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Apollo Robbins may be one of the few people in the world to proudly identify as a professional pickpocket. He shows off his skills in Vegas and elsewhere, and works as a consultant to help all kinds of organizations protect themselves from people like him.

We've invited Robbins to play a game called "Try to pick this pocket, hot shot!" He may know all about picking pockets, but what does he know about Hot Pockets? Three questions about microwavable turnovers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald first saw his future wife from across a crowded room at a country club dance in Montgomery, Ala., where he was in basic training and she was waiting to be discovered by the world. They wed in 1920, and the two went on to have a famously turbulent marriage — tarnished by personal and professional jealousy, alcohol abuse and mental illness — which they both immortalized in their writing.

The Affordable Care Act turns 3 Saturday, and it seems it's just as divisive as the day President Obama signed it.

"This law expands our competitiveness, promotes wellness and prevention, and enhances the economic security of the middle class," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "It enables Americans to pursue their dreams, start a business, change jobs, or care for their families with the certainty and security of affordable, quality health insurance."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell replied in a statement of his own:

"Three years after Senate Democrats passed Obamacare on a party-line vote, the terrible consequences that Republicans warned about are coming true. It's already costing jobs, health insurance premiums are skyrocketing, government spending on health care is expected to increase dramatically, and millions of Americans are expected to lose the employer-sponsored health insurance they currently enjoy."

In the late 1960s, an all-girl singing group hit it big. But they didn't come from Detroit or Memphis — the four young aboriginal women hailed from the Australian Outback.

At the time, aboriginal people were just gaining basic civil rights, like voting and being counted as Australian citizens. The girls faced intense racism at home, but they took their act all the way to Vietnam to entertain American troops.

A new film, The Sapphires, is loosely based on their story. Its plot might seem improbable, but Tony Briggs, who wrote the screenplay, knows just how true it is: One of the original, real-life Sapphires is his mother, Laurel Robinson.

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Lebanon's prime minister resigned Friday due to government infighting that threatens to leave a void in the state's highest ranks at a time of rising tensions and sporadic violence inflamed by the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Najib Mikati stepped down to protest the parliament's inability to agree on a law to govern elections set for later this year, as well as for the Cabinet's refusal to extend the tenure of the country's police chief, who is about to retire.

Underpinning the political crisis are Lebanon's hugely sectarian politics and the fact that the country's two largest political blocs support opposite sides in Syria's civil war. Lebanon and Syria share a complex network of political and sectarian ties, and many fear that violence in Syria will spread to Lebanon.

In a speech aired live Friday on Lebanese TV, Mikati said he hoped his departure would force other politicians to find solutions.

"Today I announce the government's resignation, hoping that God willing it will provide an impetus for the primary political blocs in Lebanon to assume their responsibilities," he said.

"There is no way to be loyal to Lebanon and protect it other than through dialogue that opens the way to the formation of a salvation government that represents all Lebanese political powers and takes responsibility for saving the nation," he said.

There were signs of rising tensions before Mikati's speech.

Gunmen who support and oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad clashed Friday in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, leaving six people dead and more than 20 wounded, according to state-run National News Agency. Clashes between the Sunni neighborhood of Bab Tabbaneh, which supports Syria's rebels, and the adjacent Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, which supports Assad, have broken out repeatedly in recent months.

Also in Tripoli, the Lebanese army said a soldier was killed and several others wounded during an army raid to capture several gunmen.

Mikati's resignation follows months of political wrangling in the Lebanese parliament that has yet to agree on a law to govern parliamentary elections planned for June. The failure to agree on a law could delay the vote.

Also, the Hezbollah-dominated Cabinet has refused to extend the tenure of Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, Lebanon's police chief, who is considered a foe by the Islamic militant group.

In his speech, Mikati said Rifi's departure would send the police department into "a vacuum."

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman must accept Mikati's resignation for it to be official, a step that is all but a formality.

This will open the way for a new round of political jockeying as the parliamentary blocs try to build coalitions to choose a new prime minister. Top posts will remain vacant until a new Cabinet is in place.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was "watching the situation in Lebanon very, very carefully."

"Our basic view of this is that we believe the Lebanese people deserve a government that reflects their aspirations and one that will strengthen Lebanon's stability, its sovereignty and its independence," she told reporters. "And we have grave concerns about the role that Hezbollah plays."

Mikati has been prime minister since June 2011, heading a government dominated by Hezbollah and its allies. Their main rivals are a Western-backed coalition headed by former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, son of Rafik Hariri, who was also Prime Minister and killed in a truck bombing in 2005.

A Harvard-educated billionaire, Mikati was chosen to lead the government after Hezbollah forced the collapse of Lebanon's previous, pro-Western government over fears a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the killing of the elder Hariri would indict Hezbollah members.

But Mikati's relations with Hezbollah have never been smooth. He has rejected the notion that he serves Hezbollah or that his government will act as an Iranian proxy. Hezbollah accuses him of loyalty to the rival camp.

Mikati's resignation may be an attempt to boost his credentials among his fellow Sunni Muslims ahead of the upcoming election and amid the violence in Tripoli, his hometown.


Does the budget bill passed by Congress this week derail the United States Postal Service (USPS) plan to end Saturday delivery of first class mail?

Depending on how you interpret the situation, the answer is either "yes" or "no." The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the USPS is bound by law to keep delivering on Saturdays. But that's not how everyone sees it, as Reuters reports:

Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Representative Darrell Issa of California on Thursday told the USPS Board of Governors to move forward with implementing the five-day delivery plan for mail.

"The Board of Governors has a fiduciary responsibility to utilize its legal authority to implement modified 6-day mail delivery as recently proposed," the lawmakers said in their letter to the USPS board.

For eight decades, Daily Variety has been a Hollywood must-read for everyone from studio heads to actors looking for a big break. But the days of assistants running out to grab the "trades" are over: This week, the Los Angeles institution published its last daily edition.

Daily Variety will continue online — or on the "info-pike," as the magazine would say in its distinctive "slanguage" — and a print magazine will still appear on a weekly basis. The shift away from a daily reflects the fact that, like many other publications, Daily Variety has been buffeted by changing reader habits as well as major shifts in the industry it covers.

Neil Gabler, a cultural historian at the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center, joins NPR's Renee Montagne to explain the importance of Variety, decode some of its slang and explain how the world of Hollywood news has transformed.

This interview was originally broadcast on Oct. 6, 2010.

Justin Timberlake has come a long way from the first time he stepped on a stage at the age of 8.

"My mother sort of makes this joke that she's surprised that I know what she looks like, because up until I ... first stepped onto a stage, all I did was look down at my feet," Timberlake explains. "As soon as I discovered the stage, it brought out a lot in me that I didn't know I had. And it did it at a very young age, and it was one of the most fun things that I could ever do."

The versatile performer has since proven that he can sing — he has produced several hit solo albums, including Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds — after leading the 1990s boy band 'N Sync to become the third-highest selling boy band of all time. And he has demonstrated his acting chops, performing in both comedic and dramatic roles.

Several digital shorts from his appearances on Saturday Night Live, including "Dick in a Box" and "Motherlover," have become viral Internet sensations, while his performance as Napster founder Sean Parker in David Fincher's The Social Network was lauded by both The New York Times and The New Yorker; in the latter, David Denby wrote that Timberlake's "charm and physical dynamism ... torque the movie even higher."

Timberlake's success on the stage started when he was just 11 years old. He appeared on Star Search, then successfully auditioned for a part on the Disney Channel series The New Mickey Mouse Club alongside future stars Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and JC Chasez, who would become his bandmate in 'N Sync.

"When you're a kid and things like that happen, and it happens so fast, you can't help but feel like something great was happening for you," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "But I look back on it and I think it was more of a fluke than anything."

From The New Mickey Mouse Club, Timberlake went to 'N Sync, eventually performing at the Oscars, the World Series, the Super Bowl and the Olympics — and recording with Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, Elton John and Celine Dion, among others. From there he launched a solo career, releasing hits "Rock Your Body," "My Love" and "SexyBack," which became his first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 and won Best Dance Recording at the 2007 Grammy Awards.

Timberlake tells Terry Gross that he isn't exactly sure where the lyric "I'm bringing sexy back" came from — and that he occasionally regrets writing it that way.

"People feel like it's an extension of who I am, but ... when I get the opportunity to tell them I was playing a character, sometimes they get it and sometimes they don't," he says. "For whatever reason, when we started recording it, I wanted the vocal to almost slap you in the face. I wanted it to sound distorted. ... Originally the song wasn't going to be called that. ... I thought that was too on the nose. [But] the more I played it for people around me, that's what they called it."

Timberlake says that in spite of his achievements — he has earned six Grammys and two Emmys, among other accolades — he still attributes the bulk of his success to his mother, who made sure he was comfortable and aware of his place in the world.

"I remember her saying, 'If you have the ability to do something, one or two things great, it doesn't mean that you're a better person than anyone else.' And I think I've held onto that," he says.

What matters more to him than trophies, he says, are "comments from people who say, 'You've helped me through a rough time,' or [people] saying that you made them laugh or something — that something you did was great, rather than materialistic awards or things like that."

NPR Science Correspondent Richard Harris traveled to Australia's Great Barrier Reef to find out how the coral reefs are coping with increased water temperature and increasing ocean acidity, brought about by our burning of fossil fuels. Day 4: Richard catches up with one of the gurus of climate science out on the reef.

Ken Caldeira loves a challenge, and he has a big one right under his feet. He's standing on an expanse of coral reef out in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. It's being washed with water as the tide streams over the reef, from a lagoon to the open sea.

Richard's Dispatches From Down Under

The Two-Way

Day 3: 'Birds Gone Wild' Out On Heron Island


NPR Science Correspondent Richard Harris traveled to Australia's Great Barrier Reef to find out how the coral reefs are coping with increased water temperature and increasing ocean acidity, brought about by our burning of fossil fuels. Day 3: Waiting for a boat to the next island, Richard meets some rowdy birds.

Weeds are not a true category of plant. A weed is simply a plant that's growing where a person wishes it weren't.

Richard's Dispatches From Down Under

The Two-Way

Day 2: A Turf Battle Rages On The Great Barrier Reef

Two Italian marines are returning to India to face charges stemming from the 2012 deaths of two Indian fisherman, Italian officials announced Thursday.

As we recounted recently, disagreement over how to handle the case had resulted in a diplomatic confrontation between India and Italy.

The marines had previously been allowed to leave India to vote in Italian national elections in late February, with the promise that they would return to face charges afterward. On March 11, the Italian government reversed course and decided it would not send the marines — Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone — back to face justice. In response, India was to insist that the Italian ambassador could not leave India.

Here's how the AP explains the shooting that led to the charges:

The Italian marines were on anti-pirate duty aboard a cargo ship off India's coast in February last year when the fishermen, aboard an Indian fishing boat, were killed.

Italy has insisted the shooting happened in international waters during an international anti-piracy mission and Italy should have jurisdiction.

Twenty years after multiple blasts ripped through India's commercial capital, Mumbai, killing more than 200 people, the country's Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of a leading Bollywood actor for his role in the attacks.

Sanjay Dutt was charged with possessing an AK-56 assault rifle and a pistol that were given to him by men who were later convicted for their role in the serial blasts in 1993. Dutt has already served 18 months of his original six-year prison sentence, but was released in 2007 pending an appeal. The Indian Supreme Court on Thursday reduced his sentence by a year, but ordered him to report to prison within the next month to serve out the remainder of his 3 1/2-year term.

Dutt has maintained that he'd asked for the guns for protection for his family. In a statement Thursday, he said he was "heartbroken."

"I have already suffered for 20 years and been in jail for 18 months," he said. "If they want me to suffer more, I have to be strong. I believe in the judicial system of India."

Here's more from The Associated Press about other ruling Thursday:

"A total of 100 people were convicted of involvement in the blasts.

"The court upheld the death sentence given to Yakub Memon, who is a brother of Ibrahim 'Tiger' Memon, a suspected mastermind of the bombings who remains at large. However, the court commuted to life in prison the death sentences given to 10 other men convicted of carrying out the blasts. Some of the men have been in prison for nearly two decades."

For baseball fans, spring training is a time for renewed hopes and a reminder that winter is almost over. But for the major league teams and Arizona and Florida communities, spring training is big business. In Florida, 1.5 million fans attend spring training games with an estimated $750 million annual economic impact, and the state is working to keep the teams from fleeing.

In Port St. Lucie, on Florida's east coast, an hour before the first pitch at Tradition Field, many fans are already in their seats. They're watching the New York Mets take batting practice. The Mets have played at Tradition Field since it was built in 1988 by a developer who hoped it would attract people to the area. And it certainly has.

More than 80,000 people attended the Mets' 15 spring training home games last year, including Guy and Doris DelSignore. They're retired New Yorkers who come down every year for spring training.

"We like baseball and it gives us something to do," Doris DelSignore says. Her husband adds: "We've been with the Mets from 1962, since they started. We're die-hard Mets fans."

With just 7,000 seats, it's a more intimate, relaxed version of the major league experience. Beer vendors work the crowd, while people line up for autographs next to the dugouts.

The Economic Factor

In Florida and in Arizona, spring training has changed from the days when fans easily rubbed shoulders with players and coaching staff. But spring training attracts more people than ever.


For Cubs Fans, A Little Hope And A Lot Of Patience

Yoko Ono, the widow of slain Beatle John Lennon, has weighed in on the issue of gun control by tweeting a photo of the blood-spattered eyeglasses worn by the legendary musician when he was fatally shot by a deranged fan more than three decades ago.

Her tweet, on the 44th anniversary of the couple's marriage:

"Over 1,057,000 people have been killed by guns in the USA since John Lennon was shot and killed on 8 Dec 1980."

In a series of follow-up tweets:

"31,537 people are killed by guns in the USA every year. We are turning this beautiful country into war zone."

"Together, let's bring back America, the green land of peace."

"The death of a loved one is a hollowing experience. After 33 years our son Sean and I still miss him."

This week, optimists had no trouble finding fresh evidence to suggest that the housing market is recovering.

On Thursday, they learned from a Realtors' report that existing home sales hit the highest level in more than 3 years. And earlier this week, a Commerce Department report showed homebuilding permits have been rising at the quickest pace since June 2008.

But not everyone is convinced that the sector's momentum has staying power. Skeptics point to reasons why the housing sector might falter, just as it has several times over the past six years.

If the optimists and pessimists had to face off in front of a judge, these are the exhibits they might enter as evidence:

The Optimists' Case

Your honor, don't be blinded by years of bad news. Look at these recent statistics:

— Home prices rose by more than 7 percent last year, according to the widely respected S&P/Case-Shiller Index.

— Builders have been hiring again, adding workers at a pace of 30,000 a month over the past five months.

— The Federal Reserve plans to hold interest rates at historically low levels for a long time, making homes more affordable.

— The number of underwater borrowers, i.e., those whose mortgages exceed the value of their homes, fell by almost 4 million last year to 7 million, according to JPMorgan Securities.


For Some Ready To Buy, A Good Home Is Hard To Find

Who or what caused a takedown of computer systems at banks and broadcasters in South Korea on Wednesday is still a matter of speculation, but suspicion immediately and unsurprisingly fell on Seoul's archenemy to the north.

If true, it wouldn't be the first time that North Korea, often regarded as technologically backward, has successfully wielded the computer as weapon.

Computer antivirus maker McAfee says Pyongyang was behind two major denial of service (DDos) attacks in recent years — one in 2011 that was directed at South Korean government and banking websites, and another in 2009 that brought down U.S. government Internet sites. Pyongyang has denied involvement in either attack.

(And, as recently as last week, North Korea has also blamed the South for similar attacks.)

"It's got to be a hacking attack," Lim Jong-in, dean of Korea University's Graduate School of Information Security, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying of Wednesday's computer problems. "Such simultaneous shutdowns cannot be caused by technical glitches."

As AsianCorrespondent.com points out, Pyongyang has become something of a cyber-scapegoat in South Korea, leading to skepticism when companies point fingers northward for tech troubles. Even so, on Wednesday, the problems were "so wide-ranging ... that many feel, and fear, that the North is upping their game in the peninsula's cyberwar."

It might also seem a little too coincidental that Pyongyang threatened last year to attack several companies, including two that were hit by computer outages — broadcasters KBS and MBC.

Wednesday's attack, if indeed it was one, looks more sophisticated than a DDos attack, which as we've reported in the past, can be relatively simple to pull off.

An unnamed official from the state-run Korea Communications Commission, South Korea's telecom regulator, told the AP that in Wednesday's alleged attack, investigators speculate malicious code was spread from company servers that send automatic updates of security software and virus patches.

Korean broadcasters KBS and MBC said their computers went down at 2 p.m. "[and] ... were still down about seven hours after the shutdown began," the Associated Press reported, citing the Korea Communications Commission.

KBS employees said they watched helplessly as files stored on their computers began disappearing. According to the AP:

"Orchestrating the mass shutdown of the networks of major companies would have taken at least one to six months of planning and coordination, said Kwon Seok-chul, chief executive officer of Seoul-based cybersecurity firm Cuvepia Inc.

"Kwon, who analyzed personal computers at one of the three broadcasters shut down Wednesday, said he hasn't yet seen signs that the malware was distributed by North Korea.

" 'But hackers left indications in computer files that mean this could be the first of many attacks,' he said.

"Lim [Jong-in] said tracking the source of the outage would take months."

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has formally apologized for the forced adoptions that took place in the country from the late-1950s to the 1970s. The BBC reports:

"Tens of thousands of babies of unmarried, mostly teenage mothers, were thought to have been taken by the state and given to childless married couples.

"Many women said they were coerced into signing away their children."


The future doesn't look so bright for China-based Suntech, one of the world's largest makers of solar panels: on Wednesday it was forced into bankruptcy after missing a $541 million payment to bondholders.

Suntech Power Holdings, based in Wuxi on the outskirts of Shanghai, is largely a victim of its own success, borrowing heavily for expansion in recent years (as did Chinese competitors Trina Solar and Yingli Green Energy). Although worldwide demand for solar panels is high, the ramp up in production created "enormous oversupply and a ferocious price war," according to a New York Times article in October.

(Solyndra, the U.S. solar panel maker that received government loan guarantees and subsequently went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, has sued Suntech, Trina and Yingli, claiming the Chinese trio of companies conspired to drive it out of business)

From 2009 to 2011, Suntech more than doubled its annual production capacity to 2,400 megawatts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

It notes that Suntech got its start in 2002 under founder Shi Zhengrong, who was ousted earlier this month as the company sought aid from regional authorities in Wuxi.

Shi "took the company public three years later, becoming the world's first solar billionaire. He obtained credit from the China Development Bank Corp. to wrest control of the industry from German and Japanese competitors," Bloomberg says.

While U.S. and European solar companies have been forced into restructuring, Beijing has continued to support its own solar industries until December, when China's State Council signaled it would stop funding money-losing companies, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

A new book from prominent primatologist Jane Goodall "contains borrowed passages without attribution," according to a report in The Washington Post. The book, Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder From the World of Plants, is due out next month and was co-authored by Gail Hudson, who worked on two of Goodall's previous books.. The Post alleges that the "borrowings ... range from phrases to an entire paragraph from Web sites such as Wikipedia and others that focus on astrology, tobacco, beer, nature and organic tea." Goodall did not contest the allegations, telling the Post in an email that she was "distressed to discover that some of the excellent and valuable sources were not properly cited, and I want to express my sincere apologies." Seeds of Hope publisher Grand Central expressed surprise, telling the Post: "We have not formulated a detailed plan beyond crediting the sources in subsequent releases."

Photography magazine Fotopedia has published a stunning photo essay of the famous Paris bookstore Shakespeare & Company, the haunt of writers Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and others.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is coming out with a book, according to a press release Tuesday from Henry Holt, her publisher. It says Rice's book will focus on "the never-ending process of building democracy as citizens — and their governments — strive to attain and secure the ideals of self-rule."

Edward Jay Epstein writes in The New York Review of Books about taking a class with Vladimir Nabokov (paywall protected): "He made it clear from the first lecture that he had little interest in fraternizing with students, who would be known not by their name but by their seat number. Mine was 121. He said his only rule was that we could not leave his lecture, even to use the bathroom, without a doctor's note."

Poet T.R. Hummer on Walt Whitman: "The poetry is so vast, so manifold — and exists in so many revised forms — that Whitman is the American poet most like the fabled elephant as described by blind witnesses, each touching a different part of the creature thinking it to be a wall or a snake."

Google's Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen write about the computer worm that attacked Iranian nuclear facilities in a passage from their forthcoming book, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business: "When we asked the former Israeli intelligence chief Meir Dagan about [Stuxnet], his only comment was, 'Do you really expect me to tell you?' "

Cypriot politicians are busy trying to come up with an alternative plan to raise the cash needed to stave off a collapse of its banking sector after they unanimously rejected an international bailout package that would have imposed a levy on the nation's savings accounts.

Here's a quick look at some of Wednesday's developments:

— German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she regrets the decision by Cyprus to turn down the $13 billion bailout package: "From a political point of view, I say that Cyprus needs a sustainable banking sector. Today's banking sector is not sustainable," she said. "We will continue negotiations ... Germany wants a solution."

— Cyprus' Finance Minister Michael Sarris is in Moscow Wednesday for talks with his Russian counterpart, Anton Siluanov. The two discussed the possibility of financial help from Russia, whose citizens have billions of dollars deposited in Cypriot banks.

— Officials from the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and European Commission — the so-called troika of lenders — were in Cyprus discussing capital controls and the possible extension of a bank holiday aimed at preventing a wholesale withdrawal of money from Cyprus' banks. Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that without the approval of some sort of bailout plan, he believes "there's a danger that they won't be able to open the banks again at all."

— Meanwhile, despite Tuesday's thumbs down on the bailout, European stocks and the euro gained as investors bet that the European Central Bank will keep supporting the Cypriot banks, at least for the time being.


In practical terms, a project known as E-1 would provide 3,000 or so new housing units for Israelis in an area between east Jerusalem — which the Palestinians hope will someday be their capital — and the large Israeli settlement of Maaleh Adumim.

But numbers can be deceiving: Palestinians are renewing their objections to the growing number of Israeli settlements, and many fear E-1 could tip the balance in a way that makes an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement impossible.

To understand why the Israeli government wants to build E-1, climb to the top of Mount Scopus. From there, former government spokesperson Miri Eisin says, it's obvious that Jerusalem doesn't have much room to grow.

Abu Dhabi, the most oil-rich of the United Arab Emirates, is now home to the world's single-largest concentrated solar power plant.

The 100-megawatt Shams 1 plant cost an estimated $750 million and is expected to provide electricity to 20,000 homes, according to the BBC.

Why, you might ask?

Bloomberg says the less oil Abu Dhabi uses for local consumption, the more it can export.

Sultan Ahmed al Jaber, head of Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co., speaking at a news conference for the plant's opening over the weekend, said it is part of a "strategic plan to diversify energy sources in Abu Dhabi."

"Together, with clean energy and nuclear energy, it will make up 7 percent of Abu Dhabi's energy sources from renewable energy sources," he said.

Shams 1 uses 768 adjustable parabolic "trough mirrors" to focus sunlight onto a water boiler that produces steam, activates turbines and finally generates electricity, reports the website Clean Technica. The middle step in the process, it says, is to use natural gas to superheat the water.

The plant, located about 75 miles southwest of Abu Dhabi, is similar in design to Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) located in California's Mojave Desert. Although Shams 1 claims to be the single-largest plant, the nine SEGS plants taken together generate more than three times as much energy and serve more than 10 times as many households at peak output.

Officials in Abu Dhabi hope Shams 1 will save 175,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of taking 15,000 cars off the road. The plant is the first of several more on the drawing board.

The UAE's neighbor, Saudi Arabia, is on a similar tack with the most extensive renewable-energy program in the Middle East, Bloomberg reports:

"The country is seeking about $100 billion in investments to generate about 41,000 megawatts, or a third of its power, from solar by 2032. That compares with about 3 megawatts now, which puts it behind Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates in capacity, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance."


Syria's main opposition has elected a new interim prime minister: He's Ghassan Hitto, a naturalized U.S. citizen who until recently lived in Texas.

Here's more from The New York Times:

"After a prolonged day of maneuvering and voting on Monday that lasted into the early-morning hours, representatives of the opposition coalition, meeting in Istanbul, chose Ghassan Hitto, 50, a former information technology executive, who emigrated from Syria many years ago and until recently had lived in Texas. Mr. Hitto was heavily involved in volunteer efforts to help Syrians whose lives had been upended by the uprising against Mr. Assad."

Top of the Lake, a new seven-part miniseries premiering tonight on the Sundance Channel, was co-created and co-directed by Jane Campion, who teamed with Holly Hunter 20 years ago on the movie The Piano. Hunter is back for this new project, playing a mysterious New Agey guru of sorts. She's started a small commune for emotionally damaged women, on a remote strip of land in New Zealand.

That story could have been at the center of Top of the Lake, but it isn't. It's more like a running subplot, just like the story that opens the drama — the tale of a 12-year-old girl named Tui who is found walking into a frigid lake, presumably to take her own life.

She's taken to the authorities, who can't get any details out of her. So they call in a visiting detective who used to be a local. And Top of the Lake, especially after the young girl vanishes, turns out to be mostly about that detective.

And that's a good thing, because the detective, Robin, is played by Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy on Mad Men. No matter how good you think she is on Mad Men, I suspect you'll be unprepared for her complicated performance here — and not only because she sports an effective New Zealand accent, but because her character is so rough, so raw and so constantly conflicted.

The pace of Top of the Lake is so deliberate and the atmosphere so oppressive, that its overall tone is close to the moodiness of the AMC series The Killing. The beautiful but foreboding setting is a strong character here — but the strongest, in addition to the determined women played by Hunter and Moss, is Tui's father, Matt Mitcham, a local backwoods drug lord played by Peter Mullan.

Matt Mitcham is like a Kiwi version of Al Swearengen from Deadwood — charismatic and deadly all at the same time. Robin gets a taste of this when she first meets Mitcham. She's looking into the death of a local real estate agent named Bob Platt, and visits Mitcham's fortress-like property. He's around back with a dog that's tied to a post and a shotgun within reach. Within a minute of her arrival, he fires the gun — killing the dog, and freaking Robin thoroughly out.

Mitcham frightens Robin, but he doesn't stop her. The biggest mystery in Top of the Lake, it turns out, is what drives Robin — her own demons and hidden secrets, and why she connects so strongly with the missing girl. It's less a mystery than a character study — and despite the show's title, Top of the Lake, all the rewards in this miniseries lie way beneath the surface.

Well, At Least Her Name's Not Medea

Another TV drama premiering tonight, A&E's Bates Motel, is primarily a character study as well — but this time we already know the character. He's Norman Bates, the creepy killer from Psycho with a fixation on his late mother. Well, Bates Motel is a prequel to Psycho, showing Norman in his formative high school years. His mother is very much alive — and her name is Norma.

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The subject of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's relationship with the Jewish community is complicated, multidimensional and contentious. On the one hand, the former New York governor won Jewish votes by landslide margins and led the Allies to victory in World War II, defeating Nazi Germany. Some of his closest advisers and strongest supporters were Jews, including Felix Frankfurter, whom he named to the Supreme Court, speechwriter Samuel Rosenman and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau.

In a Guatemalan courtroom Tuesday, prosecutors will present their case against a former military dictator who ruled during one of the bloodiest periods in the Central American nation's 36-year civil war.

Efrain Rios Montt is accused of genocide in the murder of tens of thousands of Guatemala's Indians. Human rights advocates and the families of victims have struggled for years to bring him before the court, and they say it is the first trial in Latin America of a former president in the country where he ruled.

Antonio Cava, an Ixil Indian with jet black hair, high cheekbones and a soft smile, remembers the exact date, Jan. 15, 1982, when his peaceful childhood high in the Guatemalan mountains came to an end. He was 11.

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A group of foreign college students who came to the U.S. on cultural work exchange visas in December have been protesting their working conditions at a McDonald's in Harrisburg, Pa. In the process, they've wading into a debate about guest workers in the U.S.

The students include Jorge Rios, who says three months ago he eagerly did the legwork necessary to get a J-1 visa, used for student work exchange.

"I had to do a lot of paperwork back in my country to get the visa. I had to travel long distances because I don't live in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, I live 14 hours away from there," he says.

Rios borrowed much of the $3,000 it cost. When he arrived in the U.S., the experience wasn't what he was told to expect.

He was escorted to a room in the basement of a house owned by family of the McDonald's franchise owner where he worked. He shared the tiny quarters with seven other students. Each of them got $300 deducted from their paychecks every month for rent — far above market rates.

"We didn't have any privacy. We slept in bunk beds that were meant for children because they moved and squeaked," he says.

Rios says the students were told they'd get 40 work hours per week. But they got only 25 and were told to remain on-call at all times. When they complained, Rios says, his employer threatened them with deportation and further reduced their work hours.

Student Workers Organize

Earlier this month, after reading online about previous student-worker protests, Rios retaliated. The social communications major organized his 15 student co-workers and staged a strike. They have filed grievances with the U.S. Labor Department and State Department, and are requesting a meeting with McDonald's corporate management.

According to the State Department, the J-1 visa, or Summer Work Travel Program, started after World War II to promote cultural diplomacy. Following allegations of abuse in recent years, the State Department curtailed the number of students permitted to come to the U.S. to about 90,000 a year, from a peak of about 150,000 a year.

Robin Lerner, deputy assistant secretary in charge of exchange programs, says the instances of abuse are regrettable and rare.

"Most of the program is filled with wonderful placements," she says, "and the students say what a wonderful time they had and the time they spent here in the United States will forever change their lives."

Investigating The Claims

Lerner says reports of abuse are taken seriously. Companies licensed to administer the programs are sometimes disqualified. The State Department conducts spot checks of programs — though it didn't visit the Harrisburg McDonald's. Now, the State Department says it is investigating Rios' claims.

McDonald's said in an emailed statement that it is also investigating the case. Kevin Morgan, chief executive of GeoVisions, the company that is the State Department-licensed intermediary with the students, said in an email, "we are collecting data, talking with people involved and investigating all aspects of this case."

"We don't want people to come here and have a negative experience, and then leave," Lerner says. "I mean, to me that is the polar opposite of the reason why we have this program."

The Debate Over Work Visas

But the McDonald's case taps into a broader ongoing debate about foreign temporary workers, over 1 million of whom come to the U.S. every year on various visas, including H-2A and H-2B visas. Agriculture and home health care businesses rely heavily on cheap imported labor. But businesses and unions are at odds over how many guest workers should be allowed, and how much to pay them.

Saket Soni is president of the National Guestworker Alliance, a union that helped Rios organize. He says both student and guest workers often fall victim to exploitation.

"It's a massive problem," he says.

Soni says many students — like Rios — go into debt to come here and then are coerced into hard labor or forced to live in destitute conditions.

"The problems with the J-1 visa are part of a bigger picture, which is that guest workers across the country are firstly exploited, and secondly used to undercut local workers and turn jobs into temporary and low-wage jobs," he says.

Unexpected Lessons

In 2011, Ionut Bilan, a 24-year-old student in Romania, helped organize J-1 visa student-workers at a Hershey's chocolate warehouse. He says his experience in the U.S. doing hard labor taught him some unexpected lessons.

"I wanted to stand up for myself, and I wanted to get this situation fixed," he says. Because the McDonald's student-workers were inspired by his protest, it was well worth the effort, he says.

Rios also says his stint has turned into a complex lesson about American society and politics.

"I think that our real cultural exchange started since we decided to get organized and expose this situation. Because we learned that, although we were going through that, most American people, they don't know this is going on," he says.

Rios says he plans to return to Argentina next week.


Breaking with tradition, Pope Francis delivered off-the-cuff remarks about God's power to forgive instead of reading from a written speech for the first Sunday window appearance of his papacy.

He also spoke only in Italian — beginning with "buon giorno" (Good day) and ending with "buon pranzo" (Have a good lunch) — instead of greeting the faithful in several languages as his last few predecessors had done.

His comments and humor delighted a crowd of more than 150,000 in St. Peter's Square, drawing cheers and laughter.

But Francis did tweet in English and other languages, saying: "Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me. "

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said it was likely Francis, at least for the moment, given the off-the-cuff style, was sticking with Italian, a language he's comfortable with. Lombardi left open the possibility that other languages would be used in the appearances with the public in the future.

In just five days, Francis' straightforward, spontaneous style has become immediate hallmark of his papacy.

Earlier Sunday, he made an impromptu appearance before the public from a side gate of the Vatican, startling passers-by and prompting cheers, before delivering a six minute homily — brief by church standards — at the Vatican's tiny parish church.

Before he entered St. Anna's church to celebrate Mass, he heartily shook hands with parishioners and kissed babies.

After Mass, Francis put his security detail to the test as he waded into the street just outside St. Anna's Gate. As the traffic light at the intersection turned green, Francis stepped up to the crowd, grasping outstretched hands. The atmosphere was so casual that several people even gripped Francis on the shoulder.

A few minutes later as the traffic light turned red, Francis ducked back inside the Vatican's boundaries to dash upstairs for the window appearance from the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace.

The studio window was opened for the first time since Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, gave his last window blessing on Sunday, Feb. 24. Four days later, Benedict went into retirement, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.

The crowd was cheering wildly when the white curtain at the window of his apartment was parted, and Francis appeared, but fell into rapt silence when he began to speak. Some people's eyes welled up. Many people waving the blue-and-white flags of Argentine, the homeland of the world's first Latin American pope. Some people help their children aloft or on their shoulders to get a better look.

Said Ivana Cabello, 23, from Argentina: "We are so proud. He is Argentine, but also belongs to the rest of the world."

Angela Carreon, a 41-year-old Rome resident originally from the Philippines, estimated the crowd was twice as big as for Benedict's last appearance on Feb. 28.

"I think he looks like John Paul II. I hope he is like him," she said. "He has a heart."

Francis, the first pope from Latin America, was elected on March 13. He has been staying in a hotel on the Vatican's premises until the papal apartment in the palace is ready.

Hundreds of extra traffic police were deployed Sunday morning to control crowds and vehicles, for it was also the day of Rome's annual marathon.

Bus routes were rerouted and many streets were closed off in an attempt to channel the curious and faithful up the main boulevard from the Tiber river to St. Peter's square.

Giant video screens were set up so the huge crowd could get a close-up look at Francis, and dozens of medical teams were on hand for any emergencies.

After the Mass, the pope stepped out jauntily from St. Anna's Church and waved to a crowd of hundreds kept behind barriers across the street, and then greeted the Vatican parishioners one by one. One young man patted the pope on the back — an indication of the informality that has been evident from the first moment of his papacy.

"Francesco! Francesco!" children shouted his name in Italian from the street. As he patted one little boy on the head, he asked "Are you a good boy?" and the child nodded.

"Are you sure?" the pope quipped.

In his homily, Francis said the core message of God is "that of mercy." He said God has an unfathomable capacity to pardon and noted that people are often harder on each other than God is toward sinners.

Edgardo Chapur, 42, an Argentine in Rome for first time, said it was very "emotional" to come to St. Peter's Square to listen to Francis.

"It's fantastic for us. I think it can change a lot of things in Argentina. It gives us hope," he said. "It has given us new strength."


Associated Press writers Daniela Petroff and Karl Ritter contributed to this report.

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