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These days, the Federal Public Defender's Office in Tucson, Ariz., has lots of space. Since the federal budget cuts known as sequestration began, the office has lost a quarter of its staff to layoffs or furloughs.

Under the Constitution, clients still need legal representation, so judges have to appoint private attorneys to replace the public defenders.

The sequester was supposed to save money. But in this case, the sequester is costing federal dollars.

In Arizona, using private attorneys costs the government about 25 percent more than using public defenders — that's about $6 million a year. In other places around the country, the difference can be even greater.

A typical case in Tucson illustrates the problem: A driver tries crossing from Mexico into the United States through a port of entry. A customs officer gets suspicious and discovers 180 pounds of marijuana in the car. The driver is arrested, and the court appoints a lawyer.

When the lawyer meets with the client, public defender Vicki Brambl says, there's a twist.

"The client reveals that he had been threatened by drug cartels, that he didn't want to bring the marijuana across," she explains. "But he was threatened, and the life of his wife and children were threatened, and so he agreed to cross the marijuana."

She says that's an increasingly common situation as drug cartels extend their influence in Mexico. But the client has to prove his story in court. He needs witnesses to corroborate it. "You have to investigate that and try to talk to family members," she says.

That takes legwork. The public defender has investigators and paralegals on staff and built into its budget. Private lawyers have to hire people like investigators, then charge the court piecemeal.

Brambl says even things like travel cost more. Public defenders carpool in government vehicles to meet with clients at the federal prison in Florence, Ariz. Private lawyers get paid separately to drive back and forth.

More On The Sequester

The Sequester: Cuts And Consequences

The Justice Department has filed suit against Texas under the Voting Rights Act, claiming that the state requirement for voter identification discriminates against minorities.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, alleges that the state's 2011 voter ID law was intended to be discriminatory. It alleges that poor black and Latino voters — many of whom don't drive — might be required to travel considerable distances to a driver's license office in order to acquire voter identification.

The suit cites Texas' history of voter discrimination and notes that only three forms of voter identification are acceptable under state law — a driver's license, personal ID card or an election identification certificate (EIC) — all issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which runs the state's driver's license branches.

Many Texas counties do not have driver's license offices "[requiring] some voters to travel approximately 200 miles round trip in order to obtain an EIC." Additionally, the suit says, many of those offices don't have weekend hours, so "some voters are required to take hours of time out of a workday to obtain an EIC."

As NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, Texas officials have denounced the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder for filing the suit:

"Eric Holder is wrong to mess with Texas," the state's attorney general, Greg Abbott, said. "He is clearly joining in with the Obama administration to use the Voting Rights Act for pure political purposes."

In June, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires states with a history of voter discrimination to submit to scrutiny from the Justice Department before changing election laws. Texas is one of nine Southern states that had been covered by the provision.

Last month in a speech before the National Urban League, Holder said that despite the Supreme Court ruling, he planned to ask the court to hold Texas to account on other provisions in the VRA.

Holder has said that the high court's ruling doesn't mean it's "open season on voter suppression."

Just after he graduated from college, Tony Danza was working out at a boxing gym when somebody said to him: you ever think about being on TV? Since then, he's been a fixture on TV with the hit series Taxi and Who's the Boss?, not to mention his own talk show, his own song and dance stage show, and now a new movie called Don Jon.

We've invited Danza to play a game called "Who's The Boss?": We'll tell him about three companies and three people who might be the head of those companies. He'll have to guess who's the boss.


Ian Buckwalter: I can identify with that "off" feeling you describe, but for me, it's largely a function of the thing that I think makes these collaborations so strong: this team's determination not to live in the past. That's a little ironic, given that that's what this film is all about, our inability to leave the past behind, exemplified by Pegg's Gary, who is still wearing the same Sisters of Mercy T-shirt, the same black duster, driving the same car and listening to the same mixtapes that he was 20 years ago.

I can recall a similar feeling watching Hot Fuzz the first time, that it wasn't quite what I was expecting, because it wasn't the same as Shaun, despite the cleverly recycled jokes, the familiar format, the shared themes. But it refused to give us the same thing as Shaun did, and I had to fight my own urge to be Gary and want more of the same. In the end, I accepted Fuzz as something entirely of its own and went with it, and did the same with The World's End. What didn't work for you?

Arnold: I'm glad you're no Gary (though in that comparison things don't bode well for me) because the guy is not exactly well, and therein lies the challenge I had of connecting to the story through this narcissistic, superficial, yet extremely broken protagonist. Despite his vintage look, Gary King has been less frozen in time for two decades than he has been in a steady decay since the day he left high school. There are indications he's had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and at one time or another he's lost touch or fallen out with his four best friends from that time, who have all gone on to successful careers. There's the timid and once-upon-a-time bullied Peter (Eddie Marsan); Steven (Paddy Considine), who back in the day was always a step behind Gary in everything cool including chatting up girls; the cheerful Oliver (Martin Freeman); and Andy (Nick Frost), the man who was once Gary's best friend. When Gary decides to reunite them, he resembles a tragic version of a Wes Anderson protagonist — inspired by organizing the people around him — only Gary's selfishness has long since driven his community of followers away.

Once Gary tracks them down and applies just the right combination of lies and enthusiasm — Pegg excels at making Gary's manic energy infectious — he manages to persuade the guys to return home and complete the Golden Mile. Pegg sells the pitch with a pizazz that made me want to attempt the 12-pub marathon, but once the crawl actually begins, it's clear the guys are there to enable Gary's drinking. They've all learned to see through Gary's tricks for the most part, and their strained relationship with him becomes one of reluctant indulgence and increased frustration. With only one guy having a good time and the rest of the characters wondering, "Why are we here?" it was only too easy for me to wonder the same. That is, until there were robots. Then things perked right up.

Buckwalter: Gary is a difficult character to hang the movie's sympathies on, for sure. He's the sum total of all the loser-ish tendencies of the characters Pegg has played in his and Wright's collaborations, amped up to 11 and on cocaine. That last part, literally. But in that respect, I found his story to be a fitting conclusion to the Cornetto series, a final challenge to make us sympathize with a character who exhibits many of the same qualities of arrested development, fear of success and single-minded obsessions that they've been wrestling with ever since their first collaboration on Spaced. Only now instead of a directionless romantic (Spaced's Tim), a sad-sack lovable loser (Shaun), or a manically overambitious control freak (Nicholas from Hot Fuzz), all the yins of redeemability are left off, leaving us with a mess of execrable yangs. That makes him difficult to root for, but I'd argue that it also allows for a more complete journey of redemption than they've ever had in any of the other stories. Also, it's just a joy to watch Pegg really sink his teeth into playing such a horrible person. He's obviously having a blast.

Once the whole Invasion of the Stepford Wife Snatchers machinations of the sci-fi plot intrude on the proceedings, things definitely pick up forward momentum, but honestly, I was still really enjoying watching the sad clown drama of Gary and this awkward reunion up to that point, in the same way I enjoyed the rom-com embedded amid the zombies of Shaun or the odd couple interactions of Pegg and Frost in Fuzz before things went all Wicker Man.

Apart from the stumbling block of finding it difficult to be very pro- about the protagonist here, did they at least have you sold on the style, the jokes, and the command of the material? Because I felt that as a director, Wright just continues to demonstrate an almost savantlike understanding of the nuts and bolts of genre cinema, and how to tweak just about anything familiar just enough to make it absolutely his own. He's like Tarantino with a much lighter touch for me in that way.

Arnold: Wright is also for me a director who's incredibly satisfying to watch work. On a macro level he makes smart, unexpected choices about how to use genre that make you feel smart seeing them play out, and on a moment-to-moment basis his and Pegg's writing tosses so many balls in the air with fast-paced, layered jokes that it demands a nuanced execution, and Wright nearly always nails it. I say nearly grudgingly because the movie breathes Wright's style and shines in so many successful bits: Gary striking out so completely with Oliver's sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), the debate as to what to call these people-looking automatons, and really any moment Gary puts himself in harm's way just to get at a drink are worthy of Wright's talents, as is the guys' charming choice to keep drinking so as not to arouse suspicion that they know something is wrong with their town. That of course leaves them completely plastered when it comes time to do some fighting.

But many of the moving parts of this go-around take some visible grinding to get themselves into place. It takes the threat posed by these mysterious outsiders — alternately pushily pleasant and ready to reduce you to compost — to break down the barriers and get Gary and Andy and the rest to reconcile, but the engaging beats of the emotional through-line are often undercut by the sci-fi plot that seems to work at cross-purposes, confusing the theme for far too long rather than reinforcing it.

The heroes of Shaun of the Dead faced a similar dilemma with violent hordes of nonhuman things, and they solved their problem using similar skill sets — those of normal people — that led them to take down zombies with pool cues and vinyl records. It beggars belief that Freeman's real estate agent and Frost's corporate lawyer have had hand-to-hand combat training, but because the plot requires it, nearly everyone becomes a superhero in the stylishly choreographed but overproduced fight scenes. They may as well be smashed versions of Jason Bourne.

There's also the movie's painful tendency to slather on exposition too often, resetting the board each time and telling the heroes what's happening rather than letting them discover it. When the reason the robots are part of this story is fully explained, it's a heavy-handed reveal that feels more like a slight Doctor Who episode, clunky in setup and underdeveloped in metaphor. What did I miss? What demands the marriage of the Drinkers and Aliens?

Buckwalter: I think many of the things bothering you were, for me, simply Wright's signature elements taken to their logical, if slightly over-the-top ends. The inexplicable fighting skills are sort of a Wright hallmark. Think of Shaun's martial arts kip-up maneuver to get off the ground, or the skill at riflery that Shaun and Ed supposedly have from playing video games, despite the fact that operating a controller and firing a rifle are actually very different skill sets. Or, in Hot Fuzz, Danny's sudden transformation into an excellent cop, based mainly on years of watching action movies and a few days of study at Nicholas' side. And it was the entire central conceit of Scott Pilgrim: a world in which normal folks having video game/superhero fighting skills was de rigueur.

Those fighting skills then allow Wright to show off his impressive chops as an action director. For a guy known for the quick cut — the way he shoots and edits the filling of those first five pint glasses is a fantastic visual joke told entirely through nimble editing — his fight sequences are admirably fluid. The choreography is pleasurably dizzying, and he holds shots unusually long, moving with the action in ways that are anathema to most modern action directors. The fact that this is now the second movie in which he's used a former Bond makes me wonder if he's making a subtle bid to take over for Sam Mendes on that series. He'd have my vote.

Ok, yes, the big expository scene plunked down in the middle to explain things feels a little clunky. But is it really that different from the newscast scene early in Shaun, or Jim Broadbent's Inspector Butterman explaining the aims of the NWA to Nicholas in Fuzz? In many ways it's just a part of Wright and Pegg's attachment to old-timey B-movie convention.

Switching gears for a moment, what did you think of Wright's use of music in the film? Because I'd like to make an argument for him being maybe the best integrator of pop music into film today — but then again, as I'm the same age as Wright, the late-'80s/early '90s sonic backdrop of this film could have just been tailored for me.

Arnold: Like one of the near-human facsimiles rationally arguing as to why my body should be snatched, you're crazy, but you make a good case. Wright's musical choices made me want to join in on Gary's one-man party, at least for a while. I was onboard the minute Primal Scream's "Loaded" opened the film and proclaimed Gary's one simple desire to drink and have a good time. That or "I'm Free" might as well be his anthem, and those upbeat songs made me feel a nostalgia for that sweet early '90s sound I never thought would be possible (mostly because I was still tuned in to Sesame Street around that time). Other tracks support the heavier emotions running through the film, dialing into Steven's long-unspoken crush on Sam's and Gary's deeply buried pain. What tracks stuck out to you as particularly effective?

Buckwalter: The moment that I think will be an enduring classic in this movie is the use of Suede's "So Young" as the lads are starting the pub crawl. The hilarity of the mismatch between the lyrics and the fact that these guys look very much not so young — especially when they pass the gang of hoodied teens — is just classic. The original video for the song is a tragically dated piece of early-'90s video-making, and I think this sequence will forever replace that clip as my association to the track. (Also worth noting here: The opening expository montage covering their original attempt to complete the Golden Mile is pretty amazingly evocative of that time period as well, complete with the Super 8 footage and crazy title cards, as if Wright was consciously trying to re-create the opening credits of the old Ben Stiller Show.)

Apart from that, there's also The Doors' "Alabama Song"; the "Show me the way to the next whiskey bar" lyrics should be far too on the nose, but because of its placement at a time when the gang is trying to maintain a low profile, the "oh, don't ask why" becomes the more relevant lyric, and again heightens the hilarity of what would otherwise just be a scene of them walking from one place to another. I also loved the decision to have the Sundays' "Here's Where the Story Ends" playing barely audibly when they arrive at the ninth bar, which was both the last bar that they made it to when they were teenagers and where things really take a turn in the present-day story. It's much more subtle but ranks up there with the use of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" in the pub beat-down in Shaun.

Big-picture time: It sounds like you're going to rank this at the bottom of the pile for Wright's work. I'm not sure where it falls for me yet. But I'd just like to take a moment to appreciate the fact that we're in a cultural spot where a director like Wright, who is really sort of unique in the current cinema landscape, can become a success — even after the relative commercial failure of Scott Pilgrim. Whether you think this movie fails or not, it's sort of great that we're at a place where Wright can get $20 million to go play with ideas like this, no?

Arnold: Absolutely. I may be a trifle hard on this film and see more in its potential, but being the least liked Edgar Wright film is still for me a compliment, and it's worth celebrating that a movie with this idiosyncratic a voice can exist at all in today's landscape. Wright has carved out a niche in which he's able to keep pursuing what he finds interesting in part because of how well he uses his budget — I was sure this film had to cost more than it did, and the same goes for the even lesser budgets of his previous two efforts. Shaun of the Dead also came at a time when geek culture was beginning to go mainstream, and the viewers who would appreciate Wright's pop culture-saturated yet emotionally earnest brand of filmmaking were able to find and support his work. That's the way I found it, and I'm still sold on seeing anything he makes.

Buckwalter: Yes, it's been interesting to watch the career trajectory of Wright and Pegg, as guys who come at filmmaking very much from the perspective of being fans themselves. With Spaced, that translated into very heavy and specific pop culture references, and with the Cornetto trilogy it has blossomed into a much broader tribute to and gentle spoofing of genre tropes. As the cache of geek culture has risen, so has their own. I'm sure Pegg dreamed as a child of one day being in a Doctor Who episode or a Star Trek movie, and now he's done those things. Similarly, all of these Cornetto films can be read as Wright and Pegg creating exactly the sort of films that the 12-year-old versions of themselves probably always dreamed of being a part of. That's really what appeals to me so much about all their work: That sense of joy and practically disbelief that they actually get to do this for a living is right up there on-screen.

But the constant danger of being a fan, and going back to a well that was mostly filled in childhood, is that you get stuck appreciating only what was important to you then. They've dealt with the living in the past thing before, but never so directly as they do here, and in that way, it becomes sort of a subtle referendum on fan culture and the dangers of never moving forward. They've said they'll continue to work together, but that their future work will be very different from the shared themes of these films. Which for me is great news, because as much as I love all of these films, I wouldn't want them to become real life Garys. They'll continue to know how to party, to press on to the next pub, but it won't be one of the same ones they visited 20 years ago.

For more of our reporting on this story, please see our recent column in the New York Times Magazine, and the latest episode of This American Life.

This morning, we reported on a charity called GiveDirectly that's trying to help poor people in the developing world in an unusual way: It gives them money with no strings attached. This is a somewhat radical idea in the charity world.

Most charities, of course, get money from donors and spend it on things they think will help people. They build schools, provide medicine or give people cows.

When we were in Kenya recently, we visited a village where people had been given cows by a group called Heifer International. And, we can report, these were very impressive cows. They looked strong and healthy.

And, like lots of charities, Heifer also spends money to provide training. Working with another group called Send a Cow, Heifer teaches people to make sure their cows get the right nutrition and to keep detailed logs tracking milk production. People visited the village to make sure everything was going well. And all this really helped. One woman told us her cow produces 15 times as much milk as local cows — and she sells most of the milk.

That's a traditional charity. GiveDirectly, on the other hand, takes money from donors and just gives it to poor people. (For more on how GiveDirectly works, see our story from this morning.) This is something of a challenge to other charities. Paul Niehaus, one of the group's founders, is pretty blunt about it.

"We would like to see organizations make the case that they can do more good for the poor with a dollar than the poor can do for themselves," he says. "And I think some may be able to make a convincing case. But if you go to the websites, today I don't think you're going to be seeing that argument being made. Nobody even bothers."

Neihaus says charities should be clear about how much they're spending and how much it's helping. And to figure this out, he says, charities should do actual experiments. In GiveDirectly's case, independent researchers are conducting a randomized, controlled trial. Basically, there are two groups of villagers. One group gets money, the other doesn't. The researchers do a detailed survey to compare the two groups and see what difference getting money makes. The results from the study are due out later this year. And they'll be made public.

If you were trying to compare giving cows and training with giving cash, you could take the same approach. Give people in one village cows and training; in the next village over, take the money you would have spent on cows and training and just give it to people.

Not surprisingly, Niehaus loved this idea. We called up Heifer International to see what it thought, and we talked to Elizabeth Bintliff, vice president of Heifer's Africa programs.

"As an African woman, that sounds to me like a terrible idea," she said. "It sounds like an experiment, and we're not about experiments. These are lives of real people." The world is "just not that linear," she said. "It's not an equation. It's an ecosystem."

Still, she said, Heifer has worked with independent researchers to measure its programs. "The University of Western Michigan evaluates Heifer's projects and has found that there's very positive return to families in terms of income, nutrition and other indicators," she told us.

Bintliff said she could send us those evaluations. After the interview, though, we got an email from a Heifer official. After thanking us for our interest she wrote: "As the sources cited are unpublished, we're not able to provide further information publicly at this time."

Until pretty recently, the charity world has been about doing stuff that helps, without really asking: How much does it help exactly, and how much does it cost? But there does seem to be this shift that's starting to happen. Philanthropy is getting nerdier; people are paying more attention to data.

Last year, the GiveDirectly guys gave a presentation at Google's corporate charity office. They didn't show any pictures of people. But they showed charts and studies and numbers. The people at Google were impressed. They gave $2.4 million to GiveDirectly and told them to figure out how to give money to lots more people.

Authorities in India say they've arrested one man and identified four others in the alleged gang-rape of a young photojournalist, apparently the latest in a series of recent sexual assaults that have shook the country.

NPR's Julie McCarthy reports that the woman, in her early 20s, was at a photo-shoot with a male colleague at a dilapidated building in the city's south on Thursday when the incident took place.

The Times of India, quoting Mumbai police chief Satyapal Singh, says the man that was arrested had confessed and given details of the attack.

The alleged victim's male colleague was restrained and then "two of the accused repeatedly raped the girl, turn by turn. There were only two men at first, they called one more, and then called two more," Singh says. "It was a very heinous crime."

He said the other attackers are believed to be in their 20s.

The Times says the alleged victim was interning for an English-language magazine.

McCarthy says preliminary reports suggest the woman sustained internal and external injuries and is described as critical, but stable.

The attack comes as the trial is concluding of four men accused in the gang rape of a 23-year-old Delhi woman in December. She died of her injuries after being lured onto a bus and viciously attacked.

In June, police arrested three men in the alleged rape of a U.S. tourist and in the same month, six men were sentenced to life in India after confessing to the gang rape of a Swiss tourist earlier this year.

Steve Ballmer will retire as CEO at Microsoft within the next 12 months, the software giant announced Friday.

According to the company:

"In the meantime, Ballmer will continue as CEO and will lead Microsoft through the next steps of its transformation to a devices and services company that empowers people for the activities they value most."


The big idea in President Obama's new proposal for tackling the growing crisis in college affordability can be boiled down to this: linking federal higher education aid to a new grading system that would rate colleges and universities on the "value" they provide students.

While the president offered a series of ideas, the one with potentially the most bite would, come 2018, condition the size of Pell Grants — money the federal government provides for financially needy students — on how high the institution in question scores on the value index.

Obama described the factors he proposes throwing into the value mix:

"I think we should rate colleges based on opportunity — are they helping students from all kinds of backgrounds succeed ... and on outcomes, on their value to students and parents. So that means metrics like how much debt does the average student leave with? How easy is it to pay off? How many students graduate on time? How well do those graduates do in the workforce? Because the answers will help parents and students figure out how much value a college truly offers."

The Packard plant, which once symbolized the might of America's auto industry, is at risk of heading to auction if a pending development deal fails. If that happens, The Detroit Free Press reports, the 35-acre site could eventually be sold "for as little as $21,000."

That figure comes from Wayne County Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski, the Free Press reports. If such a sale were to take place, 3.5 million square feet of space could be acquired for less than $30,000.

For that low price to come about, the proposed deal would have to fall through. As The Detroit News reports, Szymanski hopes to finalize the transaction next week.

But the developer, Illinois-based William Hults, "acknowledges there are many hurdles to cross," the Free Press reports. "He has yet to secure project financing, forge development partnerships or meet with Detroit's development chief, George Jackson, who could provide assistance. And he has never completed a project of this magnitude."

If no deal is reached by Sept. 15, the Packard site would then go to an initial auction — at which it might not sell, because the minimum bides would be around $1 million, reflecting back taxes and interest owed on the property.

The next step would be for the property's 42 parcels to go up for auction individually in October, with a minimum bid of $500 each — a scenario that yields Szymanski's $21,000 figure.

In China, recent Communist Party show trials have featured cowed defendants acknowledging their crimes and offering apologies. Not this one.

The country's biggest trial in decades kicked off Thursday with the defendant, former politburo member Bo Xilai, denying guilt, claiming his confession was coerced and branding the testimony of one of his accusers — in this case his wife — "laughable."

Although the case was not broadcast live, the Jinan Intermediate Court in east China's Shandong province live-tweeted the proceedings. As court adjourned around dinner time, it wasn't clear whether Bo had gone off-script with his fierce denials or this was the script. If it was, it was unconventional by recent standards.

Bo is charged with abuse of power for allegedly obstructing the investigation of a case that saw his wife convicted of murdering a British businessman in the southwestern city of Chongqing, where Bo was party boss until he was removed last year. Bo also is accused of taking about $3.5 million in bribes from two businessmen in northeastern China, where he had earlier served in top political positions.

Tang Xiaolin, general manager of Dalian International Development Group, said in written testimony that he had bribed Bo. In response, Bo, wearing a white dress shirt and dark slacks, called Tang a "crazy dog snapping at things for reward" and said Tang was making claims to try to reduce his own prison sentence. Bo also called Tang's written testimony — Chinese defendants do not have a right to confront their accusers — "the ugly performance of a person selling his soul."

In other written testimony, Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, said she took large sums from their home safes in different cities and used the cash to pay for the education of their son, Bo Guagua, in England. Bo wondered whether Gu could remember the amounts she took, while his lawyer described her as "mentally unsound."

Bo's career began to unravel last year when his own police chief in Chongqing, Wang Lijun, fled to the safety of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. Wang apparently revealed to American officials that Gu had killed the British businessman, Neil Heywood.

No one doubts that Bo will be found guilty at the trial. The case is largely seen as the result of a power struggle at the highest levels in China. The Communist Party is above the nation's judiciary, and despite officials' frequent protestations to the contrary, China does not have the rule of law.

Even before Bo mounted his robust defense this morning, the party's image-makers seemed to try to diminish his stature through a photo of him at court. Bo is actually a pretty tall guy, as the photo above suggests. (According to an article on the website of the People's Daily, the party's mouthpiece, Bo said he was just over 6 feet tall when in school, but had shrunk to about 5-foot-10-inches — still relatively tall for a Chinese man.)

But appearing for the first time in public in months, Bo was dwarfed by two very tall cops standing on either side of him in the courtroom in Shandong, which is known for strapping men. After seeing the courtroom picture, one Chinese netizen, or web-user, wrote: "I finally got why the trial is arranged in Shandong."

When Hosni Mubarak was whisked out of prison by helicopter on Thursday, he did not become a free man. The former Egyptian leader, 85, was taken to a military hospital in Cairo, where's he under house arrest and still faces criminal charges.

But to many, the move was highly symbolic, the latest sign that the 2011 revolution is being rolled back and that the country's future is growing messier and more complicated by the day.

Mubarak's fate remains politically sensitive, potentially explosive and may not be resolved for months or even years. The case also raises a difficult and recurring question: what's the best way to deal with current and former dictators?

The Arab uprisings offers examples that run the gamut.

The Quick Getaway

In Tunisia's revolution in January 2011, the first major upheaval of the Arab Spring, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali made a quick getaway to Saudi Arabia on a plane that was reportedly loaded with gold bars.

He was convicted of embezzlement in absentia, but now spends his days quietly in Saudi Arabia. Many critics say Ben Ali and his associates got off far too easy and that justice has not been served.

But there's the counter-argument that his swift departure marked a conclusive end to his regime and helped clear the way for the country to remake itself.

In this line of reasoning, a dictator should be encouraged to go into exile whenever possible. He may not have to account for his sins, but his departure will allow the country to look forward, rather than backward.

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What's Next For Egypt: 3 Scenarios

It's been about two months since college graduation and more than 3 million graduates from this year and last still don't have jobs, according to government officials.

That's not in the U.S., but in China.

China is home to the world's fastest-growing major economy. But with nearly 7 million college graduates this year, a record number, finding work is tough and a worry for the ruling Communist Party.

Earlier this summer, thousands of new grads poured into an exhibition center in Shanghai for a job fair. Dressed casually in sports shirts and simple trousers, they moved from booth to booth, snapping pictures of job postings with their smart phones.


China's 'Shadow Banking' And How It Threatens The Economy

Claims by the opposition in Syria that President Bashar Assad's forces used chemical weapons during an attack Wednesday near Damascus — killing scores of people, they say — are being followed Thursday by word that:

— "The French foreign minister has said that the international community would need to respond with force if allegations were proven that Syrian government forces carried out a mass chemical attack on civilians." (The Guardian)

— Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is also urging that action be taken "to prevent further chemical strikes." (The Wall Street Journal) "This event is one that cannot be ignored anymore," Mr. Davutoglu said.

Part of a series of stories produced in collaboration with Youth Radio on the changing car culture in America.

You might think there's one place in America you absolutely need a car: Los Angeles. You'd be wrong.

"I have been in L.A. without a car for two years now," says Alyssa Rosenthal, a makeup artist.

Rosenthal's job means lugging a professional makeup kit — think of a small toolbox filled with enough supplies to make a supermodel or a zombie (or a zombie supermodel). Point being: It's heavy, and it's her responsibility to get it to the movie set.

"It's not easy. It's definitely a big challenge, but I make it happen," Rosenthal says. "Public transit really is blowing up in L.A. right now. The trains go a lot of places, and it makes it sometimes easier to get to locations with traffic and everything in L.A."

That "blowing up" Rosenthal refers to is new transit options like the Metro Expo Line, which opened last year. It's already surpassing rider projections.

All Tech Considered

Teens Use Twitter To Thumb Rides

In just the past week we've seen a bunch of signs that the housing recovery is gaining steam. Data out Wednesday showed that existing home sales rose to their highest level in nearly four years, while prices were up 14 percent from a year ago.

Retailers Home Depot and Lowe's both reported strong earnings growth and attributed that to the housing rebound.

And most important for the economy, home builders are hiring more workers and building more houses.

At the Cataumet Sawmill in Falmouth, Mass., Tom Adams is watching the power of the housing market comeback firsthand. His mill makes floorboards out of reclaimed wood. Like 100-year-old beams that came out of a shoe factory when it was torn down.

A 4-foot-high spinning saw-blade slices the timbers into boards, which have the rich golden color of old-growth pine.

"You can see after we take the first cut off with the dark wood and everything ... when you get into it ... it's beautiful stuff," says Adams.

Beautiful, but after the housing crash there was a lot less demand. Not many new homes were getting built. But now that's changed.

Nationally, builders are starting construction on 20 percent more homes than a year ago. Adams' says that's good news for his sawmill, where he'd had to reduce his workers' hours.

"They were down to 36 hours at the low point in the economy," says Adams. "This year, they're back up to 45 hours a week. So there's a lot more smiles on faces than there were a few years ago."

This is why housing can play such a powerful role in an economic recovery. As Americans buy more new houses, that's a lot of money getting spent on each house. But also, economists say that money has what's called a big "multiplier." That's because most of the materials and all the labor are domestic. So most of that money flows back into American workers' pockets.

Those workers can then go and spend money. And that helps create a chain reaction of growth in the economy

"I'm building a deck, buyin' motorcycles doing whatever I can to help," says Josh Griffiths, who runs the big 40-inch saw blade in the mill.

Across the mill yard, Vincent Pena says he too is enjoying a bigger paycheck. "It's a good feeling," he says. "Come to work in a better mood and work hard and you're excited you got jobs to do. ... You know, cover everything and still have a little extra to go out on Friday night if you want to."

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There's nothing quite like the sweet, succulent taste of Maine lobster. And fishermen off the state's rocky coastline have been catching more and more of the tasty crustacean over the past five years.

But that surging supply has overwhelmed Maine's limited marketing and processing capabilities and driven down the prices paid to lobstermen.

A year ago, as NPR previously reported, early molting, caused by warmer sea water temperatures, flooded the market with an excess supply of soft shell lobsters. This summer has been a more normal season. But that hasn't translated into a better boat price for lobstermen, who say it's getting harder and harder to break even.

"We're paying four times what we paid for fuel when I started fishing," says Thurman Radford, who has been lobstering for 22 years.

"We're paying 10 times what I paid for bait" back then, he says. "And the price of lobsters is lower today than it's been in the history of the state of Maine."

Patrick Keliher, who runs Maine's Marine Resources Department, has been meeting with struggling lobstermen like Radford all summer. Keliher sums up the problem in six words: "We're catching a lot of lobsters."

Last year's catch: 126 million pounds, up from 70 million pounds in 2008. Keliher says the sharp increase in volume has exposed weaknesses in Maine's lobster industry.

"You look at how commodities are marketed, generically, around the world. ... Maine lobster is not doing that at all," he says. "We spend $350,000 a year marketing lobster. What does that do? Nothing. It does absolutely nothing."

So the state is increasing fees on the industry to pay for a new, $2.4 million-a-year marketing campaign. It's being designed by Jon Stamell, CEO of FutureShift.

Stamell says that Canada, where lobsters have a harder shell, is doing a better job marketing its lobsters. But Maine, he says, can change this dynamic by refocusing its marketing on how its lobsters taste.

"If you go out and you talk to chefs," Stamell says, "they will tell you soft shell lobsters have more flavor."

Maine's soft-shell lobsters, he adds, "are sweeter, brinier," he says. "And the reason for that is there's water inside the shell. The meat is marinating live."

But for Maine's new marketing approach to work, the state will have to find a way to grow another side of the business where Canada has also had an advantage: lobster processing facilities.

John Hathaway is CEO of Shucks Maine Lobster, one of just 14 such facilities in the state. Using a machine that Hathaway calls a "mothershucka," his company can process as much as 30,000 pounds of soft shell lobster a day. The live lobsters are loaded into a narrow tank of water, where high pressure kills the animals in about six seconds, Hathaway says.

But the vast majority of this type of lobster processing takes place not in Maine but in Canada.

"We sell the world's greatest food product in the highest possible volume, at the lowest possible price, to Canadian processors" – tens of millions of pounds a year, Hathaway laments.

More than two dozen large processors in Canada's Atlantic Maritimes then add value to Maine's signature seafood product, before shipping it back to the U.S. with a "Made in Canada" label on the box.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage says he'd like to see every pound of lobster caught in Maine waters carry a "Made in Maine" label within three years.


Citing the billions of people worldwide who can't access the Internet, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the leaders of other technology firms are launching an ambitious project to narrow the digital divide Wednesday. The plan focuses on widening access via mobile phones.

"There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy," Zuckerberg says. "Internet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making Internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it."

To accomplish that goal, a website for the Internet.org project lists areas for possible gains, from a proposal to make smartphones more affordable to a push to make mobile devices work in more languages.

Other ideas include making apps and processes more efficient, so the data costs of using a smartphone are lower, and giving mobile phone providers and phone makers incentives to make their products more affordable.

Their goal is to increase the number of people who use the Internet, which is estimated to be more than 2.7 billion this year, according to the United Nations.

"By reducing the cost and amount of data required for most apps and enabling new business models, Internet.org is focused on enabling the next 5 billion people to come online," according to a new release.

This summer, Google has been testing its own plan to help provide Internet access in areas where such services are rare. Called Loon, the project calls for floating antenna-equipped balloons high into the atmosphere.

The new project is launching with the support of Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung — all of them companies that could eventually profit from the addition of billions of new customers. As smartphone and digital markets in Europe and elsewhere reach a saturation point, developing nations present the biggest chances for growth.

But a push for profits is not the main factor behind the new initiative, Zuckerberg tells The New York Times.

"We're focused on it more because we think it's something good for the world," he says, "rather than something that is going to be really amazing for our profits."

In terms of Internet access, wide disparities exist between different regions and economic tiers. As the "World in 2013" report from the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union states, it's more expensive to get online in a developing country than in a developed one, in relative terms.

Here are some highlights from the report, published in February by the Swiss organization:

In the developing world, 31 percent of the population is online, compared with 77 percent in the developed world.

Europe is the region with the highest Internet penetration rate in the world (75 percent), followed by the Americas (61 percent).

In Africa, 16 percent of people are using the Internet – only half the penetration rate of Asia and the Pacific.

90 percent of the 1.1 billion households not connected to the Internet are in the developing world.

In developing countries, 16 percent fewer women than men use the Internet.

Another finding of that report was that in developing nations, people often pay far less for mobile broadband than for fixed services.

Before it launched the Internet.org project, Facebook's efforts to widen access to the web have included Facebook Zero, a text-only version of its services that has been a hit in Africa. The company has also worked to spread efficient and affordable computing infrastructure through its Open Compute effort.

Digging a trench under the punishing midday sun, Thomas Lokinga stops only when he needs to wipe the sweat from his face. He is determined to find a nugget of gold amid the hard-baked ground in Nanakanak, in the eastern part of South Sudan, the world's newest nation.

He's one of about 60,000 gold diggers in South Sudan unearthing an estimated $660 million worth of gold each year, according to one international mining expert. These finds have sparked a gold rush in the nation's east — a region that long was a flash point in the country's nearly 50-year-old civil war.

With so many diggers, nuggets are getting harder to find.

Lokinga says he used to find a gram of gold a day and now it takes 10 days of nonstop work. He says the dreams of wealth have attracted hordes of people including women and children, scratching out an existence after years of poor agricultural harvests.

"All over here people are doing this work," Lokinga says. "Children and women and even elderly people inside the bushes, all just leaving their homes and looking for something to eat."

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Japan's military held large-scale exercises at the foot of Mount Fuji on Tuesday as Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera cited "deepening uncertainties" in the region as justification for expanding the role of Japan's armed forces at home and abroad.

Onodera said Japan's military would increasingly be called upon to participate in international peacekeeping operations and bilateral activities with allies.

The statement follows the recent unveiling of the largest Japanese warship to be built since World War II; plans to create a marine corps, a national security council, and possibly develop the capability to launch pre-emptive strikes against enemy ballistic missile sites.

All of these are in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's clearly stated policy goal of "escaping the postwar regime."

A Postwar Japan

What Abe calls the postwar regime was in fact the Allied nations' consensus on how to construct a new security arrangement for East Asia that would prevent a repeat of World War II. It was outlined in the Allies' 1945 Potsdam Declaration, and then written into Japan's Constitution by U.S. military officers under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

They took a two-pronged approach. First, Japan was disarmed, and its constitution forbids it from either waging war or maintaining a standing army. Second, the constitution was revised to emphasize popular sovereignty, democracy and human rights in order to prevent the re-emergence of militarism.

Japan has interpreted its constitution to allow the creation of "self-defense forces" and to allow their deployment in peacekeeping operations overseas.

Heard on NPR

Hundreds of samples taken from riders in this summer's Tour de France found no signs of doping, officials say. The epic race, which was put on for the hundredth time in 2013, has been at the center of recent doping scandals.

Anti-doping officials say they took 202 blood and urine samples before the race began, and an additional 419 during competition. Nearly 200 of those samples were taken with the goal of creating a "biological passport" for riders, to establish a baseline of their body chemistry.

Of the blood samples taken during the race, Velo Nation reports, 18 tests "were for human growth hormone analysis, two were for blood transfusions and 22 were ESA (erythropoiesis-stimulating agent) tests."

The announcement was made Tuesday by the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation, an arm of cycling's governing body.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports for our Newscast unit:

"Officials from the International Cycling Union say they changed strategy this year by being unpredictable in their testing.

"The news comes as a welcome boost to a sport that has suffered damage to its reputation with Lance Armstrong's admission that he cheated throughout his seven Tour victories.

"And recent testing of samples from the 1998 and 1999 tours showed a number of riders testing positive for the banned blood-booster EPO.

"The winner of this year's tour, Britain's Chris Froome, was subjected to intense press scrutiny and speculation regarding the validity of his at-times phenomenal performances.

"Anti-doping authorities say Froome was tested alot. They also say that just because no doping was discovered, doesn't mean the race was necessarily drug free."

(We most recently updated this post at 9:10 a.m. ET.)

"Two Syrian pro-opposition groups are claiming that dozens of people were killed Wednesday in a poisonous gas attack near Damascus," NPR's Jean Cochran reported earlier this morning on our Newscast. The groups are blaming the attack on government forces, she said.

"The reports have not been independently confirmed," Jean added, and President Bashar Assad's regime says the claims are "baseless."

Reuters began Wednesday leading its report this way: "Syrian activists accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of launching a nerve gas attack that killed at least 213 people on Wednesday, in what would, if confirmed, be by far the worst reported use of poison gas in the two-year-old civil war." Shortly after 9 a.m. ET, the wire service said activists were claiming that nearly 500 people had died. "If confirmed," Reuters added, it would be "by far the worst reported use of chemical arms in the two-year-old civil war."

This news comes as a U.N. team is in Syria to investigate earlier alleged uses of chemical weapons.

The BBC's Naomi Grimley adds that opposition groups have released "distressing pictures [that] show children lying limp in the arms of adults" and adults being hosed down, allegedly to wash away chemicals. But, she says, those images haven't been independently verified.

According to CNN, "the explosions took place in eastern and western Ghouta, rebel strongholds that the regime has for more than a year been desperately trying to take back. They don't want rebels pushing into the capital."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague says in a statement released by his office that he is "deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of people, including children, have been killed in airstrikes and a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas near Damascus."

Hague also says that:

"These reports are uncorroborated and we are urgently seeking more information. But it is clear that if they are verified, it would mark a shocking escalation in the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Those who order the use of chemical weapons, and those who use them, should be in no doubt that we will work in every way we can to hold them to account. I call on the Syrian Government to allow immediate access to the area for the UN team currently investigating previous allegations of chemical weapons use. The U.K. will be raising this incident at the UN Security Council."

What's a baker to do when all foodies can talk about, on both sides of the Atlantic, is the cronut craze, a croissant-doughnut that NPR reported on earlier this year? Simple: Come up with an equally addictive hybrid dessert.

Inspired by the increasing appetite for "mash-up" desserts — fusing two calorie- and fat-filled items into one — Britain's Evening Standard newspaper tasked food writer and blogger Victoria Stewart with commissioning a winning dessert combination to rival the cronut.

"We were keen to get something new, as we always try to move the story on a bit," says Stewart.

American baker Bea Vo was tapped because of her background in hybrid desserts. Vo opened the first of her three London bakeries, Bea's of Bloomsbury, in 2008, and she was already beloved by customers for her "duffin," a cake doughnut filled with jam, which she created a few years ago. With a loyal following for her inventive desserts, Vo was given a list of experimental fusion foods to whip up for the Standard.

"One of them was the muffle, a muffin and waffle. We did make one, but the fruit caramelized too quickly," Vo tells The Salt. "The trick to fusion desserts is to bring out the best of both." Which is why Vo's invention — the "townie" — has been a huge success. The brownie-tartlet has a gooey center and a crisp outer shell.

"I immediately saw it and thought, 'Why hasn't anyone done that before?' " Vo tells The Salt. She says the fact that brownie dough isn't very wet prevents the shell from getting soggy, and also allows for under-baking the brownie to give the center that highly sought after gooeyness.

But while Vo knew it would work, she didn't expect to sell more than a few dozen. Instead, she sold 800 townies in 10 days and garnered attention from U.S. TV networks. "This is one of those unusual things that really had its own life," she says.

Citing the billions of people worldwide who can't access the Internet, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the leaders of other technology firms are launching an ambitious project to narrow the digital divide Wednesday. The plan focuses on widening access via mobile phones.

"There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy," Zuckerberg says. "Internet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making Internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it."

To accomplish that goal, a website for the Internet.org project lists areas for possible gains, from a proposal to make smartphones more affordable to a push to make mobile devices work in more languages.

Other ideas include making apps and processes more efficient, so the data costs of using a smartphone are lower, and giving mobile phone providers and phone makers incentives to make their products more affordable.

Their goal is to increase the number of people who use the Internet, which is estimated to be more than 2.7 billion this year, according to the United Nations.

"By reducing the cost and amount of data required for most apps and enabling new business models, Internet.org is focused on enabling the next 5 billion people to come online," according to a new release.

This summer, Google has been testing its own plan to help provide Internet access in areas where such services are rare. Called Loon, the project calls for floating antenna-equipped balloons high into the atmosphere.

The new project is launching with the support of Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung — all of them companies that could eventually profit from the addition of billions of new customers. As smartphone and digital markets in Europe and elsewhere reach a saturation point, developing nations present the biggest chances for growth.

But a push for profits is not the main factor behind the new initiative, Zuckerberg tells The New York Times.

"We're focused on it more because we think it's something good for the world," he says, "rather than something that is going to be really amazing for our profits."

In terms of Internet access, wide disparities exist between different regions and economic tiers. As the "World in 2013" report from the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union states, it's more expensive to get online in a developing country than in a developed one, in relative terms.

Here are some highlights from the report, published in February by the Swiss organization:

In the developing world, 31 percent of the population is online, compared with 77 percent in the developed world.

Europe is the region with the highest Internet penetration rate in the world (75 percent), followed by the Americas (61 percent).

In Africa, 16 percent of people are using the Internet – only half the penetration rate of Asia and the Pacific.

90 percent of the 1.1 billion households not connected to the Internet are in the developing world.

In developing countries, 16 percent fewer women than men use the Internet.

Another finding of that report was that in developing nations, people often pay far less for mobile broadband than for fixed services.

Before it launched the Internet.org project, Facebook's efforts to widen access to the web have included Facebook Zero, a text-only version of its services that has been a hit in Africa. The company has also worked to spread efficient and affordable computing infrastructure through its Open Compute effort.

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

Barnes & Noble, the bookstore chain nowadays rarely divorced from the word "struggling," reported more bad news Tuesday. Founder Leonard S. Riggio announced he had suspended his plans to buy the company's nearly 680 bookstores — right as the chain reported a quarterly net loss of $87 million. Riggio said in a statement: "While I reserve the right to pursue an offer in the future, I believe it is in the company's best interests to focus on the business at hand." The New York Times' DealBook reports that after Riggio's February announcement that he planned to purchase the stores, he "struggled with whether to follow through on his proposal, according to a person briefed on the matter. Mr. Riggio never made a formal offer to the board, and in recent weeks became leery of both the shareholder lawsuits that might arise from any bid and the distraction it might become to the company." Shares of Barnes & Noble fell 12 percent in trading Tuesday.

NPR's Noah Adams recalls the great crime novelist Elmore Leonard, who died Tuesday morning at age 87: "Leonard had wonderment in his soft voice. He'd remember characters he'd dreamed up — the confused victims, the steel-willed but often blundering bad guys. I loved hearing him talk, and I'd already asked him to read several pages of his work. You could hear the New Orleans of his birth and the pure fun of creating the plots. I found myself wishing I'd asked for another day in his world."

Robyn Creswell considers the Egyptian novelist and dissident Sonallah Ibrahim: "Ibrahim has become a sort of oracle for many Egyptian students and writers... Along with his fiction, Ibrahim is revered for having publicly refused the Arab Novel Award, a prize given by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, under Mubarak. In 2003, Ibrahim attended the awards ceremony, but instead of delivering an acceptance speech he excoriated the regime for its feckless foreign policy, its endemic corruption, and its use of torture, all of which, he said, gave him no choice but to refuse the prize."

James Patterson tells The New York Times about his favorite books: "I avoid the same kinds of books that I do people — long-winded, sanctimonious, goody two shoes, self-important, mean-spirited."

Beatrice Kozera, the woman who inspired "Terry, the Mexican girl" in Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road, died Thursday at age 92, The Associated Press reports. The report added, citing a family friend, that "Kozera learned only a few years ago that her 15-day relationship with Kerouac in the farmworker labor camps of Selma in 1947 was featured in his famous Beat Generation novel and eventually a movie."


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie agreed to ease restrictions on medical marijuana for chronically ill children, but he won't go as far as lawmakers would like.

NPR's Joel Rose reports that Christie, a Republican, has rejected part of a bill that would allow young patients access to an ingestible form of marijuana at state-approved dispensaries without the approval of a psychiatrist and pediatrician.

His partial veto sends the bill back to the Democratic-controlled Legislature for approval before it becomes law.

The Associated Press reports:

"Like the 19 other states that allow medical marijuana, New Jersey lets children use it. But unlike all but a few, the state law and regulations currently in place — considered perhaps the most stringent among states that allow medical pot at all — have additional hurdles for young patients. ...

"It attracted broader attention this week when parent Brian Wilson confronted the governor during a campaign stop in a diner. Wilson believes his 2-year-old daughter, Vivian, would benefit by using a certain form and strain of pot for Dravet syndrome, a rare and sometimes deadly form of epilepsy.

"In a moment captured on video that made news shows and websites, Wilson told the governor, 'Please don't let my daughter die.' "

For the person who has everything — or maybe wants everything — we go Windows-shopping at Why I'm Broke, a portal to outrageous gift ideas. There we find links to a $2 million personal submarine, a $3,500 Nintendo Controller coffee table and a $42 golf club that dispenses drinks.

Not satisfied with the first-world excess of the collection, we delve deeper into the caverns of consumerism and discover five more odd things you can buy, if you — and your disposable income — are so disposed.

2) Roadside Trash. Before there was eBay, wherever did we find ridiculously brilliant items like the collection of "Roadside Trash Litter Between SE Washington and NE Oregon" and gag cans of dehydrated water that comedian Steven Wright would love?

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Okay, background information first.

As an apartment-dweller, I have lived for 20 years in a series of white-walled boxes with neutral carpets. I have assembled and eventually ripped apart the kind of furniture that comes with an Allen wrench. And I have had my adventures. When leaving an apartment in Brooklyn, I tore a sofa bed apart with my bare hands and feet — broke it and destroyed it — because it was old and I knew I'd never get it through the door again.

And the last time I moved, I did it all myself: packed everything onto the truck, drove the truck, moved everything out of the truck into temporary storage, took everything back out of temporary storage, moved everything into my new apartment. And when I say "myself," I mean "myself." If you ever need a downsizing strategy, by the way, commit to personally transporting every item you own several times. It does wonders.

("Temporary storage" was the front two rooms of the home of my best friend, who was on vacation, and whose cat I am fairly certain still thinks of that brief period as "the time they built an amusement park made out of boxes in the dining room.")

But now, it's time to move again, and this time, I'm moving to an apartment I am encouraged to decorate. So, with an innocence better suited to a pre-Parent Trap Lindsay Lohan, I asked the internet for good places to look at home decorating ideas. (And I begged people not to send me to Pinterest, because I don't understand it.)

Little did I know that asking the internet to recommend home decorating idea generators is a little like asking a four-year-old to recommend an episode of Dora The Explorer: you will be there for a while, because they are so excited and they were just waiting for you to ask because there are so many good choices.

Everyone was very enthusiastic about Houzz, which sounds like an AARP grandchild-outreach subcommittee, but is actually a site full of photos that you page through to see all kinds of rooms and craft projects and other doodads. You can look through zillions — and I do mean zillions — of decorating pictures and clip them into "Ideabooks," which you can then peruse at your leisure when you want to feel like you're working on your new place without actually going to Home Depot. Here's my "Colors" ideabook, for instance; you can see that I enjoy blue, green, degrees of cleanliness I could never achieve, and things I can't afford.

This is a running theme in internet decorating research: on the bright side, you can think of it as everything hopeful and aspirational about what you want in your new home. On the less bright side, you can think of it as fantasy failing. It's like fantasy football, except you imagine the precise way in which you would mess up whatever the project is. I put this upholstered headboard in an ideabook that I called "Projects," because if I called it "Things I Would Probably Accidentally Set On Fire While Stapling My Hand To A Board," people would think I suffered from low self-esteem.

You can also visit any number of design blogs — Apartment Therapy, which I like but which I find embraces a really minimalist aesthetic that wouldn't work with my love of stuff; Design Sponge, which I find intimidating; and any number of personal blogs from people who are just great at decorating, including my friend Anna Beth. (Shameless Anna Beth plug.)

The internet will also give you all the advice you could ever need. And then possibly more advice than that, sometimes, but that's okay! Just in the world of painting, they have advice about taping, not taping, edgers, whether there's such a thing as one-coat coverage, and whether anyone who tries to paint on her own is stupid. (I really don't think it can be worse than doing an entire move by myself.) You can hear from people who have painted small rooms, people who have painted large rooms, people who paint professionally, people who wonder whether you've considered wallpaper, and people who can't understand why you don't just leave the walls white and will not accept "Because I think I have exhausted the mood-enhancing possibilities of total decorative sterility" as an answer.

And the paint companies ... oh, the paint companies have outgrown those little strips of colors you look at. They still make those, of course, but now you can go into a virtual room and virtually paint the walls, and then you virtually congratulate yourself on what a neat job you did. (No tape!) Everyone will remind you that it's important to actually test colors, because they will look different on the walls, but virtually painting a room will, in fact, sometimes tell you that a color scheme reminds you a little too much of a brand logo, your office, or Thanksgiving.

In fact, some advice-givers will tell you that you have to test your paints in every possible kind of lighting situation, which I think would require approximately a year of testing in order to fully evaluate the way the paint looks in the summer sun, the darkness of night, the orange glow of fall, the icy gray of winter, and the cheery day every April when I fall briefly in love with the D.C. weather because I've forgotten all about the previous August. For me, it will probably be slightly less involved, and will consist of painting a couple of square feet, stepping back, getting a drop of paint on my shoe, and saying, "Well, I think this is fine."

There are online charts that tell you what emotions go with which colors, and which colors have — and I am quoting here — "Gastric Connotations." I would take issue, by the way, with the pink they have listed as "Sensuous Femininity," which I personally associate with Barbie's RV, which might have been sensuous for Barbie, depending on the circumstances, but not so much for me.

Of course, once you have painted, you have to actually put things in your home. Some of these will be the things you have already accumulated, but with every new home come various hankerings to put the perfect thing right there. You know — there. In that spot on the wall, over the bed or next to the chair, you need something right there. And especially in the age of the internet, you can get as specific as you want. You can search a site like Etsy for dog pictures, flower pictures, pictures of buildings, or black and white photography.

And not to scare you, but you can also get people to paint really unsettling and weird portraits of you. This is a thing now, although I don't have the heart to link to any of them, because I love artists even when they're creepy.

I will be here only sporadically for the next ten days or so, because the rest of the time, I will be picking colors, moving boxes, and (I am just guessing) pulling pieces of tape out of my hair. Until then: It's a huge pain to paint a bathroom, right?

A Pakistani court Tuesday indicted former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf on murder charges in connection with the 2007 assassination of iconic Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, deepening the fall of a once-powerful figure who returned to the country this year in an effort to take part in elections.

The decision by a court in Rawalpindi marks the first time Musharraf, or any former army chief in Pakistan, has been charged with a crime.

Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup and stepped down from office in disgrace nearly a decade later, now faces a litany of legal problems that have in many ways broken taboos on the inviolability of the once-sacrosanct military in Pakistani society.

He has been charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and facilitation for murder, said prosecutor Chaudry Muhammed Azhar.

The former army commando appeared in person during the brief morning hearing, and pleaded not guilty, said Afsha Adil, a member of Musharraf's legal team.

Bhutto was killed in 2007 during a gun and bomb attack at a rally in the city of Rawalpindi, the sister city to the capital of Islamabad. Prosecutors have said Musharraf, who was president at the time, failed to properly protect her.

The judge set August 27 as the next court date to present evidence.

Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March after nearly four years outside the country and vowed to take part in the country's May elections. But he has little popular support in Pakistan and ever since his return has faced a litany of legal problems related to his rule.

He has been confined to his house on the outskirts Islamabad as part of his legal problems, and was brought to court Tuesday amid tight security.

In addition to the Bhutto case, Musharraf is involved in a case related to the 2007 detention of judges and the death of a Baluch nationalist leader.

He's also faced threats from the Pakistani Taliban who tried to assassinate him twice while he was in office and vowed to try again if he returned.

"There is no question that there is a civil war that is waging within the party."

That Republican conflict, political science professor David Cohen adds, isn't between just two sides, but among a number of factions, including libertarians.

One of the most public battles has involved national security and civil liberties. Leaks about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs raised alarms for libertarians about the government's reach.

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that the NSA "has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008." The article and follow-up reports fuel the ongoing civil liberties debate. These leaks have helped push libertarian ideology into the limelight.

"I think it's really brought home many of the things that we've been talking about," says libertarian Rep. Justin Amash of Grand Rapids, Mich. "There's a real concern about a surveillance state that's been growing. There's concern that government is collecting much more information than it actually needs to prosecute terrorism."

Certainly, the government should be trying to track down terrorists, Amash tells NPR's Don Gonyea.

"I would say libertarian Republicans believe that national defense is the No. 1 priority of the federal government under the Constitution," Amash says. "But whatever we do has to comport with the Constitution. So we can't violate individual liberty; we can't violate privacy and property rights in the pursuit of terrorism."

At a GOP gathering last month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called libertarian ideas about national security "dangerous."

It's All Politics

What Chris Christie And Rand Paul Share, Despite Their Clash


In the old days, when a book came out it just had to compete with other books. But these days a book has to compete not only with other books, but also with blog posts and tweets and tumblrs and everything else in written form. There's only so much that readers feel like reading, and as a result, every year many good books get lost under a tide of prose. How many times does a writer go to a party and someone asks, "When is your book coming out?" And the answer is, "Uh, six months ago." And then there's an awkward, horrible silence, and the person asking the question mutters something and rushes off to refresh his drink.

The publication of every good book should ideally be met with a triumphal, trumpet fanfare. But that doesn't always happen. I looked back over many of the books that have been published this year and selected five that deserve a little more fanfare.

One of the most intriguing figures of 20th-century warfare is T.E. Lawrence, the British army officer who immersed himself in the culture of the Arabian Peninsula's Bedouin tribes and played a key role in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks during World War I. He became a well-known and romanticized figure in post-war England, and was immortalized in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.

Scott Anderson spent four years researching Lawrence and three other young men who were involved in the momentous events of the Middle East during and after the war. (Those other men include an American, a German and a Jew living in Palestine.) What Anderson discovered about Lawrence is different from, but every bit as interesting as, the popular image of the man.

As a journalist, Anderson has covered conflicts in Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Northern Ireland, Chechnya and Sudan. He's written two novels, two books of nonfiction and has co-authored two books with his brother, journalist Jon Lee Anderson. He joins Fresh Air's Dave Davies to talk about his new book, Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East.

Morning traffic in Kabul can be punishing enough as it is. But on a recent day, there's an extra element clogging up the streets, a scene you don't see on a typical day in the Afghan capital.

It's a parade of about 100 young boys and girls, dressed in colorful T-shirts and headscarves, and they're all juggling — everything from tennis balls and batons to things that look like big Whac-A-Mole bats. They're proceeding down the street, some on foot, some on stilts, some on unicycles. They've attracted a bit of a following as people are coming out of their houses to watch the parade. Some are smiling; others appear confused by the procession.

The parade snakes its way around the neighborhood and back into the compound of the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus. There's something that looks like a giant birdcage for acrobatics and a stage and performance area for the circus' 350 students.

Zach Warren is an American volunteer with the group.

"The circus is free. Anyone can come, as long as they maintain a certain GPA in school," he says. "And right now we are witnessing the national Afghan circus championships, which include primarily juggling competitions."

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The professional connections site LinkedIn is launching a new section of its social network Monday: University Pages targets younger users who want to connect with colleges. More than 200 schools now have profile pages, according to LinkedIn. As part of the new effort, the company also dropped its minimum age to 14 in the U.S.

The new college profiles allow prospective students to see how many of a school's graduates are on LinkedIn, as well as a breakdown of the main fields in which they work. The pages also list the top employers of alumni.

Those details, along with a graph that shows how a user is connected to a school's alumni, could help applicants glean advice or perhaps even a letter of recommendation, in a real-world twist on LinkedIn's "recommend" function.

The service also could serve as a funnel for LinkedIn to grow its membership base — and for the company to tap into the large potential market of users under 25.

Christina Allen, LinkedIn's director of product management, says the idea for the pages came after she saw her daughter and others struggle to find usable information on colleges.

"I knew that hidden in millions of member profiles were powerful insights about the career outcomes of educations from universities around the world," Allen writes, in a blog post unveiling the new profile pages for schools.

Many of LinkedIn's more than 238 million users include information about their education and work history in the profiles they create on the professional networking site.

"If harnessed, these insights could provide incredible value for students," she says.

Each university page also includes standard information, such as the gender breakdown of the student body, tuition costs, student/faculty ratio, and the school's graduation rate.

A separate blog post announced changes in LinkedIn's terms of service, dropping the minimum age to 14 in the United States, and to other ages — from 13 to 18 years old — elsewhere in the world. For comparison purposes, the minimum age to create a profile on Facebook is 13.

For examples of existing college pages, you can check these out:

New York University

University of Illinois

University of California San Diego

Fundao Getlio Vargas


University of Michigan


Rochester Institute of Technology

The Oct. 1 launch of the new health insurance exchanges is now less than two months away, and people are starting to pay attention to the changes these new marketplaces may bring to the nation's health care system.

We know it's confusing, so we're spending part of the summer and fall answering at least some of your questions about the law. You can see earlier pieces in our series here and here.

Today we're answering questions regarding two of the more frequent topics raised: student health plans and possible penalties for failing to obtain health insurance.

"I started going to graduate school two years ago, and ... someone like me who is older, I don't have any resources as much as a working person my age, so I was wondering what happens with those people while they are in school?"

— Carolina Trabuco, Eugene, Ore.


Let's just get this out of the way: Yes, Austenland is a fun movie. It's joyful, exuberant, and features good performances and snappy dialogue and pretty costumes. It's exactly the sort of thing to watch when you want to feel better about your life. Preferably while eating your favorite ice cream straight out of the carton. And it probably enhances the experience if you've recently ended a relationship, are in the midst of ending a relationship, or are thinking about ending a relationship. If you're currently in a happy relationship, you'll still find it entertaining, but really it's not meant for you.

Because here's the thing — the enjoyment of most things related to Austen requires the reader/viewer to be in a state of heartache. Preferably long-term, persistent heartache teetering on the brink of being positively unbearable.

This is why Austen is so popular with women and gay men. We're adept at heartache.

Austen fans are experts on pining. And what the vast majority of us pine for is Mr. Darcy. Even when we don't want to. Believe me, when I sat down to watch Austenland, I was determined not to fall for this Darcy. I'd already been through that with Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen, and had hardened my heart.

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Ushio came to New york in 1959, the beneficiary of a generous grant. And he made an impression.

"He is a genius," says curator Alexandra Munroe, leaning into the noun. She's the Guggenheim Museum's senior curator of Asian art, and she's been a fan for decades.

"He is a maker of ideas; he is a maker of cultural revolutions," she says. "He never cared about making money. I think he was fashioning himself after a radical artist — fashioning himself after a heroic radical artist, after even a [Jackson] Pollock for that matter."

If he aspired to be a Pollock-style titan, Ushio Shinohara chose other American icons for his subjects — that motorcycle not least among them. Inspired by the image of Marlon Brando astride his bike, he scrounged the neighborhood for cardboard — ubiquitous on the New York City streets — and he started creating his versions, both smaller than life and, like the one on his roof, much larger.

He's never had a bike of his own, though.

"Never," he laughs, disclaiming any knowledge of how the machines work. "And my temper is an artist's temper, sometimes up, sometimes down. Very, very dangerous, on a cycle."

He exorcises that temperament in part by pounding on those canvases. The creation of his boxing paintings is a performance in itself: He wears swim goggles and boxing gloves, with paint-absorbing foam attached to them with rubber bands. Often shirtless — and still trim at age 81 — Ushio dips the boxing gloves into his paints and hammers at the canvas, working from right to left, as if he's writing kanji with his fists.

After 40 Years And More, A Relationship In Flux

The film also captures the couple's domestic life. Noriko brushes her long gray hair and plaits her two braids; they eat dinner, do their artwork.

And they bicker — over rent and bills, and the son who seems to be following his father down the path into alcoholism. (Though Ushio, the film notes, quit drinking a few years ago.)

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North Korea has agreed to talks with the South to resume cross-border reunions of families separated for decades by the most militarized border in the world.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the Pyongyang's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, said it had agreed to talks, hosted by the Red Cross, that are to take place on Sept. 19 at the North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort.

In the past, temporary thaws in bilateral relations have allowed some families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War to meet briefly at the border.

But tensions that have accompanied the ascendency of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stalled such meetings.

The North also shut down a joint industrial zone – one of the few areas of cooperation between the bitter rivals.

Last week, the Koreas agreed to work toward restarting the joint operation.

North Korea asked that discussion about resuming South Korean tours to its Diamond Mountain resort – another small area of cooperation — take place at a separate meeting. Those tours were suspended in 2008 when a South Korean woman was shot by a North Korean border guard after she reportedly wandered into a fenced-off military area.

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