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.

The Republican Party, as it prepares for its convention next week has checked off item No. 1 on its housekeeping list — drafting a party platform. The document reflects the conservative views of its authors, many of whom are party activists. So don't look for any concessions to changing views among the broader public on key social issues.

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.

"The truth in Venezuela is there is real hunger. We are hungry," says a man who has invited me into his house in the northwestern city of Maracaibo, but doesn't want his name used for fear of reprisals by the government.

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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Arizona Hispanics Poised To Swing State Blue

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Editor's note: This report contains accounts of rape, violence and other disturbing events.

Sex trafficking wasn't a major concern in the early 1980s, when Beth Jacobs was a teenager. If you were a prostitute, the thinking went, it was your choice.

Jacobs thought that too, right up until she came to, on the lot of a dark truck stop one night. She says she had asked a friendly-seeming man for a ride home that afternoon.

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The Unsuccessful Quest For A Universal Language

May 19, 2013
Originally published on May 19, 2013 6:18 pm



Communications barriers have long vexed us, as showcased in the movie "Rush Hour."


CHRIS TUCKER: (As Carter) Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?

LYDEN: Scientists in the 17th century were working hard to understand; mainly, the secrets of the universe but also, each other. With Latin on the decline, they were seeking a whole new way of communicating that would defy barriers and borders - a universal language.

And though he's better known for discovering gravity, even Sir Isaac Newton took a stab at it. We know this because Newton left behind an outline of this new, universal language in an old notebook.

Arika Okrent is an editor-at-large at, and she's also a linguist who explains how this language would work.

ARIKA OKRENT: What Newton tried out was, you didn't have to have different words for every degree of something. You could have one root. The example he gives is "tor," for temperature. And then to make the word "cold," you just add a prefix to it. And to make the word "hot," you add a different prefix to it. And then you have different prefixes, all the way through the whole scale of coldness to hotness.

So "utor" is hot, "owtor" is exceedingly hot, "etor" is warm, "oytor" is excessively cold - and everything in between.So you could have a degree of precision of temperature, just by adding these set prefixes to that one concept.

LYDEN: So have you tried to speak in Sir Isaac Newton's language?

OKRENT: Well, he doesn't give enough vocabulary for you to really say anything. He just gives a few examples. The rest of it is all an outline of how it could work. And I think that's where many people got tripped up on this idea. It sounds really nice. Break down the universe into concepts and make a mathematics out of that, and then you have to sit down and figure out the universe. (Laughing) And that part's a lot harder.

But a colleague of his - John Wilkins, a member of the Royal Society - actually did this, and has a 600-page breakdown of vocabulary based on everything in the universe. It was very well-known in its day, and no one ever really spoke it.

LYDEN: So why did this bid of trying to create this universal language, fail?

OKRENT: Well, it's nice to think that we could overcome misunderstandings if we could be so precise that exactly what we wanted to say would come through, and the person on the other end could decompose our meaning perfectly. There's no fuzziness in there. But that isn't the way that we use language. The fuzziness and ambiguity in language is actually very useful to us.

We go ahead; we start talking without really knowing where we're going. We work out our thoughts as we speak. And it's hard to do that in a language where you have to know your exact meaning before you can even say anything.

LYDEN: So Newtonian didn't count for, in Arabic, you say "yanni" a lot and in English, "whatevah."


OKRENT: (Laughing) Right. You need the whatever. You want to be able to say "it's hot" or "it's cold" without specifying "it's very little exceedingly hot."

LYDEN: You know, this whole attempt to create a new language - I mean, it's always a wonderful concept. I remember Esperanto was going to be the universal language in the '60s. Why don't universal languages catch on very well?

OKRENT: I mean, Esperanto is the most successful one of all time, in the sense that it's not a universal language, but people actually still speak it. But they do within their own, little community. And I think that's the real problem. We can't have a universal language because we don't have a universal community. And that's where languages live, between people.

LYDEN: That's Arika Okrent, editor-at-large for and the author of "In the Land of Invented Languages." Thank you very much for being with us.

OKRENT: Thank you so much. This was fun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.