The China National Space Administration’s lunar lander, seen on Jan. 11.
China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency/AP
China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency/AP
A hint of a cotton plant is growing on the moon, inside China’s lunar lander, scientists in China say.
Photos released on Tuesday by Chongqing University, in collaboration with the China National Space Administration, show the small, green shoot from a cotton seed reaching out of a latticed container aboard the probe Chang’e-4, named after the Chinese lunar goddess.
Giant leaf for mankind? China germinates first seed on moon https://t.co/rmnKl1jjTy
— The Guardian (@guardian) January 15, 2019
As it sped through space, Chang’e-4 carried a mini biosphere in a canister – containing “the seeds of cotton, rapeseed, potato, and arabidopsis, as well as eggs of the fruit fly and some yeast,” according to the Xinhua news agency.
The biosphere was also equipped with water, soil, air, two small cameras and a heat control system, said Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University, the experiment’s lead designer.
The journey took more than 20 days, and scientists at the China National Space Administration spent two months doing final checks before sending it into space.
On Jan. 3, China became the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. To get around the challenge of communications, China put a satellite in lunar orbit to deliver signals to and from the lander.
Once Chang’e-4 touched down, the ground control center instructed the probe to water the seeds, Xinhua reported. Light was channeled into a tube in the canister, allowing a cotton seed to sprout.
Liu Hanlong, who is leading the experiment, said Tuesday that potato seeds and rapeseeds also had sprouted, according to the South China Morning Post.
Liu said the seeds were chosen for their hardiness, a necessary requirement in the moon’s harsh conditions. “We have given consideration to future survival in space,” he said. “Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations shared its glee on Twitter, saying, “China’s moon mission success means that astronauts could potentially harvest their own food in space!”
For years, crew members aboard the International Space Station have been tending to a “space garden,” a chamber that has grown lettuce, radishes and other foods.
Could crops ever thrive in lunar soil? Regardless of whether the soil could support plants, the far side of the moon has high mountains, craters and few large, flat areas, said Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Chang’e-4 lunar lander.
China’s successful lunar germination suggests “there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment,” Fred Watson, an astronomer-at-large with Australian Astronomical Observatory, told the BBC.
Cotton grown on the moon could someday be used to make clothing and the potatoes could be a food source, Watson said, especially as a pit stop on trips to Mars.
An employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. works at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant to decontaminate the area after the 2011 nuclear meltdown. A Vietnamese laborer in Japan on a training program says he was also put to work cleaning up the site, but with inadequate gear.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
The wind howls and snow drifts around a house in Koriyama, in northeastern Japan’s Fukushima prefecture. The town is inland from Fukushima’s coastal areas that were devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown.
Inside the home, several Vietnamese laborers prepare dinner. The house is a shelter, run by local Catholics, for foreign workers who are experiencing problems in Japan.
One of the workers is surnamed Nguyen. He came to Japan in 2015 as part of a government program for technical trainees. He asked to use only his last name, as he doesn’t want his family in Vietnam to know what he’s been through.
He says he paid the equivalent of about $9,200 to a Vietnamese broker and signed a contract with a private construction company in Koriyama, Japan, to get on-the-job training as a rebar worker.
“I expected to come to a country more developed, clean and civilized than my own,” he recalls. “In my mind, Japan had many good things, and I wanted to learn professional skills to take home.”
Instead, he says he was ordered to do jobs such as removing radiation-contaminated soil from land around the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
“We were deceived,” Nguyen says, referring both to himself, and technical trainees in general.
He would not identify the company by name so as to avoid undermining negotiations he and a workers union are holding with the firm to get compensation.
He says the company issued him gloves and a mask, but not the kind of gear that would protect him against radiation. He did receive a radiation detector to wear, but only before safety inspectors paid a visit. He complained to the company, which ignored him.
Complicating matters, he had borrowed money from a bank and family members in Vietnam to pay the broker who helped him get to Japan.
“I wanted to sue my company, but I didn’t know how,” Nguyen explains. “I didn’t speak Japanese, or understand Japan’s legal system. So all I could do was be patient, and keep working to pay off the debt.”
Technical trainees like Nguyen now account for about 20 percent of the 1.3 million foreign laborers in Japan, according to government data cited by local media.
The Japanese government intends to bring in 345,000 more foreign workers in the next five years, to staff sectors including restaurants, construction, agriculture and nursing. Many will come from nations such as China, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Japan has both the world’s third-largest economy, and fastest-aging population. It also faces an acute labor shortage. Now, it is doing something previously unthinkable: allowing immigration — even as its prime minister denies it.
But advocates for the foreign workers warn that without an overhaul of the technical training program, many of the newcomers could be subjected to the same sort of exploitation Nguyen says he has experienced. Critics equate the training program with “slavery,” and deride it as the creation of labor without a labor force.
Most trainees are paid below minimum wage. They die of work-related causes at twice Japan’s overall rate, according to an analysis of government data by The Japan Times.
The problem of labor brokers using debt to enslave would-be immigrants is an element in human trafficking in many countries around the world.
The Japanese government has promised to crack down on unscrupulous brokers, establish 100 “consultation centers” where trainees can report abuses, increase Japanese language training for enrollees and generally strengthen oversight of the program.
But the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report for 2018 says that, so far, Japan has failed to prevent brokers from holding technical trainees in “debt bondage,” and sometimes the authorities arrest trainees who escape from “exploitative conditions,” instead of helping and protecting them.
Many conservative opponents of immigration would prefer that foreign workers don’t stay in Japan after finishing the program.
Speaking before the Diet, Japan’s parliament, in October, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied that the country is opening its door to immigration.
“We are not considering adopting a so-called immigration policy,” he insisted. “To cope with the labor shortage, we will expand the current system to accept foreign workers in special fields. We will accept foreign human resources that are skilled and work-ready, but only for a limited time.”
Japan’s parliament, which is controlled by the ruling right-wing Liberal Democratic Party, passed Abe’s plan last month.
Shiro Sasaki, secretary-general of the Zentoitsu Workers Union, which represents some of the foreign workers, rejects Abe’s argument, and adds that Japan’s government is not facing up to the reality of immigration.
“Abe’s definition of an immigrant is someone who lives in Japan long-term, with family,” he says. “But by international standards, the trainees are immigrants. In this sense we can say that Japan is already an immigrant society.”
Sasaki says that opening Japan’s door to immigrants even a tiny crack is better than tricking them into coming.
He says Japan has never experienced mass immigration in modern times, and it has failed to assimilate those few immigrants it has taken in. He sees the whole issue as a test of character for this island nation.
“Japan has never been able to examine itself and define itself in terms of diversity,” he argues. “Now we must live with diversity, and every single Japanese person must think about it.”
Then again, Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, argues that Abe may have no choice but to reform by stealth.
“Immigration is unfortunately not popular even in countries like the U.S. … which historically have been nations that have been built on immigration. So obviously he’s not going to say: ‘Vote for me, I will bring in 10 million foreigners.'”
Many analysts compare the technical training program to Germany’s gastarbeiter or guest worker program of the 1950s-70s. It too took in laborers from poorer neighboring countries — particularly Turkey — but tried to limit workers’ stay in order to prevent immigration. But the cost of hiring and training temporary workers was too high.
Many workers stayed on, paving the way for Germany to see itself as a de facto immigration nation.
Current trainees like Nguyen may be eligible to remain in the country for up to five years on a new class of visas.
But Nguyen says that without decent pay and a chance to learn new skills, he has no interest in staying on.
Pre-K and kindergarten teachers have a lot to do: teaching early literacy, numbers, interpersonal skills — and in some states, changing diapers.
While the majority of school-aged children are toilet trained by the time they get to preschool at around 4 years old, many kids aren’t, and many school districts can’t legally refuse them and their diapers. That’s now being debated in Buffalo, New York, where some teachers say the number of non-toilet trained students in their classrooms is climbing, stretching teachers and their aides thin.
“The teacher aides here say that it’s not their responsibility [to change diapers,]” says Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. “So what we have then is a student that’s actually — and we have about 43 of them in Buffalo, mostly in kindergarten and pre-K — that are actually being embarrassed, stigmatized, teased by their peers.”
As discussion continues about how to address the problem and where the responsibility falls, Rumore tells Here & Now‘s Robin Young that kids’ well-being must come first.
“We have to focus on the child and how we can help the child and the parents to help potty train the child, because let’s face it, whenever the child has an accident in class, the rest of the kids will tease the child, the child is stigmatized,” he says. “The No. 1 concern should be that child, and how do we get that child potty trained so that they are no longer stigmatized and they can function?”
On the origins of this issue in Buffalo
“The genesis came from an increase in the number of students that are coming to school that haven’t been toilet trained or potty trained, and there is no policy in place, or procedure in place, to work with the child to either potty train them, to clean them when they have an accident, et cetera, because the teacher can’t do it because it takes away from the class.”
“I’m not blaming the parents … because in some cases we have an autistic child, or we have a child with emotional problems or physical problems.”
“Most of it is concentrated in kindergarten and pre-K. However, we have some students that are 5, 6 and 7 years old that are having a similar issue.”
On finding that 43 students in the school district are struggling with toilet training
“The district told the Board of Education that there were only about six or eight students in the district. When we heard that, we knew that that wasn’t correct, and this is one of the reasons that we did the study — and this was only a one-week study, I’m sure there are more than 43. Most of it is concentrated in kindergarten and pre-K. However, we have some students that are 5, 6 and 7 years old that are having a similar issue.”
On feedback from teachers in the survey, including from one teacher who said they’ve had two assistants quit over not wanting to change soiled pullups
“That’s why it’s absolutely critical to have somebody that’s trained to help and to work with the parents, because once again you have to focus on, what’s the best for the child? And what’s best for the child is that everybody has to be together. We have to find a way of working with the parents to do this, because … this isn’t something like math that you can teach your number facts in school.”
On who ought to be charged with addressing the problem
“Obviously it can’t be the teacher, because the teacher can’t leave the classroom. So what there has to be is a special health care aide. Every school should identify one or two teacher aides who want to do it, who are then trained how to work with the parents in how to toilet train the child, and who also have the requisite immunizations to take care of it. There should be a policy that everybody knows. They really should be paid extra, too, because it’s something that I think is beyond a job title of anybody to do it. There should always be two people present. There aren’t appropriate materials that are there. There are no pullups for the students, you also have to have the facilities and also the supplies that you need for the children. It’s something that should have been done many years ago and has to be done now, because it seems to be getting to be more of a problem.”
Last fall, a slim and eerie novel came out in Britain that tells a story about the lingering force of walls. That novel, which has just been published here, is called Ghost Wall, and its author, Sarah Moss, possesses the rare light touch when it comes to melding the uncanny with social commentary.
Ghost Wall is set in the 1970s in the rugged countryside of the far north of England. Our narrator is a sheltered 17-year-old girl named Silvie, who has accompanied her parents on a summer field trip of sorts with some university students and their professor.
The professor teaches a course in “Experimental Archeology” that requires his students to reenact the daily lives of Iron Age Britons. For two weeks, this small band will forage for roots and berries, capture and skin rabbits, wear scratchy woven tunics and crouch ’round the fire at night.
Moss vividly renders the natural world here, coaxing readers into experiencing everything from stepping on a pebble in thin moccasins to being sucked into a bog. Silvie endured that horror years ago, when she was on a ramble through the moors with her dad. She recalls:
The bog seals around you and it will of course … fill the inner skins of every orifice, seeping and trickling through the curls of your ears, rising like a tide in your lungs … it will embalm you from the inside out.
Even without such calamities, the northern landscape seems both haunted and hostile to the campers. But the first hint that this is going to be more than just some Outward Bound adventure tale comes when Silvie tells us that she made a failed effort to sleep among the students in order to give her parents some privacy.
“Dad didn’t want privacy,” she says, “he wanted to be able to see what I was up to. … I did not know what my father thought I might want to do, but he devoted considerable attention to making sure I couldn’t do it.”
Silvie’s tone here is cheeky, but it shifts a few pages on, when she glances at her mother and flatly observes, “There was a new bruise on her arm.” That’s when we readers understand that there’s something menacing in her father’s surveillance, and that Silvie’s deadpan voice is that of a girl who’s grown accustomed to domestic violence.
Another revelation that slowly gathers force while all these characters are reenacting life in the Iron Age has to do with class. Silvie and her family are working-class — her father is a bus driver; her mother a supermarket cashier.
Moreover, her father’s fierce, lifelong interest in the world of early Britons stems not from an elite education, but rather from nationalism. Silvie’s rather posh French name, for instance, actually derives from Sulevia, a goddess of the Celts and Britons.
During a conversation around the campfire with the professor about Roman invasions in the area, Silvie’s dad insists that the ancient Britons “put up quite a fight and … sent them packing in the end, [and] there weren’t dark faces in these parts for nigh on two millennia after that, were there?”
The professor hesitatingly objects to this racist spin, but as the adventure continues, Iron Age attitudes, particularly relating to gender, begin to predominate. The women are told to forage and cook while the men bond over “kill[ing] things.”
When the men announce that they’ve decided to build a “ghost wall” — a magical fortification topped with skulls that ancient Britons erected as a “defense against the Romans” — it’s clear they’ve gone off the deep end in terms of channeling the patriarchal tribal past. It also seems clear that the women, as usual, will suffer the consequences of these fantasies.
Ghost Wall is such a weird and distinctive story: It could be labeled a supernatural tale, a coming-of-age chronicle, even a timely meditation on the various meanings of walls themselves. All this, packed into a beautifully written story of 130 pages. No wonder I read it twice within one week.
Ryan Johnson for NPR
The overuse of technology has overtaken drugs, sex and bullying as the biggest parental worry, according to the annual Brigham Young and Deseret News American Family Survey.
But what are we actually supposed to be doing about it?
Jordan Shapiro, a Temple University professor whose background is in philosophy and psychology, has a prescription that might surprise you. In his new book, The New Childhood, his argument is that we’re not spending enough screen time with our kids.
“One of the things I suggest in the book is that kids should be starting on social media much younger,” he says. And, play more video games with your kids, too.
After Shapiro’s divorce, he found himself solo parenting two little boys (now 11 and 13) who were obsessed with video games. He started playing the games simply as a way to connect with them. Then he discovered connections between the emotional catharsis and interactive storytelling on the screen, and thinkers like Carl Jung and Plato. He came to realize that part of his job as a parent was to help his children make sense of their online experiences, and to teach them how to uphold enduring values in the new world they are living in.
Now, he thinks about the intersection of child development and digital media as a senior fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, and Nonresident Fellow in the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution.
Jordan Shapiro spoke to NPR about his new book and approach. The following interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
You teach the core curriculum at Temple University and helped adapt it to an online version. How do your studies inform your thinking about YouTube and Facebook?
My background is ancient philosophy. I think we have very few new values. I love the old stuff — Plato and Homer. All the world’s great religions have tons of wisdom to offer us in a changing world. We need to figure out how to apply how they lived to a very different time and place. If you look historically — let’s say, every hundred years, there’s these huge transitions that require giant adaptations so [the old ways] are still meaningful.
You talk in the book about how a lot of expert advice focuses on simply limiting the screens, but that doesn’t help us teach our kids how to make that kind of transition or that adaptation, to interact ethically in the digital world.
Right. People are trying to do things like device-free dinner because they are scared of the way work and home have enmeshed.
Home was safe, and now these devices bring the entire world inside. Are your kids home or are they in Fortnite? They’re here and somewhere else –in the ugly agora and within the beautiful picket fence.
But it’s good to have some respite from the outside world and the digital world, right?
Sure. We have family dinner in our house. It’s mostly device free. No one should be watching YouTube videos the whole time. But most of the time we have conversations that necessitate pulling up a YouTube video or Googling something to make a point.
They’re not going to learn good date behavior if they’ve never had a phone before.
How are we going to maintain those positive things, the compassion, ethics, good social skills and intimate relationships, if we’re teaching them to live in a world that doesn’t look like the world they’re living in?
Can you give some more concrete examples of how you teach kids to maintain positive values in the digital world?
Let’s take violent video games. All tools should be facilitating our ability to create a more meaningful, more just world. Sometimes our children are going to seek out violent games.
And we teach them violence is bad, but playing violent make-believe isn’t necessarily bad.
Do you still play video games with your kids? What do you do if you’re just not a gamer? I’m not.
Not as much, because they’re much better than me now. But I still talk to them about it, I ask them to show me what they’re playing, I’ll watch them. I’ll tease them and say, this looks stupid, explain to me why you’re interested. You can tell them the reasons you don’t like it, as long as it’s a conversation and not a scolding.
We teach them how to make sense of the narratives they construct. Whether you’re talking about video games or social media or Youtube, how do you enable them to construct a meaningful narrative in relationship to these artifacts?
And your approach seems to be kind of like the Socratic method — you ask questions.
That’s part of it, yes. So my sons are into these YouTube videos where kids open toys. It’s the most disgusting representation of consumerism I can imagine. Just a terrible kind of video.
It’s incredibly popular too — in fact an 8 year old with a toy channel was the top moneymaker on YouTube last year.
Right. I don’t think, Oh it shouldn’t exist. I’m in favor of free speech. But then if my kids watch it, I want to have the conversation about why I find this attitude so weird and problematic, and I want to teach them to think about it that way. So now after having lots of these conversations, the first thing they do with every YouTube video they watch is ask, who paid for it, what are they trying to sell me?
So the idea is that they internalize your ethical voice?
We spend their entire lives teaching them how to share, how to get along. The alternative is throwing 20 kids into a room, locking the door, and saying don’t worry, they’ll end up hugging. That’s kind of what we do when we put a hormonal prepubescent on social media for the first time.
And this is why you say kids should be starting on social media much younger than they are?
If we want to get rid of the horrible stuff happening on Twitter right now, then we need to model it for kids when they’re 7 and all they want to do is be like their parents. I think we should have church groups and sports teams, small social media groups, so adults can model what to do. Or large families can have a family social network. You can share pictures and maybe you do gently tease someone, so they see the difference between kind and mean teasing.
This came up recently in one of my conversations with a 16 year old girl and her mother. She was exasperated that all her aunts were following her on Instagram, using her childhood nickname, leaving embarrassing comments, but her mother was happy to have so many people looking out for her.
I learned to be able to have a civil argument at holiday dinners. I watched my parents, uncles and aunts have political arguments, with love and kindness, also sarcasm and also teasing. That’s how I know how to do it at a dinner table.
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports this idea of joint media engagement, basically engaging alongside your kids, as you suggest, whether with games, videos or social media. But isn’t there such a thing as too much screen time?
When people talk about addiction, I think it’s weird we want to blame the digital media because you can form unhealthy relationships with lots of things — food, sex , work, money.
And what we do is we try to teach people how to not develop those relationships.
We don’t blame the eating, sex, work or money itself.
And what I’m often trying to explain is that we’re seeing unhealthy relationships because we’re leaving our kids to figure it out on their own.
We’re using screens as a babysitter.
There’s an interesting study that recently came out that looked at how parents and young children were interacting around devices. It showed that this joint media engagement is not happening.
Most interactions are negotiations about how much to use, or tech support kinds of things. And almost no discussion of what they’re actually doing on the screen, and when it is discussed it’s usually initiated by the kids.
I feel like part of the problem is that parents are getting essentially abstinence – only education, like in sex education. The research on that says, if all you hear is ‘just say no,’ it has no positive effects.
Nobody actually thinks we’re going to have a world without [tech]. They’re aiming for that healthy relationship. A healthy relationship is you being able to have the autonomy to make good decisions. That’s what we’re trying to teach our kids — to make those decisions. If we make it all about, here’s the restrictions, the on/off switch mentality, that doesn’t teach them to make smart, autonomous decisions.
NPR is partnering with Sesame on a new podcast called Life Kit. Much like Jordan Shapiro’s new book, it will provide overviews of problems or questions in areas where NPR has deep expertise — starting with personal finance, health and wellness, and parenting.
Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo enters the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Tuesday, where judges dropped the charges against him.
Peter Dejong/AFP/Getty Images
Peter Dejong/AFP/Getty Images
A panel of judges at the International Criminal Court has dismissed charges of war crimes against former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, the first former head of state to stand trial at the ICC. Charges against his former youth minister, Charles Blé Goudé, also were dropped.
Gbagbo and Blé Goudé had been charged with crimes against humanity — murder, rape, persecution as well as other inhumane acts and attempted murder — allegedly committed between December 2010 and April 2011 following Gbagbo’s loss to Alassane Ouattara, the current president.
More than 3,000 people were killed in post-election violence that erupted in Ivory Coast.
A majority of the three-judge panel concluded that prosecutors had failed to show that there was a “common plan” to keep Gbagbo in power, nor “the existence of patterns of violence from which it could be inferred that there was a ‘policy to attack a civilian population,’ ” the court said in a press release.
Public speeches by Gbagbo and Blé Goudé did not constitute ordering, soliciting or inducing the alleged crimes, the judges said – adding that they needed no further evidence from the defense.
Gbagbo could be freed as soon as Wednesday, Reuters reports.
The outcome is a setback to the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor, which in June also saw the conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, overturned on appeal.
In a statement, lead prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office would determine next steps, including whether to appeal. “[M]y Office is vigorously dedicated to doing its part, with the plight of the victims in Côte d’Ivoire foremost and always on our minds,” she said.
Sergey Vasiliev, an assistant professor of international law at Leiden University in The Netherlands, wrote on Twitter that for the Office of the Prosecutor, the outcomes of the Gbagbo, Goudé and Bemba cases are “a serious blow to its (already rather tarnished) track record. This should, yet again, lead to a self-critical reflection on its part and a careful review of how it builds and brings forward its cases.”
It’s time, he added, for the prosecutor’s office to reconsider “how individual cases are picked, constructed, and pursued.”
When the ruling was announced, supporters of the accused cheered and embraced, The Associated Press reported – and that Gbagbo’s fans had been singing and dancing outside the court building before the day’s hearing began.
In pro-Gbagbo areas of the Ivorian capital Abidjan, people celebrated the news and filled the streets.
“Ooh-la-la, the judge completely dropped the charges,” Olivier Kipre, one of his supporters, told Reuters. “I’m so joyful. I will become crazy today because I didn’t believe he would be released.”
People celebrate the ruling on the streets in the Abidjan district of Yopougon on Tuesday.
Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images
Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images
After refusing to hand over power, Gbagbo was pulled from an underground bunker at the presidential residence in Abidjan in April 2011, and then whisked to The Hague in November 2011. He was held in custody for more than seven years.
In August, President Ouattara declared amnesty for some 800 people involved in the violence that followed the 2010 election. Most notable among them was former first lady Simone Gbagbo, who was serving a 20-year sentence for backing her husband’s bloody push to keep power. She has also been indicted by the ICC, but the Ivory Coast has refused to send her, the AP reports.
If Gbagbo decides to stand once more for the presidency, Reuters reports, Ouattara may reconsider his decision not to run again.
Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa Director Marie-Evelyne Petrus Barry said in a statement that the acquittal “will be seen as a crushing disappointment to victims of post-election violence in Cote d’Ivoire. … Victims of the 2010-2011 violence are yet to see justice and reparations for the harm they suffered.”
“I lost my arm in 2011 because of pro-Gbagbo forces,” Karim Traore, 36, told the AP. “We do not understand the decision of the International Criminal Court to release the former president. We, the victims, have not been heard and it is a real shame.”