The Thistle & Shamrock: A Gentle Revolution

Alan Stivell.
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Experience the massive impact of the small harp, which has built international momentum in Celtic roots music since the 1970s, thanks to artists like Alan Stivell, Savourna Stevenson and The Poozies.

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The Cactus Blossoms On World Cafe

The Cactus Blossoms at the World Cafe performance studio at WXPN in Philadelphia.
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The Cactus Blossoms at the World Cafe performance studio at WXPN in Philadelphia. Beanna Keohane/WXPN hide caption

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  • “Mississippi”
  • “Stoplight Kisses”
  • “If I Can’t Win”
  • “Change Your Ways Or Die”

Right from the first note, there is no denying sibling harmonies. As artists like the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers have proven, something special can happen when brothers sing together. That happened with brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey of The Cactus Blossoms when they started harmonizing on old country tunes at the Turf Club in their hometown of Minneapolis. After they started writing their own songs, the crowds continued to expand. Roots-rock authenticist JD McPherson heard The Cactus Blossoms and was enlisted to produce You’re Dreaming, the duo’s first national release.

Hear the session above, and check out World Cafe‘s video of The Cactus Blossoms live in the studio below.

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Beatles Producer George Martin 'Invented The Job'

Sir George Martin, seen here in 1984, was known for his crucial role in shaping the sound of the Beatles.
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Sir George Martin, seen here in 1984, was known for his crucial role in shaping the sound of the Beatles. Rob Verhorst/Getty Images hide caption

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Beatles fans around the world are paying tribute to the group’s longtime producer, Sir George Martin, who died Tuesday at age 90.

Paul McCartney said in a statement, “The world has lost a truly great man who left an indelible mark on my soul and the history of British music.” George Martin also left a lasting mark on the art of record production.

Whether horns or harpsichord, so many of the embellishments you hear on the Beatles’ songs came from Martin. He wasn’t just a good producer, says Grammy-winning producer Nigel Godrich.

“He invented the job,” Godrich says. “He invented that thought process of possibility.”

Godrich, who produced McCartney’s 2005 album Chaos and Creation In The Backyard, says one of Martin’s great talents was arranging.

“As an arranger you write the notes,” Godrich says. “You listen to the music that exists and you score your parts using the orchestra. So he was very much a musician, countless times on Beatles records.” His influence, says Godrich, is “everywhere. It’s all over them.”

Martin was known for experimenting in the studio. In 1998 he told NPR about the first time the Beatles played him a version of “Please Please Me.” He hated it.

“A real dirge,” Martin said. “It was very very slow, very boring. I said, ‘Look, if you double the speed of that, you might have something, but otherwise, forget it.'” The Beatles took his advice, and “Please Please Me” became a hit.

George Martin’s total embrace of music began well before he met the Beatles in the early 1960s. After serving in World War II, he studied composition and orchestration, piano and oboe at London’s Guildhall School of Music. He recorded jazz artists, Scottish dance bands and comedy albums.

He brought all of that knowledge and experience to the Beatles. It was Martin’s idea, for example, to add strings to “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby.”

In his autobiography, Martin said that when John Lennon played him a demo of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” it was a “lovely,” “gentle” song. He told Lennon he thought it should stay that way. But Lennon wanted to turn it into a heavy rock number, with drums, bass and electric guitars.

Martin lost that battle, at first. The band recorded the song Lennon’s way. A week later, Lennon admitted he’d been wrong. Martin said he went on to score “Strawberry Fields Forever” with cellos and trumpet. After much back and forth between him and Lennon — editing different recordings of the song — eventually, Martin told NPR, “Strawberry Fields” became one of his favorite songs.

“I was completely enchanted with that song,” Martin said. “I thought the lyrical imagery, and the musical construction, too, were something that I hadn’t heard before, and I thought John was going into a wonderfully fertile field.”

The best producers find the balance between texture and simplicity. They know when to make a song more robust and when to keep it uncomplicated.

Martin had so many musical ideas and tools at his disposal. He could add layers, experiment with speed, play tape backward, add instruments. But he also knew when to stop.

“If you keep adding colors,” he told NPR, “you start getting muddy, and they run, and it gets indistinct. If you can get your effect with a certain degree of cleanliness, then I think it’s much better than overloading things.”

Small wonder that so many producers would agree with Nigel Godrich, who calls Martin his “spiritual godfather.”

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Where Melissa Harris-Perry Saw A New Direction, MSNBC Saw Temporary Shift

Melissa Harris-Perry speaks at the Maya Angelou Forever Stamp dedication at the Warner Theatre on April 7, 2015, in Washington, D.C. Harris-Perry hosted a weekend talk show on MSNBC but left that role last month, amid a dispute with the network.

Melissa Harris-Perry speaks at the Maya Angelou Forever Stamp dedication at the Warner Theatre on April 7, 2015, in Washington, D.C. Harris-Perry hosted a weekend talk show on MSNBC but left that role last month, amid a dispute with the network. Larry French/Getty Images hide caption

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When Melissa Harris-Perry refused to host her eponymous MSNBC talk show in late February, she said she was stepping back because over the past few weeks she had been “silenced.” Shortly afterward, she and her network confirmed they had parted ways.

From the start, Harris-Perry and her employers had very different explanations for why things went south. Harris-Perry said her show was being undermined; MSNBC says it, like other shows, was temporarily affected by the election season.

The talk show host described her perspective in a letter to colleagues that was later posted on Medium. As the Two-Way reported at the time:

“In the letter, Harris explains why she objects to hosting … after weeks of having her show preempted “without comment or discussion or notice,” she says:

” ‘After four years of building an audience, developing a brand, and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced. Now, MSNBC would like me to appear for four inconsequential hours to read news that they deem relevant without returning to our team any of the editorial control and authority that makes MHP Show distinctive.

… Perry also described the ‘insulting absurdity’ of her exclusion from MSNBC’s election coverage, alleging that she was traveling for the election season just like other MSNBC journalists — even staying in the same hotels — but wasn’t included on air.”

On All Things Considered today, NPR’s David Folkenflik provides some context for the dispute:

“Under new NBC News President Andy Lack, the cable network shifted toward a newsier sensibility — as though, during the daytime, it was NBC News on cable. Several liberal opinion shows went by the wayside, though prime-time stayed the same.

“MSNBC rebranded itself the place for politics and has won stronger daytime ratings as a result. Melissa Harris-Perry says she didn’t want to be another political anchor reading the latest polls.”

David spoke both to the host and to MSNBC President Phil Griffin. Where Harris-Perry saw a change in direction, away from questions of racial and social justice and toward “horse-race coverage,” Griffin describes a temporary impact of rolling election coverage.

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Many shows on MSNBC were affected by the election coverage, Griffin said, and Harris-Perry’s show was safe.

“We had a four-year relationship with Melissa where we created this really terrific program that we loved and that brought different voices and was really part of the MSNBC sensibility,” he told David.

Harris-Perry had objections beyond election-year scheduling shifts, David reports.

“It appears to be an air that is now more homogenous, less concerned with questions of racial and social justice, and less interested in highlighting a variety of concerns that shows like mine and others had been quite focused on over the last couple of years,” she said,

She also said she believed MSNBC officials had failed to publicly support her during periods of public criticism.

You can hear the full story on All Things Considered.

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Top U.S. Volkswagen Executive Steps Down

Michael Horn, pictured here in October 2015, stepped down as Volkswagen of America CEO, the company announced Wednesday.

Michael Horn, pictured here in October 2015, stepped down as Volkswagen of America CEO, the company announced Wednesday. Cliff Owen/AP hide caption

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Volkswagen announced Wednesday that its top U.S. executive, Michael Horn, is stepping down, effective immediately. A statement from the company said the decision was reached by mutual agreement. It read:

“Volkswagen Group of America today announced the departure of Michael Horn, president and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America. Through mutual agreement with Volkswagen AG, Horn will be leaving to pursue other opportunities effective immediately. On an interim basis, Hinrich J. Woebcken, who was recently announced as the new Head of the North American Region and Chairman of Volkswagen Group of America, will assume the role of president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America.”

Horn took over at Volkswagen America in 2014. As NPR’s John Ydstie reports, Horn was the company’s point man in the U.S. as it dealt with last year’s huge emissions test cheating scandal. John reports:

“The scandal involves nearly 600,000 cars in the U.S. and 11 million vehicles worldwide that were fitted with devices that allowed them to cheat on emissions tests. Horn publicly apologized at a Volkswagen event in Brooklyn last September, shortly after the cheating was exposed.

“Horn also took heat for the company before Congress. He told angry lawmakers he believed that a couple of software engineers were responsible for the cheating. Volkswagen has not yet provided a fix for the problem.”

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Studies Reinforce The Urgency Of Treating Pregnant Women With Malaria

Bed nets have protected Mary Akye and her five children from malaria-carrying mosquitoes in Ghana.

Bed nets have protected Mary Akye and her five children from malaria-carrying mosquitoes in Ghana. Karen Kasmauski/Corbis hide caption

toggle caption Karen Kasmauski/Corbis

The world is focused on finding a link between pregnant women infected with the Zika virus and severe birth defects. But two studies and an editorial in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine are reminders that malaria, a disease that killed about half a million people in 2015, also has profound consequences for pregnant women and their infants. The new studies provide much-needed guidance on how to prevent and treat malaria during pregnancy.

“Malaria during pregnancy is a major public health concern,” says Dr. Joel Tarning, Head of Clinical Pharmacology at Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok, Thailand, and author of the NEJM editorial “Treatment of Malaria in Pregnancy.”

Recommended treatment for malaria is artemisinin combination therapy, or ACT, a mix of drugs shown to effectively treat the disease. But until now, the treatment has not been tested on women expecting babies.

“Pregnant women are often excluded from clinical trials, which hampers the implementation of these drug treatments,” says Tarning.

If malaria is left untreated during pregnancy, infected red blood cells gather in the placenta and block the crucial exchange of nutrients from mother to fetus. The result can be miscarriage, stillbirth and low birth weight, says Tarning.

In sub-Saharan Africa, malaria during pregnancy is thought to be responsible for 20 percent of low birth weight babies each year, leading to 100,000 infant deaths, according to a recent NEJM study.

In Africa many people are immune from malaria and show no symptoms when infected, but pregnancy reduces a woman’s immunity. Even when an infected woman has no symptoms, the disease can still harm the fetus, again resulting in low birth weight, miscarriage or stillbirth.

Despite a lack of clinical trial evidence on how to safely and effectively prevent and treat malaria during pregnancy, the consequences of no treatment are severe.

“Not treating pregnant women with malaria is not an option, since this is a life-threatening disease,” says Tarning.

So the current WHO recommendations are that women living in areas where malaria is prevalent sleep under pesticide-treated nets; that women be given two doses of malaria prevention drugs during their pregnancy; and that women with malaria be treated during the second and third trimester.

Those WHO guidelines on treating malaria in pregnant women haven’t changed, but now, with good evidence that they are safe and effective, health ministries can be more confident in carrying them out.

“I hope that these studies provide the needed evidence for countries to use ACTs in the treatment of pregnant women with malaria,” says Tarning.

And they provide support for being treated earlier in pregnancy. Tarning pointed out a new study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases that treatment with ACTs is safe and effective during the first trimester. “It’s time to reconsider first-trimester anti-malarial treatment recommendations,” he says.

Just as important, he says, the studies show that in countries where many pregnant women are infected with malaria but show no symptoms because of built-up immunity, treatment with ACTs will benefit them and their unborn babies. “Hopefully, this will start the debate on using ACTs as preventive treatment in this group,” he says.

Now there is clear guidance on how malaria drugs affect pregnant women. In another study, 3,428 pregnant women with malaria from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi and Zambia were treated with four different anti-malaria drug combinations. Cure rates ranged from 95 percent to 99.2 percent, with few side effects. And the study on preventive treatment in 300 pregnant women with no malaria symptoms found that the drug combination of dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine, one of the combination drugs, prevented the disease and raised no safety concerns.

These studies on malaria’s effect on pregnant women, a group previously not studied adequately in clinical trials, should go a long way in protecting mothers and babies from the harmful consequences of the disease.

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Transcript: NPR's Interview With Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke with NPR’s Ari Shapiro. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Ari Shapiro: Welcome to the show and congratulations on your win last night.

Bernie Sanders: Well, thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Since your victory, you have sent out a handful of fundraising emails, and I’m curious how much you have raised off of last night’s Michigan win.

I honestly don’t know, but I will tell you this. We have received over 5 million individual campaign contributions since we began this campaign, averaging about $27 a piece.

I wondered if you were going to say $27. I’ve heard that number before.

Now, let’s talk about how you won Michigan, largely in thanks to white voters which has also been true in other states where you’ve done well. And I wonder about your effort to close the gap with Secretary (Hillary) Clinton among African-American voters, particularly in light of your remarks on Sunday night, “when you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto,” which many black leaders criticized.

No, no. Number one, let’s relax a little bit here. We began at 3 percent in the polls. Since then, we have now won nine states, most of them by very, very large margins. Last night we won Michigan by a point-and-a-half.

We started off in very low numbers in the African-American community. Those numbers have been going up. In fact, last night in Michigan as I understand it through exit polls, we won about 32 percent of the African-American vote, and maybe one-half of young African-Americans. In Colorado and in Nevada, we believe we won the Latino vote.

So we have come a long, long way in a reasonably short period of time.

Let me say something about your remarks. There’s no candidate who has talked more about poverty in this country than I have. The fact is we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth, which is a national disgrace; 35 percent of African-American kids are living in poverty; 51 percent of African American high school graduates between 17 and 20 are unemployed or underemployed.

So when you’re talking about poverty, I would suggest to you that I am the candidate who talks and knows more about that issue I believe than any other candidate out there, and has a legislative agenda that will address those problems — raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, creating …

Then why do you think you have had so much difficulty winning over black voters so far in the primaries?

I don’t think it’s a question of us winning over black voters. I think it is a question of Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton having very strong support in the African-American community. And I congratulate them for that.

But I do believe, and I think what the evidence suggests, is that more and more people know my record on criminal justice, on economics. In the African-American community, in the Latino community, we are doing better and better and better.

Senator, I’d like to ask about jobs and trade. Your message on trade really struck a nerve in Michigan.

Yeah.

When you talk about your proposals to put Americans back to work, you talk a lot about rebuilding roads and bridges. Beyond infrastructure improvements, what is your plan to create American jobs?

Well, for a start, when you have in Flint, Mich., a water system which is poisoning children, and to a lesser degree we have collapsing water systems in many communities in this country, yes, we need to invest heavily in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.

We have a plan for a trillion dollar investment that would create up to 13 million decent-paying jobs.

Second of all, you are quite right in saying that we did well in Michigan yesterday because of our trade position. NAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China have cost us millions of decent-paying jobs. As president, I intend to change those policies and demand that corporate America start investing in this country, not just in Mexico, China and other low-wage countries.

In terms of other economic policies, to create jobs, we will be supporting medium-size businesses and small businesses, providing tax incentives to them.

Let’s look at the map going forward. Even though your surprise win in Michigan was the big headline of the night, Secretary Clinton actually came out of last night’s contests with a wider delegate lead than before after her strong win in Mississippi. She’s now more than 200 pledged delegates ahead of you, not including the superdelegates.

So at some point in order to secure this nomination, you have to start winning more bigger states by wider margins than you’ve been able to do so far. When do you expect we will begin to see that happen?

Well, as I’m sure you know, the caucus and primary map up to this point has really favored the secretary because a lot of her victories, including her big victory in Mississippi yesterday, are in the Deep South. So let me be very frank. We have not done well in the Deep South, and it’s not surprising. The South is a pretty conservative area. I’m not a conservative.

But we have already won nine caucuses and primaries — in New England. We’ve won them in the Midwest. We’ve won them in the Southwest. And it turns out that the caucuses and primaries that are now coming up in the future I think are looking pretty good for us.

So, you are looking at large states like New York state where we think we have a pretty good chance to win. You’re looking at the West Coast, where I think we have an excellent chance to win in California, Oregon, Washington State, Hawaii, smaller states like Montana and Idaho.

So I think that the coming primaries and caucuses actually favor us. So the Deep South was very good for Secretary Clinton. But I should also point out to you that a lot of those states in the Deep South, unfortunately, I wish I could tell you otherwise, are probably not going to be won in the general election by Secretary Clinton and myself. But when we win, as we did in Colorado and in Minnesota and in Michigan, these are — in New Hampshire — these are battleground states which Democrats have to win. We have already won them.

We actually did the math looking ahead. And if you have an extraordinarily good night on Tuesday, winning Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio, every state but North Carolina, and you go on to win Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington and California by large margins, you would still need 51 percent of all the delegates from all of the remaining contests, not factoring in superdelegates.

That seems like an extremely steep hill to climb.

Well, let me tell you something. When I started at 60 or 70 points behind Secretary Clinton — how was that? Was that a pretty steep hill to climb?

Yesterday some observers said that we pulled off one of the biggest political upsets in the history of American politics. So stay tuned. I think we are going to go further and we have a good chance to pull off the biggest political upset in the modern history of America. We can win this thing. We’ve got a path toward victory. I think we have the momentum. We’re looking forward to a victory.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you for your time.

Thank you very much. Take care.

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Iran Tests 2 Ballistic Missiles Reportedly Designed To Reach Israel

A ballistic surface-to-surface missile is fired by Iran's Revolutionary Guard, during a maneuver, in an undisclosed location in Iran on Wednesday.

A ballistic surface-to-surface missile is fired by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, during a maneuver, in an undisclosed location in Iran on Wednesday. Omid Vahabzadeh/AP via Fars News Agency hide caption

toggle caption Omid Vahabzadeh/AP via Fars News Agency

Iran’s military tested two ballistic missiles Wednesday, and an Iranian officer says the missiles are designed to reach Israel, according to an Iranian news agency. Iran has conducted a number of other ballistic missile tests this week.

The tests, which come after Iran won sanctions relief in January by curbing its nuclear program, seem to be “aimed at demonstrating that Iran will push forward with its ballistic program,” The Associated Press reports.

NPR’s Peter Kenyon tells our Newscast unit that “the tests may violate a U.N. Security Council resolution barring Iran from test-firing missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.” Here’s more from Peter:

“Iran says its missiles aren’t designed for nuclear weapons. The U.S. says Iran’s missile program is not part of last year’s nuclear agreement, but Iran has warned that any new sanctions could mean an end to the deal.”

Iran’s Press TV has video of the ballistic missile launch on its website. You can watch it here.

As Reuters reports, “the missile tests underline a rift in Iran between hard-line factions opposed to normalizing relations with the West, and President Hassan Rouhani’s relatively moderate government, which is trying to attract foreign investors to Iran.” Additionally, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps “maintains dozens of short and medium-range ballistic missiles, the largest stock in the Middle East.”

Iran denies that this test was “provocative,” according to the wire service.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told journalists that the reported missile launches underscore the importance of the nuclear deal with Iran. “Iran is working aggressively to try to enhance their ballistic missile capability, and preventing them from being able to nuclearize their missiles is — is obviously important to our national security here in the United States,” he says.

Earnest adds that it “would not be a surprise if there are additional launches over the next several days.”

NPR’s Michele Kelemen says the State Department and the White House are taking a “cautious line” on the missile test. The State Department says “Secretary of State John Kerry raised this in a phone call with his Iranian counterpart,” Michele reports.

Hillary Clinton took a harder line than the current administration. She said in a statement that Iran’s “blatant violation” of the Security Council resolution should have “consequences.” She adds: “Iran should face sanctions for these activities, and the international community must demonstrate that Iran’s threats toward Israel will not be tolerated.”

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Feeling Unwanted In Germany, Some Afghan Migrants Head Home

Afghans seeking passports wait in line in Kabul on Jan. 20. Many Afghans are seeking to leave the country, though some have returned from countries like Germany after finding out that they were unlikely to receive asylum.

Afghans seeking passports wait in line in Kabul on Jan. 20. Many Afghans are seeking to leave the country, though some have returned from countries like Germany after finding out that they were unlikely to receive asylum. Xinhua News Agency hide caption

toggle caption Xinhua News Agency

It took Abdul Arian months to realize that his decision to migrate from his home country, Afghanistan, to Germany was a huge mistake.

He set off nearly a year ago, hoping to be granted asylum so that he could go to university and study psychology.

His journey, organized by smugglers, was long and perilous. Arian, 24, says he nearly drowned off the shores of Greece, when the inflatable dinghy he was traveling in capsized.

He says he and his fellow travelers got lost somewhere in Hungary and walked through the rain for 24 hours before they found the path again.

Yet the reason that Arian finally saw his mistake was not because something nasty or dangerous happened to him. It was because nothing really happened at all.

When Arian arrived in Germany, he was placed in a migrants’ reception center.

“We had nothing to do in the camp,” he says. “We just stayed there.”

He played a lot of soccer. He ate a lot of jelly sandwiches. He moped about. Officials wrote down his name. In the end, he says, he was in Germany for 10 months, yet “no one asked me why I went there and why I was there.” No one seemed to want to listen to him explain why he should be allowed to stay.

It also soon became clear to Arian that local Germans did not appreciate his presence. While people from the church and social workers helped the migrants and were “very nice,” residents of the nearby village seemed hostile.

“When we were walking along the sidewalk, people would avoid us,” says Arian.

Germany Says Many Must Leave

Last year, 150,000 Afghans arrived in Germany. The German authorities estimate less that half qualify for asylum.

German officials say at present a tiny number of Afghans — 1,600, according to estimates given to them by Afghan officials in Germany — are willing to go back home voluntarily.

But many will have to leave, says Germany’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Markus Potzel.

“It means that more than half of them have to be sent back because they can’t stay,” says Potzel. “There are some obstacles for them to be sent back immediately, but we have a huge number of Afghans who are not eligible to stay in Germany and should be sent back.”

During Arian’s time in Germany, he began to notice that Syrian migrants were being treated very differently. They were provided with language lessons and eventually passports, he says.

“When we complained to the social workers, they responded frankly. They said, ‘We’ve invited Syrians here, not Afghans,’ ” he says.

This prompted some of Arian’s fellow Afghans to stage demonstrations.

“They were shouting, ‘We don’t want to go back to Afghanistan! There is a war there!’ ” he says. “But no one listened to them.”

The weeks rolled by. Arian was moved to another center. But still nothing happened. He grew steadily more convinced that he had no chance of being allowed to stay in Germany. Then depression set in.

“I was in very bad condition. I couldn’t sleep. I decided to go back to Afghanistan, before I went crazy,” he says.

Arian returned home last month. He was one of 125 Afghans sent back to Afghanistan on a charter flight organized by the German and Afghan governments. The passengers all signed a form saying they were returning voluntarily.

Arian’s family spent most of their savings on his trip to Germany. To pay the smuggler’s bill of $7,500, they sold land and a car. Arian is now worrying about what his family feels about that.

“So far, I haven’t seen any reaction from them because I’ve just arrived back. But I don’t know what’s in their hearts,” he says.

Arian is faced with finding work amid rampant unemployment in a society where good jobs are very hard to find without political or personal connections — or cash for a hefty bribe.

Humiliation For Some

That much is clear from the experience of Shirdil Bayat, 40. He was deported from Denmark two years ago, after a court rejected his request for asylum — which he’d based on a claim that his life was threatened by the Taliban in his home city, Kandahar.

Lacking personal connections, Bayat took 16 months to find permanent work as an office cleaner in the capital, Kabul. He says returning home to Kandahar is still too risky. On a recent day when he was interviewed by NPR, he’d been laid off because of budget cuts. He says he has no idea what he’ll do next.

Bayat says returning to Afghanistan after having failed in Europe can be very humiliating. Some families are sympathetic, but far from all.

“People jeer at you. They ask, ‘Why did so-and-so get citizenship in Europe while you did not? Maybe you’re useless,’ ” he says.

The Germans are running a PR campaign in Afghanistan, trying to deter Afghans from traveling to their land. They’ve posted announcements on billboards, buses and the Internet, urging Afghans to think twice before setting off.

Germany views many of the Afghans who’ve arrived on its soil as economic migrants seeking jobs or education.

German officials maintain that under international law, Germany is not required to grant asylum to those migrants — unlike Syrians, who are fleeing a war zone.

The United Nations estimates that last year, some 11,000 civilians were killed or injured by conflict in Afghanistan. Afghans say that bolsters proof that there is war in Afghanistan, too — and that Afghans should therefore be granted protection by European nations.

“Afghans are not leaving Afghanistan because of a lack of jobs, ” says Ashraf Haidari, director-general of policy and strategy at Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry. “They are fleeing generalized violence. Terrorism that is killing men, women and children,” he says. “That – and political uncertainty as a result of withdrawal of international forces and diminishing international development aid.”

Germany Draws A Distinction

However, Potzel, Germany’s ambassador, says the situation in Afghanistan differs hugely from Syria’s.

“Here in Afghanistan, you don’t have a government who would bomb their own population,” he says. “Here, the government tries to protect their own people. There are unsafe regions and there are less unsafe regions in Afghanistan, and there are regions — especially in the big cities — where a sort of normal life is going on.”

Germany is one of the main international donors to Afghanistan. Over the last 14 years, it has poured a great deal of money into the country. It seems unlikely that it would wish to risk making Afghanistan still more unstable by forcibly returning large numbers of Afghans over a short time span.

Yet there is considerable concern in Afghanistan about what might happen if significant numbers of angry and disillusioned young Afghans are eventually sent back from Europe.

Some European countries provide financial support packages to help people settle in, but the sums are generally small and over a limited time period.

Professor Sayed Masoud, an economist based in Kabul, foresees “disaster.”

“Either they will join the Taliban or become drug addicts,” he says, “because the government can’t provide jobs.”

Meanwhile, Afghans keep heading on the trail to Europe. On a recent early morning in Kabul, hundreds of men were lined up outside the government office that issues passports.

Among them was Wahidullah Mohammadi, 19, who wants to migrate to Europe to go to school. He is aware of the risk of being deported back home — and of losing the thousands of dollars he’ll pay to smugglers.

Still, he still thinks the odds are worth it.

“The situation is not good here and there is no guaranteed future,” he says. “This is why I have to accept this risk.”

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High Doses Of Experimental Drug Implicated In Botched French Study

A clinical trial at the Biotrial laboratory in Rennes, France, left one person dead and put five more in the hospital.

A clinical trial at the Biotrial laboratory in Rennes, France, left one person dead and put five more in the hospital. Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

An investigation into a clinical test in France that left one person dead and put five in the hospital has found evidence of brain damage in people who took high doses of the experimental pain medicine.

The early-stage clinical study, conducted by Biotrial in France, was halted in January when the side effects surfaced. It was the first time the drug, made by the Portuguese company Bial and known as “BIA 10-2474,” was tested in humans.

A report released Monday by a committee of scientists says people who got high cumulative doses of the drug sustained damage to their brains, specifically the hippocampus and pons. Those who got lower doses had no consistent adverse reactions.

The reports says the patients’ symptoms and injuries were “completely unusual, with no relatedness to a known disease or toxicity.”

Previous tests in rats, mice, dogs and monkeys involved doses up to 650 times those given to human subjects. While some animals had brain damage or died when given extremely high doses, there were no consistent signs indicating the drug would be unsafe for humans.

The molecule is meant to inhibit an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase with a central role in the endocannabinoid system, a set of receptors also involved in processing THC, an ingredient in marijuana.

In all, 90 people took the experimental drug, at different doses. The six who were hospitalized had gotten the highest dose, which was 10 to 40 times higher than that needed to completely block the enzyme.

“We don’t know by what mechanism the molecule caused these lesions, and I fear we won’t know it for a long time since they couldn’t have been due to the endocannabinoid system that was targeted by the molecule,” Dr. Bernard Begaud, who leads the scientific committee investigating the incident, told the French publication Sciences et Avenir.

Two similar compounds were abandoned by other companies because they weren’t deemed effective.

Often, the intensity of a drug’s side effects increase with the dose. But in this case, the investigators note, there was no sign of a linear pattern. People who received a cumulative dose less than 200 milligrams were, for the most part, fine. But all six patients who received a cumulative dose higher than 250 milligrams had “serious central nervous system symptoms.”

At those doses, the report authors hypothesize, the molecule may have suppressed the target enzyme too much, preventing it from breaking down other chemicals. That may have allowed a chemical like anandamide, which is present in chocolate in tiny amounts, to build up to dangerous concentrations in the brain.

Another idea is that the molecule acted on unintended enzymes or that it produced toxic byproducts in the brain.

The group, set up by the French National Agency for Medicines and Health Products Safety, will reconvene later this month to review hypotheses on what went wrong and to make recommendations to the French government to improve clinical trial regulations.

The committee has also asked Bial to explain why the company did preliminary studies in four species of animals, as opposed to the usual two, why it decided to continue studies on the potential pain reliever when it only worked in two animal tests, and why it chose to test such high cumulative doses in people.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also investigating the case. The agency said in late January that while this drug hasn’t been tested in the U.S., there are studies on other drugs that work the same way.

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