German Air Force Bids Farewell To New Mexico Community

A German Luftwaffe jet flies near Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. (Courtesy/GAFTC Holloman)

A German Luftwaffe jet flies near Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. (Courtesy/GAFTC Holloman)

For more than 20 years, a U.S. Air Force Base in New Mexico has been home to Germany’s largest military installation on foreign soil.

The Luftwaffe’s Air Force Flying Training Center at Holloman Air Force Base has meant millions of dollars to the U.S. government, and to the nearby community of Alamogordo. But now the Germans are about to pack up and leave.

Simon Thompson from the Fronteras Desk at Here & Now contributor KPBS in San Diego looks at the impact.

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Report: U.S. Nuclear System Relies On Outdated Technology Such As Floppy Disks

Members of the 320th Missile Squadron missile combat crew, work through a scenario in the 90th Operations Support Squadron's Missile Procedure Trainer on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., in June 2014. The MPT is a simulator which allows missile crews to practice contingencies they might face while on alert.

Members of the 320th Missile Squadron missile combat crew, work through a scenario in the 90th Operations Support Squadron’s Missile Procedure Trainer on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., in June 2014. The MPT is a simulator which allows missile crews to practice contingencies they might face while on alert. R.J. Oriez/U.S. Air Force hide caption

toggle caption R.J. Oriez/U.S. Air Force

The U.S. nuclear weapons system still runs on a 1970s-era computing system that uses 8-inch floppy disks, according to a newly released report from the Government Accountability Office.

That’s right. It relies on memory storage that hasn’t been commonly used since the 1980s and a computing system that looks like this:

The Department of Defense Air Force Strategic Automated Command and Control System, as pictured in the Government Accountability Office report.

The Department of Defense Air Force Strategic Automated Command and Control System, as pictured in the Government Accountability Office report. United States Government Accountability Office/Screen Shot by NPR hide caption

toggle caption United States Government Accountability Office/Screen Shot by NPR

Beyond the nuclear program, much of the technology used by the federal government is woefully outmoded, the report says. About 75 percent of the government’s information technology budget goes toward operations and maintenance, rather than development, modernization and enhancement.

“Clearly, there are billions wasted,” GAO information technology expert David Powner said at a congressional hearing Wednesday, The Associated Press reports.

The GAO report found that the Pentagon’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System — which “coordinates the operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers, and tanker support aircrafts” — runs on a IBM Series/1 Computer, first introduced in 1976.

The system’s primary function is to “send and receive emergency action messages to nuclear forces,” the report adds, but “replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson told The Two-Way via email, “This system remains in use because, in short, it still works.

“However, to address obsolescence concerns, the floppy drives are scheduled to be replaced with Secure Digital devices by the end of 2017. Modernization across the entire Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (NC3) enterprise remains ongoing.”

The report also found that the Treasury Department uses 1950s-era assembly language code (which it says is “a low-level computer code that is difficult to write and maintain”) on the individual master file (“the authoritative data source for individual taxpayers where accounts are updated, taxes are assessed, and refunds are generated.”) The reports adds that the department has no firm plans to modernize the system.

Likewise, the Social Security Administration relies on COBOL (“a programming language developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s”) to determine retirement eligibility and amounts, according to the report. However, there are “ongoing modernization efforts” at the agency.

For years, the U.S. nuclear program has faced “low morale, understaffing and equipment shortages,” as NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel has reported. He said that in 2014, reports came to light that “three nuclear bases had only one special wrench that’s needed to put nuclear warheads on missiles.” They had to share the wrench between bases — but apparently each base later got its own wrench.

At the time, Geoff pointed out some of the complications that come with a major weapons system “constantly on alert, but … very unlikely [to ever] be used”:

“Frankly, it’s easy for the leadership to forget about the missiles and the people responsible for them. And it’s easy for those people to sort of get bored and get themselves into trouble. On top of all this, we have a much bigger problem coming down the road. The weapons themselves are aging. The submarines, the bombers, the missiles — they’re all going to have to be replaced.”

You can read the full GAO report here:

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Fox/Soper Duo Opens Portals To Neon Realms In 'I' Video

May 26, 20161:00 PM ET

In Liturgy, Zs, Guardian Alien and any number of projects, Greg Fox breathes in his drums and exhales rumbling, monstrous, hypnotic rhythms. His new duo with the modular-synth player Ryan Soper buzzes and whirs and explodes like Sun Ra leading a psychotropic industrial punk band.

Soper does double duty as the video artist for the whirring “I.” Ice mountains dissolve in a furious blizzard of sharp-edged geometric shapes and melted faces (both imagined and of the duo themselves) as next-dimensional eyes open portals to neon realms.

Magenta Line comes out May 27 on NNA and Bandcamp.

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A Moth Nicknamed 'Tomato Ebola' Ravages Nigeria's Tomatoes

The price of tomatoes at Nigerian markets is going higher and higher as moths and their larvae wipe out much of the crop.

The price of tomatoes at Nigerian markets is going higher and higher as moths and their larvae wipe out much of the crop. George Osodi/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption George Osodi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Nigerian tomatoes are tasty and juicy. But a basket of toms is now costing an arm and a leg. From about $1.40 three months ago, that price has rocketed 400 percent to a staggering $40, according to local media.

Tomato farms in the northwest and central regions have been ravaged, prompting the governor of Kaduna state in the north, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, to have reportedly declared a tomato state of emergency in the sector. El-Rufai is quoted as saying 80 percent of Kaduna’s tomato production — and the state is deemed by the U.N. to be the tomato capital of Nigeria — has been hit by the disease.

That’s because a pesky pest — a moth — has got to Nigeria’s tomato crop. The insect goes by the name Tuta Absoluta, aka Tomato Leaf Miner, says Daniel Manzo Maigari, Kaduna state’s commissioner for agriculture.

The moth attacks the leaves of the tomato plant, and larvae produced by the moth feed voraciously on the plants and cause a 100 percent loss in yield. No amount of spraying is said to kill the larvae.

Maigari said “You spray it, after about three hours, it comes back to life.”

Some Nigerians are calling the pest that has ravaged the crop “Tomato Ebola.”

Nigeria’s federal agriculture minister, Audu Ogbeh, confirmed Wednesday that the pest has spread to at least six states and poses a threat to national food security.

Ogbeh warned that the moth can also attack pepper and potato plants.

“So we are confronting something quite serious. But the good thing is that we are tackling it right now as experts will commence work immediately.” He added “We are bringing the commissioners and governors of states to jointly attack this pest, which, if not dealt with, will create serious problems for food security in our country,” he said and that everything was being done to tackle the phenomenon.

Meanwhile, Maigari, Kaduna state’s agriculture commissioner, is quoted as saying that some 200 farmers have collectively lost more than $5m over the past month in his state.

Tomatoes are a central ingredient in many Nigerian dishes and very much part of the diet here, so the scarcity means many people simply can’t afford toms.

In some eateries, where tomatoes were served routinely, they’ve vanished. A “suya” (kebab) spot in the capital Abuja is still selling tender grilled skewered meat, with sliced onions, shredded cabbage and spiced pepper powder as garnish. Gone are the gorgeous red, diced tomatoes that used to brighten the popular takeout meal.

The tomato crisis is a blow for President Muhammadu Buhari, who has been urging his compatriots to return to the soil and farm, to diversify Africa’s largest, petroleum-heavy, economy. Nigeria is suffering because of the calamitous current market price for crude oil, its main export.

Nigeria is looking to Kenya to try to combat the tomato menace. Kaduna’s government has dispatched agricultural specialists to Kenya to meet experts on the Tomato Leaf Miner, to learn how to tackle the pest. Maigari, the Kaduna state agriculture commissioner, told journalists, “We have sent some of our officials to Kenya to meet our partners. Kenya has a good advantage over us on this issue,” he said. “We understand that they use a plant extract to take care of this problem. But we do not have that knowledge yet. We expect them to return very soon with short- and mid-term solutions.”

Ogbeh, the federal agriculture minister, confirmed that the disease is relatively new to Nigeria, so expertise on how to curb its spread is limited.

Maigari said the problem was so “severe” that businessman Aliko Dangote, Nigeria’s and Africa’s wealthiest man, has had to suspend production at his recently-built tomato processing plant in northern Kano state because of a lack of tomatoes.

La Tomatina; Tomatoes throwing party in Spain. If only these guys know the price of Tomatoes in Nigeria today… pic.twitter.com/JIiKHgWZ8Y

— Wale Adetona (@iSlimfit) May 23, 2016

Meanwhile, the twittersphere is exploding with tomato posts. Nigerians with a sense of humor are posting photos of the Spanish festival known as La Tomatina, an August celebration in which tens of thousands of folks converge on a town called Bunol to pelt each other with tons of tomatoes. Their message: What a waste of tomatoes, send them to Nigeria!

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An Alt.Latino Road Trip With Attitude: Thelma and Luis

This week's episode of Alt.Latino features a song from Buyepongo.

This week’s episode of Alt.Latino features a song from Buyepongo. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

The weather is finally cooperating here on the East Coast and our thoughts turn to hitting the open road with the top down and a cool stack CD’s for the drive (or an unlimited data plan for non stop streaming).

Since my fearless co host Jasmine Garsd has recently learned to drive recently we’ll let her call the tunes. Since she was in a Thelma and Louise kinda mood as she complied her list I offered a slight change of attitude as Thelma and Luis.

So we have a playlist of feisty “happy angry” songs, irresistible pedal to the metal grooves and even moments of introspection.

And as with any good road trip we also have discussions about music, some laughs and even deep thoughts about the meanings of life.

An Alt.Latino Road Trip With Attitude: Thelma and Luis

Cover for Devagarin

Tropkillaz

  • Song: Devagarin
  • from Devagarin
YouTube
Cover for Partir

Edith Crash

  • Song: Perdu La Foi
  • from Partir
YouTube
Cover for Mambo Sinuendo

Manuel Galbán and Ry Cooder

  • Song: Monte Adentro
  • from Mambo Sinuendo
YouTube
Cover for Todo Mundo

Buyepongo

  • Song: Sin Parar
  • from Todo Mundo
YouTube

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In Its Retelling, 'Roots' Is Powerful, Must-See Television

Malachi Kirby plays Kunta Kinte in the updated version of the miniseries Roots.

Malachi Kirby plays Kunta Kinte in the updated version of the miniseries Roots. Steve Dietl/The History Channel hide caption

toggle caption Steve Dietl/The History Channel

The original Roots miniseries, based on the 1976 Alex Haley novel tracing his own family tree from African tribal life to American slavery and freedom, was a phenomenon.

ABC showed it over consecutive nights in January 1977, not because it was expected to earn huge ratings, but because network executives were afraid it wouldn’t. So they crammed the entire miniseries into an eight-day prime-time marathon, which aired, by coincidence, during a massive winter storm that snowed in much of the Northeast.

Roots was TV’s original binge-viewing experience, and kept drawing more viewers every night. Its finale, still one of the most-viewed scripted programs in TV history, was seen by more than 100 million people. It launched a new national dialogue about race and racism, and slavery and genealogy, and launched or heightened the careers of several black actors, including LeVar Burton, John Amos, Leslie Uggams, Louis Gossett Jr. and Ben Vereen.

So why bother with a remake? After all, the TV universe is so fragmented these days, there’s no way a remake of Roots is going to even approach the viewing figures for the original miniseries. Won’t happen. It’s not even on broadcast TV.

But as I see it, there are three primary reasons to remake Roots, and they’re all good reasons. One is because the original drama, while very emotional and effective in some scenes, was overdrawn and oversimplified in others.

Another is because very few young people are likely to sample the original Roots, while a new version will reintroduce the story and its themes to a new century of TV viewers.

And the third, most important reason, is that we, as a country, still need to confront, discuss and try to understand our complicated racial history.

So when I started previewing this new Roots, I hoped it would be smart enough, fresh enough and involving enough to justify its existence as a lengthy, costly TV remake. And, from the very start, with Laurence Fishburne providing the voice of author Haley, it was.

This new version, while not as long as the original, spends more time on specific incidents and characters, and adds real-life battles and events not dramatized in the original miniseries.

Haley’s story, this time, is written by four scriptwriters, and each episode is directed by a different well-known director: Mario Van Peebles, Thomas Carter, Phillip Noyce and Bruce Beresford.

Music plays a very important part throughout, and the music supervisor is Questlove, from a band he long ago named The Roots. And one of the executive producers of this new Roots is the star of the old one: Burton.

If you remember the original version of Roots, which spawned many sequels, the same colorful and indelible characters make their mark this time around. Fiddler, once played by a charming Gossett, is now played by Forest Whitaker. Chicken George, played in 1977 by Vereen, is now played by Regé-Jean Page. The spirited Kizzy, once played by Uggams, is now played by Anika Noni Rose.

And where the part of Kunta Kinte once was played by two actors — Burton as a boy and Amos as a man — this time Malachi Kirby plays him throughout, with a stubborn and proud streak that’s evident even in his first conversation with Fiddler.

Their conversation leads, very soon, to an updated version of the most memorable scene from the original Roots, when Kunta Kinte’s new overseer flogs him repeatedly, and mercilessly, while demanding him to accept and repeat his slave name of Toby.

This new Roots works its way through stories along several generations. It still leaves room, as did the original, for a sequel — but the central Roots story remains potent enough, and even more so in this new telling. Characters are given more time, and the actors do wonders with their scenes — especially Kirby as Kunta Kinte, Rose as Kizzy, and Page as Chicken George. You’ll feel for them and their journeys.

This new Roots is a TV miniseries that not only should be seen, but like the original, it definitely deserves to be talked about.

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'The Dreaded Schwa' And Other Reasons To Love The Bee

Nina Fonseca of Chicago, Illinois, celebrates with other spellers after a correct answer in round three of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Nina Fonseca of Chicago, Illinois, celebrates with other spellers after a correct answer in round three of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s National Spelling Bee Day!

Well, it’s more than just today — the rounds started Wednesday — but as we type this (and carefully spell-check it), they’ve entered the finals that will conclude Thursday night with the championship round, which will be broadcast on ESPN starting at 8:00 p.m. (Eastern, that is.)

For people who really love watching the Bee, there’s simply nothing like it on television. But there’s a line one can draw between the popularity of the Bee and the growth of good-natured shows like Masterchef Junior, which similarly offer opportunities to get to know, and to root for, kids who are great at something and are encouraged to be good sports in competition. Of course, Dr. Jacques Bailly, who gives all the kids their words, is a long way from Gordon Ramsay. Dr. Bailly is funny and wry and dad-like, meticulous about making sure he’s done exactly what he’s supposed to do in giving them all the information.

It’s a great treat to watch smart kids go back and forth with Dr. Bailly, seeing whether they can get him to give up juuuuust a little more — to pronounce the word in a way that will clarify whether that middle syllable has an “i” or an “e” in it, for instance. He’ll give them all the pronunciations, he’ll give the word origin, he’ll use it in a sentence. But they work him a little, sometimes: they repeat the word a little differently than he did to see if he corrects them; they ask questions that go a touch beyond what they’re allowed to ask. (Eva Vega of North Carolina asked this morning if the word “cypripedium” had anything to do with cypress trees. You can ask about a root, but not quite that loosely about whether a word is related to another word.)

A piece of advice: The internet is such a mixed blessing in popular culture, but if you curate your attention to it correctly, it’s wonderful for the Bee. The blog A List Of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago has long been my go-to source for deep and serious Bee nerdery, and while I haven’t seen her covering it yet this year, Shonda Rhimes is a known Bee superfan. Twitter during the championship tends to be a throng of adults glued to their televisions rooting hard and seriously for kids to spell words correctly. It is nerd adults who like words thronging in support of nerd kids who like words, and it’s great.

Ultimately, the Bee is its own very strange world, and most of us visit for only a day or two a year. It’s a word where the hushed ESPN announcers think nothing of referencing the “dreaded schwa” — a schwa is the sort of “uh” sound that can be made in a word by any of several vowels, like the “a” in “against” or the “o” in “melody.” If it shows up in a word you don’t know, it can be very hard to figure out which letter to choose when spelling the word from hearing it pronounced. Thus: the dreaded schwa. Dr. Bailly and his gently funny sample sentences, parents grinning from ear to ear, gracious kids taking losses like champs …

It’s National Spelling Bee Day!

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The Resurrected New York City Opera's Ambitious New Season

Michael Chioldi (far left) as Baron Scarpia in a January production of Puccini's Tosca by the newly reformed New York City Opera.

Michael Chioldi (far left) as Baron Scarpia in a January production of Puccini’s Tosca by the newly reformed New York City Opera. Sarah Shatz/New York City Opera hide caption

toggle caption Sarah Shatz/New York City Opera

When the New York City Opera (NYCO) announced its final performances and imminent bankruptcy in September 2013, opera lovers, not just in Manhattan, were shocked. How could a 70-year-old company, dubbed “The People’s Opera,” which nurtured the careers of emerging stars like Beverly Sills and Plácido Domingo, fall so far and suddenly cease to be?

Almost as soon as the doors were shuttered, suitors lined up to try to reboot the company. Only in January did a victor emerge in the form of NYCO Renaissance, a group chaired by hedge fund manager Roy G. Niederhoffer, which announced the company’s return with a production of Puccini’s Tosca.

Michael Capasso is the NYCO’s new general director. He formerly led Dicapo Opera, a small Manhattan-based company. Wednesday, in a telephone interview, he talked about what’s ahead. The conversation was edited for clarity and concision.


Tom Huizenga: I was surprised, I must admit, to see such a wide-ranging, ambitious season announced so soon after the company reopened just a few months ago.

Michael Capasso: I’m proud of the kind of season it shaped up to be, because it really evokes what I think what City Opera always was in the past in terms of the way it serves the opera world, in its breadth of repertoire. We have everything from Baroque to extremely contemporary to a big Romantic piece by an underperformed composer, at least underperformed in opera anyway.

Did it seem like a quick turnaround to you?

No, because throughout the entire bankruptcy process we were working and planning. We were quite diligent in getting everything prepared and in order. I had repertory plans. I had the venue lined up, I had lots of things in place throughout the time of the bankruptcy period of two years. This just didn’t happen in the last 60 days. We pulled the trigger on everything recently but we knew what we were going to do. We were prepared for it.

You come to the NYCO from an operatic background.

I founded and ran Dicapo Opera, which was a boutique, niche but very popular, company since 1981.

And your new job will be opera on a much larger scale.

It’s a much larger scale in one sense and it’s the same in the other. Producing an opera from A to Z takes what it takes. You have to find the piece, you have to license it. You have to cast it, you have to build the set, you have to sell the tickets, you have to market it. All of these things are the same throughout the industry. The difference is there are more zeros and commas involved in what you’re doing.

But the steps that are needed to produce professional opera, in a union condition, are something I’m very familiar with and have been doing for years. While the stakes are larger, the audiences are larger and the venue is larger, the process is still very much the same.

One thing that struck me immediately was the cost of such a robust season. I couldn’t help but think, “Where’s all the money coming from?”

It doesn’t cost as much as you might think, but it certainly isn’t cheap. One of our mainstage productions costs around $1 million. The money comes from various sources. We have a very dedicated board that has made significant contributions. We have been the happy recipient of a very large bequest. We have the money in place for the season that we’ve announced, obviously. And we are in the process of reinvigorating a fundraising program that was extremely strong in the company’s history.

It’s not going to happen overnight. If we can get back to, in a short period of time, even 30 percent of what the former company was easily raising, we’ll be OK. In the final years, the City Opera was raising close to $15 million even when they left Lincoln Center.

But back in late summer, early fall of 2013, it was hard for NYCO to raise any money at all. They tried a $1 million Kickstarter campaign and they couldn’t even raise that.

They couldn’t raise $1 million because they were in distress. The distress was well known and their approach, while valiant, was not well received because it was almost a threat to the funding community: Either help us or we’re going to go away. It was actually very successful in that thousands of people donated but they didn’t make their goal.

What’s the ballpark figure for the budget for this upcoming season?

It’s around $7 million.

Let’s talk about the repertoire. There seems to be a number of lesser-known offerings, including Ottorino Respighi’s La campana sommersa and Rachmaninoff’s first opera, the one-act Aleko. And then there’s Bernstein’s beloved Candide, the staple Pagliacci and Angels in America by Péter Eötvös. Why these particular operas?

I tried to plan a season that would be reminiscent of the glory years, if you will, of City Opera. Which were years that combined standard repertory with American works with new works and rarities, but by familiar composers.

Aleko and Pagliacci — you know they were written in the same year — I believe complement each other. It’ll have the fascination of seeing Rachmaninoff’s first opera combined with the comfort of an opera like Pagliacci, which is appealing to the public.

Then we have a contemporary chamber opera, Fallujah, which comes from Long Beach Opera. It’s something I want to do around Veterans Day; it’s the first opera written about the Iraq War. Then we go to Candide, which is iconic. The opera house version was created for City Opera by Bernstein and Hal Prince. And we luckily have Hal Prince to direct it for us.

That’s a major coup.

It is a major coup. He loves the City Opera. City Opera gave him the first chance to direct an opera. He gave them Candide and it was a valuable asset to them for years and years, and he wants to do something to give back and to help us succeed.

And then the Respighi piece fits into the neglected but important works that City Opera was known for. This is a piece that needs to be heard. It hasn’t been in New York since 1928, when the Met did it. It’s something that is very City Opera and it’s beautiful yet completely unknown to today’s audiences, and I have high hopes for it. Then we have a Spanish Baroque piece, Los Elementos, which continues our new mission to perform an opera in Spanish every year. It also speaks to the long history City Opera has had with Baroque music. And then Angels in America — an important piece never been done in New York, remarkably. And it ticks all the boxes for City Opera as I see it.

One thing NYCO is known for is the cultivation of young singers. I wonder if you could talk a little about that as there are no singers listed in the upcoming season announcement.

We like to announce the singers with the production and make that a separate announcement because it focuses on them more, rather than them just getting lost in the flurry of everything we’re saying right now. On top of it, I find that the longer we wait to cast, the higher level of artists we’re able to get. And I know that sounds contrary to what you might think. But the larger companies that pay the larger fees, they cast far in advance but they can tie people up.

We are not going to be able to tie somebody up with our fee structure long in advance. But now when I’m looking to cast for eight, 12, 16 months ahead, I have a greater likelihood of being able to get a higher caliber artist who’s available and will stick to the contract.

The original NYCO was heralded as “Opera for the People,” but recently a lot of small, flexible opera companies have sprouted in New York. I’m thinking Loft Opera, On Site Opera, the Prototype Festival and the many smaller ones associated with the New York Opera Alliance. How does the new NYCO fit into this more crowded field?

I see it as an uncrowded field. I think we’re in a class by ourselves. I think it’s crowded on that level, yes. And then there’s the Met. But the full scale, completely realized productions, in a proscenium theater with a union orchestra and chorus, which those companies don’t have, with scenery and costumes and all the elements of grand opera — perhaps not with superstars, but with emerging stars but on a grander scale, but not on the scale of the Met or La Scala — is where we fit in. And that’s where City Opera was always able to fit in.

Sounds like you must have had to redo your contracts with the union musicians.

We’ve successfully renegotiated all our contracts at a substantial discount from what they were before. We have an excellent relationship with all the unions, and we’ve had their cooperation. And it’s because of their cooperation that we’ve been able to restart this company. And I’m grateful to them and it’s very much a partnership.

Everyone talks of attracting younger audiences to opera. I suppose you are you thinking about that, too?

It’s perhaps the most important thing we have to do. We have our educational programs, which are wonderful for younger people who are going to grow up to enjoy opera, and that’s important. But it’s trying to attract the 25- to 40-year-olds who are not opera lovers and get them engaged and at the same time serve the traditional audience.

One of the things we try to do is make the opera going experience different. Our venue at the Rose Theater in Columbus Circle really helps us do that. There’s no other theater in the world where you can go and have the dining options, the cocktail options, the shopping options, a five-star hotel in the building. And so we can make a different experience rather than the opera as just a destination. And frankly, on my board I have seven members under 50 years old. And under 50 is young in opera terms.

Let’s talk future. Where do you see the company five years from now?

I know we can do what we’re doing now. I know I can raise the money to support this programming. And I believe our audience will support this size of programming. Would I like to add performances and productions? Yes. Will I? I only will if I know that the money is in place to do it and the demand from the audience is there.

The opera world, and especially the New York entertainment world, is so different now. And we have to adjust to that world and find a place where the audience is there for us. Is that 75 performances a year? Is it 80, or 60? We’re going to find out and the public is going to tell us. The public and the ability to fundraise for it are what’s going to dictate where we are in five years. It’s not going to ever be, in my opinion, 120 performances a year. I don’t think the market will take it.

One final question. You know, your name looks Italian …

It is definitely Italian.

I’m wondering if you grew up with opera in the house as a kid.

Actually, no. I grew up in an Italian-speaking household, constantly blaring Italian music, but never opera. My grandfather always maintained that the greatest Italian singer was Enrico Caruso.

He was right!

But we were not listening to Caruso because they were the old scratchy 78s that we had in cartons in the garage. But I went to the library and got this book by Francis Robinson called Caruso: His Life in Pictures. I devoured this book and I asked to go to the opera. And my mother took me, and I went to see L’elisir d’amore at the Met, in that old production that was by Nathaniel Merrill where Dulcamara came in in a hot air balloon, and I was captivated.

And now, all these years later, you’re heading up the New York City Opera. So it’s a happy ending.

It’s a very happy ending. I’m the luckiest guy in the world because I get up in the morning and I do exactly what I want to do.

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NASA's Attempt To Inflate Its Expandable Space Module Fizzles

An artist's concept shows the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) as it would look when fully installed and inflated on the International Space Station.

An artist’s concept shows the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) as it would look when fully installed and inflated on the International Space Station. Bigelow Aerospace/NASA hide caption

toggle caption Bigelow Aerospace/NASA

NASA called off today’s effort to inflate an expandable module attached to the International Space Station after its first attempt fell flat.

The module is called BEAM, Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. It’s a prototype of what could be a new kind of living quarters in space. The advantage of an expandable module is that it can be folded so it takes up less room in a cargo rocket, and then expanded once it reaches space.

Folded up, BEAM looks like a partially crushed tin can, about 7 feet long. Inflated, it looks more like a 13-foot-long watermelon.

At first, everything seemed to go well, as the restraining straps around BEAM were successfully released. Then, ground controllers told space station astronaut Jeff Williams to open a valve for a few seconds at a time to transfer air from the station into BEAM.

The problem was, nothing happened. BEAM refused to budge. After a couple hours of injecting brief bursts of air into the module, NASA ground controller Jessica Meir gave Williams the bad news.

“Unfortunately, we’re going to have to stand down with the BEAM operations today,” Meir told Williams. “We’ve been assessing all the parameters here from the ground, and due to our set of no-go conditions and not seeing any noticeable movement, we’re going to have to reassess further from here.”

This NASA video shows how the inflation was supposed to work:

A NASA animation shows how the BEAM installation could work.

NASA Johnson YouTube

After they examine what the data tell them about today’s attempt, ground controllers could restart the inflation process as soon as tomorrow.

BEAM was made by Bigelow Aerospace based on a design that NASA architects and engineers came up with in the 1990s. The space agency was trying to figure out how to get astronauts to Mars, without the crew going crazy living in a tiny capsule for months on end.

The inflatable is not like a balloon. It’s made of multiple layers of Kevlar and other materials resistant to micrometeorites.

The plan is to leave BEAM attached to the space station for two years. Astronauts will enter a couple times a year to check on instruments, but there are no plans for them to have a sleepover. After that, it will be detached and allowed to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

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