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Julia Reynolds Radio Interview: Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang

This episode was originally broadcast on The 7th Avenue Project , September 14, 2014.

Julia Reynolds never planned on becoming an expert on gang violence. But as a reporter covering towns like Salinas, CA, she found the carnage hard to ignore, and she wondered why so many young men were keen for a career that often ends in an early grave or a prison cell.

After a decade of getting to know gang members, their families and anti-gang law enforcement officials, she’s produced a vivid portrait of life and death in one of California’s most notorious crime organizations. Drawing on her own first-hand reporting as well as police surveillance tapes and court discovery documents, her new book Blood in the Fields: Ten Years Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang has a novelistic, you-are-there immediacy while remaining resolutely factual.

How to Get Ahead On Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me

What Ira Glass Won’t Say

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The Days and Nights Festival comes to Carmel and Big Sur, September 26-28, 2014.

Photo: Christopher Duggan

Photo: Christopher Duggan

glass-show

Photo: David Bazemore

Ahead of his appearance in the 2014 Days and Nights Festival Ira Glass was on Robert Pollie’s 7th Avenue Project interview show. Ira’s piece in the festival “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host” is a spoken word and dance performance. So one of the things that happens in the interview is Robert encountering Ira’s policy about discussing whether he dances.

In the audio excerpt above you get just a taste of what happens when two masters of the radio interview enter into conversation.

In the Wake of Die-Off Lots of Baby Sea Stars

starfishJ.D. Hillard | KUSP News

After most species of sea stars suffered massive die-offs in 2013, researchers say there’s some hope for recovery.

Scientists still don’t understand why sea stars from Mexico to Canada started dying off. But the disease, which is called “sea star wasting syndrome” has affected most species and in many locations killed off a majority of sea stars, says Peter Raimondi, who studies marine ecology at Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz.

“It’s unlikely you’ll go to a location and not find any sea stars but the numbers are fractions of what they used to be.”

The ailment begins with tissue death – parts of the sea star may fall off. Then bacterial infections kill the animal.

Now Raimondi says there’s a chance sea stars may recover. He and other scientists have seen the largest number of baby sea stars they’ve ever seen. That goes especially for a site near Raimondi’s lab.

“We’ve seen more babies in the last 6 months than we’ve seen in the last 15 years combined. ”

Raimondi cautions that the large birth year doesn’t necessarily promise a return to normal populations. These new sea stars could still get the disease.

“The comeback would be when these individuals actually make it through to the adult stage.”

He says that would take a few years, once this year’s babies reach maturity.

 

At Farming Workshop: Drought and Salty Wells

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Mark Silberstein-500

By Wes Sims | KUSP News

During droughts cities tell residents to stop watering outside. Farms don’t have that option. This drought highlights the challenge growers face maintaining agriculture while preserving water supplies. It’s become part of the curriculum for a program that educates community leaders about local agricultural issues.
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Increase of Small Wildfires in San Lorenzo Valley

By J.D. Hillard | KUSP -

This morning firefighters extinguished a blaze they described as being of suspicious origin… in the forests of the San Lorenzo Valley. That region has seen an uptick in small wildfires recently.

Late last night, firefighters had received a report of smoke in the redwood forest near the north boundary of U.C. Santa Cruz’s campus and Henry Cowell Redwood state park. The night was foggy and they were at first unable to find the source. Then this morning, they found about two tenths of an acre of undergrowth and duff burning. Calfire Chief Rob Sherman says the blaze definitely was started by a human. “There was no lightning in the area there was no electrical,” he says.

Recently the San Lorenzo valley has seen more than the usual number of wildfires mostly started accidentally. “We had one start from a marijuana grow, we’ve had campfires we’ve had a whole gamut of human caused fires.” Here there was no evidence of a campfire or other accidental source. Now Calfire is looking into the possibility this morning’s fire was intentionally lit.

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Look Past the Smell: Anchovies Feed an Ecosystem

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Last week millions of anchovies swam in the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor and then died due to lack of oxygen. Beaches in Aptos also saw anchovy die-offs.

KUSP’s Adia White reports the die-off is a by-product of a periodic boom in the coastal anchovy population that is a boon for marine life.

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Cat PDA Vs. Human PDA, And Other Animal Behavior Explained

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Veterinarian Vint Virga says that animals in zoos, like this lion, need to have a bit of control over their environment. Photo: iStockphoto / via NPR

Fresh Air Interview July 23, 2014

From feisty kittens to pacing cheetahs, Vint Virga knows animal behavior.

A veterinarian who specializes in behavioral medicine, Virga has treated many household pets in his clinic. But for the past five years he has been working mostly with leopards, wolves, bears, zebras and other animals living in zoos and wildlife parks. He deals with such issues as appetites, anxiety and obsessive behavior.

“I’m always trying to provide every single animal I come into contact with … with the opportunity to invent and think and discover on their own,” Virga tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

“Probably the most important thing I stress to all my clients is to think about what the cat would do if they were living in nature. They would have to actually hunt for food.”

Virga’s book, The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human, was recently published in paperback. It explains how animals demonstrate mindfulness, forgiveness and adaptability — and what we can learn from them.

Virga talks about how house cats, like lions, are more fulfilled when they forage for food — and how animals express affection differently than we might think.

Vint Virga, a veterinarian who specializes in behavioral medicine, has been working mostly with leopards, wolves, bears, zebras and other animals living in zoos and wildlife parks for the past five years. Photo: Meg Bradbury Stowe/Courtesy of Crown Publishers

Vint Virga, a veterinarian who specializes in behavioral medicine, has been working mostly with leopards, wolves, bears, zebras and other animals living in zoos and wildlife parks for the past five years. Photo: Meg Bradbury Stowe/Courtesy of Crown Publishers

Interview Highlights

On making cats forage for food

Probably the most important thing I stress to all my clients is to think about what the cat would do if they were living in nature. They would have to actually hunt for food. While we can’t put out lizards and mice to run around in our house, we can portion out the food and make it more challenging and interesting for the cat to actually find.

I take my clients through a program of actually teaching their cats to forage for their food. Yeah, it isn’t live, but they’ve got to go on the hunt or the prowl throughout the house, and the locations in which they’re going to find the meal scattered about in the house … are going to be different every day. And cats find that very stimulating and very interesting — it adds a lot of richness to their lives.

On how cats show affection differently from humans

We need to step out of what we consider are the appropriate behaviors as humans and try to put ourselves in an animal’s footsteps. … Affection is shown by being cuddly and lovey for a lot of us — not necessarily all of us — [so we often think] that our cats would want to be cuddled and loved.

Instead, a lot of cats, if you actually watch their natural behavior when they’re in groups, the most affectionate cats might be sitting near each other. They might sit with their tails intertwined, rear to rear, but they’re not usually face to face, nose to nose, or snuggled up next to each other.

… That says that cats feel comfort and they express their emotions in ways differently than we do. If that’s true, then what behooves us [as] … their caretakers and human family members, is to learn about what it is that cats think and feel rather than [imposing] what we think and feel upon them.

On reading animal behavior at the zoo

Usually I like to spend a fair amount of time sitting outside an animal’s habitat and watching them, without trying to interact with them in any way, so I can understand as much about their behavior as possible — how they relate to other animals in their habitat, what they do in their time.

It’s one thing to see a wolf, for example, pacing alongside the edge of their habitat at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon when they’re starting to anticipate that their afternoon meal might be coming. It’s a very different thing if I see a wolf pacing around after their morning meal, before the zoo visitors have started to enter, because they reflect very different behaviors.

One, we’re talking about a wolf that’s anticipating something and starting to get a little bit anxious or excited; and the other, we’re talking about a wolf that even after his appetite and hunger needs have been met, he’s still choosing to pace. That reflects something very different in behavior.

On how zoos have changed to improve the animals’ well-being

I think the most important things that zoos have done in the past 10, 20 years, is that they [have] focused primarily on the animal’s well-being. And, depending on their feedback and responses, looked at their behavior, looked at their overall happiness and contentment, and used that as the gauge for what to do for the animal.

They’ve also applied as much [as] science knows about the animals in nature. What that looks like is providing them with a space that’s a lot more rich and full than just a place that is an exhibit. So it’s really shifting from not a cage, because most zoos don’t even have those anymore, but from an exhibit to a habitat. The environment is much richer and more complex rather than flat and uniform, so that we can see them.

[Zoos are] providing [animals with] opportunities to escape from view of the public — and that can be difficult for a zoo. … Visitors complain to the zoo if they can’t see the leopard, the bear or the lion. But on the other hand, if the lion doesn’t have any choice of getting away from the public at times, particularly if there [are] crowds or noisy visitors, then we’re taking away their sense of control over their environment.

On captive-born zoo animals

It is important to realize … that most animals in zoos nowadays are captive-born. They are not, by and large, taken from the wild. Usually it’s a number of generations that we would have to trace back to any type of direct wild animal.

… It becomes a constant effort by zoos, that is, supervised in a very strict fashion in terms of making sure that these animals are not inbred, to maintain diversity in the population, and yet what we are dealing with [are] … animals that are to some degree different than their wild cousins.

They lose some of those instincts by … not having predators and the pressures of the world that they’re being exposed to — from habitat loss and pollution and so on. They also are gaining other traits in that they’re constantly getting this affiliation or connection to humans. I’m touched by the relationships that I witness every day between keepers and the animals in their care.

As Gaza Fighting Rages, West Bank Palestinians Can Only Watch

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Palestinian Imad Abudayyah and his son, Ghassan, speak to relatives in the Gaza Strip via Skype from Ramallah in the West Bank. Israeli restrictions make it extremely difficult to travel between the two territories. West Bank Palestinians have largely been bystanders in the current round of fighting. Photo: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson/NPR

By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson | NPR

At least three times a day, Imad Abudayyah, 49, fires up his laptop at the West Bank hotel where he’s currently living with his 11-year-old son, Ghassan, to reach out to relatives in the Gaza Strip. Abudayyah says Skype is the only way they can see the family members they have left behind.

He is a Western-educated budget expert who is working with the Palestinian Authority on finance reform, a post that makes it easier for him to obtain an Israeli permit to come and go from Gaza. But even for Abudayyah, getting permission is tough these days. He missed 15 days of work waiting for his permit to leave Gaza and return to Ramallah in the West Bank, Abudayyah says.

“I remember 10 years ago it was easier,” he says. “The more time that passes, the more complicated the situation. I’m afraid in the coming years we may not be able to come to the West Bank.”

A poll last September by Gisha, an Israeli group that monitors Palestinian freedom of movement, showed more than a quarter of the 1.8 million people living in Gaza have relatives in the West Bank. But they rarely, if ever, get to see each other, even in periods of relative calm, because official Israeli policies severely restrict such travel between the territories, which are less than 40 miles apart.

A Palestinian man pushes his bicycle amid debris following an Israeli military strike in Gaza City on Wednesday. While Israel and Hamas have clashed repeatedly in Gaza, the West Bank has been comparatively calm in recent years.
Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images, via NPR

According to Gisha, the restrictive rules are part of Israel’s “separation policy,” a systematic attempt to divide Gaza and the West Bank. The policy became even more restrictive once Hamas took over the government of the Gaza Strip in 2006, and only a few hundred Palestinian civilians have been allowed to cross each month as “exceptional humanitarian cases.”

While conditions are difficult in both Palestinian territories, the latest fighting has again shown that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza live very separate lives.

The West Bank is headed by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and his secular Fatah movement, in contrast to Gaza, which is headed by Hamas, the radical Islamist group. West Bank Palestinians, on average, are better off than their Gaza counterparts. The West Bank has occasional outbursts of violence, but has been relatively calm in recent years compared with Gaza, where Israel and Hamas have clashed repeatedly.

This isolation has made Skype a vital bridge for families like Abudayyah’s that are divided between the territories.

He says it was especially difficult to get a permit for his son. It took more than a month, but he finally managed to bring his only child to Ramallah six days ago.

The Israelis “bombed the flat above where he lives with his mom” in Gaza, says Abudayyah, who is divorced. “Luckily he wasn’t home; he was visiting his friend. [But] it scared the hell out of him.”

Abudayyah couldn’t get permits for other relatives. His younger brother, Rizek, and his family moved into Abudayyah’s vacant Gaza City apartment. It’s considered relatively safe because it’s located near a government compound reserved for Abbas, the Palestinian Authority leader. Because of the Palestinian political split, Abbas doesn’t visit Gaza, and his compound there is empty and considered an unlikely Israeli target.

Abudayyah says he still worries. “Definitely whenever we feel there is sort of danger around the neighborhood, we talk to each other,” he says.

It’s not always easy to get through on Skype because constant shelling and power outages limit Internet access in Gaza. On Tuesday evening, it took several tries to reach his brother, and even after they connected, it took two minutes for the scratchy connection to stabilize enough for the men to see each other.

Ghassan fidgets next to his dad who exchanges pleasantries with family members. Soon the boy’s 12-year-old cousin, Noor, is on the line.

She asks Ghassan whether there is shelling in Ramallah, to which the boy replied: “No, we only have demonstrations here,” along with a general strike earlier in the week.

He tells her he wants to go and protest with other Palestinians against Israel, but adds: “My father won’t let me to go.”

The banter is soon replaced by more difficult questions about the war. Imad Abudayyah asked if anyone in the family has been able inspect the damage to their brick factory in Gaza that Israeli forces destroyed earlier in the week. His brother tells him no, because it’s been too dangerous to get there.

The relatives say goodbye before the power is cut off at the Gaza end.

Young Ghassan has mixed feelings about the calls.

“Actually I am happy because I can talk to them and see them on Skype, yeah, but I can’t see them in Ramallah. I want my family to come to Ramallah to be safe,” he says. The same goes for his friends and all of Gaza, he adds.

His father says better yet is if a real cease-fire can be negotiated so that the family can reunite in Gaza.

A Plan To Untangle Our Digital Lives After We’re Gone

A proposed law might determine what happens to our online accounts when we die. But the tech industry warns the measure could threaten the privacy of the deceased. Photo: iStockphoto via NPR

By Molly Roberts | NPR

Ancient peoples sent their dead to the grave with their prized possessions — precious stones, gilded weapons and terracotta armies. But unlike these treasures, our digital property won’t get buried with us. Our archived Facebook messages, old email chains and even Tinder exchanges will hover untouched in the online cloud when we die.

Or maybe not.

Last week, the Uniform Law Commission drafted the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, a model law that would let relatives access the social media accounts of the deceased. A national lawyers’ group, the ULC aims to standardize law across the country by recommending legislation for states to adopt, particularly when it comes to timely, fast-evolving issues.

And little evolves more quickly than the Web.

As we live more and more of our lives online, more and more of what used to be tangible turns digital.

“Where you used to have a shoebox full of family photos, now those photos are often posted to a website,” notes Ben Orzeske, legislative counsel at the ULC.

That shoebox used to go to the executor of the deceased’s will, who would open it and distribute its contents to family members. The will’s author could decide what she wanted to give and to whom. The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act aims to make the digital shoebox equally accessible.

“This is the concept of ‘media neutrality,’ ” Orzeske explained. “The law gives the executor of your estate access to digital assets in the same way he had access to your tangible assets in the old world. It doesn’t matter if they’re on paper or on a website.”

It turns out those terms-of-service agreements Internet users usually click through without reading include some strict rules: The small print on sites like Facebook and Google specifies that the user alone can access his or her account. But the ULC’s proposed law would override those contracts, Orzeske said.

The law’s proponents say this change would solve a host of problems.

For one thing, it would allow the executor and family members to clear up any unresolved financial matters in the wake of a death.

“An executor could go find estate assets like online bank accounts through email,” Orzeske said.

But the law could also have more sentimental implications.

Though Facebook switches dead users’ profiles to memorial status if a decedent’s family asks, the site does not allow family members to log onto a loved one’s page without a formal request. And sometimes, these petitions are turned down.

That’s happened to many grieving relatives, from Virginia farmer Ricky Rash to Jay and Helen Stassen of Minnesota. Both families lost their sons to suicide — and both were frustrated in their attempts to find answers through their child’s Facebook account.

ULC lawmakers hope their efforts will fix this problem, allowing families to handle online accounts just as they would photographs or diaries.

But Facebook — and companies like it — see another side to the issue. Where the ULC’s policy might seem only to help, Jim Halpert, head of the privacy practice at DLA Piper U.S., thinks it could hurt.

Halpert, who represents social media and communications companies like Facebook, Google and Yahoo, explained that the proposal does more than offer distressed families closure — too much more.

“The bill takes no account of minimizing intrusions into the privacy of third parties who communicated with the deceased,” Halpert said in an email statement. “This would include highly confidential communications from third parties who are still alive — doctors, psychiatrists, and clergy, for example.”

Carl Szabo, policy counsel for the NetChoice eCommerce trade association — whose members include AOL, Yahoo, Facebook and Google — says the ULC law would also threaten the privacy of the deceased.

“It sets the default privacy to zero,” Szabo said. “Unless the user makes an affirmative choice, by nature everything is disclosed.”

For someone unfamiliar with the law, then, what seemed private in life may turn public after death.

So is there a middle ground?

Some companies are working on it.

Yahoo Japan’s Yahoo Ending lets the deceased choose — before death, of course. The new platform allows the living user to craft farewell emails, prepare cancellations of subscription services, and choose certain photos and videos for postmortem deletion.

Sites in the United States are trying, too.

“Google has a tool on their dashboard called the inactive account manager,” Orzeske said. “It allows you to hit a switch and choose to have your emails deleted, preserved or handed over to someone if your account is inactive for some amount of time.”

This protects privacy even in death, letting a user choose to keep confidential communications confidential.

“It serves the exact same purpose as making a will,” Orzeske said.

But Szabo says the ULC act trumps the user’s wishes the moment the state in which he or she resides enacts the law.

“The day the state passes the uniform act, all your privacy choices are overridden,” he said.

As states decide whether to make the ULC’s vision a reality, companies will search for ways to let their clients know which gates will open after death and which will remain closed.

In the meantime, a Facebook profile remains shrouded in just as much mystery as King Tut’s tomb.

Molly Roberts is an intern on NPR’s Washington desk.

Related Stories: 
 May You Tweet In Peace: Social Media Beyond The Grave
 The Effort To Write Laws For Your Digital Life After Death