Portugal. The Man On World Cafe

Portugal. The Man performing live at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.

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Tiana Timmerberg/WXPN

Hip-hop-flavored indie-rock band Portugal. The Man joins us in this session. And for a danceable band of low-key, really nice dudes from Alaska, Portugal. The Man has stirred up some controversy. It all has to do with the super-catchy, danceable radio hit “Feel It Still”.

  • “Feel It Still”
  • “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes (from Please Mr. Postman)

First, there’s the music video. It takes place in a nightclub-looking junkyard, people are wearing overalls, people are dancing, and — oh yeah — one guy is burning a printed copy of InfoWars, the website run by Alex Jones, a far-right radio host whom the New York Times has called a “high-profile conspiracy theorist.” In this session, we’ll talk about Jones’ scathing reaction to the band.

Then there’s the song itself, which bears a certain resemblance to the old Marvelettes song “Please Mr. Postman.” And while Portugal. The Man certainly didn’t try to pull one over on anybody, and even warned its team about the similarities between the two songs, the band explains why it had to get lawyers involved.

The band also shares some early details about its upcoming album Woodstock, which comes out in a month and was inspired by an old ticket stub from — you guessed it — Woodstock in 1969, belonging to lead singer John Gourley’s dad. All that, a live performance from World Cafe Live in Philadelphia and more in this session. Listen in the player above.

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Microscopic Cars Square Off In Big Race

The Nanocar Race, which happened over the weekend at Le centre national de la recherché scientific in Toulouse, France, was billed as the “first-ever race of molecule-cars.”

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This car race involved years of training, feats of engineering, high-profile sponsorships, competitors from around the world and a racetrack made of gold.

But the high-octane competition, described as a cross between physics and motor-sports, is invisible to the naked eye. In fact, the track itself is only a fraction of the width of a human hair, and the cars themselves are each comprised of a single molecule.

The Nanocar Race, which happened over the weekend at Le centre national de la recherché scientific in Toulouse, France, was billed as the “first-ever race of molecule-cars.”

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It’s meant to generate excitement about molecular machines. Research on the tiny structures won last year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and they have been lauded as the “first steps into a new world,” as The Two-Way reported.

Racers had 36 hours to complete the tiny course. The Austrian-U.S. team, driving the Dipolar Racer, finished hours before any of its competitors.

However, the two-wheeled car raced on its home track in Austria, on a silver track rather than a gold one. The team controlled it remotely. Rice University, where some of the scientists hail from, say silver was a handicap because it’s a slower surface. Race scientific director Christian Joachim tells The Two-Way that “they were unable to compete on gold because on gold the molecule was not stable enough.”

The next finisher, the Swiss Nano Dragster, was declared a co-winner – because it was the first team to finish on gold.

Unsurprisingly, a molecular car is not easy to drive, and pushing them was against the rules. Two teams – France’s Green Buggy and Japan’s NIMS-MANA Car – had trouble moving at all. Joachim says these were both larger molecules. The two others went around only a portion of the track before time expired.

Have a look at all the molecular cars competing:

Top row from left: Swiss Team, NanoPrix Team, Nano-windmill Company Bottom row: NanoMobile club, Nano-Vehicle NIMS-MANA, Ohio Bobcat Nano-wagon Team

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Teams were positioned several floors above their vehicles and the equipment, controlling it on computer screens.

They moved their cars by jolting them with pulses using a scanning tunneling microscope that has separate tips. “First you make an image to look where is your molecule,” says Joachim. “And after that you bring your tip on one point you map on the molecule and you pulse. Or, you increase the voltage.” This could sent the little car forward by 0.3 nanometers – so it would take hundreds of pulses to send it around the full course.

The molecular cars respond in several different ways to the incoming electrons, writes Nature:

“Some teams have designed their molecules so that the incoming electrons raise their energy states, causing vibrations or changes to molecular structures that jolt the racers along. Others expect electrostatic repulsion from the electrons to be the main driving force.”

Here’s a video of the Dipolar Racer completing the course:

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“This is the beginning of our ability to demonstrate nanoscale manipulation with control around obstacles and speed and will pave the way for much faster paces and eventually for carrying cargo and doing bottom-up assembly,” said Rice University chemist and Dipolar Racer team leader James Tour. “It’s a great day for nanotechnology.”

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Jim DeMint Ousted From Heritage Foundation In Major Shake-Up

Heritage Foundation president, former GOP Sen. Jim DeMint, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md., on Feb. 23.

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Jim DeMint has been ousted as president of the Heritage Foundation, amid growing concerns over the direction of the influential conservative think tank.

While several news organizations had reported in recent days that his departure was imminent, Heritage’s board of trustees did not mince words in a statement Tuesday confirming that the former South Carolina senator’s exit came after a unanimous vote for his removal.

“After a comprehensive and independent review of the entire Heritage organization, the Board determined there were significant and worsening management issues that led to a breakdown of internal communications and cooperation. While the organization has seen many successes, Jim DeMint and a handful of his closest advisers failed to resolve these problems,” board chairman Thomas A. Saunders III said in the statement.

With DeMint’s departure, his predecessor and the organization’s founder Ed Feulner will step in as president and CEO in the interim as they search for DeMint’s successor.

“There is no one better to guide the ship while we seek our new leader and continue to push for conservative ideas and policies in Washington and around the nation,” Saunders said.

Politico first reported last week that DeMint was set to be removed just over four years after he shockingly announced he was stepping down from the Senate to take the reins at Heritage. In December 2012, NPR’s Peter Overby wrote that “as the barriers crumble between policy research and partisan advocacy, the building blocks are there for DeMint and the conservative Heritage Foundation to build a powerful operation with political clout.”

Instead, many within the organization felt that DeMint had “made the think tank too bombastic and political — to the detriment of its research and scholarly aims,” Politico wrote, along with the “sense that he’s made the institution too much about himself.”

The Atlantic reported that the driving force behind DeMint’s ouster was Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham, who oversees the group’s 501(c)(4) political advocacy arm.

At the heart of some of the disagreements over DeMint was President Trump, though The Atlantic reported that Needham was trying to play to both the organization’s backers who had supported the president and those who were wary of the former reality start’s conservative orthodoxy:

To the Trump-averse elements on the board, Needham has pointed to DeMint’s growing coziness with the new administration as evidence that the think tank, a beacon of movement conservatism, needs a new steward. At the same time, Needham has been telling pro-Trump board members like Rebekah Mercer that Heritage needs a leader who will follow the president’s lead—even going so far as to float White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, a key Mercer ally, as a potential future president, according to one source.

On Tuesday Politico also noted that the seeds of DeMint’s ouster were also emblematic of the deep divides within conservative circles that permeated the bitter presidential primary:

Disputes over the organization’s mission stretch back a year. In many ways, they reflect the larger intellectual and organizational disarray among conservatives exposed by the rise of Trump, and exacerbated by his victory. Many of the institutions that have sustained the conservative movement are grappling with their role at a time when conservatism is on the wane — and with how to work constructively with a populist in the White House.

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WATCH: Surfer Rescued After 32 Hours Adrift And Alone Off Scotland's Coast

After Matthew Bryce is spotted, footage rolls as a rescue worker is lowered from a helicopter to pull the surfer to safety.

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When Matthew Bryce paddled out into the cold surf off the west coast of Scotland, he was clad in a thick, neoprene wetsuit — gear that would stand him in good stead for a solid surf session Sunday. But at less than an inch thick, that material may not have seemed the most important bit of equipment the 22-year-old surfer brought with him.

As it turns out, that wetsuit helped save his life.

Bryce’s Sunday-morning surf spiraled into a life-threatening ordeal that lasted a day and a half in cold, choppy surf. By midday Monday, local coast guard teams had learned of his disappearance, and it was only after an hours-long search — involving a helicopter and roughly a half-dozen local coast guard teams — that Bryce was finally spotted and plucked from the sea.

“Hope was fading of finding the surfer safe and well after such a long period in the water and with nightfall approaching we were gravely concerned,” Dawn Petrie of the Belfast Coastguard Operations Centre said in a statement, “but at 7.30pm [Monday], the crew on the Coastguard rescue helicopter were delighted when they located the man still with his surf board and 13 miles off the coast.”

Rescue workers say they found Bryce when the surfer, who had miraculously remained conscious, slipped into the water and began waving the tip of his white board in the air. It was that movement and contrast of colors that caught the helicopter crew’s eyes — but at first they feared it was simply debris.

“We went around, dropped down the height a bit, came in and then that moment, when you go, ‘Oh! it is actually a surfboard and there is actually someone on it waving,’ ” Capt. Andy Pilliner, who had been piloting the helicopter, told NBC News. “It’s just a great feeling, it’s just what you’re hoping for, but daren’t.”

The team recorded the moment of the rescue as it happened. You can watch that footage from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency at the top of this page.

Even better news awaited when they found that after about 32 hours alone in the Irish Sea, Bryce was suffering from hypothermia but appeared no worse. Now hospitalized in stable condition, he celebrated his rescuers in a brief statement.

“I am so grateful that I am now receiving treatment in hospital. I can’t thank those enough who rescued and cared for me — they are all heroes,” Bryce said. “For now, I am not facilitating any interviews as I am exhausted. Please respect the privacy of myself and my family at this time as I recover.”

“The past 48 hours have been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions for our family and we are so grateful that Matthew has been found safe and well,” his father, John, told The Guardian. Bryce’s family had been the first to report him missing.

John Bryce added:

“To get that call from the police last night to say that he was alive was unbelievable. It was better than a lottery win — you just can’t describe it. Matthew means the world to us; he is such a strong character both mentally and physically, and we are looking forward to being reunited with him.”

What’s one other thing Bryce owes a debt of thanks? Why, that wetsuit, Petrie says. “He was kitted out with all the right clothing including a thick neoprene suit and this must have helped him to survive for so long at sea.”

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A Rapid Shakeup For Retailers As Consumer Habits Change

J.C. Penney is among several chains that have announced plans to close stores this year.

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Mark Lennihan/AP

With unemployment low and economic growth expected to bounce back from a slow first quarter, consumers are not in bad shape. But it has been an especially terrible year so far for retailers.

Nine U.S. chains have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Store closures are accelerating, and 89,000 retail workers have lost their jobs since October.

Experts say the industry’s troubles are just beginning.

“The disruption is just unfolding,” says Mark Cohen, a former CEO of Sears Canada who now directs retail studies at Columbia Business School. “I think the number of store closings will continue at an accelerated pace right through this year into next year.”

It’s not that consumers are being more cautious; spending is up. But most of that growth is going online. Traditional brick-and-mortar stores are grappling with intense transformation of their business to be more Web-based, and trying to reconcile their old business model with a different one where profit margins are thinner.

Cohen says retailers typically reassess their businesses after the holiday shopping numbers come in and adjust by closing or reallocating resources. For some big national chains, this year that process is turning out to be a bloodbath.

The Limited, BCBG Max Azria and Radio Shack filed for bankruptcy. So far, 3,100 store locations have closed in 2017 — more than all of last year combined. J.C. Penney said it would close another 138 stores this year, Sears and its Kmart brand intend to close 150 stores, and Macy’s will shut down 100 stores.

There are 1,200 malls in the U.S. — the most ever, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Experts agree there is simply too much real estate devoted to retail. Cohen says all but the best performing malls — which make up roughly a third of those enclosed malls — will have to close or find a new identity. In fact, many are being redeveloped to include office space, apartments, gyms or smaller retail space.

“It’s not clear what we’re going to look like on the other side when this is all over, if it in fact is ever all over,” Cohen says.

Retail is transforming to an “experience economy” featuring stores where customers try things and then order them online, Christopher Leinberger, chair of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University, tells NPR’s Robert Siegel.

“It’s certainly not the end of retail. Retail always transforms,” Leinberger says. “This is a much bigger transformation than we’ve had in 50, 60 years. The previous big transformation … was from walkable urban in the early 20th century — the Main Streets — to regional malls. Well, we’re going back now to the 21st century version of Main Street… .”

Matthew Shay, CEO of the National Retail Federation, says historically, changes in retail happened slowly. Not so today. “The velocity of change is unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” he says. “Before, things happened over a generation; now they’re happening overnight.”

Shay says retail’s workforce needs are shifting, which is why the trade group launched a program offering certification to laid-off workers in January, hoping to retrain them with higher-level skills that are in demand. “They’ll be in operations, they’ll be in warehousing, they’ll be in store management, they’ll be in digital,” he says.

(The Bureau of Labor Statistics says 89,000 general merchandising workers have been laid off since October, a number that excludes gas, grocery and online sales.)

Marshal Cohen (no relation to Mark Cohen), chief retail analyst for The NPD Group, says brick-and-mortar stores aren’t just competing with rivals; their sales are being cannibalized by their own online operations, where profit margins are thinner.

Some retailers like Bonobos and Warby Parker that started online are opening stores as showrooms, places where consumers can test their products, then order them online. Marshal Cohen says those types of showrooms require a lot less space than a conventional store.

Another big change, he says, is that social media has usurped the mall as the gathering place of choice. Malls are trying to counteract that by building more restaurants and movie theaters, to create places where people want to come to interact.

“We are entering an interesting phase of consumption,” Marshal Cohen says. “We’re not interested in buying products; what we are doing is building memories.”

Some analysts believe some of those who lose their jobs at retail will be absorbed by a growing service sector, like restaurants. But one of the unions that represents some workers says that is not happening.

“That has not been our experience. That’s not what we’ve seen,” says Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The retail jobs of the future might be in a distribution center, but he says those jobs are typically far away from metropolitan areas where more stores are located, and require different types of skills than, say, a cashier.

“There is a lot of stress in being a retail worker today,” Appelbaum says. “You worry about e-commerce, you worry about automation, you worry about what’s happening with all the retail jobs that are being lost as stores close.”

Politicians speak about how to manage job dislocation in coal mining and manufacturing. Now, Appelbaum says, it’s time to do the same for retail.

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The Joy Of Science

This composite image made from pictures taken on Nov. 13, 2015, shows an infrared view of Saturn’s moon Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft

By NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

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By NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

In today’s political climate, it’s hard sometimes to remember that science, at its root, is about the fun of discovery. It’s a kind of kids-play.

What animates the joy and the excitement and the inspiration so many folks feel in their encounters with science is a very pure sense of: “Wow, that is sooooooo cool.”

I found this myself the other day when I stumbled across a scientific study of “dirt” on another world.

Back in 2004, the Cassini space probe eased its way into orbit around Saturn. Its mission was to study the beautiful ringed planet and its 53 moons. Of particular interest was Titan, the largest of Saturn’s satellites. Titan is actually the 2nd largest moon in the whole solar system — and is larger than the planet Mercury. It’s also the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere (mostly nitrogen with some methane). About six months after Cassini arrived, it released a small lander called Huygens that dropped down to Titan’s surface leaving a legacy of amazing data in the form of images, spectra and other measurements.

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As Cassini prepares for its final orbits of Saturn, it’s remarkable to see how that data legacy continues to be mined. Even a decade after Huygens made its descent into Titan’s frigid warrens (surface temperatures on the hazy moon are -179 C), we are still learning new stuff.

This reality hit me hard reading a paper published in February — by a group led by Stefan Schroder of the Max Planck Institute in Germany — focused on Huygens’s probe’s landing. The title of the paper lays out the basic idea: Bouncing on Titan: Motion of the Huygens Probe in the Seconds After Landing.

Using a bunch of instruments on Huygens — like the “accelerometer” to tell how the probe’s motion was changing, and its descent imager/spectral radiometer (DISR) to tell its orientation — the researchers mapped out exactly what happened as the parachuting probe hit the ground. Here’s the scientists’ story:

“The most likely scenario is the following. Upon impact, Huygens created a 12 cm deep hole in the surface of Titan. It bounced back, out of the hole onto the flat surface, after which it commenced a 30-40 cm long slide in the southward direction. The slide ended with the probe out of balance, tilted in the direction of DISR by around 10 degrees. The probe then wobbled back and forth five times in the north-south direction, during which it probably encountered a 1-2 cm sized pebble.”

So that’s it. Using data that had never been analyzed in this way before, the team could “see” the descending Huygens drive a fist’s distance into the ground, bounce back up and slide almost half a yard before coming to a tilted, wobbling stop.

Now I know what you may be thinking: “OK. Fine. That is quite an amazing little piece of scientific detective work Schroder and his collaborators pulled off. But really, so what? Why spend all that time working out the explicit, few-second story of a space probe hitting the ground and coming to rest?”

Well, the answer to that question comes when you ask yourself this seemly simple and innocuous question: What do we mean by ground?

See, Titan is an amazing place. It’s the only other world besides ours in the solar system with liquid sloshing around on its surface. There are lakes on Titan and we’ve even seen it rain there. That’s cool enough on its own — but here’s the real kicker: Given the cold on Titan, the lakes and the rain aren’t made of water but of liquid methane (and/or ethane!)

So in a world of super-cold hydrocarbon lakes and rain, what exactly is “the ground” like? It’s not going to be like we have on Earth. Titan itself is a kind of icy-rock-mudball with ice volcanoes and who knows what else. So answering the question “What is the ground like?” was the point of the Schroder study. They weren’t unpacking all those details of the Huygens landing just for fun, but to use those details to extract the properties of the surface Huygens landed in and skidded across. Telling that bounce plus skid story was just the appetizer. Using the story to learn something new about Titan’s “dirt” was the main course.

So what did they find? Here is the all-important summary: “… the dynamics appear to be consistent with a surface consistency of damp sand.”

So there you have it. Take a minute to let it sink in and give your imagination a moment to work its own path on this.

  • Damp sand.
  • Damp with liquid methane.
  • On a frigid but not frozen moon orbiting a giant ringed planet.
  • 50 billion miles from Earth.

See, we do live in a universe of wonders. And science is the window that lets us thrill before the view.


Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, a book author and a self-described “evangelist of science.” You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter:@adamfrank4

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Former S.C. Police Officer Pleads Guilty In Shooting Of Walter Scott

Former North Charleston, S.C., police Officer Michael Slager, seen leaving the Charleston County Courthouse after his murder trial ended in a mistrial in December 2016, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a federal civil rights violation.

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A former police officer in North Charleston, S.C., accused in the shooting death of an unarmed black man in 2015 has pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge, according to his lawyer.

Michael Slager, who shot Walter Scott in the back following a traffic stop, pleaded guilty Tuesday to violating Scott’s civil rights by using excessive force during an attempted arrest. A bystander captured cellphone video of the killing, spurring widespread outrage.

“We hope that Michael’s acceptance of responsibility will help the Scott family as they continue to grieve their loss,” said Andrew Savage, Slager’s defense attorney.

As part of the plea deal, the state of South Carolina will drop a murder charge against Slager, according to Alexandra Olgin of South Carolina Public Radio.

State prosecutors had been set to re-try Slager, 35, in August after his murder trial ended in a hung jury in December. “It’s not over,” Scott’s mother, Judy, said outside the courthouse at the time. “Y’all hear me? It’s not over till God says it’s over.”

On April 4, 2015, Slager, who is white, pulled over 50-year-old Walter Scott, who is black, for a broken brake light. Scott fled from his car, and Slager chased him on foot. After a brief struggle, Scott broke away and Slager began firing at his back, striking him with five of the eight bullets he fired.

During his murder trial, as The Two-Way reported, “Slager emphasized that he had acted according to his training as a police officer, and that he had been afraid of Scott. He contended, as he has previously, that Scott had taken his Taser stun gun.”

The AP reports that Slager facing a possible sentence of life in prison and $250,000 in fines, but that prosecutors “prosecutors are proposing a sentence based on federal guidelines for a second-degree murder conviction, which recommend more than 20 years.”

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