Nation & World News

Duchess Of Alba, Spain’s Richest Woman, Dies At 88

By Krishnadev Calamur on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Spain’s richest woman, the Duchess of Alba, has died at the age of 88 in Seville.

Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart had more titles than any other aristocrat in the world. Her parents gave her several names, but she preferred Cayetana.

The BBC adds:

“The frizzy-haired eccentric aristocrat was one of Spain’s most-loved figures whose antics filled the nation’s gossip magazines and gripped the audiences of TV chat shows even during the final months of her long life.

“Described as the ‘rebel noble,’ she spurned convention to forge her own path in life, following her passion for flamenco and, as a patron of the arts, amassing a private collection of masterpieces said to rival any in Europe.

“Her exuberant character, complete with squeaky voice and flamboyant dress-sense, enraptured Spaniards who followed the vicissitudes of her 88 years.

“Once a famed beauty who turned down a request to be Picasso’s muse, she shocked the establishment when she married her confessor, a defrocked Jesuit priest, in 1978, six years after the death of her first husband with whom she had six children.

“But it was her third marriage to a civil servant 25 years her junior in 2011 that provoked an even bigger scandal, a union that was opposed by her children as well as King Juan Carlos of Spain, but that was welcomed by Spaniards as a colourful drama.”

The duchess was 14 times a Spanish grandee, five times a duchess, once a countess-duchess, 18 times a marchioness, 18 times a countess and once a viscountess.

“This is due to the complicated combinations of nationalities and marriages intertwined within her ancestry,” Guinness World Records says.

Bloomberg reports that her family’s inheritance included vast properties and paintings by Goya, El Greco and Rubens. The family’s wealth was estimated in 2013 to be nearly $4 billion.

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Book News: Ursula K. Le Guin Steals The Show At The National Book Awards

By Colin Dwyer on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 3:11 pm

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

The 65th annual National Book Awards proved big for both literary icons and one notable newcomer. Former Marine Phil Klay took home the top fiction prize for his debut story collection, Redeployment, while long-time favorite Louise Gluck — finally — won the poetry prize for her collection Faithful and Virtuous Night.

Rounding out the award winners were Evan Osnos, whose Age of Ambition earned the honor for nonfiction, and Jacqueline Woodson, who won in the young people’s literature category for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming.

But, as NPR’s Petra Mayer reports, the moment that turned attendees’ heads happened even before those awards were announced — and it belonged to Ursula K. Le Guin. In accepting an award for distinguished contribution to American letters, Le Guin delivered an impassioned defense of science fiction — and of writers in general.

“I rejoice in accepting [this prize] for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long: my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction,” Le Guin said.

She reserved her most incendiary language for the recently resolved pricing dispute between Amazon and the publisher Hachette Book Group.

“We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa,” she said. “And I see a lot of us, the producers, accepting this — letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant!”

“The crowd went wild,” Mayer noted. “Really, you could have ended the evening there and almost everyone would have gone home happy — except for the Amazon contingent, who notably had no comment on Le Guin’s speech, or the ribbing they endured throughout the night.”

And at the after-party, the speech was still on people’s minds, including Jynne Martin, the associate publisher at Riverhead books. As she told Mayer, it was “the most ferocious speech ever given at the National Book Awards.”

Jamie xx Adapts Safran Foer: Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Tree of Codes is an odd one. Redacting large chunks of Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles, Foer crafted a book of his own by subtracting – or, to borrow musical terms, by sampling or remixing Schulz’s original text. It’s fitting then that Jamie xx, a musician known for his work with samples and remixes, should be the one to adapt Foer’s book to music.

Less fitting, though — or at least more surprising — is the medium Jamie’s adapting it to: ballet. Pitchfork reports that Jamie xx has composed the score to a contemporary ballet adaptation of Tree of Codes, which is set to be performed in July at the Manchester International Festival.

Mattel Apologizes For Barbie Book: Barbie has stumbled into a public relations quagmire, as a book featuring the iconic doll has sparked criticism of sexist content. The book, Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, largely depicts her being anything but. For the most part, the story consists of Barbie crashing both her sister’s computer and her own — and depending on the help of her male friends to fix them for her.

Since author Pamela Ribon brought it up in a strongly worded blog post, the Internet’s reaction to the book has been swift and merciless. Michael Schaub of the Los Angeles Times lists the ways: A deluge of one-star reviews on Amazon, a “remixed” version of the book that reimagines its plot, and even a “Feminist Hacker Barbie” website, which gives visitors a chance to change each page in the book.

A statement, released Wednesday on Barbie’s Facebook page, apologizes. “The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for,” it reads. “We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief.”

A Tale Of Twain And A Talented Frog: At Lapham’s Quarterly, Ben Tarnoff explains how a viral story about a frog-jumping contest turned Mark Twain from a provincial humorist into a national celebrity — and what that says about our shifting notions of place.

“Twain had set out to tell a tall tale and ended up with a work of art,” Tarnoff writes. “He used the veil of humor to smuggle in a serious point about the purpose of American literature, challenging the entrenched belief in Eastern superiority and Western barbarism.”

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Swedish Appeals Court Upholds Detention Order For Julian Assange

By Scott Neuman on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 1:11 pm

An appeals court in Sweden has upheld a detention order in connection with sex assault accusations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since seeking refuge there more than two years ago.

The Svea Court of Appeals in Stockholm affirmed a lower court ruling that ordered the detention of Assange, 43, for questioning over allegations that in 2010 he had nonconsensual sex with two women who were working as volunteers for WikiLeaks.

Assange has not been formally indicted in Sweden.

The court also criticized prosecutors for not taking an “alternative avenue” for the questioning, such as Assange’s offer to allow it at the embassy where he is staying.

Assange has denied the allegations and says he fears that if he leaves the embassy, British officials would arrest him and extradite him to Sweden and that he would then be sent to the United States, where he could be tried over the release of classified U.S. intelligence and diplomatic material.

The news agency says Assange’s lawyers “have argued the arrest warrant should be repealed because it cannot be enforced while Assange is in the embassy and Swedish prosecutors had not travelled to London to interrogate him.”

“There is no reason to set aside the detention solely because Julian Assange is in an embassy and the detention order cannot be enforced at present for that reason,” the court said.

A month after Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in June 2012, he was granted political asylum in Ecuador.

As NPR’s Mark Memmott wrote at the time: “The question becomes whether Great Britain will allow Assange to leave Ecuador’s embassy in London so that he can travel to the South American nation that is offering him refuge.”

Citing health concerns in August, Assange said he planned to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy “soon,” though there’s been no sign of a move since then.

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Republicans Warn Obama Ahead Of Planned Immigration Action

By Krishnadev Calamur on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Republicans in Congress are warning President Obama against acting alone on immigration, hours ahead of a planned announcement by the president that could provide temporary relief to some of the 12 million immigrants in the country illegally.

Republicans say any unilateral action on immigration by the president would mean there is no chance of passing a comprehensive immigration overhaul in Congress.

“One of the saddest parts about what the president is going to do is he will poison the well and make it much, much harder if not impossible for us to make serious progress on our broken immigration system,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Wednesday.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., says the president, through his planned executive action, is trying to “provoke” Republicans into battle.

“The smart thing is to find another way to deal with the president, because he’s trying to pick a bar fight and start one, and that’s too bad,” Cole says.

The standoff comes as the government’s budget authority is due to expire at midnight on Dec. 11. Republicans and Democrats on the appropriation committees are negotiating a spending bill that would keep the government running until the end of next September.

Republicans say they are not discussing another government shutdown, but NPR’s Brakkton Booker tells our Newscast team that they are exploring options to block Obama, including stripping away the funding that would go toward the executive actions on immigration.

Obama, in a speech to the nation at 8 p.m. ET today, is expected to announce his steps on immigration. He also plans to address the issue Friday during remarks at a Las Vegas school, the site of a speech two years ago in which he called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration legislation. Within five months of that speech, the Senate did just that — but the plan died in the GOP-controlled House.

You can listen to more of NPR’s coverage on immigration here:

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Buffalo, Parts Of Upper Midwest Brace For More Snow

By Scott Neuman on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 5:11 pm

The good people of Buffalo are certainly no strangers to snow — but this week has put even the city’s most seasoned winter veterans to the test.

The latest from the National Weather Service is that parts of western New York state could get another 3 feet of lake-effect snow on top of the 5.5 feet already on the ground. At least 10 deaths are attributed to this week’s severe weather.

Northwest Pennsylvania, northern Ohio, northern and western Michigan and far northern Wisconsin are also feeling the surge of Arctic air, The Weather Channel says.

Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters says: “Extreme atmospheric instability due to relatively warm waters in the lake were responsible for the intensity of the storm.”

Member station WBFO in Buffalo spoke with a snow plow driver who said it’s more snow than he’d ever seen. And The Associated Press describes the winter storm as “the kind of onslaught folks will be telling their grandchildren about.”

When the mercury rises as forecast over the weekend, bringing 60-degree temperatures and rain, all of that snow will turn to floodwater.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who toured the worst-hit area on Wednesday, called the early winter storm an “extraordinary situation.

“This is an historic event,” Cuomo said. “When all is said and done, this snowstorm will break all sorts of records.”

The AP reports: “The storm came in so fast and furious over Lake Erie early Tuesday it trapped more than 100 vehicles along a 132-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway that remained closed Wednesday.”

And The Washington Post says: “The lake effect wall of snow left wildly varying snow totals across the region: one side of Cheektowaga, N.Y., had at least 51 inches of snow Tuesday; the other side of town recorded just 2 inches.”

In northern Wisconsin and parts of Michigan, up to 2 feet have fallen, and a bit more snow is expected there today. The western half of Michigan remains under a winter storm advisory, and parts of the state’s extreme north have been issued a lake-effect snow warning.

Update at 4:50 p.m. ET:

NPR’s Northeast Bureau Chief Andrea de Leon says more snow is falling in the Buffalo area. “Snow totals vary widely from place to place, [but] the worst of today’s snow is to the south and east of Buffalo,” Andrea says.

“The towns of Seneca, West Seneca, Lancaster, and Lackawanna may see the brunt of the new accumulation,” she says.

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Award-Winning Director Mike Nichols Dies At 83

By Krishnadev Calamur on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 10:12 am

Updated at 8:40 a.m.

Award-winning director Mike Nichols has died at the age of 83, ABC News announced in a statement.

“He was a true visionary, winning the highest honors in the arts for his work as a director, writer, producer and comic and was one of a tiny few to win the EGOT — an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony in his lifetime,” ABC News President James Goldston said in the statement.

Nichols, who died suddenly Wednesday, is survived by his wife, ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, his children, Daisy, Max and Jenny, and four grandchildren.

NPR’s Eric Deggans is reporting on the story for our Newscast unit. He says the director of The Graduate and Death of a Salesman started as a performer but quickly built a career offstage as one of entertainment’s most-honored creative leaders. He says:

“On a movie set or Broadway stage, Mike Nichols excelled at building iconic dramatic scenes. In the 1971 film Carnal Knowledge, he bounced reluctant boyfriend Jack Nicholson off needy lover Ann-Margret.

“Nichols’ skills made instant classics of plays like Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple and films such as The Graduate and Silkwood. He started as a performer with actress/writer Elaine May, but Nichols’ greatest work was as a director. In his long career, he earned Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.

“Still, Nichols said his life didn’t really start until meeting his fourth wife, ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer.”

NPR spoke to Nichols in 2012. You can listen to those interviews below.

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Florida State University Gunman Shot Dead By Campus Police

By Krishnadev Calamur on November 20th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 10:12 am

Florida State University police shot and killed a gunman who had opened fire in the crowded university library around midnight. Three people were wounded.

Michael DeLeo, Tallahassee, Fla.’s chief of police, said the gunman appears to have acted alone.

“It will take not only hours but days to put all the pieces together,” he said at a news conference this morning. “Obviously, everyone wants to know why, and that’s the hard question that we’re going to continue to investigate and try to find those answers for everybody.”

Hundreds of students who were in the library studying for final exams at the time fled or took cover as the gunman began firing. David Northway, a spokesman for the Tallahassee Police Department, said police were called to the scene shortly after midnight. They confronted the gunman in front of the Strozier Library and ordered him to drop his weapon. The gunman, Northway said, shot at one of the officers. Police returned fire, killing the suspect, Northway said.

Northway said police were collecting forensics and questioning witnesses who were at the scene.

“This will go on for hours,” he said.

FSU Police Department Chief David Perry said the campus-notification system worked well, and students on campus were alerted to the gunman’s presence. At about 4 a.m., an “all clear” was sounded around campus, and students holed up in the library were then allowed to return home. Perry said security was being tightened on campus following the incident. Classes were canceled for Thursday.

Students who witnessed the shooting described chaos.

John Ehab, a sophomore from Tampa, Fla., told The Associated Press he was on the library’s third floor when he heard multiple gunshots.

“Everyone heard them,” he said.

He said those in the library took cover in the book aisles.

Allison Kope, a freshman from Cocoa Beach, Fla., said she was on the library’s first floor when she heard a loud noise. People began screaming about a gunman, she told the AP.

“You never think something like this is going to happen to you until you have to react in that situation when someone is screaming there is a gun in the building. I ran for my life,” she told the agency. “I ran right out the back door. My laptop and everything is still in there. It was shock. It was just instinct. You don’t think about anything else, you just go.”

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‘Redeployment,’ ‘Age Of Ambition’ Win National Book Awards

By NPR Staff on November 19th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 10:12 am

At a New York City ceremony packed as much with jabs at Amazon as with jazzy entrance music, the National Book Foundation crowned a newcomer. Former Marine Phil Klay took home the National Book Award for fiction, winning the prize for his debut short story collection Redeployment.

Klay, who had been deployed in Iraq, appeared taken aback by the honor on stage.

“I can’t think of a more important conversation to be having — war’s too strange to be processed alone,” he said in his acceptance speech. “I want to thank everyone who picked up the book, who read it and decided to join the conversation.”

Across a dozen stories told in first-person, Redeployment is at its heart a meditation on war — and the responsibility that everyone, especially the average citizen, bears for it. The book beat out a shortlist that included Marilynne Robinson, one of literature’s most celebrated living writers and the favorite coming into the night. Also on the shortlist were Emily St. John Mandel, Anthony Doerr and Rabih Alameddine.

Meanwhile, judges went for a literary heavyweight in the poetry category, selecting Louise Gluck‘s Faithful and Virtuous Night. Gluck has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, and had been nominated for the National Book Award before — but this year marks Gluck’s first NBA win.

“It’s very difficult to lose — I’ve lost many times. And it also, it turns out, is very difficult to win,” Gluck said. “It’s not in my script.”

Journalist Evan Osnos won the National Book Award in nonfiction for his impressively subtitled book, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. Long the Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker, Osnos explored the tensions that define a modern China torn between economic expansion and authoritarian politics.

Osnos dedicated his victory to the people he wrote about. “They live in a place where it is very dangerous to be honest, to be vulnerable, and they allowed me to write about them, and I’ve tried to do them justice.”

In a unanimous decision, the judges honored Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming in the young people’s literature category. Woodson’s memoir traces the tale of her own youth in verse, applying lines of poetry to issues of race and faith in the midst of Jim Crow and the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.

Despite these wins, in many ways the 65th National Book Awards ceremony still belonged to beloved fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin. LeGuin, the author of such classics as The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea novels, got a standing ovation when she came on stage to accept an award for distinguished contributions to American letters.

Once she was onstage, she pulled no punches in a fiery speech about art and commerce. “We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa,” LeGuin said. “And I see a lot of us, the producers, accepting this — letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant!”

She was referring to the recent dispute between Amazon and the publisher Hachette over e-book pricing. The power of capitalism can seem inescapable, LeGuin said, but resistance and change begin in art. And writers should demand their fair share of the proceeds from their work.

“The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.”

The winner in each of the four categories received a prize of $10,000. To hear the winners — and all of the nominees — read from their work, head here.

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Delinquent Mine Fines: ‘Clearly Troubling … More Can Be Done’

By Howard Berkes on November 19th, 2014 | Last updated: November 20, 2014 at 11:11 am

A key House Republican called today for federal regulators to crack down on mine owners who don’t pay fines for safety violations, saying, “Clearly more can be done.”

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, was reacting to an investigation by NPR and Mine Safety and Health News, which documented nearly 4,000 injuries and 131,000 violations at more than 4,600 mines — all as they failed to pay nearly $70 million in safety fines.

“The findings of the NPR report are deeply troubling,” Kline said in a written statement. “We have tools in place to crack down on these scofflaws, but what’s missing is a stronger commitment to use those tools.”

NPR/MSHN found that these delinquent mines collectively had an average injury rate 50 percent higher than that of mines that paid their fines.

“I intend to reach out to Assistant Secretary [of Labor Joe] Main and others within the administration to discuss how we can do better [at] ensuring [that] federal mine safety laws and the consequences for breaking those laws are both vigorously enforced,” Kline said.

As chairman of the Workforce Committee, Kline is the House gatekeeper for any mine safety reform legislation. A sweeping bill that would, among many other things, force the shutdown of mines six months after they become delinquent has languished in Congress. Opponents say it brings unnecessary regulation to an industry already reeling from declining demand for coal, competition from cheaper natural gas, tougher emission restrictions on coal-fired power plants, and diminishing coal seams, especially in Appalachia.

Kline’s statement emphasizes existing enforcement tools and not any new regulatory authority.

According to Brian Newell, Kline’s spokesman, the tools he’s referring to involve the Labor Department’s partnership with the Justice Department to force debt collection with federal court orders and settlements.

Our investigation found that this approach has limited success. The agencies sought settlements or filed federal court complaints in 34 cases since 2007. The mining companies involved agreed to pay or were ordered to pay $5.9 million in delinquent fines. Less than $800,000, or roughly 13 percent, was actually collected.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration, which regulates mine safety, has not responded to NPR’s requests for comment about our findings or to questions about what the agency is doing, if anything, as a result.

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Motown’s Jimmy Ruffin Dies; Sang ‘What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted’

By Bill Chappell on November 19th, 2014 | Last updated: November 19, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Singer Jimmy Ruffin, who was born in Mississippi but lent his soulful voice to several hits by Detroit’s Motown Records, reportedly died Monday at age 78. Ruffin was the older brother of Temptations singer David Ruffin.

The AP quotes a statement from his daughter Philicia and her family:

“Jimmy Ruffin was a rare type of man who left his mark on the music industry. My family in its entirety is extremely upset over his death. He will truly be missed. We will treasure the many fond and wonderful memories we all have of him.”

By far, Jimmy Ruffin’s biggest hit was “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” a ballad released in the mid-1960s that has had lasting popularity.

It was a song that he wasn’t meant to sing:

“In 1966, ‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ became a tune destined for the group the Detroit Spinners,” the website Soul Walking notes. “Jimmy persuaded the writers (Weatherspoon, Riser & Dean)” to let him record it.

Ruffin also sang “I’ve Passed This Way Before” and “Gonna Give Her All the Love I Got” — and in 1980, he had a pop hit with “Hold On To My Love,” a collaboration with Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees.

“All of his songs were about love, so that spoke to the kind of spirited guy he was, and spiritual too,” Philicia Ruffin tells the Detroit Free Press.

Ruffin’s music was also popular in England, where he lived and worked for a number of years after leaving Motown. In recent years, the musician was living in Las Vegas.

“He was hospitalized earlier this fall in Las Vegas,” Soul Tracks reports, “and his family reported him to be in grave condition in October.”

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