NPR Picks


You Don't Have To Go No-Carb: Instead, Think Slow Carb

"It's trendy to go low-carb these days, even no carb. And, yes, this can lead to quick weight loss."

"But ditching carbs is tough to do over the long haul. For starters, you're swimming upstream. On average, adults in the U.S. get about 50 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates. And, if you truly cut out all carbs, you'll have to give up fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans — which are the building blocks of a healthy diet."

"So, why do carbs get such a bad rap? Well, as we discuss in our new Life Kit podcast, a lot of us are choosing the wrong kind of carbs."

"'We've known for decades that different foods affect the body differently,' says Dr. David Ludwig. He's a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children's Hospital."


Before Black Lung, The Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster Killed Hundreds

"Southern West Virginia is a playground for hikers, cyclists and rock climbers, but in the heart of that lush landscape rests the site of what many consider the worst industrial disaster in American history."

"Today, from a picturesque overlook on the mountain above, tourists can see the gate of the Hawks Nest Tunnel, located on the New River in Gauley Bridge. There, water rushes through 16,240 feet of steel and rock."

"But almost 90 years ago, thick clouds of dust blurred the eyes and choked the lungs of workers inside the tunnel. The project attracted thousands of men, hoping to find work during the Great Depression. Three-fourths were African-Americans fleeing the South."

"To these men, going to West Virginia was like going to heaven — a new land, a new promised land — and when they got here, they found that they had ended up in a hellhole," says Matthew Watts, a minister and amateur historian in Charleston, W.Va."

"Hundreds of workers would die after working in the tunnel from exposure to toxic silica dust, a mineral that slices the lung like shards of glass."



You Don't Look A Day Over 100 Million, Rings Of Saturn

"Saturn is famous for its lovely rings, but a new study suggests the planet has spent most of its 4.5 billion years without them."

"That's because the rings are likely only 10 million to 100 million years old, according to a newly published report in the journal Science that's based on findings from NASA's Cassini probe."

"Cassini spent some 13 years orbiting Saturn before plunging down and slamming into its atmosphere. During its final orbits, the spacecraft dove between the planet and its rings. That let scientists measure the gravitational effect of the rings and get a good estimate of the ring material's mass."

What they found is that it's only about 40 percent of the mass of Saturn's moon Mimas, which is way smaller than Earth's moon.



Heads-Up For Sunday, A Super 'Blood Moon' Is On The Way

"A full 62 luxurious minutes of totality," says Sky and Telescope Magazine.

"The Only Total Lunar Eclipse of 2019," promises NASA.

"This full moon will appear to be one of the largest of 2019," reports

"North and South America will get the best view of the super "blood moon," as it's known, but Europeans and Africans will also be able to watch (weather permitting). So, let's break down the hype, starting with the eclipse."

"Unlike a solar eclipse, when the moon gets between Earth and the sun, a total lunar eclipse occurs when Earth aligns to block the sun's light from the moon. That can only happen when the moon is on the opposite side of Earth from the sun. About once a month, a full moon is visible when it nears that far point and shines brightly as Earth covers up most of the sun. But approximately once a year, as the moon travels along its tilted axis, it ends up directly behind Earth and is thrust into near darkness."

  • "At 9:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, the moon will start to creep into the part of Earth's shadow known as the penumbra. Not much darkening will be visible yet, according to NASA.
  • By 10:33 p.m. ET, you should see Earth's shadow start to move across the surface of the moon, growing larger and larger and larger until it completely covers it up.
  • 11:41 p.m. ET will mark the totality of the eclipse, as the moon is fully shaded by Earth. That's where the "blood" comes in. There's no violence involved. Instead, the term comes from a reddening of the moon as light leaks around the edge of Earth."

Matchmaking Scientists Find Romeo The Frog His Own Juliet

"While Shakespeare's Romeo spent only about two days banished in Mantua, away from his beloved Juliet, Romeo the frog has remained in complete isolation — sans love interest, cousins, friars or friends — living in a laboratory for the last 10 years. But that's all about to change."

"The world-famous amphibian was believed to have been the last of his kind – a Bolivian Sehuencas water frog (Telmatobius yuracare) – and lived under the protection of researchers at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d'Orbigny in Cochabamba City. They have made it their mission to find Romeo a special lady friend who might respond positively to his plaintive mating calls and help save the species from becoming extinct."

"Year after year, scientist scoured Bolivia's cloud forests for signs of other googly-eyed, orange-bellied Sehuencas, but they've always come up empty, until recently."

"On Tuesday, the museum's chief of herpetology, Teresa Camacho Badani, announced that after days of searching, her expedition team had found five healthy frogs, including two females. One is a little young for the frog-world's hottest bachelor, but the second, named Juliet (naturally), appears to be an ideal match of reproductive age."



One Of The Last Navajo Code Talkers Dies At 94

"One of the last remaining Navajo Code Talkers, who relayed messages that were never decoded by enemies in World War II, has died at age 94."

"Alfred Newman died Sunday afternoon at a New Mexico nursing home, one of his sons, Kevin Newman, tells NPR."

"He says his father was a quiet yet courageous man. 'My dad told me that the U.S. was in trouble and when they were calling for him, he needed to answer that call with the armed forces,' he says."

"As a boy, Alfred Newman attended a boarding school that, like many schools at the time, forbade Indian students from speaking in their native tongue, Dine."

"That complex language proved to be vital to the United States during World War II. As the Japanese cracked classified U.S. military codes, armed forces turned to members of the Navajo Nation. The messages they transmitted in the Pacific Theater were impenetrable to enemies."



A Surgeon Reflects On Death, Life And The 'Incredible Gift' Of Organ Transplant

"When Joshua Mezrich was a medical student on the first day of surgical rotation, he was called into the operating room to witness a kidney transplant."

"What he saw that day changed him."

"After the donor kidney came out of ice and the clamps on it were released, he says, 'it turned pink and literally, in front of my eyes, this urine just started squirting out onto the field.'"

"Mezrich was blown away: 'I just had this sense like, 'This is so amazing, what we're doing, and what an incredible gift. And could I ever do this? Could I ever be part of this exchange, this beautiful thing?' "

He went on to become a transplant surgeon and has since performed hundreds of kidney, liver and pancreas transplants. He also has assisted in operations involving other organs.

Each organ responds to transplant in a different way.


'They Shall Not Grow Old': World War I Brought To Astonishing, Harrowing Life

"In the closing moments of They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson's impressionistic documentary — no dates, no title cards, no omniscient narrator — about the foot soldier's experience of the sadly misnamed War to End All Wars, we hear one veteran recall that upon their return to England their wartime experience 'had no conversational value at all.'"

"Another says, 'My father would argue points of fact about things he couldn't possibly have known about, because he wasn't there.' A third concludes, 'History will decide in the end that it was not worthwhile.' These observations echo against those heard 90 minutes earlier, when a few recalled their departure for the front as a sober matter of duty ("We were professionals and it was a job of work"), but many more cited jovial spirits and a lust for adventure ('It was a great big game to be enjoyed')."

"These voices were recorded in the 1960s, when the BBC interviewed around 250 veterans of the the first World War, as they were still hale enough to speak of their experiences circa 1914-18 with clarity and authority. They were a self-selecting group, the subset of their shelled, gassed, frozen, starved and machine-gunned generation of men most suited to bear the horrific psychological costs of what they witnessed in a war that history has indeed shown to have been particularly cruel and pointless."



Inside 'The World's Most Beautiful Bookstore' In Argentina

"Argentina "the world's most beautiful bookstore." NPR was ahead of the curve. Bob Mondello filed this report 18 years ago, shortly after the Teatro Gran Splendid was converted into El Ateneo Grand Splendid."

"Impresario Max Glücksmann wanted his new theater, the Teatro Gran Splendid, to remind people of the Paris Opera. He had it built in 1919 with three ornately decorated balconies hugging the back wall of a 1,050-seat auditorium. It's decked out with gilded statues, marble columns and a ceiling mural celebrating the end of World War I. In the days before air conditioning, the domed roof opened in good weather to give theater audiences a glimpse of the stars."

"It is a spectacular space. After a $3 million renovation, it's no less grand than at any time in the decades since it was built."

"There is one difference today. Where once the vast auditorium was filled with rows of theater seats, it now has rows of bookshelves. The Gran Splendid has been converted into what is quite possibly the most spectacular bookstore on earth."



Macedonian Parliament Approves New Name For The Country As Demanded By Greece

"Macedonia's parliament has approved changing the country's name to North Macedonia, appeasing Greece and bringing the country one step closer to membership in NATO."

"The change is the result of a dispute between Macedonia and Greece over history and national identity that has lasted 27 years."

"Eighty-one of the 120 lawmakers in Macedonia's parliament voted on Friday to approve a constitutional amendment to change the country's name, NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens. The remaining opposition lawmakers stayed away in protest, according to the Associated Press reports."

"The change won't be official until the Greek parliament approves it."

"Opponents of the deal protested outside of the Macedonian parliament on Friday, responding to the vote with calls of 'traitors,' AP reports. Conservative opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski told reporters the vote was 'an act of treason.'"

"Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev agreed to rename the country in a compromise with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipr last June. The proposed name change weathered protests from nationalists in both countries — and a referendum in Macedonia that failed to meet the turnout requirement."

"Greece and Macedonia have been locked into a dispute over the name that dates back to 1991 during the disintegration of Yugoslavia, when the Republic of Macedonia broke away."



Last Known WWII Nazi Living In U.S., Deported To Germany Last Year, Is Dead at 95

"A Nazi war criminal, living safely in the United States until his deportation to Germany last year, has died. He had been the last known World War II Nazi living in the U.S."

"Jakiw Palij immigrated to America in 1949, claiming he had worked on his father's farm during World War II. But a Justice Department investigation, based on evidence compiled by a senior historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, found that Palij served as an armed guard of civilian prisoners at a forced-labor camp for Jews at the Trawniki camp in Poland. That's where Nazi SS troops were trained to kill Polish Jews."

"A federal judge stripped Jakiw Palij of his citizenship in 2003, finding that he had lied when he came to the U.S. He was ordered deported in 2004, but no country would take him until Germany finally relented last year. This week, at the age of 95, Palij died. He was never charged for his involvement in the Holocaust."

"'An evil man has passed away,' Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman told The Associated Press. 'That, I guess, is a positive.' Friedman had led multiple student protests in front of Palij's home in the Queens borough of New York City."



Woodstock Will Return This Summer, For Its 50th Anniversary

"Fifty years after the original Woodstock Music & Art Fair promised "three days of peace and music," one of its original organizers announced Wednesday that he is putting together Woodstock 50 for this summer. The event will be held over three days — Aug. 16-18 — on a 1,000-acre green space in Watkins Glen in upstate New York, near the Finger Lakes."

"While the artist lineup will not be announced until next month, when tickets go on sale to the general public, The New York Times reported Wednesday that organizer Michael Lang is planning to book 'a mixture of legacy bands, current pop and rap stars and, possibly, some news-making combinations.'"

"To encourage younger attendees, the festival will offer a limited number of discounted passes for college students ages 18 to 25, which will go on sale by the end of January."

"According to a interview with Lang published Wednesday in Rolling Stone, the 2019 team has already booked more than 40 acts to appear at the event. Lang suggested to the magazine that there would be tributes honoring some of the original Woodstock festival artists, including Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Band and Joe Cocker."



'Kim's Convenience' Is A Sitcom About Asian Immigrants — With Depth

"Archetypes, not stereotypes."

"That's what the creators and cast of the hit play-turned-sitcom Kim's Convenience, the first Canadian TV show with an all-Asian lead cast, have striven for from the beginning. And as the series starts its third season, the CBC production has found lasting success in being both funny and deep."

"Creator Ins Choi, whose family moved from Korea and settled in Toronto when he was very young, started penning Kim's Convenience as a play in 2005. At the time, with his acting career off to a bumpy start, he was invited to join the playwriting unit at fu-GEN, a Toronto theater company dedicated to developing Asian-Canadian stories."

"'I came in with an idea: Write what you know,' Choi says."

"At the same time, Choi also felt the stage was missing stories like his."

"'I wasn't seeing Asians on stage, I wasn't seeing Asian stories,' he says."

"Indeed, Kim's Convenience -- from its setting in a convenience store in downtown Toronto, to the generational differences between the immigrant parents and their children, to the prominence of the Korean church — is infused with the parts of Choi's life that shaped him."



Prescription Drug Costs Driven By Manufacturer Price Hikes, Not Innovation

"The skyrocketing cost of many prescription drugs in the U.S. can be blamed primarily on price increases, not expensive new therapies or improvements in existing medications as drug companies frequently claim, a new study shows."

"The report, published Monday in the journal Health Affairs, found that the cost of brand-name oral prescription drugs rose more than 9 percent a year from 2008 and 2016, while the annual cost of injectable drugs rose more than 15 percent."

"'The main takeaway of our study should be that increases in prices of brand-name drugs were largely driven by year-over-year price increases of drugs that were already in the market,' says Immaculata Hernandez, an assistant professor of pharmacy at the University of Pittsburgh, and the lead author of the study."

"The price of insulin, for example, doubled between 2012 and 2016, according to the Health Care Cost Institute. And the price of Lantus, an insulin made by Sanofi, rose 49 percent in 2014 alone, according to the University of Pittsburgh."



Study Suggests Alzheimer's Disease May Develop Differently In African-Americans

"Scientists have found a biological clue that could help explain why African-Americans appear to be more vulnerable than white Americans to Alzheimer's disease."

"A study of 1,255 people, both black and white, found that cerebrospinal fluid from African Americans tended to contain lower levels of a substance associated with Alzheimer's, researchers report Monday in the journal JAMA Neurology."

"Yet these low levels did not seem to protect black participants from the disease."

"The finding 'implies that the biological mechanisms underlying Alzheimer's disease may be very different in [different] racial groups,' says Dr. John Morris, an author of the paper and director of the Knight Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis."

"And if Alzheimer's works differently in African-Americans, that difference could make them more vulnerable to the disease, Morris says."

"The study has limitations, though, says Lisa Barnes, a cognitive neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago, who wrote an accompanying editorial."



Threatened Bluefin Tuna Sells For $3 Million In Tokyo Market

"The 612-pound tuna had to be wheeled into its new owner's sushi restaurant on a low platform, its mouth agape."

"Sushi chain owner Kiyoshi Kimura purchased the immense Pacific bluefin tuna in an auction on Saturday at a Tokyo fish market. The fish sold for a record 333.6 million yen, more than $3 million, The Associated Press reported."

"The Kiyomura Corp., which Kimura runs, footed the bill at over $5,000 per pound. The fish usually sells for up to $40 per pound, though the price can fluctuate to more than $200 per pound. The gigantic tuna will translate to more than 12,000 pieces of sushi for the company's Sushi Zanmai chain."

"'The tuna looks so tasty and very fresh, but I think I did (pay) a little too much,' Kimura told reporters outside the Tokyo market, according to Reuters. The frequent auction winner has been known to pay well above market price for the immense fish. This purchase more than doubles the last record he set of $1.76 million for a slightly smaller fish in 2013."



Freed From Copyright, These Classic Works Are Yours To Adapt

"Think Tarzan and the Golden Lion needed a different ending?"

"Perhaps you want to adapt Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet into a graphic novel."

"Or maybe you want to have a go at incorporating Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" into a virtual choir piece, as composer Eric Whitacre once did before encountering a copyright snag that killed the project."

"Well, the chance to dust off these three — and countless other works originally copyrighted in 1923 — has arrived. A large body of films, music, and books from that year entered the public domain on Jan. 1, the first time that's happened in 20 years. And that means they can be used according to the will of new creators who wish to adopt or adapt them."

"The list includes films like Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, songs like Jelly Roll Morton's "Grandpa's Spells" and poetry collections like e.e. cummings' Tulips and Chimneys. All these works were originally set to enter the public domain in 1999, but then Congress extended the copyright term by an additional 20 years for works between 1923 and 1977 — leading to that 20-year hiatus."



Scientists Have 'Hacked Photosynthesis' In Search Of More Productive Crops

"There's a big molecule, a protein, inside the leaves of most plants. It's called Rubisco, which is short for an actual chemical name that's very long and hard to remember."

"Amanda Cavanagh, a biologist and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, calls herself a big fan of Rubisco. "'It's probably the most abundant protein in the world,' she says. It's also super-important."

"Rubisco has one job. It picks up carbon dioxide from the air, and it uses the carbon to make sugar molecules. It gets the energy to do this from the sun. This is photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight to make food, a foundation of life on Earth. Yay for Rubisco!"

"'But it has what we like to call one fatal flaw,' Cavanagh continues. Unfortunately, Rubisco isn't picky enough about what it grabs from the air. It also picks up oxygen. 'When it does that, it makes a toxic compound, so the plant has to detoxify it.'"

"Plants have a whole complicated chemical assembly line to carry out this detoxification, and the process uses up a lot of energy. This means the plant has less energy for making leaves, or food for us. (There is a family of plants, including corn and sugar cane, that developed another type of workaround for Rubisco, and those plants are much more productive.)"

"Cavanagh and her colleagues in a research program called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), which is based at the University of Illinois, have spent the last five years trying to fix Rubisco's problem. ''We're sort of hacking photosynthesis,' she says."



China Becomes First Country To Land On Far Side Of Moon, State Media Announces

"That's one giant leap for China."

"China state television announced Thursday that China's Chang'e 4 lunar explorer, which launched in early December, "became the first ever probe to soft-land on the far side of the moon." The probe touched down at 10:26 Beijing time, the China Global Television Network said."

"The landing 'lifted the mysterious veil' from the far side, and "opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration," the broadcaster said, according to Reuters. (A soft landing is where a lander touches down as gently as possible; it is preferable to a hard landing.)"

"The six-wheeled rover landed in the southern section of the Von Kármán crater, near the moon's south pole, Chinese media reported. China's Xinhua News published a photo it says was taken by the probe "on the never-visible side of the moon." While photos of the normally hidden far side of the moon have been previously taken from space, this would be the first image ever captured from the surface."

"China's lunar lander is loaded with a variety of cameras and sensors, including ground-penetrating radar to peer beneath the lunar surface, reported NPR's Joe Palca while the probe was en route. 'Although Chang'e 4's mission is largely scientific, it is also a key bit of preparation for sending Chinese astronauts to the lunar surface,' wrote Palca. Only 12 humans have ever set foot on the moon, and all of them were Americans."



'Eye To I' Exhibition Celebrates Over A Century Of Self-Portraiture

"Why do artists paint so many self-portraits?"

"For starters, they're always available, says Kim Sajet, Director of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. 'In the middle of the night when the urge strikes, you've got yourself.'"

"Some artists can't afford models, others are simply vain. Portrait Gallery curator Brandon Fortune thinks self-portraits let artists work out technical problems. And of course, there's posterity: 'They're also done as a kind of self-reflection," Fortune says. "To present a persona to the world that may not be true or authentic, but is the character the artist wants to be remembered as.'"

"More than 70 of these autobiographical artworks are now on view at the Portrait Gallery in an exhibition called Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today. Twenty-one-year-old Edward Hopper is moody, in a charcoaled turtle neck. Diego Rivera does not disguise his double chin. Jim Dine has no chin — or head, for that matter — he just etches his bathrobe."