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#NPRreads: Ben Carson's Memory And A 14-Year-Old Rock-Climbing Phenom

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the#NPRreads hashtag. On Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you three items.

From Sarah McCammon, a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk:

We're at a point in the presidential race when many candidates are coming under tougher scrutiny by the media — especially those with strong showings in the polls, such as Ben Carson. He seemed caught off guard by the amount of attention he's been getting, which includes journalists looking into details of events that he says happened decades ago. Several reporters have struggled to find people who knew Carson and will corroborate his accounts of his violent past.

Intense vetting is part of the process for any potential front-runner in a presidential nomination contest, but I wondered how many people remember clearly things that happened 50 years ago?

This article digs into that question, and looks at the unreliability of memory. Lots of neuroscientists have looked into this question and found, essentially, that our memories are not all that reliable, at least not as reliable as we like to think.

It's a fascinating discussion — and a reality of the human brain that makes it difficult, at times, to assess whether a candidate is being dishonest or simply human.

From Two-Way blogger Laura Wagner:

I love reading stories about child prodigies. Maybe it's because I'm only a few years removed from my teens, but I always think to myself, "Wow, what was I doing when I was 14?"

I can tell you that I was certainly not dedicating myself to becoming the best in the world at something, which is what 14-year-old American rock climber Ashima Shiraishi is doing.

The story in ESPN The Magazine talks about Shiraishi's passion for and dedication to rock climbing: "At age 8, she climbed a v10 [a classification denoting an advanced rock climbing route]; at age 9, a v11/12; at age 10, a v13. Fewer than 10 women in the world have ever climbed a v13."

She was also named one of Time magazine's 30 most influential teens in 2015.

The ESPN story also talks about the pressure her father puts on her. It leaves open the possibility that Shiraishi is dogged in her pursuit of success not only for herself, but in order to fulfill her father's ambitions. The story of children and familial expectations is not new, but this story — with the compelling character of Shiraishi at the center — tells it in a new and striking way.

From NPR Newscast producer John Stempin:

When I was a young teen, I was lucky enough to travel to Europe. I was immediately taken by the traffic lights. I don't know what I was expecting, but I was intrigued they cycled green-yellow-red just like home. Hey. I was young.

The end result was a lifelong fascination with the cross-cultural things that make us the same, not different. And this story about the U.S. Navy's interaction with Chinese sailors last month was a piece of all of that.

"Not all U.S.-Chinese naval interactions were tense, especially when things were slow on the high seas.

" 'A few weeks ago we were talking to one of the ships that was accompanying us, a Chinese vessel. ... [We] picked up the phone and just talked to him like, "Hey, what are you guys doing this Saturday? Oh, we got pizza and wings. What are you guys eating? Oh, we're doing this. Hey, we're planning for Halloween as well." '

"The intent, Francis said, is 'to show them ... that we're normal sailors, just like them, have families, just like them.'

"The Chinese sailors, speaking in English, responded by talking about where they were from, their families and places they have visited, Francis said."

I've been producing overnight at NPR and elsewhere for more than 25 years. That means Asia and I start our days together. All through those years, the tension over the South China Sea, and the Spratly Islands, has been a constant.

Not everyone has a clear picture over the conflicting claims in the area, though. I thought this story helped illuminate that even the U.S., without a land claim in the region, still has vested interests there.

Also, being from Buffalo, headlines that say things like "We got pizza and wings" do grab my attention. So there's that.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Stempin
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.