Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was in Springfield, Ill., Wednesday where she sought to use the symbolism of a historic landmark to draw parallels to a present-day America that is in need of repairing deepening racial and cultural divides.

The Old State Capitol — where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous "A house divided" speech in 1858 warning against the ills of slavery and where Barack Obama launched his presidential bid in 2007 — served as the backdrop for Clinton as she spoke of how "America's long struggle with race is far from finished."

Episode 711: Hooked on Heroin

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When we meet the heroin dealer called Bone, he has just shot up. He has a lot to say anyway. He tells us about his career--it pretty much tracks the evolution of drug use in America these past ten years or so. He tells us about his rough past. And he tells us about how he died a week ago. He overdosed on his own supply and his friend took his body to the emergency room, then left.

New British Prime Minister Theresa May announced six members of her Cabinet Wednesday.

Amid a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Egypt, security forces have forcibly disappeared hundreds of people since the beginning of 2015, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

It's an "unprecedented spike," the group says, with an average of three or four people disappeared every day.

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Many public figures who took to Twitter and Facebook following the murder of five police officers in Dallas have faced public blowback and, in some cases, found their employers less than forgiving about inflammatory and sometimes hateful online comments.

As Venezuela unravels — with shortages of food and medicine, as well as runaway inflation — President Nicolas Maduro is increasingly unpopular. But he's still holding onto power.

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The wiry man paces angrily as he speaks. It wasn't always this way, he says, showing how loose his pants are now.

Ask a typical teenage girl about the latest slang and girl crushes and you might get answers like "spilling the tea" and Taylor Swift. But at the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., the answers were "intersectional feminism" — the idea that there's no one-size-fits-all definition of feminism — and U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.

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Getting The Point

Oct 18, 2013
Originally published on October 18, 2013 3:21 pm

According to an article published last week in Current Biology, African elephants in captivity "can use human pointing clues to find hidden food." Elephants aren't great at this. But they are as good as human 2-year-olds. And that's pretty good.

The bottom line: You can show an elephant where you hid the food by pointing.

Scientists have wondered whether our ancestors domesticated dogs (and other animals) because of their natural ability to read our gestures, eye movements and body language. Or whether animals have developed sensitivity to us as a result of the long history of their domestication, whether we have bred this into them.

The authors of the elephant study, Anna F. Smet and Richard W. Byrne, were interested in this question when they turned to study elephants. On the basis of their finding, they conclude, "the elephant's native ability in interpreting social cues may have contributed to its long history of effective use by man."

Pointing is certainly a remarkable communicative act and understanding pointing is no mean feat.

Humans point. We point with our hands and eyes and even our chins. Pointing is for us an effective way to direct the attention of another to what interests us.

When you think about it, it is a puzzle that pointing works at all.

Point to something in your vicinity such as a chair. Now point to its color. Now to its location. Now to the materials out of which it is made. Now to its shape.

Did you do something different each time? Very likely the hand gesture didn't change.

It would seem, then, that in order to know what someone is pointing at, you need to know, already, what they are pointing at.

And yet we find it natural and straightforward to point, and we can usually tell what a person is pointing at.

How does this work?

The solution to this puzzle, as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein noticed, is to appreciate that pointing requires lots of stage-setting

We point in context, in the course of communicating. We say things like "look at the crazy color of this chair" and we accompany these words with a pointing gesture. And we add: "No, not this one, that one," as we make another directing movement of the hand.

There is no such thing as bare, context-free pointing. And so we don't confront the task of deciding, absent all context, what a person is pointing at.

The point is not that we always use words to disambiguate our acts of indication. The point is that we always indicate things by pointing within a context of shared interests, goals, concerns and saliencies.

That brings us back to elephants. As I understand Smet and Byrne's findings, the conclusion should not be that elephants can treat an act of a pointing as a clue to the location of hidden food, as their article's title suggests. That wouldn't be understanding pointing at all. After all, when I point to the chair I am not giving you a clue to what I'm interested in. I'm telling you. No, the real story, it seems, is that the elephant understands.

This understanding, just as in the human case, requires shared context. And that's just what Smet and Byrne provide. The food in their experiments was placed into buckets in full view of the elephants, but in such a way that the elephants couldn't tell into which bucket the food was put. Now the buckets are placed before the elephant and it is shown, with a pointing gesture, where the food is. Elephants like food. And so the elephant cares. It pays attention. It understands.

The fact that elephants can understand what we're pointing at suggests that we and elephants have more in common than we have previously admitted.

You can keep up with more of what Alva Noë is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @alvanoe

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