Are Self-Radicalized Extremists An Increasing Threat In The U.S.?

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The threat of self-radicalized attackers is on the minds of many after the San Bernardino shooting this week. NPR’s Rachel Martin speaks with the RAND Corporation’s Seth Jones about these people.

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Former President Jimmy Carter Says He Is Cancer Free

Former President Jimmy Carter at a Habitat for Humanity site in Memphis.

Former President Jimmy Carter at a Habitat for Humanity site in Memphis. Andrea Morales for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Morales for NPR

Former President Jimmy Carter told his congregation on Sunday that his cancer is gone, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Carter, 91, broke the good news during the Sunday School class he teaches at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga.

The paper reports:

“‘He said he got a scan this week and the cancer was gone,’ Jill Stuckey said by phone from Maranatha, where Carter was still in the midst of teaching to about 350 people, many of them visitors. ‘The church, everybody here, just erupted in applause.'”

Citing Carter’s grandson, Jason Carter, the Associated Press reports that doctors did not detect any cancer during his previous scan.

During a press conference in August, Carter announced that his melanoma had spread to his liver and brain. He seemed resigned and said that he was at ease with his potential death.

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said.

But since then, Carter has continued to teach Sunday School and continued to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity.

“I’m feeling better than anybody expected me to so I’m still maintaining a pretty normal schedule, I’d say,” Carter told NPR during an interview last month.

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Cheered By Pentagon's Decision, Female Marines Turn Focus Toward Training

Sgt. Kelly Brown puts her weapon over her shoulder at the Marine base at Twentynine Palms, Calif., in March. On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that women would be allowed to serve in combat jobs.

Sgt. Kelly Brown puts her weapon over her shoulder at the Marine base at Twentynine Palms, Calif., in March. On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that women would be allowed to serve in combat jobs. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

toggle caption David Gilkey/NPR

The Pentagon has been debating the role of women in combat for generations. Women began serving in the military in support positions, far from the actual fighting. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan essentially erased ideas of front lines — and even if women weren’t allowed in combat, technically, they were anyway.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made the shift official.

“Women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before,” Carter announced at an event Thursday. “They’ll be able to drive tanks, fire mortars, lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as army rangers, green berets, navy seals, marine corp infantry, air force parajumpers — and everything else that was previously open only to men.”

It’s an announcement cheered by female former Marines like Capt. Zoe Bedell, a logistics officer who served two tours in Afghanistan. She left the Marine Corps in 2011, citing frustrations with what she saw as a glass ceiling in the military.

“When you are at the basic school, which is the first round of Marine Corps training for officers, you list your preferences for your military job,” Bedell tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “Infantry was not on the list, artillery was not on the list, human intelligence was not on the list — which I found particularly frustrating, because I had studied Arabic.”

Cpt. Zoe Bedell.

Cpt. Zoe Bedell. E.B. Boyd/Courtesy of Zoe Bedell hide caption

toggle caption E.B. Boyd/Courtesy of Zoe Bedell

Now, she is the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against the Department of Defense, which sought to overturn the ban against women in combat.

“If you think about what the Marine Corps does, the Marine Corps fights. It is a war-fighting organization. And so if you are being excluded from doing what the organization does, you are going to have more limited opportunities,” Bedell says. “You are going to always be marginalized within that organization.”

So, when Carter declared an end to that ban Thursday, Bedell says she got chills just listening. And as for the integration of women into combat positions, Bedell says, “I am very optimistic that they won’t disappoint.”

But there are some reasons to wonder if the transition will go smoothly. Bedell’s own Marine Corps privately resisted the decision, partly on the basis of the Corps’ yearlong study showing mixed combat units performed worse than all-male units.

Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano, an active-duty officer who ran an all-female training battalion at Parris Island, the Corps’ boot camp in South Carolina, says the key to success in the transition rests partly in recruitment.

“If you select the right women, who are already fit and are athletically inclined, and are mentally strong and resilient, they fare better than those who come to Parris Island completely not prepared,” Germano tells NPR’s Lynn Neary.

Lt. Col. Kate Germano (right, arms crossed) stands beside Sgt. Lindsey Rodriguez.

Lt. Col. Kate Germano (right, arms crossed) stands beside Sgt. Lindsey Rodriguez. Lindsey Rodriguez/Courtesy of Kate Germano hide caption

toggle caption Lindsey Rodriguez/Courtesy of Kate Germano

“What I will say is that women who choose to join the Marine Corps generally come in because they want to be held to a higher standard,” says Germano, who has been training Marines for years. “And my higher standard applied to men as well as women.”

And she’s careful to note that, despite the way headlines may make the situation sound, one thing isn’t changing.

“This isn’t about women going into combat; women have gone into combat for decades now and have excelled. This is in particular about infantry,” Germano says.

“There will be a certain number of women who are qualified and many, many other women will not be qualified — or may be qualified but may not desire the job. You could say the same thing for the male population. What I would say is this is really about the next generation of Marines. “

Mostly, she says, the transition may come down to a simple principle.

“This is a team effort,” Germano says, “and this is about making sure that we’ve just established a level platform for women and men.”

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Beyond Taylor Swift: Predicting The 2016 Grammys

Taylor Swift's 1989 came out in October 2014, but that shouldn't stop it from being heavily nominated for the 2016 Grammy Awards.

Taylor Swift’s 1989 came out in October 2014, but that shouldn’t stop it from being heavily nominated for the 2016 Grammy Awards. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

When the Grammy Awards’ 2016 nominees are announced Monday morning, you’ll no doubt hear some familiar names. Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar, for example, are expected to pop up in high-profile categories such as Album Of The Year — for last year’s 1989 and this year’s To Pimp A Butterfly, respectively.

But there’ll still likely be as many surprises in the nominations as there are quirks in the process, starting with the fact that the Grammys’ eligibility period — from Oct. 1, 2014, to Sept. 30 of this year — disqualifies current hits like Adele‘s 25 from awards consideration, while making room for long-in-the-tooth titles like Swift’s 1989. In a recent conversation with All Things Considered‘s Lynn Neary, Stephen Thompson of NPR Music breaks down the process while offering up a few predictions.

Those guesses may well look foolish by the time Monday morning rolls around, but Thompson foresees stronger-than-anticipated showings for the rock band Alabama Shakes and country singer Sam Hunt, both of whom he sees as the kind of year-in-year-out standard-bearers the Grammys love to celebrate. But he also notes that the awards’ biggest surprises often involve upsets that favor older, safer and more established artists. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

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Physical Disability And Engineering Of Environments

An athlete with a prosthetic leg in trains for the paralympics.

iStockphoto

On PBS’s Newshour last week, Jon Schull, a research scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology, made some points about disability.

He said that in a world with lots of small print, the inability to see fine detail is a disability (though some might consider it minor in the range of “disability”). And, he said, this disability becomes a mere nuisance when you have affordable, easy to use reading glasses.

Schull founded a group that uses 3D printing technology to produce affordable prostheses for children with deformities of the hand. His laudable objective is to turn serious hand disabilities into little more than a nuisance. According to Schull, technology can transform even a serious disability into a minor nuisance.

There is a deeper idea lurking behind Schull’s comments — one he brought out during the conversation — that, as he put it, physical disability isn’t a property of a person, it is a property of a person together with an environmental situation.

This isn’t a new idea. It goes back to Aristotle. It’s one that has been championed in the disability community, especially in the UK, under the heading of the “Social Model of Disability.” The idea is simple: You aren’t disabled; You’re just you, after all. You are disabled by an environment that has been engineered with other kinds of people in mind. You don’t need legs or arms to get around or be mobile. But you do need legs or arms to climb stairs or get up onto couches.

For many people, the idea that there is nothing intrinsically bad or wrong with disability is hard to accept. Part of the explanation for this may be that people often link physical disability with traumatic injury, with damage, with violence, with loss. In the United States today, if you see a young man in a wheelchair it is not unreasonable to wonder if he is a vet.

Now, no one can deny that disability resulting from injury is a terrible thing. But a person born without arms or legs is whole. One doesn’t experience a hole in the visual field corresponding to the back of the head, even though people don’t have eyes there. Would a person with missing limbs experience their absence as a lack or an absence? According to one disability activist I spoke to, no. The disability acquires presence as a negative absence thanks to the lack of fit between those with disabilities and the social environments they find themselves in.

As a result, some people with physical disabilities may come to experience themselves as deficient. People with disabilities live in a world that, very truly, was not made for them. And so, for them — to borrow a phrase from the neurologist Jonathan Cole — life must be “a daily marathon.” Even though disability is really mere difference, it makes sense for people with disabilities to unite politically.

I hope it is clear that it is not my purpose, in this short essay, to suggest that disability is in the eye of the beholder. That would be wrong. And insulting. (A bit like saying that there’s no such thing as race.)

No, to recognize the ineliminable relativity of disability is not to take away from its reality. It is to gain some insight into what it really is.


Alva Noë is a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, where he writes and teaches about perception, consciousness and art. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2015). You can keep up with more of what Alva is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @alvanoe

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Tea Party And Democrats Aligned Against Campaign Finance Measure

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is backing a measure to lift the limits on how much money major parties can spend in coordination with Senate and House candidates, drawing criticism from Democrats and Tea Party-aligned Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is backing a measure to lift the limits on how much money major parties can spend in coordination with Senate and House candidates, drawing criticism from Democrats and Tea Party-aligned Republicans. Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Win McNamee/Getty Images

An alliance of anti-establishment Republicans and Democrats in Congress is seeking to hold down at least one kind of political spending.

Hard-line conservatives say GOP leaders want to undermine Tea Party-style newcomers who challenge the Washington establishment. Progressives see their own leaders ready to write off a long-standing provision of campaign finance law, and permit big donors’ money to flow more freely.

A must-pass spending bill now being drafted would repeal a limit on how much the national party committees can spend in coordination with their own candidates. The limits vary — about $50,000 per House race, or up to roughly $3 million per Senate race –- all paltry sums by today’s standards.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the leading advocate of axing the limit, last year helped to engineer a dramatic increase in contribution limits for the national party committees.

McConnell’s move triggered a “memo for the movement” from 49 conservative leaders, who wrote, “the McConnell rider provides preferential treatment to the Washington establishment, and subordinates the voices of those who contribute to other multi-candidate organizations” – that is, superPACs and 501c4 “social welfare” organizations that have no contribution limits.

The signers include leaders of such outside groups as the Senate Conservatives Fund, ForAmerica and Revive America PAC.

In the House, a majority of Democrats signed a letter warning that lifting the limit “would send a jarring message to Americans of all political stripes that Washington insiders are rigging the system in favor of powerful moneyed interests.”

And seven groups advocating stronger campaign finance laws sent a letter attacking the party-spending provision and three other campaign finance riders.

Another provision backed by McConnell isn’t drawing any public criticism. He wants to make Senate candidates file their campaign finance reports electronically, to the Federal Election Commission – just like candidates for the House and the presidency. It would allow the public and the press to search campaign finance records for Senators more quickly.

Senators have resisted this change for years, while the Secretary of the Senate and the FEC spend an estimated $400,000 a year to photocopy, transport and key-punch data from hundreds of thousands of pages of filings.

Both provisions – on party spending and e-filing – are in a bill that the Senate is turning into a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package. Congress needs to pass the measure to avoid a government shutdown at the end of this week.

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Islamic State Takes Responsibility For Attack That Killed A Governor In Yemen

Yemenis inspect the scene of a car bomb attack that killed a Yemeni senior official in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, on Sunday.

Yemenis inspect the scene of a car bomb attack that killed a Yemeni senior official in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, on Sunday. EPA /LANDOV hide caption

toggle caption EPA /LANDOV

The Islamic State is taking responsibility for an attack that killed the governor of Aden in Yemen on Sunday.

Reuters reports that Jaafar Mohammed Saad and six of his aides were killed by a car bomb as he was headed to work.

Reuters adds:

“Islamic State, in a statement posted on a messaging service it uses, said it detonated a car laden with explosives aimed at Saad’s convoy in Aden’s Tawahi district and promised more operations against ‘the heads of apostasy in Yemen.’ A local official and residents said earlier on Sunday a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into the governor’s car.

“The group’s local branch has stepped up operations since the outbreak of civil war in Yemen, emerging as a forceful rival to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the main militant group in the country in recent years.”

The BBC reports that with the help of the Saudi-led coalition, Aden was recaptured by government forces earlier this year.

The network reports:

“The BBC’s Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher says the killing of Mr Saad is a blow to Saudi-led efforts to re-establish Aden as a secure base for the government which spent months in exile in Saudi Arabia.

“Mr Saad was a significant figure not just as the administrative head of Aden, but for the role he played in driving Houthi rebels out of the port city earlier this year, our correspondent says.

“But Aden has remained vulnerable to violence with jihadists carrying out regular attacks. The claim by IS introduces another dangerous factor into the equation, our correspondent says, because like the long established al-Qaeda franchise in Yemen, IS has gained strength from the violence and chaos of the past nine months of all-out conflict.”

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You Can Give A Robot A Paintbrush, But Does It Create Art?

Pindar Van Arman in his studio with paintings created by his bitPaintr portrait-painting robot.
YouTube

Whether you play an instrument, sing or sculpt, “everyone does some kind of art,” Pindar Van Arman says.

Van Arman is a painter, but he’s also a software designer. He has built a handful of machines and worked on a DARPA challenge team in California to build a self-driving car.

His latest project? A portrait-painting robot.

The concept is simple: A user uploads a picture, and the robot (a.k.a.”bitPaintr”) paints it.

The added bonus? Users can remotely jump into the software and join the robot to help it paint, whether that user is in the same room or 3,000 miles away.

Pindar Van Arman in his studio with paintings created by his bitPaintr portrait-painting robot. Craig Hudson hide caption

toggle caption Craig Hudson

BitPaintr’s purpose isn’t to replace the painter, but to help the painter — like a painting assistant. This is Van Arman’s fifth robot in 10 years. Earlier versions included bulkier devices that produced a simpler painting and painting that used pre-written algorithms or followed user-generated coordinates that took too long.

Van Arman, 41, says bitPaintr paints totally on its own — as long as you want it to — and adds that it has developed its own style.

He likes how it’s hard to distinguish whether bitPaintr’s paintings, which start at $50, were created by a human or a robot. He says they “dance on the edge” of something in between.

Van Arman, of Tysons Corner, Va., adds that he was never able to fully grasp his own, unique style as a painter.

“But my robot can,” he says.

YouTube

Though Van Arman is influenced by recent innovators like Matthew Stein of The PumaPaint Project and Ken Goldberg’s The Telegarden, robotic painting first came into the picture in the early 1970s.

It started with AARON, software written by artist Harold Cohen, and has been evolving ever since.

So what is creativity, then, if a robot with a paintbrush can be — or appear to be — just as creative as a human with a paintbrush?

Mark Riedl, an associate professor at the Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing, says it depends on how you define creativity and its bounds.

“Anything that produces anything or solves a problem is undergoing a creative process. Solving a math problem is a creative process,” he says. “[It’s] not what most people think about when you ask whether computers are creative or not.”

He says most people wouldn’t think a GPS system is creative just because it found a new route home from work, but in reality, it is.

Riedl says there is creativity and Creativity (“small c” and “big c”).

He says “creativity” has to do with everyday activity: the little things that we do hundreds of times in our daily lives; the things that could be creative, but usually aren’t.

To be “Creative” is to have a spark and imagination that people get credit for on a societal level, he says — the Picassos and the Mozarts of the world; the people who have “produced something that’s taken on this additional level of meaning.”

Riedl says what robots create is far from human-level quality art, but he sees robots entering the creative process as a positive thing.

“It’s my sense that we, as creative beasts, want the computers to keep up with us,” he says.

And thanks to innovators like Van Arman, it seems like they will.

Although his friends joke that he has invented a “really expensive, slow, bad printer,” Van Arman says teaching a machine how to be creative has helped him get to the bottom of what creativity is — and appreciate it.

“When you’re trying to teach a machine to do something that’s easy for humans, it really makes you sit back and see what humans are doing,” he says.

Van Arman says he hopes to have a traveling exhibition in the near future.

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When Mass Shootings Happen, How Survivors Learn To Cope

The attack in San Bernardino that left 16 people dead, including the shooters, came just five days after the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Though these instances of mass gun violence involved different attackers with different motives, all such events leave behind witnesses who have to find a way to understand what they’ve seen and then move beyond it.

On this week’s For the Record: the survivors. NPR’s Rachel Martin talks with two people who lived through shootings that still haunt them.


Interview Highlights

Paul Temme of Prairie Village, Kan.

In April of last year, Paul Temme went to work out at the gym at the nearby Jewish Community Center. He pulled into the parking lot and started to collect his things to get out of the car.

“At that time I’d heard some loud banging and I didn’t know what that was,” he recalls. “It didn’t frankly occur to me that it was a weapon.”

After witnessing a shooter kill two people, Paul Temme says, ” … I’ve sometimes thought that more of us should see this … Because it’s appalling to me that there aren’t more people crying out.” Courtesy of Paul Temme hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Paul Temme

Then he heard a woman call out that a man was shooting. Temme got out of the car and saw the shooter take the life of a 14-year-old boy Reat Underwood. Underwood’s grandfather, William Corporon, had taken him to the JCC for a singing competition, when man named Frazier Glenn Cross Jr. shot and killed both of them.

Paul Temme ran back to his car to get his cell phone and he called the police.

“They asked me to report what I surmised what was the condition of the victims and what kind of assistance was needed,” he says. “So I went back to the vehicle … and I reported that at that time a young man had come out of the building and he was a medic. He came equipped with a knapsack and he was trying to pull the boy out of the vehicle and resuscitate him. It was around that time also that I’m afraid the mother arrived.”

After answering questions from authorities, Temme went home. He doesn’t remember a lot of details about what he did the day after the shooting.

“I haven’t given this a lot of thought, but as I recall I went to the office,” he says. “If it wasn’t Monday I certainly went back to the office on Tuesday. But I didn’t … I wasn’t motivated to stay at home.”

A memorial at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kan., honors three victims of the area's April 2014 shootings.

A memorial at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kan., honors three victims of the area’s April 2014 shootings. Julie Denesha/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Julie Denesha/Getty Images

While his coworkers reacted with sympathy, Temme says, “Truly if they asked me I wouldn’t have answered, I wasn’t going into it. And as I think you can probably already tell that even 18 months later, I’m not very forthcoming about it, I don’t talk about it.”

That day changed Temme and how he navigates his world. He says he watches news of other shootings obsessively, but worries about how his constant consumption will affect him.

“I do spend an inordinate amount of time staying up on it. It’s hard I think,” he says. “I sometimes think to myself I should completely stop reading the news. I should completely cut myself off.”

But he doesn’t cut himself off and he has decided that there is value in talking about what he witnessed.

“It’s something that I think no one should have to experience. No one should have to see. And it’s not something that I can describe and keep my composure,” he says. “But at the same time I’ve sometimes thought that more of us should see this, more of us should see an episode like this and see the horror of it. Because it’s appalling to me that there aren’t more people crying out.”

But he also tries to shift his focus by working with a local arts organization and advocating for disadvantaged kids in the court system. And he continues to look for the good.

“I have wonderful people in my life,” he adds. “I see good things happen around me. You know, there’s good things around us.”

Sarah Bush, Eagle Mountain, Utah

Sarah Bush is 16 years out from the shooting that changed her life. She was a sophomore at Columbine High School in Colorado when the massacre happened.

On the two-year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, students stand before a memorial for the 13 people killed.

On the two-year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, students stand before a memorial for the 13 people killed. Michael Smith/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Michael Smith/Getty Images

“I still have nightmares, they don’t haunt me as much as they used to and I’m sad to say I’m used to waking up feeling that fear,” she says.

Now, she says every time there’s news of another mass shooting the fear creeps in again.

“You know, when it will be in my home town again?” she says. “When will it be my kids at school?”

At 8 years, her oldest of five children is just old enough to start asking questions about news stories he hears people talking about.

“I don’t shelter him but I also don’t use the detail that an adult might use,” she says. “I just say simply there was a bad guy that hurt a bunch of people.”

Bush hasn’t been alone through this. Her younger sister was also at Columbine on that day, and the experience has brought them closer together.

“We’re still best friends, we live five minutes from each other. And every year on the anniversary of the shootings we get together and we’ll do something fun,” she says. “We’ll go get a pedicure, we’ll have a girls’ night out, we’ll stay at a hotel somewhere. But we always try to make it a positive experience to try and turn the karma of that day, turn it to something good instead of focusing on that one bad day.”

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