Yearbook Company Renders One Student Nude

Some of the most emailed, viewed and commented on stories on the web, including a major problem for a Texas high school.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

Welcome back to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. We are always online at npr.org and we are fashion victims here at the Bryant Park. You can tell by looking at Jacob Ganz's untucked button-down shirt and my untucked button-down shirt and Dan Pashman's untucked button-down shirt. But what I'm saying is we like to follow that which is the most-emailed, the most-mailed, the most-shared. If everyone's doing it, we want to know about it, and we call it The Most.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: So, untucked Dan, how say you?

DAN PASHMAN: I was wearing this untucked button-down shirt way before it was cool. Let me just tell you. I've got a most-emailed from Yahoo! News.

PESCA: And apparently way after. Sorry! Go ahead.

PASHMAN: Most-emailed from Yahoo! News, "Researchers Teach 'Second Life' Avatar to Think."

PESCA: Think?

PASHMAN: That's right. If you've been hanging out on Second Life, you've met this robot there named Edd Hifeng. Turns out, that robot is actually being controlled by a computer, not by a person pretending to be a robot in Second Life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PASHMAN: And I, for one, would like to welcome our new robot overlords. No, it's an interesting, actually, scientific experiment going on over at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. And this is, you know, they're working on artificial intelligence, and a lot of scientists working on artificial intelligence see Second Life as a great opportunity to fine tune our AI tools.

PESCA: Right, to trick people who don't know they're dealing with robots.

PASHMAN: Well, that, but also, it takes away a lot of the common complications of having to create artificial intelligence robots, like they don't have to worry about wind, rain, coffee spills. They don't have to worry about the psychical structure of building it, or whatever is they're going to build.

They can just focus on the intelligence, on interacting with other human beings and on the computer programs and calculations that have to be done in order for that to happen. So they're pretty excited about this. this is an opportunity. They see this - one of the scientists calls it a fantastic sweet spot, Second Life for AI studies. Not too simple, not too complicated, high cultural value.

PESCA: Of course, the biggest complication with inventing a robot, paradoxes make their heads explode. You know that, right?

PASHMAN: Yeah.

PESCA: That does not compute!

PASHMAN: It only makes their virtual heads explode, which is a lot cleaner than an actual head.

PESCA: Yeah, it saves on clean up. Rachel?

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

I have one of the most-read on cnn.com. It's about a D-list royal - that's not very nice, to call them D-list, is it?

PASHMAN: But D-list royal, that's still better than the rest of us, right?

JEANNE BARON: He's 11th in line for the throne.

MARTIN: Ten people would have to die in order for this guy to rule.

PESCA: And to be fair, that doesn't mean succession. That just means when he gets to visit Buckingham Palace and they wait in line.

BARON: Did the Queen attempt? I don't know.

MARTIN: OK. So here's who we're talking about. We're talking about the eldest grandson of Queen Elizabeth II. His name is Peter Phillips and he wed Autumn Kelly - that's this young lady's name. She happens to be Canadian. They got married last Saturday.

PESCA: Not that there's anything wrong with that.

MARTIN: No, we love Canadians. They got married at the castle's 15th-century St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. And Phillips and Kelley, so this guy is, you know, 11th in line for the throne, kind of far down there. But it sounds like he might be a little hard up for cash. They agreed, this couple, to sell the story of their nuptials, that is, all the juicy details, to a celebrity rag called Hello! for a sum of up to one million dollars.

PESCA: Hello! That's how they pronounce it. Hello! Hello, Tricia.

PATRICIA MCKINNEY: Hello from the control room. I have Google Trends, number six when I logged on this morning, but I think it's actually moving up in the Google Trends. It's the term ACM awards, which is the Association of Country Music, or the Academy of Country Music, excuse me. And so they had their awards show last night and let me tell you who won entertainer of the year. Play that clip, Josh.

(Soundbite of ACM awards show)

HOST: And the entertainer of the year, as chosen by your vote, is Kenny Chesney.

MARTIN: Really?

MCKINNEY: He's won that three times before, but this is the first time the Academy of Country Music has had the fans choose who is entertainer of the year, so they're going all 2.0 and they had a vote and all that stuff. So Kenny Chesney took the stage and he said, I want to thank you guys for voting and being there for me, you know, he thanked the fans.

PESCA: Can you do it in a Kenny Chesney accent?

MCKINNEY: I can't. I don't actually know what he sounds like.

PESCA: He said, hello, I'd like to thank you.

PASHMAN: Oh, man, you've got that guy's number.

MCKINNEY: Anyway...

PESCA: Hello, God bless the red, white and blue. Hello.

MCKINNEY: Can I finish my story please?

MARTIN: Yeah, go ahead, Tricia.

MCKINNEY: So Kenny Chesney thanked the fans on stage, but do you want to hear what he had to say about this whole 2.0 thing backstage?

PESCA: Yeah.

MCKINNEY: Hit it, Josh.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. KENNY CHESNEY (Winner, Academy of Country Music's Entertainer of the Year 2008): I think it's a complete disrespect of the artist, what they've lowered us to - to get entertainer of the year, to be honest with you. I think because of that, it really diminishes the integrity of the music that we're making.

MARTIN: Whoa, he sounds like our guy, the sports writer, the esteemed sports writer.

PESCA: Buzz Bissinger.

MARTIN: Yeah, he sounds like Buzz Bissinger.

MCKINNEY: So anyway, he does not like the idea that the fans get to choose, because I think you know, it's one of those, like it turns into "American Idol," where you get all the people to dial in and is it really representative? I don't think the old system was that representative, but there you go.

PASHMAN: But the idea isn't that the old system is representative, it's that you have, quote, unquote, "experts" or "peers," who are...

MARTIN: Yeah, it's not the unwashed masses determining you destiny.

MCKINNEY: What do fans know?

PASHMAN: And don't the fans vote, anyway, with their wallets? I mean, can't you just look at record sales and decide who's most popular?

PESCA: If I know one thing about Kenny Chesney, he hates the populist instinct.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Who's up next?

MCKINNEY: Anyway, congrats, Kenny, I think.

PESCA: We're sorry we voted for you, us idiots. Go ahead, Jeanne.

BARON: Well, the popular instinct has turned in Prince George's County in Maryland. There, the Bradford Pear has - was, once, the favored ornamental. It is the official county tree, but they want to de-designate it. It has fallen from favor with arborists. It's one of those dreaded, non-native invasives. And it's really earned the ire of arborists, for something they call - and I hope I can say this on the air - weak crotches.

PESCA: For trees, yes.

BARON: The branches break off, no kidding. It even is so bad that the National Arboretum, the arborists had a whole line of these little pear trees pulled out because they didn't want it falling on their Ferraris. So Princes George's County is trying to get it de-designated. Baltimore has had a hundred of these trees pulled up. But it does have one defender - let me see if I can remember this guy's name - he is Frank Creech and he kind of developed...

PESCA: What's Creech's stance on crotches?

BARON: Yeah, really, yeah. I - you've got to ask him. He thinks that they're being unfairly maligned. He developed the seedling for the USDA's plant introduction station. It was supposed to, kind of, be really good at resisting diseases and bugs, and he thinks this whole branch-falling thing is overstated. He says it's discouraging and he says that he takes comfort from the nursery men across the country who sent their children to college through selling this pear tree. But he says it's had a good run.

MARTIN: As long as they don't take it out of the "12 Days of Christmas" song.

PESCA: Tree update. I have two Mosts and they're on the same story but from different sides. At issue is a high school where they - when they do the yearbook, they send it out to the yearbook company and the pictures of these kids came back and the bodies were altered. Some girls' heads were on boys' bodies. Some necks were stretched. Some outfits were altered, and what was going on apparently is that the school requested to the company, make everyone's eyes the same and they went around, perhaps nefariously, achieving that goal.

Now what I thought was interesting is the school in question is in the Dallas area, and the Dallas Morning News reports it as things like, one girl was nude, and the school officials are appalled. Very factual. Whereas the yearbook company is in the Minneapolis area, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune said, another girl appears to lack clothing altogether, and they quote the yearbook company spokesperson as saying this is a totally understandable thing that happened. Every once in awhile, necks get stretched and we're going to make it all right.

MARTIN: And people with no clothes on in the yearbook? I mean, how is that a mistake?

PESCA: I think that maybe what happened is they tried some Photoshopping. What I really need and what we all need to see is to look at the picture of that nude girl with her clothing pixilated, and was she really nude? Or was it a cropped top where you just saw some of the upper neck? I have no idea what really went on and I think by reading the Dallas Morning News and Minneapolis Star Tribune, I am no closer to the truth. But I do know that that is it for The Most.

MARTIN: We have one more, Matt Martinez.

MATT MARTINEZ: You know, this is probably the third time that Mike has forgot that I was in The Most.

MARTIN: He forgets you.

MARTINEZ: But you know, I'll forgive.

PESCA: I think of you as a man unto himself.

MARTINEZ: One of the most-viewed at npr.org right now is a story by Anthony Kuhn. Headline is "Chinese Volunteers Set New Precedent." Volunteerism, civil action? Not so big in China. So all of this public outpouring after the earthquake, very remarkable. Here's Anthony Kuhn - can it be very remarkable? I don't think it can - is remarkable. Here's Anthony Kuhn with the report.

ANTHONY KUHN: Just walking through the town of Hanwang, you can tell that it used to be a really a nice town. We're in the central square right now, right near the bus station. There are nice Chinese-style pavilions and newspaper kiosks, but there are no residents here now. It's all police and army and fireman.

(Soundbite of Chinese people speaking)

KUHN: Nearby, demolition experts clear the street before blowing up a dangerously unstable building.

(Soundbite of explosion)

KUHN: Down the street, 35-year-old Lua Jau (ph) watches a backhoe dig through piles of rubble. He sits on a chunk of concrete wearing a hard hat and an orange vest. By his side is a big spray can of disinfectant. He recently signed up as a Red Cross volunteer. And now, he's waiting to do his job, which is to spray the corpses that rescue workers dig out of the rubble. Lua says that he felt he needed to put his Buddhist beliefs into action.

Mr. LUA JAU (Chinese Volunteer): (Through translator) When I saw on TV that things were like this, I felt that I couldn't just comfortably sit around at home. I had to come do something, both for the living and the dying. Even if I can't save the dying, I can comfort their souls.

KUHN: The groundswell of compassion is visible everywhere. Artists performed for charity, blood banks are brimming, and the road to Hanwang is jammed with volunteers ferrying in supplies. Employees of the Wang Chao Kitchen Utensils Company are forming up a 13-car convoy to head into town. Their cars are loaded with tents, food, and medicine. Company boss Wang Chao Wei offers up a common description of Chinese charity.

Mr. WANG CHAO WEI (Manager, Wang Chao Kitchen Utensils Company): (Through Translator) It's tradition in China, he says, that when there's a disaster in one place, people come to the rescue from all over. And this is not just in Sichuan. People from all over the country have given lots of assistance to Sichuan.

KUHN: Indeed, donors in China and abroad have given nearly a billion dollars to help disaster victims. But this is a new situation for Chinese. Never before have they watched such a national disaster on TV or been affluent enough to pool so much money. Graduate student Emily Ma wanted to go volunteer on the front lines, but she has no rescue-related expertise.

So she's on the street in Chengdu today soliciting donations for the Red Cross and listening to quake-related radio reports. People Emily's age have grown up amid the relative peace and prosperity of China's reform age, a far cry from the war and privation her parents and grandparents lived through. Emily says the earthquake has been a defining and enlightening moment for her.

Ms. EMILY MA (Red Cross Volunteer): (Through translator) When I watched those TV reports, I realized how fragile and worth cherishing life is. But it's a big country and a big world, and there are always people suffering and in need of help. But much of the time, people don't have such a strong desire to help.

KUHN: Through millennia of authoritarian rule and hierarchical society, Chinese people felt responsibility towards the emperor or to the family patriarch, but never to society as a whole. Under Communism, they were taught to rely on the all-encompassing Communist Party. Now, it seems the earthquake is teaching them to rely on each other as never before. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Hanwang Township, Deyang City, Sichuan Province.

MARTIN: That was the Most, and for links to that story and all the stories you heard on the Most, go to our website, npr.org/bryantpark.

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