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Updated at 12:50 a.m. ET on Thursday:

Officials in Italy say the death toll has risen to 247. The Associated Press quotes the country's civil protection agency, after it announced updated figures about 27 hours after the earthquake struck. Urgent search efforts continue.

Original Post:

Smartphones To Blame For Limp Handshakes

Aug 24, 2016
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

In 2008, the investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for the largest bankruptcy in American history. It took just hours for the catastrophic effects of the company's failure to become apparent to ordinary people all across the world, even ones who had never before heard terms like "subprime mortgage" and "collateralized debt obligation."

On a Saturday morning, a group of adults gather in a circle in an elementary school classroom on the campus of Gallaudet University. Each wears a name tag — and on that name tag is a common sexual term: "Ejaculation." "Orgasm." "Condom."

One by one they introduce themselves by the name on their tag. Not in spoken words, but in American Sign Language (ASL).

These are parents and caregivers who have — or work with — children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The moms and dads are bashful at first, but after signing for a few minutes, they're laughing at themselves.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Big banks team up to create digital currency

Aug 24, 2016

On today's show, we'll talk about a decline in stock market volatility over the summer; a collaboration between four big banks to create an alternative to Bitcoin; a labor ruling that's granted graduate students from private colleges the right to unionize; and the return of Fugitive Tech CEO Kobi Alexander to the U.S. 

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

In the small flood-ravaged town of Springfield, La., Rachel Moriarity waited more than a week for a center where she could apply for emergency food stamps to finally open in the Am-Vets hall — but she's been turned away at the door.

This week they are processing only those with last names beginning with A through D.

"I don't have a vehicle to get here," she tells a staffer from the state, who replies that due to the volume of applicants in need, there isn't anything they can do.

Great Lakes Waters Can Take A Savage Toll On Swimmers

Aug 24, 2016

The Great Lakes have more coastline for beaches than the United States' East and West coasts combined. There are thousands of beaches — and hundreds of drownings each year, in part because of dangerous currents that are very different from those found in the ocean.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

When Donald Trump started a national conversation about his regrets the other day, he notably neglected to say just what he regretted.

"Sometimes in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don't choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that. And believe it or not, I regret it — and I do regret it — particularly where it may have caused personal pain."

The nation's first "soda tax" on sugar-sweetened beverages, which went into effect in Berkeley, Calif., last year, appears to be working.

According to a new study, consumption of sugary drinks — at least in some neighborhoods — is down by a whopping 20 percent.

It's been a rough summer for supporters of Donald Trump.

A convention that aimed for harmony had some disharmony. The candidate picked arguments with a Gold Star family and with Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Polls have shown Trump falling behind.

At a recent rally in Altoona, Pa., Trump told the crowd that the only way he could lose Pennsylvania — a state where he is polling well behind Democratic rival Hillary Clinton — would be in the event of a fix.

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Teju-Cole/Martin-Lengemann

Teju Cole admits he doesn't feel at home anywhere. 

As a citizen of Nigeria and the US, he thinks about art, literature and politics from a point of view he calls "placelessness." 

That's one of the themes in his new essay collection, Known and Strange Things. The volume covers the globe, but it's rooted in the dynamism and energy of Lagos, a place the author misses so much he finds himself toggling over to Google Maps to establish a sort of contact. 

Author Lawrence Wright was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, which meant he was required to do two years of what was called "alternative service." He ended up in Egypt, teaching at the American University in Cairo. And it was there that the man from Texas started his obsession with the Middle East.

Since then, Wright has written a lot about the region and about terrorism as a staff writer for The New Yorker. Now, he has compiled his many New Yorker essays into a new book called The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State.

A series of medical images published Tuesday offer the most complete picture, so far, of how the Zika virus can damage the brain of a fetus.

"The images show the worst brain infections that doctors will ever see," says Dr. Deborah Levine, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who contributed to the study. "Zika is such a severe infection [in fetuses]. Most doctors will have never seen brains like this before."

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Promethean Power Systems

Sorin Grama had a great idea. Like, a really terrific idea. It was so good, MIT awarded him one of its most prestigious entrepreneurship prizes: second place in the university’s annual 100K Entrepreneurship Competition.

BADBADNOTGOOD On World Cafe

Aug 23, 2016

The Toronto improvisational band BADBADNOTGOOD recently released its fourth album, IV. The instrumental group includes Matthew Tavares on keys, Chester Hansen on bass, Leland Whitty on saxophone and Alexander Sowinski on drums. The four, most of whom met at Humber College, have become known for their jazz-inflected covers of hip-hop songs and, notably, for their collaborations with Tyler, the Creator.

It started with a report and erupted into a controversy involving a mufti, a Russian Orthodox priest and a rabbi.

The subject: female genital mutilation.

Mike Pence sat down in Henry Jones' barbershop in Norristown, Pa., Tuesday, during a campaign swing — and the media came along for the ride.

CNN streamed 20 minutes of silence and small talk on Facebook Live, as Pence got a trim. Watch it here:

Among the moments captured on camera:

Pence: You've been at this location since '92?

Jones: Yes

Pence: It's a good location

After looking in a mirror and proclaiming it a "great haircut — perfect," Pence applauded, then walked behind the chair to shake Jones' hand.

The Clinton Foundation is working now to "spin off" or "find partners" for many of its programs, including all international activities and programs funded by foreign and corporate donors, the head of the Clinton Foundation told NPR's Peter Overby. The "unraveling," which would be an attempt to prevent conflicts, would go into effect if Hillary Clinton is elected president.

Firefighters have reached full containment of a blaze east of Los Angeles that forced tens of thousands to evacuate their homes. At the same time, multiple wildfires continued to challenge crews throughout the state.

California's Department of Forestry and Fire Information declared the Blue Cut Fire 100 percent contained Tuesday — but not before the 36,000-acre fire destroyed nearly 100 homes and forced the evacuation of 80,000 people in San Bernardino County.

Back in 1972, John Lennon hired Leon Wildes, an immigration attorney who had no idea who he was.

Wildes' son, Michael, remembers his father coming home to tell his mother about their first meeting.

"And he said, 'A singer by the name of Jack Lemon and his wife Yoko Moto,' " Michael recalls. "My mom looked at him like he wasn't well. 'Are you talking about the Beatles and John Lennon?' My father said, 'Yeah!' "

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Lucas Jackson/Reuters

The Washington Post reports that access to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton may have been influenced by donations to the Clinton Foundation when she was secretary of state.

The Post's Rosalind Helderman got ahold of the emails after a lawsuit made them public. An excerpt from Helderman's story:

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Rolf Schoellkopf

When we think of Syria, we usually think of war, misery and desperate refugees. Classically trained bassist Raed Jazbeh is trying to change that image.

Jazbeh fled Syria three years ago for Europe and was granted asylum in Germany. His fellow musicians were also scattered all over Europe by their country’s civil war. This is the story of his effort to find his former colleagues and preserve a piece of Syria’s musical culture.

Raed Jazbeh is a hard guy to reach.

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Djordje Kojadinovic

More than 1,500 years ago, during the Roman Empire, a young woman died and was buried in the city of Viminacium, in modern-day Serbia. Someone close to her thought she might need some help in the next life.

A particular kind of help. Help from a demon.

Ilija Dankovic from the Archaeological Institute in Belgrade is one of the archaeologists excavating the remains of Viminacium, including the grave of the unnamed woman. Alongside her remains, his team discovered a selection of spells inscribed on tiny gold and silver pages locked in a lead amulet.

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