Liquid cats, crocodile bets and didgeridoos win Ig Nobel science prizes

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) – Scientists taking on the deep questions of whether cats are liquid or solid, how holding a crocodile influences gambling and whether playing the didgeridoo can help cure snoring were honored Thursday at the Ig Nobel Prize spoof awards.

The prizes are the brainchild of Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, and are intended not to honor the best or worst in science, but rather to highlight research that encourages people to think in unusual ways.

“We hope that this will get people back into the habits they probably had when they were kids of paying attention to odd things and holding out for a moment and deciding whether they are good or bad only after they have a chance to think,” Abrahams said in a phone interview.

Some of the honorees tend towards the spurious: French researcher Marc-Antoine Fardin’s 2014 study “Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?” was inspired by internet photos of cats tucked into glasses, buckets and sinks. The winner of the Ig Nobel in physics used mathematical formulas to conclude that active young cats and kittens hold their physical shape longer than older, lazier felines.

Other work on the prize list has clearer potential for practical applications.

Economics winners Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer conducted an experiment in which problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers handled 1-meter (3.3-foot) long crocodiles before playing a simulated slot machine.

The 2010 study, conducted on 103 people in Queensland, Australia, found that problem gamblers were likely to place higher bets after handling the reptiles, as their brains had misinterpreted the excitement of holding a dangerous animal as a sign they were on a lucky streak.

A multi-national team of six researchers won the Peace Prize for the 2005 paper “Didgeridoo Playing as Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome: Randomized Controlled Trial.”

The conclusion that the Australian wind instrument might be of some benefit was based not the didgeridoo’s droning tone, but rather that the daily practice involved a lot of blowing, and may have strengthened the upper respiratory tract, making breathing easier.

The awards, now in their 27th year, are to be handed out by actual Nobel Prize winners in a ceremony at Harvard University on Thursday.

“They are unusual approaches to things,” Abrahams said. “It would be difficult for some people to decide whether they are important or the opposite. If you had sleep apnea for a long time, the didgeridoo thing would sound quite intriguing.”

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry

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North Korea Fires Another Missile Over Japan

Japanese and South Korean officials have confirmed another missile test by North Korea Friday morning local time.

The Japanese chief cabinet secretary says the missile crossed over Hokkaido and fell into the ocean 2,000 kilometers (about 1,200 miles) east of Cape Erimo, according to Reuters.

South Korea’s military says the unidentified missile was launched from Sunan, the site of the North Korean capital’s airport. The Associated Press reports that the South Korea defense ministry announced a live-fire ballistic missile drill in response to the missile launch.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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President Trump Stands By Original Charlottesville Remarks

President Trump speaks to the press onboard Air Force One while flying back to Andrews Air Force Base from Florida on Thursday.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

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Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

A day after meeting with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., to discuss improving race relations, policy issues of specific concern to communities of color and Scott’s pointed criticism of President Trump after his comments in response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., Trump is standing by those remarks.

Trump’s assertion post-Charlottesville that was “blame on both sides” was roundly criticized for giving comfort to white supremacists and the KKK —including by Scott, the only black Republican currently serving in the Senate.

Trump, traveling on Air Force One Thursday, was asked about his meeting with Scott and quickly returned to his criticism of protesters who took to the streets to counter KKK and white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville in August.

“We had a great talk yesterday,” Trump said of his meeting with Scott. “I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you know, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also. And essentially that’s what I said.”

Antifa is an anti-fascist protest movement that sometimes uses violent tactics to resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists and has gotten a lot of attention, especially from conservative media, following the violence in Charlottesville.

In comments to reporters, Trump implied that he had been right all along.

“Now because of what’s happened since then, with Antifa, you look at, you know, really what’s happened since Charlottesville — a lot of people are saying — in fact, a lot of people have actually written, ‘Gee, Trump might have a point,'” the president said. “I said, ‘You got some very bad people on the other side also,’ which is true.”

In response to Trump’s new remarks, Scott’s office put out a statement, saying in part: “Rome wasn’t built in a day and to expect the President’s rhetoric to change based on one 30 minute conversation is unrealistic. Antifa is bad and should be condemned, yes, but white supremacists have been killing and tormenting black Americans for centuries. There is no realistic comparison. Period.”

Statement from our office on the President’s comments this afternoon: pic.twitter.com/p6ZU9USuxy

— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) September 14, 2017

Or, in other words, Scott isn’t one of the people saying, “Gee, Trump might have a point.”

Scott’s office says in the meeting with the president on Wednesday, the senator was “very very clear about the brutal history surrounding the white supremacist movement and their horrific treatment of black and other minority groups.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters after the meeting Wednesday that the two men had discussed Trump’s initial response to Charlottesville “pretty in depth.”

And, speaking to CBS News Wednesday after meeting with Trump, Scott had said Trump “obviously reflected on what he has said [about Charlottesville], on his intentions and the perception of those comments.” Scott added, “I’ll let him discuss how he feels about it, but he was certainly very clear that the perception that he received on his comments was not exactly what he intended with those comments.”

Regardless of his rhetoric, in the coming days President Trump will be signing a resolution passed this week by Congress that condemns white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the KKK and other hate groups, Huckabee Sanders also said Wednesday. The resolution also urges the president and his administration to speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and white supremacy and to devote resources to combating hate groups in the U.S.

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New Video From Ibeyi From Upcoming Album

The member of Ibeyi with Mala Rodriguez (center).

Courtesy of the Artist

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Courtesy of the Artist

The Parisian-Cuban duo Ibeyi is about to break the silence since their debut album in 2015 with a new album, Ash, expected on September 29.

They entice us with a new single/video, Me Voy, that also features the Grammy Award winning rapper from Spain, Mala Rodriguez.

The other worldly vocals are there, the flirting with electronics is intact, the stunning visuals do not disappoint.

What stands out this time is the intensity of the sensuality coming from the twin sisters that make up Ibeyi. There is the maturity and understanding that comes with age, the realization of the difference between sexy and sensuality. It’s there in the lyric and in the performances, ably assisted by Rodriguez.

The less said, the better. The music speaks for itself and there is no mistaking the message.

YouTube

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Conservatives Fume Over DACA Deal As Trump Tries To Mollify His Base

President Trump speaks to the press at the White House on Thursday upon returning from Florida after surveying damage from Hurricane Irma.

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Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Conservatives are livid after President Trump appears to have made a deal with Democrats in order to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program — claiming he’s abandoning his base and the stringent immigration platform he campaigned on.

Commentator Ann Coulter went on a Twitter tirade Thursday, furious that the president appeared to be reneging on his trademark border wall. “Put a fork in Trump, he’s dead,” the outspoken author and once-fervent Trump ally wrote. “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?” And, “If we’re not getting a wall, I’d prefer President Pence,” she added.

To Coulter and others, Trump’s ultimate betrayal came after he met with Democratic congressional leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to try to save the so-called DREAMers who now face the possibility of deportation after Trump’s decision last week to rescind the program put in place by his predecessor, former President Obama.

Democrats on Wednesday night said the deal they made with Trump didn’t include funding for Trump’s border wall. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders soon tweeted that “excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to.” However, the president himself seemed to contradict that on Thursday when told reporters that “the wall will come later,” but insisted it wasn’t being abandoned altogether.

Trump underscored that the roughly 800,000 people who would be affected were brought here as children through “no fault of their own.” But one of the bills pushed by Democrats would allow a path for citizenship for those affected — something overwhelmingly opposed by the president’s base. And the fact that DACA was being taken up before anything to address the border wall or border security also inflamed the right wing.

Amid the backlash, Trump insisted to reporters, “We’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.”

Ultimately, the specter of a deal on immigration with “Chuck and Nancy” — after caving last week on the debt ceiling and government funding, over the objections of GOP congressional leaders — seemed to be the final straw for many.

“This is not what we voted for,” conservative radio host Laura Ingraham said on her program. “We voted for someone who could do a good deal for the American man and woman.”

One of Ingraham’s callers, Michael from Georgia, lamented that Trump had “duped us.”

“That swamp he was gonna drain… he has jumped into that swamp,” the caller argued.

A caller from Arizona named Jody told Ingraham she was suffering from PTSD — “Pelosi Trump Schumer Disorder. I am done if they don’t build the wall.”

Late Wednesday night after news of the deal broke, Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity seemed to suggest Trump had been duped by Pelosi and Schumer, but that if he capitulated, it would be “over” for him.

Weak R’s have betrayed voters. @POTUS needs to stay the course and keep his promises or it’s over! Pelosi and Schumer can never be trusted. https://t.co/ky0NWvZoBv

— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) September 14, 2017

Breitbart News’s website — run by Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon — blasted out headlines like “Trump Caves on DACA, Wants ‘Quick’ Amnesty for 800K Illegal Aliens” and “Families of Illegal Alien Murder Victims Confused, Angered by Possible DACA Deal.” It also highlighted a trending topic on Twitter: #AmnestyDon.

On Breitbart’s daily Sirius XM show, Tea Party Patriots leader Jenny Beth Martin said that if a deal does go through, Trump is no different than his despised former rival.

“We voted for Donald Trump because we wanted something different than what Hillary Clinton was gonna give this country… and the deal that we heard coming out of the White House… it’s what we would expect Hillary Clinton to give us,” Martin said.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, one of the most outspoken anti-immigration members of Congress, immediately blasted the reports of a deal on DACA on Twitter Wednesday night, saying if it was true the president had lost all credibility.

@RealDonaldTrump If AP is correct, Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible. https://t.co/uJjxk6uX5g

— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) September 14, 2017

Later on Thursday, King told NPR that if there were deal, it would be a total rebuke to his base.

“I know the people that were strong Trump supporters, that were on his bandwagon early on. They came on board because, build a wall, enforce the border, enforce immigration law, no amnesty ever. And if they see amnesty coming out of the White House, then that’s the one thing that will crack his base,” King said. “They are loyal Trump supporters, but the most important plank in that platform is the rule of law. And if that’s blown up here in these negotiations, whether that’s his intent or not, then they’re not going to have a leg to stand on when they press others to defend our president.”

Other Republicans urged caution, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., underscored that there was no agreement yet on DACA.

“He’s kept his promises on the campaign trail. I have no reason to doubt that he’s not going to [keep his promises on immigration]. I do understand that he’s very frustrated in how things are not getting done. Hence he’s talking with the Democrats,” said Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., who’s running for Senate.

However, Barletta said, it was understandable Trump wanted to work with Democrats on the issue.

“But what’s he supposed to do if he can’t get anything done here? He didn’t come here to do nothing. He came here to keep his promises. He’s a businessman, and that’s what he’s going to do. I’m going to say this: We’re going to get a better deal if Republicans can pull it together.”

“I want to stress that based on my conversations with well-informed people, I think there is no agreement,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the leader of a group of the House’s most conservative Republicans called the House Freedom Caucus. “I do think the president is making real strides to address something in a way that will have legislative support. But to suggest that everything is done when the conversations have just started would not be accurate.”

While other talk radio hosts like Ingraham were incensed, conservative provocateur Rush Limbaugh was at least willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt — and said it was the media that was trying to sow seeds of discord over immigration.

“They want you to think Trump has sold you out and thrown you under the bus. They want you to think Trump has given away his mandate in exchange for doing deals,” said Limbaugh.

And to cap off a day in which he’d made shifting statements and tweets over the proposed DACA deal, Trump’s campaign sent out a message from the president himself with the subject line “LET ME BE CLEAR” trying to calm the waters.

President Trump’s re-election campaign sent this email to supporters over his position on DACA.

Trump Make America Great Again Committee/Screenshot by NPR

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Trump Make America Great Again Committee/Screenshot by NPR

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White House That Often Talks Tough On Crime Hosts Advocates For Former Inmates

An exterior view of the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., in July. Members of the DOJ were among those who attended a roundtable on Thursday about the criminal justice system and helping ex-inmates re-enter into society.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Prisoner advocates convened at an unusual spot this week: President Trump’s White House.

Earlier this year, Trump promised to crack down on “American carnage” and decried the “public safety crisis” facing many American cities. His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has directed federal prosecutors to take a tough approach to drug criminals, seeking mandatory-minimum prison terms for them.

But Thursday, a different attitude was on display as the White House Office of American Innovation welcomed a bipartisan group of elected officials, nonprofit groups and faith leaders to discuss how to help former inmates return to their communities and other elements of the criminal justice system.

Among the attendees: Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; and Republican Governors Matt Bevin of Kentucky and Sam Brownback of Kansas. At least two Cabinet secretaries turned up: Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

Sessions and his top deputy did not attend the afternoon meeting, but other representatives from the Justice Department did. President Trump was visiting hurricane-damaged areas in Florida.

For supporters of changes to the current approach to crime and punishment, the problem is clear: Many people with a criminal record have a rough time finding jobs, housing and education after they’re freed from prisons or halfway houses. A White House spokesman said 84 percent of people who are released before age 25 will be rearrested within five years of their release. Easingre-entry into society, he said, could reduce crime and save taxpayer money.

Jared Kushner, a White House adviser who is leading the Office of American Innovation and is Trump’s son-in-law, has made the issue one of his priorities. Kushner has an intimate connection to the struggle, since his father spent time in a federal prison camp in Alabama.

Mark Holden, the general counsel for Koch Industries, has been pushing for change at the federal and the state level for several years. At the meeting, Holden talked about why he backs the “ban the box” initiative, which calls on employers to remove a question on job forms about prospective workers’ criminal histories.

“It is the morally right thing to do and also makes smart business sense,” he told NPR.

Holden is a leading member of a bipartisan coalition to get “smart on crime,” by focusing law enforcement resources on the most dangerous offenders and making life easier for people who are released.

In the final years of his tenure, President Barack Obama pressed Congress to pass legislation that would reduce penalties for drug offenses and provide more support for inmates before their release. The bill included both Republican and Democratic sponsors, but it died without action.

Obama imposed a clemency program for drug criminals who would have received shorter sentences today than during the 1980s and the 1990s. Ultimately, before he left office, he made 1,928 clemency grants. That included shortening the prison terms of 1,716 people.

But a new analysis of that program by the nonpartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission raises questions about whether the clemency program succeeded in its goals. The study found 2,687 people incarcerated for drug trafficking crimes who appeared to meet all the criteria for the Obama initiative. But only 92 of them, fewer than 4 percent, received clemency.

Rachel Barkow, a law professor at New York University, said the data “lends urgency to calls that the clemency system be fixed.” Barkow said the White House should launch a commission to study clemency, move the process outside of the Justice Department, and make recommendations on re-entry issues that came up at the roundtable in Washington on Thursday.

“With a federal prison population hovering at 200,000,” Barkow said, “we cannot continue to address those needs on an ad hoc basis, and the clemency initiative is a perfect example of how trying to put a band-aid on it will fall short.”

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The Virgin Islands, After Irma: 'It Was Like Stepping Onto Another Planet'

Hurricane Irma arrived on the doorstep of the Virgin Islands just over a week ago. A Category 5 storm, historic in its terrible might, Irma shredded homes and hotels into the bare materials that made them, its winds scattering floorboards and roofs and light poles like so many matchsticks.

Within a day, the storm had rendered the islands so unrecognizable, satellites could register the stark change from space. Where once the Virgin Islands — both U.S. and British — gleamed green in their lush vegetation, that vista is buried brown beneath uprooted trees and the debris of broken buildings.

Two natural-color images provided by the NASA Earth Observatory depict the U.S. and British Virgin islands: The top image shows the verdant islands prior to the passage of Hurricane Irma; the bottom image shows the brown the storm left behind after uprooting and wrecking much of the island chain.

Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory via AP

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Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory via AP

As nightmarish as those hours were, the days since have seemed a lifetime for many residents of the U.S. and British territories.

“While there were some homes that survived — some lost just roofs — there are homes that are totally obliterated right down to the foundation,” David Mapp, executive director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority, tells NPR’s Jason Beaubien. “I mean, all you see is rubble.”

More than eight days after the storm swept through, U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp tells NPR’s Ari Shapiro that St. Thomas and St. John — the two hardest-hit islands on the U.S. territory — are both almost entirely without power. All but 10 percent of the power lines lie in disarray on St. Thomas, which had its one hospital rendered useless by Irma.

For residents of the Virgin Islands, the aftermath has been a time of despair, fear — and occasionally, against seemingly impossible odds, some hope. Here are some of their stories, in their own words: Three portraits of the grave new world Irma wrought.

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Tortola, British Virgin Islands


The sun glares down on a severely damaged apartment unit in a St. Thomas high-rise on Tuesday. Many residents say they lost everything to the Category 5 storm, and days later they’re still grappling with how to respond to the rampant destruction.

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

When the storm hit St. Thomas, Laura Dixon Strickling says she could feel the winds raging not only outside her shelter, but even inside her very skin.

“The pressure — you could feel it in the middle of each bone in your body. It felt like you were going to explode from the inside,” she told NPR over the phone.

She was holed up in her landlord’s basement with her husband and 15-month-old child, along with another couple and their baby. They had packed that basement full with supplies. And the service proved startingly clear: As they hunkered down below the storm, they watched it from above, staring at satellite trackers of Irma’s progress on their phones.

All the while, the winds scoured every surface for a hole, raging to get in.

“It’s like you’re being assaulted in every possible way.”

When the storm had finally passed, she couldn’t recognize the neighborhood she had known before descending into the basement.

“Shock doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of seeing a world that has completely changed. It was like stepping onto another planet. Every green thing was gone. Every tree was snapped. Our neighbors’ roofs were missing,” Strickland said. “We turned around to find our own roof was still there — and you know, there’s a lot of relief in that moment. Because you know that you are going to at least have the things you need for basic survival.”

Once a gift shop for tourists, this building in St. John was on Tuesday no more than a heap of broken trees, fallen light poles and the tossed carcass of an SUV.

Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Elsewhere on the island, Jeff Neevel also escaped the worst of it. He had chosen to ride out the hurricane in his own home, which he had built with heavy-duty materials after Hurricane Marilyn made debris of his last house more than two decades ago.

“We lost a window and a tree fell on my truck and all that stuff,” Neevel told NPR in a phone call. “But that’s minor. That’s minor from what other people experienced and what they’re having to put back together.”

Neevel, the pastor of the St. Thomas Reformed Church, said that when the storm had passed and he walked out to find minimal damage, he took it as a sign: “It’s my time to give instead of receive.”

“After the storm, we all kind of went out and said, ‘OK, there it is.’ It’s horrible, but what do you do? You’ve got to bend down and pick something up and move it and put it back in its place,” Neevel says. “And that’s what we did.”

A woman and her two children pass the debris left of the streetside in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, on Sunday.

Ricardo Arduengo/AP

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Ricardo Arduengo/AP

Together with My Brother’s Workshop, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and other churches in the area, Neevel says his congregation quickly got to work to “get people set and basic needs met.” That means food for more than 400 people a day, canned goods, hygiene kits and diapers for lines of people that stretch out the door.

“And this is all — that I know of — private citizens, nonprofits, churches that are working together to make this happen. I have no idea what’s happening on the government level.”

He has heard helicopters overhead, he has heard that trucks are on the road, he knows the Coast Guard has been unloading supplies — but “the stuff that we requested, we haven’t seen.”

Strickling said she felt the absence of federal assistance acutely.

“I think all of us expected that we would see some sort of official presence on the ground within a day,” she said, noting that her house rests on one of the island’s major transit arteries — and yet she said she saw no one. “By Day 3, sitting there waiting to see a uniform, waiting to see some evidence that help was coming, that’s when we started to panic.”

Melody Zhang, a physician assistant student who had moved to St. Thomas just two weeks before Irma arrived, told NPR by email that she was trapped in her neighborhood for days by impassable roads, but “neighbors invited me in to their home to share their generator.”

By Saturday, she had found a boat willing to take her and her fellow students off the island — but she had to act fast. “So I left behind everything except my backpack and the clothes on my back and was able to get to safety.”

And she had reason to worry, it seems: Some people who remained on the island said they witnessed a breakdown of law and order immediately after Irma.

“The first couple days, I walked around town here. There was some looting I saw going on and some tensions running high,” Neevel said. “It was kind of crazy, like a war zone, and people were just walking around like zombies.”

Still, he stuck it out — and in recent days, he has seen a marked change.

“Now, people are coming here [to the church], they’re getting fed, we’re sharing stories, handshakes and hugs, and they’re going away with a little bit of food to get through the day,” he said. “I think things are looking brighter and under some sort of control.”

Concerned for her baby’s health and still frustrated by the official response, Strickling decided to leave the island on Monday, five days after Irma hit. When she and her family left, they did so on a private boat, part of a group of civilians she affectionately nicknamed the “Puerto Rican navy” — “civilian boats, filled with supplies that Puerto Rican citizens donated to help the people of St. Thomas.”

“They risked their livelihood to come and get us,” she said, adding that the man helming the boat didn’t have power or water at his house back in Puerto Rico, either. Yet he took his boat out to help them.

“I don’t know any better example of like the goodness of humanity than that man and his crew.”


In the absence of cell service Wednesday, a sign serves to communicate that some residents of St. John’s Coral Bay are safe.

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Boston Globe/Boston Globe via Getty Images

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Rebecca Ostrander had been vacationing with her family of six on St. Thomas — that was, before the hurricane was upgraded. At that point, they left the villa they’d reserved and headed to a hotel on St. John that was better built to withstand a hurricane.

Still, Irma battered the Westin.

“The sound of the wind was like standing next to a jet engine. Our ears were popping from the pressure, and when a gust hit, it felt like all the air was sucked out of the room,” she told NPR in an email. “The Westin was destroyed, but we were so thankful to survive.”

But the days that followed promised more woe for residents.

As Gov. Mapp acknowledged Wednesday, St. John is “100 percent without power except for standby power generation” — and, he added, we did have some security issues on St. John.”

“We’ve just been very busy amassing security apparatus on St. John, getting them fully protected, getting relief supplies, tarpaulins, water, meals, medicines to our citizens,” he told NPR’s Ari Shapiro. “The bottom line is we are getting tremendous help from our federal partners. But the U.S. Virgin Islands need help.”

Hannah Stein phrased the matter more bluntly. In a Facebook post saying she had spoken Wednesday with her mother, a St. John resident living in Coral Bay, Stein described the scene.

“She said it’s like a war zone,” Stein relayed. “They sleep with knives next to their beds and fear for their safety. ‘People have nothing,’ she said, ‘and they’re getting robbed of the nothing they have.’ “

“Where they are at least,” Stein added, “they’re on their own.”


After Hurricane Irma passed last week, a group of survivors take stock of the damage on Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands.

Gabi Gonzalez/AP

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Gabi Gonzalez/AP

Tortola, British Virgin Islands

Paul Exner and his family has continued to stay in their “blown-out house in the semi-rural community of Josiah’s Bay” on the island of Tortola.

“We function between insomnia, sleep deprivation, and adrenaline,” Exner wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday. Some food stores remain open but packed and pricey, he said, and the clinic has been straining to treat people with “injuries ranging from blindness from flying glass, nails in feet, bee stings, high blood pressure, delirium, broken bones from falling (or flying with the wind in the case of one person), and one gunshot wound to a burglar’s head.”

Even as the residents struggle to regain their footing, there is another segment of the island’s population that has been flourishing in recent days: the bugs.

“The insect population has exploded and they’re pissed off .. swarming the humans aggressively,” he said. “We are all equals upon planet earth.”

Millions of crickets — “rare varieties never seen before ranging in size and color spectrum” — bees and Jack Spaniard wasps have made the damp wreckage their playground, emboldened and aggressive after the brutal storm.

Exner said he spoke with a British commando now stationed on the island, who noted that while there had had been some looting and that some prisoners had escaped confinement during Irma — beneficiaries of a blown-down fence — the security situation on the island was coming under control.

Offered a chance to evacuate Tortola by private plane Tuesday, Exner said he declined.

“The British Virgin Islands is our home.”

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Service Members Injured In Two Training Incidents

Eight soldiers were wounded Thursday during a training incident at Fort Bragg, N.C. It came just one day after a separate incident at Camp Pendleton, Calif., left 15 Marines wounded.

Gerry Broome/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Gerry Broome/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Incidents on consecutive days during training operations on military bases at opposite ends of the country have left 23 military personnel wounded, some seriously.

Eight soldiers were injured during demolitions training at Fort Bragg, N.C., Thursday morning, according to a statement by the Army Special Operations Command.

They were taken by air and ground transport to “multiple hospitals.”

It happened at the base’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, which teaches some 3,000 students “warfighter skills.”

Details about what happened were sketchy. “We are looking into the incident,” spokesman for Army Special Operations Command Lt.Col. Rob Bockholt told NPR.

It comes on the heels of another military training mishap. On Wednesday an amphibious assault vehicle caught fire at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, injuring 15 Marines, according to a Marines statement.

15 Marines were wounded when an amphibious assault vehicle caught on fire Wednesday at Camp Pendleton during a combat readiness evaluation.

DENIS POROY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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DENIS POROY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Eight Marines were taken to the Burn Center at University of California, San Diego Health. In all, five Marines were reported to be in critical condition and five in serious condition on Wednesday.

It happened during “a combat readiness evaluation as part of scheduled battalion training,” said the statement.

The type of vehicle that caught on fire is used to transport Marines and cargo from ship to shore and has been in operation since the 1970s. Wednesday’s accident occurred on land.

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Don't Read This Review Of Darren Aronofsky's Compelling, Confounding 'Mother!'

Paint and Suffering: Jennifer Lawrence plays a woman called Mother in Darren Aronofsky’s mother!

Niko Tavernise/Paramount Pictures

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Niko Tavernise/Paramount Pictures

Don’t read this.

I’m serious.

Reviews are, generally speaking, the best way to get a sense of whether a given movie is likely to be a rewarding experience for you. You gamble (at most) a couple of minutes before you gamble (at least) a couple of hours and a not-inconsequential sum of your hard-earned cash. Often, for your trouble, you get a pithy reminder of what the artists involved have done before. Best of all — if the critic is any good —you get a temporary parole from the prison of the self. Because if you do decide to see the film in question, you’re only going to be able to see it as yourself, filtered through your own taste and mood and life experience. But a critic — again, if they’ve got any skills — can show you what one other person saw. What a gift!

As I say: Generally speaking.

Except alllllllll that noise takes a backseat to the thrill of confusion and discovery of going into writer/producer/director Darren Aronofsky’s confounding mother! (sic) stone-cold, like I did.

Not absolute-zero, halt-of-all-molecular-motion cold. I’ve seen his other films. (Well, not Noah.) I was surprised, when I thought about it, to realize I had seen five of his prior movies once each, going back to his black-and-white no-budget debut Pi almost 20 years ago. Even images I would prefer not to have in my brain (like much of his sophomore feature, the unrated generational drug-addiction nightmare Requiem for a Dream) have lodged there so stubbornly I figured I must have revisited that one, or the three-part metaphysical romance The Fountain, or the broken-down sports drama The Wrestler, or the psychological ballet drama Black Swan at some point after they had left cinemas. Nope. I saw them, I appreciated them, I thought of them frequently, I never had trouble recalling what Darren Aronofsky had done whenever I saw his name. There was a brief, weird moment about 15 years ago when he was going to make a Batman movie with once-beloved comic book creator-turned-divisive-crank Frank Miller. Really. Bat-maaaaaaan! NanaNANAnanaNANAbat—

Oh, you’re still here! Why? You must’ve noticed me vamping my fool fingers off, supplying you every chance to get bored or frustrated and click elsewhere. I’ll tell you again: mother! (sic) is best consumed knowing as little as possible about it! (emphasis mine).

Well, okay. You were warned. You were given an explanation.

Which is the last thing you want, with a movie like this: the product of a genuinely distinct and idiosyncratic vision, which can be illuminated but not solved the way more market-minded movies can. Of course it’s pretentious! That’s permissible, even desirable, when the movie’s determination not to abide by the rhythms and strictures of more conventional releases has the effect of making it more unpredictable and absorbing and — what’s the word — fun.

On its most superficial, accessible level, mother! is squirm-inducing fun.

For a while, before its more allegorical readings start to gnaw at you (and eventually pummel you), it’s just a creepy haunted house movie/frail marriage movie. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a couple (no names) who live in an absurdly large and remote house (no county, state, nation or planet). She spends her days putting the finishing touches on the rehabilitation project to which she has devoted months; it seems there was a fire in the old place, back before her time. “I want to make it paradise,” she says. (Huh.)

He spends his doing whatever writers do when they’re supposed to be writing, including going for long walks. Of course he is blocked. Of course his spouse shall suffer for his art. Aronofsky has seen The Shining, and he knows you’ve seen The Shining, too. The little things unsettle you: Why is virtually all the photography hand-held? Why is the camera so close to Lawrence’s face (and occasionally mounted on her person)? Why is the most advanced piece of technology in this house a landline telephone? What is that coppery substance Lawrence dissolves in water and chugs when she gets a migraine? The guy in Pi suffered from migraines too, didn’t he? Why is there a festering wound in the floor?

Bardem’s character is so starved for inspiration that he is delighted when uninvited guests arrive. First, Ed Harris, as a wheezing, obsequious surgeon. He is much more deferential to Bardem than to Lawrence: “I thought she was your daughter,” he says, more admiringly than apologetically. He seems like a pest until his spouse, Michelle Pfeiffer, turns up. Is there such a thing as a femme genocidale? Because that’s her, oozing resentment, prying immediately: What about kids don’t you want kids why don’t you have kids? So now it’s a God of Carnage situation, with two couples in a house that isn’t big enough for the both of them, even though this one is really quite large.

I don’t think I should tell you anything else! Except that Lawrence makes a superb audience surrogate. She is just like you and me, only calmer and more relaxed in her skin and much more attractive. Also, that casting perhaps the biggest lady star in Hollywood as the much-abused spouse of a suffering artist whose notoriety begins to strain their relationship in the most literal way imaginable is both a smart gambit to lure a few more people to see your movie and kinda subversive. And that the sound design team deserves special praise for letting us hear only what she hears, as the voices of the visitors she wishes would leave her in peace, in her impossible M.C. Escher house, seem to waft in from every direction, like sound arising from the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, the livestock and all the wild animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground.

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In Frederick Wiseman's 'Ex Libris,' The New York Public Library Gets Checked Out

Shelf-Awareness: The Reading Room of the New York Public Library, featured in Ex Libris.

Zipporah Films

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Zipporah Films

Not a single person says “shhh!” during Frederick Wiseman’s three-hour-plus tour of New York libraries. In fact, Ex Libris: New York Public Library immediately introduces garrulous author, scientist, and atheist Richard Dawkins, and there are a half-dozen other talky authors waiting in the wings. In this documentary, chatter among the stacks is encouraged.

Wiseman has directed more than 40 features in 50 years; stylistically, Ex Libris is characteristic. No interviewer asks questions of the subjects, nobody directly addresses the camera, and none of the participants is identified by either text or narration. The fireman who encourages Bronx residents to apply for municipal jobs is just as important — at least in the way he’s presented — as Patti Smith, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elvis Costello, or Edmund de Waal.

The movie features more writers than books. There’s a look at the semi-automated system for sorting printed and other materials, but much more time is spent with computers, mobile hot spots, and discussions of the demand for e-books. More than once, Wiseman shows the way many people these days interact with the library’s stately main building: by snapping pictures of it.

Wiseman visits about a dozen NYPL facilities in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. (Brooklyn and Queens have separate systems.) These include such specialized collections as the performing arts library at Lincoln Center, which is apt, since the film has lots of music and dance: a chamber music recital, a dance class set to Kool and the Gang, and an attempt to get toddlers to sing along with “Old McDonald Had a Farm.”

The theme, of course, is communication. A seminar on signing for the hearing impaired demonstrates two different ways of delivering the same text. At the center for blind patrons, we hear a man record a racy bit of a Nabokov novel. In Chinatown, people with limited English fluency learn computer skills. Uptown, librarians discuss how to reach the most difficult patrons of all: teens.

Some of Wiseman’s earlier documentaries observe serious conflicts, but in recent years the director has turned his attention to such large and mostly well-loved cultural institutions as museums and ballet companies. This film repeatedly drops in on meetings of the library system’s top administrators, who discuss funding issues, areas where improvement is needed, and problems beyond the system’s grasp. (New York’s library, it seems, has been charged with ending the city’s digital divide.) But voices are never raised — except by one slam poet.

Indeed, the exchanges are uniformly earnest, whether the subject is slavery, porcelain, or Jewish delis. There are just afew comic moments: A library help-line worker gently explains to a caller that unicorns are imaginary, and Dutch architect Francine Houben (whose firm is set to revamp the main building) announces that she has “many ideas” about libraries and then proceeds to demonstrate that she doesn’t.

As usual, Wiseman establishes a steady if unsystematic rhythm. Some scenes are glancing; others linger to allow a fuller discussion. The chronology, such as it is, seems to be seasonal: summer in Bryant Park, behind the main library, followed by a Halloween parade on Fifth Avenue and finally a Christmas tree inside the lobby. But sometimes we return to a place and time we’ve apparently visited before.

The administrators’ meeting or meetings, for example, begin to feel redundant. So do many of the establishing shots of various libraries’ neighborhoods. Yet Ex Libris‘s graceful exit suggests that Wiseman always knew exactly where he was headed.

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