in 2015? Why not take this data and let machines and algorithms do this work? Google Play Music does use algorithms when people want to pick an artist or song and have site suggest similar music, but Asbill says playlists made by humans can be creative, funny, or unique to a specific situation, activity or feeling.
“It always requires further investigation,” he says. “If it’s a new song, is it too early so that not enough people know about it and like it yet and will it do better over time? Is it a song that’s a great song, it’s just on the wrong playlist, or have we given the playlist the wrong title so that we’re not setting up people’s expectations for what they hear on the other end?”
Pandora, an early entry into music streaming, also relies people for its music curation, but in a very different way from Google. Both sites use algorithms to create a playlists based off a song or artist the listener chooses. However unlike Google, which has machines analyze those songs, Pandora uses people.
“It really takes a human,” says Steve Hogan, Pandora’s music operations manager. “For example, a human can listen to a song and pick out there’s a trumpet, there’s an acoustic bass. This is something the human ear can do in a fraction of a second.”
A team of roughly 30 people, most of them active musicians, analyze 10,000 songs a month, tagging 200 to 400 traits for each song, answering questions like, "how much does the electric guitar dominate this song?"
“That would be on a five-point scale,” Hogan explains. “Beyond that, we want to know, 'how much distortion effect is on that guitar on a five-point scale? What is that guitar doing, how much of it is strummed rhythm guitar?'”
The algorithms then draw on those descriptions and tags to build playlists of similar songs for listeners. In other words, machines offer scale for Pandora, but it’s humans who bring the quality.
Jason Rezaian's lawyer says he has been charged with four serious crimes. The Washington Post's Tehran bureau chief has been detained for nine months and held in the notorious Evin prison.