Despite The Headlines, Steven Pinker Says The World Is Becoming Less Violent

Psychologist Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature explains that the world is actually growing less violent, even though the media may give a different impression.

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'The Phantom Of The Empire': You Guessed It, Musical And Star Wars Combined

Turning Tydes, a musical theater troupe in San Diego, does musical mash-ups that spoof Broadway shows. Ahead of Comic-Con, they’re performing a mash-up of Star Wars and The Phantom of the Opera.

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'Pokémongaritas' And More: Businesses Try To Cash In On 'Pokémania'

A Pokémon is found by a Pokémon Go player at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami. Businesses are looking for ways to profit from the 65 million Pokémon Go users in the United States alone.

Pokémon Go has taken over everything, everywhere. At least it feels like it has. People are scrambling to make the most of the mobile game’s extraordinary popularity.

A Pokémon is found by a Pokémon Go player at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami. Businesses are looking for ways to profit from the 65 million Pokémon Go users in the United States alone. Alan Diaz/AP hide caption

toggle caption Alan Diaz/AP

It’s only been out a week, but Pokémon Go is making more money than a Meowth using Pay Day.

According to Fortune, as of Thursday the augmented reality game already has over 65 million users in the United States alone. Quartz reports that those players are spending $1.6 million per day on in-app purchases.

Those figures haven’t escaped businesses — local and national alike — which were quick to catch on to the craze and its profitable potential.

This bar actually gave us 10% off our meal & drinks cause we were LvL 5 ?! #PokemonGO pic.twitter.com/VQcDawwUh8

— Mr. Syndicate (@ProSyndicate) July 15, 2016

Players at level five or higher get a discount from Rush Street in Los Angeles, but Kaleidescope Café in Pittsburgh will give you 10 percent off just for showing you have the app. At the Silverton Casino in Las Vegas, that’ll swing you a $2 draft beer (as long as you’re over 21, of course). But make sure you don’t miss out on the bar crawls, either.

While the game’s developer, Niantic Labs, is waiting to roll out sponsorships and promotions, businesses are putting to use the publicly available tools it already provides.

Scattered throughout the world are PokéStops, where players can retrieve items, and gyms, which players can battle to control. Those are placed at notable locations — crowd-sourced into a database by players of the company’s previous game, Ingress — like monuments, pieces of public art, landmarks and stores.

Go allows players to purchase and use lures, which last a half-hour and make Pokémon appear more frequently around a PokéStop. It’s also an easy way to lure customers, too.

Inc. did the math and found that, for just under $1.20 per hour, businesses near a Stop can keep a lure going constantly — inviting users to stop by, buy a drink or some food, get settled, and keep playing from the comfort of their store.

Doing just that, the New York Post reported, the L’inizio Pizza Bar in Long Island City supposedly increased its business by 75 percent. Not bad for a few bucks.

It’s a strategy encouraged by the recommendation app Yelp, which on Friday revealed a search filter for “PokéStop Nearby.” And the phone carrier T-Mobile announced that for one year it would give users free, unlimited data when playing Pokémon Go, in a bid to win customers concerned about draining their plans to use the app.

Speaking before the game’s launch, J.C. Smith of The Pokémon Co. hinted at the opportunities for commercializing the app, but that the company was cautious about alienating players.

“We want it to be a fun world while you’re in there and not be populated with Pokémon gear and products,” Smith said.

That world may soon be changing, though.

Niantic CEO John Hanke, in an interview with the Financial Times, said that sponsored locations are a looming possibility. Rather than rely on lures and nearby Stops, companies could pay to turn themselves into a Stop or gym — a feature that Ingress has as well. Gizmodo suggests the company may be pursuing this with McDonald’s restaurants.

Currently, for ordinary players who want to add locations — especially if their area has very few — or contest unwanted Stops, Niantic offers little beyond a Web form to fill out. So, would sponsorships would leapfrog paying businesses in front of the line?

Niantic did not return a request for comment.

With more U.S. users than Twitter, and planned launches in 200 additional countries, Niantic has the potential to create a new, global Pokéconomy of its own.

The challenge for the company now is to monetize the popularity of its app without alienating existing or potential users.

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Pakistani Social Media Star Strangled In Apparent 'Honor' Killing

Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch arrives for a press conference last month in Lahore, Pakistan.

Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch arrives for a press conference last month in Lahore, Pakistan. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption AFP/Getty Images

Qandeel Baloch, one of Pakistan’s most provocative personalities, who’s known for controversial social media posts, has been killed. Police believe she’s the victim of a so-called “honor” killing by her brother, as NPR’s Philip Reeves reported from Islamabad.

“This is a widespread practice in Pakistan in which women accused of violating highly restrictive social rules are murdered with impunity by their male relatives,” Philip reported.

Police say she was strangled by her brother in her family home, and her brother is now on the run. Here’s more from Philip:

“Qandeel Baloch was 26. She called herself a ‘one woman army’ in a battle against the repression of women in Pakistan. Her weapons included social media pictures and videos of herself that, in this religiously and socially conservative nation, were considered highly provocative. Though widely criticized for this, she also attracted a multitude of followers who applauded her campaign.”

I will fight for it. I will not give up. I will reach my goal. & absolutely nothing will stop me.#qandeelbaloch pic.twitter.com/UQOpeWdHQw

— Qandeel Baloch (@QandeelQuebee) July 14, 2016

In an interview published earlier this week by Pakistani lifestyle site Dawn Images, Baloch said her family had forced her to marry a much older, uneducated man when she was 17. “The kind of torture he has inflicted on me, you can’t even imagine,” she said, adding that he “tried to throw acid” on her.

“As women we must stand up for ourselves. As women we must stand up for each other,” Baloch, whose real name is Fauzia Azeem, said in a Facebook post two days ago. “I believe I am a modern day feminist.”

A recent BBC radio piece described Baloch as Pakistan’s “provocatrice extraordinaire.” It aired before she was killed.

Baloch’s controversial videos on social media are fairly predictable, as the BBC reported: “Most of the time she’s in bed, in a provocative outfit exposing as much skin as she can get away with, singing, dancing or just staring into the camera and pouting.” The news service continues:

“While her approach to fame is not original, the woman herself is an interesting example of how a typically conservative society like Pakistan both vilifies sex and is obsessed with it. … While a lot of feminists here are dismissive of her, some see her as daring.”

In a high-profile stunt, she promised to strip should Pakistan beat India in a recent cricket match –- but as the BBC points out, Pakistan lost so we don’t know what would have happened. Another recent scandal that took Pakistani media by storm involved a selfie with a well-known religious cleric.

“Qandeel says she now faces death threats, and has asked the Ministry of Interior for armed security,” as the BBC reported. Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported earlier this month that the Interior Ministry did not respond to her requests, and that she planned to move abroad for her security.

“Qandeel Baloch is dead because we hate women who don’t conform,” a commentary piece in Dawn Images read:

“She was a young woman who clearly didn’t abide by the unspoken rule that in Pakistan, your private self and your public self out to remain distinct from each other. She blurred that line. Through her photos and videos, she invited us into her bedroom, her bed. …

“She was both a product and a reflection of the precarious state of Pakistan today, where neither liberalism nor conservatism has definitively ousted the other, where women are increasingly visible in the public eye yet are also still murdered with casual nonchalance, where fame may buy you social mobility, but only if you play by the rules of the privileged class.”

Every year, more 500 people die in so-called honor killings in Pakistan, according to Reuters. Almost all of them are women.

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Trump And RNC Raise $32 Million While Clinton And DNC Bring In $81 Million

Donald Trump predicted his June fundraising would look good – especially compared to an anemic May, which he finished with just $1.3 million on hand. And June is looking better, bolstered by the first disclosure filings Friday night from two new joint fundraising committees.

Trump Victory reported raising $25.7 million between late May and June 30, but it transferred just $2.2 million to Trump’s campaign committee and about $10 million to the RNC.

While the report from Trump Victory shows a fundraising operation that is beginning to step up, it continues to be vastly outpaced by his Democratic rivals. The Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee, raised $81.6 million and transferred $20.7 million to Clinton’s campaign account.

More than 62 percent of Trump Victory funds came from a group of 64 individuals and organizations that gave at least $100,000 each. High-end donors included investor and early Trump endorser Carl Icahn and his wife, venture capitalist Stephen Feinberg and Texas investor Darwin Deason, who earlier had been a big contributor to a superPAC backing Ted Cruz.

The second JFC, Trump Make America Great Again, brought in $6.7 million. The committee didn’t take advantage of what a joint fundraising committee is designed to do: collect contributions far beyond the legal limit for the candidate’s own campaign committee. Four donors to TMAGA gave $5,400 each, the maximum that anyone could give directly to the Trump campaign. The other 5,849 contributions were all for smaller amounts.

TMAGA made no transfers to the Trump campaign or the RNC.

The Trump campaign committee, like Clinton’s campaign committee, files its June monthly report next Wednesday – in the middle of the Republican convention in Cleveland.

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United Methodist Church Elects First Openly Gay Bishop, In Defiance Of Church Rules

Attendees walk past a handful of placards during a break in the Methodists annual conference in Portland, Ore., in May 2016. The United Methodist Church, the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination, was holding its once-every-four-years meeting and is facing a bitter fight over whether it should lift the church ban on same-sex marriage.

Attendees walk past a handful of placards during a break in the Methodists annual conference in Portland, Ore., in May 2016. The United Methodist Church, the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, was holding its once-every-four-years meeting and is facing a bitter fight over whether it should lift the church ban on same-sex marriage. Don Ryan/AP hide caption

toggle caption Don Ryan/AP

Representatives of the United Methodist Church have elected their first openly gay bishop, in defiance of church prohibitions on homosexuality.

Rev. Karen Oliveto, senior pastor of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, was elected bishop of the church’s Western Division at a conference Friday night in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“I think at this moment I have a glimpse of the realm of God,” 58-year-old Oliveto said after her election, according to a news story from the church. “Today we took a step closer to embody beloved community and while we may be moving there, we are not there yet. We are moving on to perfection.”

The United Methodist Church, which has more than 7 million members in the United States, is divided over the issue of homosexuality. “This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity,” Bruce R. Ough, president of the Church’s Council of Bishops, said in a statement after the vote.

As Ough wrote, “we find ourselves in a place where we have never been.” He highlighted the divisions on the issue:

“There are those in the church who will view this election as a violation of church law and a significant step toward a split, while there are others who will celebrate the election as a milestone toward being a more inclusive church. …Our differences are real and cannot be glossed over, but they are also reconcilable.”

As the Associated Press reported earlier this year, “other mainline Protestant groups, including the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have approved same-sex marriage.” In a vote in May, the United Methodist Church’s top policy–making body “narrowly approved a full review of all church law on sexuality.” That is happening now and is expected to take at least two years.

Oliveto’s election, while the church’s practices are under review, garnered immediate criticism from some church members. “If the Western Jurisdiction wanted to push the church to the brink of schism, they could not have found a more certain way of doing so,” Rev. Rob Renfroe, head of the evangelical organization Good News, said in the church’s news story.

However, as the church noted, many were celebrating – such as Wesley Hingano, who called it “a beautiful day.” The church added that “his father, Rev. Sisofina Hingano, was also a candidate for bishop. When Hingano withdrew his name from the ballot, he said he was doing it so people like his son could walk through the doors to freedom in the church.”

Hingano said: “I want to see gay and lesbian people walk freely.”

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Donald Trump Introduces Mike Pence As His Running Mate

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (right) introduces Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a campaign event to announce Pence as his vice presidential running mate on Saturday.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (right) introduces Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a campaign event to announce Pence as his vice presidential running mate on Saturday. Evan Vucci/AP hide caption

toggle caption Evan Vucci/AP

Donald Trump has officially introduced Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate.

“I’ve found the leader who will help us deliver a safe society and a prosperous, really prosperous society for all Americans,” Trump said at a campaign event in New York Saturday. “Indiana Governor Mike Pence was my first choice.”

Trump spoke at length about his admiration for Pence’s record in Indiana. “He’s really got the skills of a highly talented executive,” he said.

And while Trump said he primarily based his decision by examining Pence’s work as Indiana governor, he added that party unity was also a factor, without elaborating. Other reasons for his pick: “[H]e looks very good, and he’s got an incredible family.”

“I accept your invitation to run and serve as vice president of the United States of America,” Pence told the crowd, adding that he “comes to this moment deeply humbled, and with a grateful heart.”

He offered remarks introducing himself: “People who know me well know that I’m a pretty basic guy. I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”

NPR’s Ron Elving has laid out the dramatic week leading up to this news conference:

“First, Trump’s choice of Pence began to leak on Thursday and got widely reported. Very widely reported. Trump tried to reel it back in by telling a Fox News host he had not made his “final final decision.” There have been reports that Trump was still having serious doubts about Pence on Thursday night, looking for a way out. …

“Just as the Pence drama was unfolding, an attacker with no apparent ties to any known terrorist group drove a truck into a huge crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in Nice, France. More than 80 people were killed, more than 200 injured. Trump saw the horror on TV and impulsively tweeted a postponement of his planned announcement.

“On Friday, however, the magnitude of the dilemma became apparent. Pence had to withdraw officially as the Republican candidate for governor by noon, as Indiana state law forbids running for two offices at once. So Trump, again via Twitter, announced Pence as his pick at 11 a.m.”

I am pleased to announce that I have chosen Governor Mike Pence as my Vice Presidential running mate. News conference tomorrow at 11:00 A.M.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 15, 2016

Trump also used the campaign event to fire off criticism of his rival Hillary Clinton and address a number of other issues, including the manufacturing industry, evangelicals, and foreign policy.

He also spoke about the deadly attack Thursday in France where a driver mowed into a crowded promenade, killing at least 84 people. “I want to express our unyielding support for the people of France and we mourn their loss as a nation,” he said. He reiterated that he would get tough with radical Islamic terrorism.

“You saw it the other day with the truck, screaming out the window. You heard what he was screaming out the window,” Trump said. However, French officials have not indicated thus far that the suspect was shouting as he carried out the attack.

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'Bias Remains:' A Week Of Strong Words On Race

President Barack Obama hugs Dallas Police Chief David Brown during a memorial service for the police officers killed in Dallas last week.

President Barack Obama hugs Dallas Police Chief David Brown during a memorial service for the police officers killed in Dallas last week. Eric Gay/AP hide caption

toggle caption Eric Gay/AP

While race is a topic many politicians try to avoid, recent news has made that all but impossible. We’ve come to expect heartfelt memorial speeches after tragedies, but this week, something unusual happened: folks on both sides of the political aisle addressed the incidents in explicitly racial terms. Yes, they talked about prayer and unity and peace. But they also talked, in no uncertain terms, about racial injustice in America.

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And share your comments with us on Twitter at @NPRCodeSwitch or via email at codeswitch@npr.org

Three people in particular took the opportunity to dig into these issues: President Barack Obama, Republican Senator Tim Scott, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

President Obama spoke on Tuesday at a memorial service for Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens, the police officers who were killed at last Thursday’s protest in Dallas. He honored the sacrifice and courage of each officer, and insisted that despite violence and despair, “we are not as divided as we seem.” But Obama also reflected on the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police, and called out how racism still afflicts the country:

“America, we know that bias remains. We know it, whether you are black, or white, or Hispanic, or Asian, or native American, or of Middle Eastern descent, we have all seen this bigotry in our own lives at some point. We’ve heard it at times in our own homes. If we’re honest, perhaps we’ve heard prejudice in our own heads and felt it in our own hearts. We know that. And while some suffer far more under racism’s burden, some feel to a far greater extent discrimination’s stain. Although most of us do our best to guard against it and teach our children better, none of us is entirely innocent. No institution is entirely immune, and that includes our police departments. We know this.

And so when African-Americans from all walks of life, from different communities across the country, voice a growing despair over what they perceive to be unequal treatment, when study after study shows that whites and people of color experience the criminal justice system differently. So that if you’re black, you’re more likely to be pulled over or searched or arrested; more likely to get longer sentences; more likely to get the death penalty for the same crime. When mothers and fathers raise their kids right, and have the talk about how to respond if stopped by a police officer — yes, sir; no, sir — but still fear that something terrible may happen when their child walks out the door; still fear that kids being stupid and not quite doing things right might end in tragedy. When all this takes place, more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid.

We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism. To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends and coworkers and fellow church members, again and again and again, it hurts. Surely we can see that, all of us.”

Some folks were impressed that Obama took on the issue the way he did. Jason Johnson, the politics editor for The Root, told NPR’s Renee Montagne that the president’s words were courageous. “This was the memorial service for the five officers that were killed in Dallas. He didn’t have to mention Alton Sterling. He didn’t have to mention Philando Castile,” Johnson said. While he doubted Obama’s ability to diffuse the most extreme factions in the debate, he gave Obama credit for speaking of Castile and Sterling at the same time that he honored the officers who were killed. “The president’s decision to connect those two events was incredibly courageous on his behalf, to say, look, these events are connected, and the lives of all of these people lost in this overall civil rights conflict are worth mentioning in this environment.”

Jamil Smith of MTV News took issue with what he saw as Obama’s attempt to please everyone was alienating a lot of people. “On the night before his Dallas eulogy, Obama reportedly told a group of police association officials with whom he was meeting that the attack on the officers was a ‘hate crime’ and would’ve been prosecuted as such had the shooter survived,” Smith wrote.

Smith acknowledges that Obama didn’t reference the term “hate crime,” directly in the Tuesday speech, but he still bristles at the idea.

“Hate crime laws first emerged as a response to the Ku Klux Klan’s terrorism after Reconstruction. They are meant to protect folks who have been victimized by systemic discrimination and violence because of their identity, not their job. We hear about generations of cops in a family, but no one is born into that role…In trying to make the law enforcement community feel better, Obama may have made things worse. But even in the midst of their grief, the police need to hear some hard truths.”

Tim Scott is the sole African-American Republican member of the Senate, and someone who’s been criticized in the past for defending the term “All Lives Matter.”

In response to last week’s violence, Scott prepared a three speech series that he delivered on the Senate floor. It was the second speech on Wednesday in the series that earned the most attention for highlighting the “trust gap” between black communities and law enforcement. While Scott was adamant that Americans should be “thankful and supportive of all those officers do good,” he also shared stories of the racial profiling that he, his friends and colleagues have faced at the hands of law enforcement — mentioning that he’s been pulled over by police seven times in the course of a year while working as a public official.

Scott said he knows very few African-American men who haven’t experienced this type of racial discrimination, “No matter their profession, no matter their income, no matter their disposition in life.” He continued:

“While I thank God I have not endured bodily harm, I have however felt the pressure applied by the scales of justice when they are slanted. I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness, and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself. As that former staffer I mentioned earlier told me yesterday, there is absolutely nothing more frustrating, more damaging to your soul, than when you know you’re following the rules and being treated like you are not…

This is a situation that happens all across the country whether we want to recognize it or not. It may not happen a thousand times a day but it happens too many times a day. And to see it as I have had the chance to see it helps me understand why this issue has wounds that have not healed in a generation…

Just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish of another, does not mean it does not exist. To ignore their struggles, our struggles, does not make them disappear. It simply leaves you blind and the American family very vulnerable. Some search so hard to explain away injustice that they are slowly wiping away who we are as a nation.”

Jack Hunter, an editor at Rare, reminded readers that Scott has been talking about this for years. “Tim Scott spoke out against racial profiling. In 2002,” Hunter wrote. “He was 36 then. He’s now 50 and a United States Senator. And it’s still happening.”

Hunter added, “The importance of Scott’s speech is not that he’s saying anything others haven’t. It’s that he’s a black Republican admired by many conservatives who’s saying it. He’s saying it to people who don’t necessarily want to hear it.”

Steve Benen, writing for MSNBC, echoed that sentiment. He called Scott’s remarks “striking,” particularly because of who he is. “I think it’s fair to say the relevance, impact, and reaction to remarks like these would be far different coming from a progressive African-American Democrat. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine what we’d hear, because so many of us have already internalized the dialog. Scott’s remarks, if they were acknowledged at all, would be dismissed as ‘divisive’ paranoia that contributes to a ‘war on police,” Benen wrote.

And some Republican leaders were clearly listening. House Speaker Paul Ryan referenced Scott’s speech in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep. Ryan said that he trusts the word of people of color who say they feel unsafe in encounters with police. “I do believe this is a problem because people are telling me it’s a problem and I believe them,” Ryan said. And in a tweet, Marco Rubio called Scott’s speech “moving and powerful.”

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks about race on Thursday.

C-Span YouTube

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, delivered a wide-ranging address at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., where Abraham Lincoln gave his “House Divided” speech in 1858. In addition to covering economic inequality, gun control and other issues, she also spoke at length about race. Clinton invoked Lincoln’s memory throughout her remarks, contrasting Lincoln’s drive to unify a country on the brink of war, with America’s current political divisiveness. She also called for all Americans to listen to their fellow citizens, even when their stories are hard to hear.

“We need to listen to the families whose loved ones have been killed in police incidents. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are just the latest in a long and painful litany of African-Americans dying after encounters with police officers. We remember Laquan McDonald, killed in Chicago a year and a half ago and Sandra Bland, who grew up in Illinois who died one year ago today. Time after time, no one is held accountable. And surely we can all agree that’s deeply wrong and needs to change.

And yes we do need to listen to those who say ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Too many black Americans, especially young men, feel like their lives are disposable. And they worry every single day about what might happen. They have reason to feel that way. And it’s absolutely unacceptable. Everyone in America, everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Surely that is something we can all unite behind.

We need to acknowledge the five Latinos who also lost their lives in police incidents last week. Their stories didn’t get national media coverage, but their families and communities are mourning too.”

Monique Garcia of the Chicago Tribune, wrote that “During previous speeches, Clinton tried to associate Republicans with the controversial Trump. But in Springfield, she attempted to navigate a finer point in making an appeal for unity regardless of political support.” Garcia also wrote that Clinton “called for tough but necessary conversations to heal deep divisions across the nation following last week’s fatal shootings.”

But in an opinion piece for The New York Times, John McWhorter, criticized Clinton’s emphasis on conversation to address racism. “Narrow policy proposals may not have the emotional reach of a conversation, and in and of themselves they will not stop the next Philando Castile either,” McWhorter wrote. “But they would do more for black America than any amount of formulaic dialogues, or exploring the subtle contours of whites’ inner feelings about black people.”

Stacey Patton, writing for The Washington Post, was critical of Clinton’s message more than her approach. “Clinton’s call for everyone to ‘do the work’ to unite against hatred overlooks the fundamental fact that it’s whites — and only whites — who must work to fix the racist structures in our society,” Patton wrote. “While Clinton may not have intended it this way, what the message of unity winds up doing is blaming communities of color for failing to assimilate, rather than acknowledging that the very fabric of this nation is built upon a diabolical, calculated and constantly evolving system of racism.”

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A Chemist Accidentally Creates A New Blue. Then What?

Professor Mas Subramanian looks at the blue pigment that was discovered at his lab in Oregon State University.

Professor Mas Subramanian looks at the blue pigment that was discovered at his lab in Oregon State University. Karl Maasdam/Oregon State University hide caption

toggle caption Karl Maasdam/Oregon State University

Mas Subramanian wasn’t expecting blue.

In 2009, as part of his lab at Oregon State University, Subramanian — a professor of materials science — was working with students to manufacture new materials that could be used in electronics. They would mix and grind chemicals, then heat them to over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.

One grad student, Andrew E. Smith, took a particular mix out of the furnace to find it had turned a surprising, bright blue color.

“You know what Louis Pasteur said?” Subramanian asks. “Luck favors the alert mind.”

Pasteur, the French chemist and microbiologist, famously created a vaccine to chicken cholera by accident. Smith and Subramanian, as it turns out, stumbled upon an undiscovered pigment of blue — the first new blue in over 200 years.

Subramanian knew immediately it was a big deal.

“People have been looking for a good, durable blue color for a couple of centuries,” he says.

What’s in a pigment?

Before getting into why this blue was so special, let’s talk for a moment about light and metal.

“Color is a part of a spectrum, so you can’t discover a color,” Subramanian says. “You can only discover a material that is a particular color.”

That spectrum is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet — no indigo. A pigment is a material that absorbs certain parts of the color spectrum and reflects others.

In this case the material — “YInMn blue,” named after its chemical makeup of yttrium, indium and manganese oxides — absorbed red and green wavelengths and reflected blue wavelengths in such a way that it came off looking a very bright blue.

Now, this particular blue is considered a “complex inorganic pigment.”

According to Geoffrey Peake, R&D manager at The Shepherd Color Co., that means it’s not a naturally occurring pigment (such as lapis lazuli, which comes from the stone). Rather, it derives from a mix of various metal oxides — a metal element combined with oxygen.

“In our systems, blue is one of the most highly requested color families,” says Brooks Tippett, vice president of operations at the Pantone color company.

Blue — lonely, holy, hip, irreverent blue. It was the first man-made pigment, and the last color word developed across cultures.

The reason for both the above is that blue pigments are difficult and expensive to extract from nature. Lapis lazuli, for one, is mined mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So synthetic pigments are easier to manufacture in bulk, and much more durable.

The last new complex inorganic blue pigment to be commercially manufactured was cobalt blue — a mix of cobalt and aluminum oxides — in the early 19th century. Cobalt, however, can be toxic if ingested in large quantities, and it doesn’t reflect heat particularly well. It fades over time.

Those aren’t terrible downsides, as colors go. But if a better one happens to fall into their laps?

Blue pigment discovered at Mas Subramanian's lab at Oregon State University.

Blue pigment discovered at Mas Subramanian’s lab at Oregon State University. Oregon State University hide caption

toggle caption Oregon State University

Blue is the coolest color

Subramanian and Smith, along with OSU chemistry professor Arthur Sleight, filed to patent the YInMn material before publishing a paper on their discovery with other collaborators in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Soon after, Peake says, Shepherd Color contacted OSU about testing out the pigment.

“I know from my experience — there will be a potential for commercialization,” Subramanian says.

Shepherd, unlike a company like Pantone, isn’t concerned with fashion, art, or other personal uses. It deals with paints and plastics that are made to be durable, used for outdoor applications like roofing and siding.

“It’s not like Joe Artist can call us up,” Peake says.

(That’s why the blue isn’t called anything more exciting than YInMn yet. When you’re an industrial manufacturer, Peake says, “it doesn’t seem necessary to have a catchier name.”)

Shepherd looks for four main things in a new pigment, Peake says: Is it a stronger color than what’s already available? Can it withstand elements like weather and heat? Are there cost advantages? And will they encounter any regulatory or environmental issues?

The sample order area at The Shepherd Color Co. in Cincinnati, where customers can request samples for their various products.

The sample order area at The Shepherd Color Co. in Cincinnati, where customers can request samples for their various products. Shepherd Color Co. hide caption

toggle caption Shepherd Color Co.

“Immediately they said this was really an exceptional blue, because it reflects heat more than cobalt blue, it’s really stable and it’s a really great color like lapis lazuli,” Subramanian says.

Shepherd’s tests — turning it into paints and plastics, using it on ceramics and metals — also showed YInMn can endure oil, water and sunlight better than other available blues.

Once the Environmental Protection Agency approves YInMn for commercial manufacturing, Shepherd can begin selling it to other companies. For every kilogram of the pigment the company sells, Peake says, Shepherd pays a royalty to OSU.

Think of this like a record deal. Subramanian’s team and OSU wrote and own the tune, but Shepherd will market and distribute it — they’ll try to make it a hit. And a new hit in the color industry is a rare thing.

“I’ve been doing this job for 27 years, and maybe worldwide there have been five or six new inorganic pigments that have been commercialized over that time period,” Peake says.

A broader palette

Not that people aren’t always searching for more color.

Peake says Shepherd has a research and development lab that works methodically to invent new pigment chemistries. In 2012, it introduced NTP Yellow, which the company patented and now sells.

Subramanian’s current project includes a search for a better red pigment, which would be in high demand if found. Red tends to come from heavy metals or other toxic substances, like mercury and lead.

And Pantone — famous for its Color of the Year contest — regularly releases new shades into its standardized color systems. But according to Tippett, the Pantone vice president, those are primarily aimed at designers and the fashion and interiors industries, and based off a common, small group of pigments.

“Though we do have thousands of colors already, it never fails to surprise us that the No. 1 request from customers is they want more color,” Tippett says.

The team of researchers at Oregon State University who created YInMn blue are now working to alter its chemical formula to create other bright, commercially viable pigments.

The team of researchers at Oregon State University who created YInMn blue are now working to alter its chemical formula to create other bright, commercially viable pigments. Courtesy of Jun Li/Oregon State University hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Jun Li/Oregon State University

Even though Pantone has yet to license YInMn itself, Tippett says the company is excited about all the possibilities a new pigment will hold. After all, it’s not just the one blue that it provides, but a whole spectrum of colors it could be mixed to create.

Actually, Subramanian has already started doing that. Adding titanium and zinc to the YInMn mix makes a purple material; oranges and yellows and greens will soon follow.

Narayan Khandekar, caretaker of the Forbes Pigment Collection at the Harvard Art Museum, obtained samples of YInMn blue for display and plans to include Subramanian’s other creations soon.

Khandekar says he looks forward to when these new color possibilities find their ways into the hands of artists. That’s when he thinks people will really see the significance of YInMn.

“I think generally people take color for granted,” Khandekar says. “They walk around without thinking that every color they see — every car, every piece of plastic — has a piece of dye in it that somebody found and figured out how to make. When you put pigments in art, people stop and pay attention to it.”

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