NPR Picks

Monday
Jun112012


"All of Washington is breathlessly awaiting the Supreme Court's imminent decision on the Obama health care overhaul. Rumors circulate almost daily that the decision is ready for release. As usual, those rumors are perpetrated by people who know nothing, but the decision is expected by the end of this month."

"The near hysteria is partially about politics: Congressional Republicans hate the bill, and some see President Obama's chance at a second term hinged to the fate of the law. But constitutional scholars know there is much more at stake here than an individual election. Just how much is illustrated by the legal history of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution."

"It gives Congress the power to "regulate commerce ... among the several States," and it authorizes Congress to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper" for achieving that goal. The Founding Fathers' purpose was to put an end to the interstate rivalries that balkanized the country after the American Revolution. But the words of the Commerce Clause are pretty general, and it is the Supreme Court that for more than 200 years has interpreted what they mean."

Sunday
Jun102012

NASA Fishes For Tools to Tackle Asteroid

"NASA may have retired its shuttles, but it has its sights on sending astronauts deeper into space than ever before."

"These voyages are years away but on Monday, astronauts are heading underwater to take part in a simulation that will help them figure out how they might explore one possible new destination: A near-Earth asteroid."

"Astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger flew on one of the last space shuttle missions. She even helped prepare Atlantis for its final launch."

"'It was a very bitter sweet time,' says Metcalf-Lindenburger, who really wants to get to space again. But in the meantime, she's commanding a four-person crew that's putting on scuba gear instead of space suits."

Saturday
Jun092012


"It's not easy shaking a bad reputation. Take the gorilla, for example: It's been saddled with a sketchy rep for as long as anyone can remember. Something along the lines of big, hairy, ferocious and superhuman in strength. A bit daunting, perhaps. And yet folks who work with and study gorillas say they are as much gentle as giant. I recently had the opportunity to find out for myself thanks to a trip organized by the International Reporting Project that took us to Rwanda."

"More than half of the world's mountain gorillas live in the Virunga mountains of East Africa, a volcanic chain that straddles Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. For years, a chunk of the Virungas has been protected from poachers and farmers, so unlike much of the land in this area that's been cleared for crops, the Virungas are still covered by lush rain forests."

Friday
Jun082012


"Claude Monet's garden in Giverny, France, draws half a million visitors a year, but for the next several months, you won't have to travel farther than the Bronx to get a taste of the artist's green thumb. The New York Botanical Garden has recreated Monet's horticultural work for an exhibit that includes photographs, videos, rare documents and two of the impressionist's paintings."

"The New York garden is scaled down to be sure, but in some ways its abundance of flowers and colors makes it even more riotous than the original. You enter by stepping through a facade of Monet's house, with its salmon walls and green shutters, and out into a long corridor of flowers."

"When I walked in here, I thought, 'Wow,' " says 9-year-old Vanessa Calvo, who visited with her family. "I was speechless."

Thursday
Jun072012

A Scientist's 20-Year Quest to Defeat Dengue Fever

"This summer, my big idea is to explore the big ideas of science. Instead of just reporting science as results — the stuff that's published in scientific journals and covered as news — I want to take you inside the world of science. I hope I'll make it easier to understand how science works, and just how cool the process of discovery and innovation really is."

"A lot of science involves failure, but there are also the brilliant successes, successes that can lead to new inventions, new tools, new drugs — things that can change the world."

"That got me thinking that I wanted to dive deeper into the story of an Australian scientist named Scott O'Neill. Scott had come up with what I thought was a clever new way for combating a disease called dengue fever."

Wednesday
Jun062012


"Author Ray Bradbury has died, his daughter tells The Associated Press. The wire service says Bradbury passed away Tuesday night."

"The website io9.com, which appears to have broken the news, says the 91-year-old author of "The Martian Chronicles,Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked this Way Comes, and many more literary classics" died in Los Angeles, possibly early this morning. "We've got confirmation from the family as well as his biographer, Sam Weller," io9 adds."
Tuesday
Jun052012


"Imagine how tough life would be if raindrops weighed 3 tons apiece as they fell out of the sky at 20 mph. That's how raindrops look to a mosquito, yet a raindrop weighing 50 times more than one can hit the insect and the mosquito will survive."

"How?"

"Put yourself in a mosquito's shoes — or rain boots — for a moment and step outside into a downpour of seemingly gigantic raindrops."

"'They're basically plummeting comets falling all around you,' says David Hu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. You'd think a mosquito wouldn't stand a chance. 'We expected the similar thing to happen as when you drive your car through bugs — you see this bug just splattering.'"

Monday
Jun042012


"Like a lot of people with autism, Jeff Hudale has a brain that's really good at some things."

"'I have an unusual aptitude for numbers, namely math computations,' he says."

"Hudale can do triple-digit multiplication in his head. That sort of ability helped him get a degree in engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. But he says his brain struggles with other subjects like literature and philosophy."

"'I like working with things that are rather concrete and structured,' he says. 'Yeah, I like things with some logic and some rules to it.'"

"So Hudale, who is 40, does fine at his job at a bank. But he doesn't do so well with social interactions, where logic and rules aren't so obvious."

Sunday
Jun032012

Look Up Stargazers: June 5 Is the Transit of Venus

"It's been a good season for stargazers, a veritable meteor shower of astronomical goodies, from a supermoon to a solar eclipse. Next up? On Tuesday, June 5, astronomy enthusiasts can witness the Transit of Venus — one of the rarest astronomical events."

"During the six-hour transit, Venus moves in between the Earth and the sun. It's a daytime phenomenon: "Instead of seeing Venus as the brightest object in the night sky, you see Venus as a tiny black dot crossing the burning disc of the sun," explains Andrea Wulf, author of Chasing Venus."

"It's an event that happens in pairs eight years apart — and then not again for more than a century. "I think we will be the last living people to see one because the next one is going to be in 2117," Wulf tells NPR's Rachel Martin."

Saturday
Jun022012


"Today, Americans take bananas for granted. They're cheap, they're ripe, they're everywhere. But take a moment and consider: How did a pale, fragile tropical fruit become so commonplace in America? Immigrants arriving at the South Ferry terminal, where the Ellis Island ferry landed, were once handed bananas and told, 'Welcome to America.'"

"The man who made the banana an exotic emblem of affluence for mass consumption was himself a poor immigrant. Samuel Zemurray came to America as a teenager, amassed a fortune to rival the Rockefellers and built great cultural institutions. But Zemurray would also help foment coups, rip up countrysides and impose his will, wiles and schemes all over Central America. Zemurray is the subject of Rich Cohen's new book, The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King."

"Zemurray was a Jewish immigrant who grew up on a wheat farm in western Russia and was sent to the U.S. alone in his early teens. Unlike a lot of his compatriots, he was a giant man," Cohen tells NPR's Scott Simon. "At the time he was like 6 feet 3 inches and he was a big, tough guy.'"

Friday
Jun012012

Antibiotic Free Meat Business is Booming Thanks to Chipotle

"It's no longer just foodies at farm markets or Whole Foods buying antibiotic-free, pasture-raised meats."

"Increased demand is coming from lots of big players, includingHyatt Hotels; institutional food providers such as Bon Appetit Management Co., which caters to schools and companies; and the fast-food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill. And it's changing the game."

"In fact, this year, Chipotle, which is growing so quickly that it's opening about three new locations each week, will slowly braise and sell about 120 million pounds of naturally raised pork, chicken and beef that meets its antibiotic-free standards."

Monday
May072012

'Wired To Run': Runners High May Have Been Evolutionary Advantage

"Endurance athletes sometimes say they're "addicted" to exercise. In fact, scientists have shown that rhythmic, continuous exercise — aerobic exercise — can in fact produce narcoticlike chemicals in the body."

"Now researchers suggest that those chemicals may have helped turn humans, as well as other animals, into long-distance runners."

"The man behind the research is University of Arizona anthropologist David Raichlen, a runner himself. He does about 25 miles a week."

"Being human, Raichlin has some tools that help — short toes that don't get in the way, for example, and big joints in the legs to absorb shock. But he thinks humans are also 'wired to run.'"

Sunday
May062012


"President Obama says the country has come too far in the last four years to change course now. He kicked off his re-election campaign Saturday with a pair of high-profile rallies in two pivotal states, Ohio and Virginia."

"Obama acknowledged the economic recovery still has a long way to go. Yet he argued his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, would move the country backward, not forward."

"The president's first official re-election rallies had some of the trappings of his 2008 campaign: huge crowds, stirring music, even the old standby chant of 'Fired Up, Ready to Go.'"

"Obama said this campaign is still about hope and change, though he acknowledged many hopes were dashed by the severe recession that cost 3 million jobs in the six months before he took office."

Thursday
May032012


"For decades, teachers, managers and parents have assumed that the performance of students and employees fits what's known as the bell curve — in most activities, we expect a few people to be very good, a few people to be very bad and most people to be average."

"The bell curve powerfully shapes how we think of human performance: If lots of students or employees happen to show up as extreme outliers — they're either very good or very bad — we assume they must represent a skewed sample, because only a few people in a truly random sample are supposed to be outliers."

"New research however suggests that rather than describe how humans perform, the bell curve may actually be constraining how people perform. Minus such constraints, a new paper argues, lots of people are actually outliers."

Wednesday
May022012


"It's perhaps the most reproduced piece of art ever created. It has adorned key chains and coffee mugs, and the cover of Time magazine. Andy Warhol used it, and now one of the four versions of The Scream, Edvard Munch's iconic work — the only one outside Norway — is coming up for auction at Sotheby's in New York. Sale estimates are as high as $80 million."

"When I think of The Scream, it takes me back to the 1960s and the Vietnam War. The image was everywhere on T-shirts and posters; it seemed to be both a personal scream from the abyss and a symbol of that particular horror. Created in the 1890s, it seemed to portend two world wars and the Holocaust. Simon Shaw, head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Sotheby's in New York, says it's been a talisman in times of crisis that "crystallizes our fears and anxieties. In recent times, the financial crisis and the global turbulence, we have seen more and more use of The Scream since 2007 than ever before," he says."

Tuesday
May012012


This is the first in a series of stories on losing faith.

"Teresa MacBain has a secret, one she's terrified to reveal."

"'I'm currently an active pastor and I'm also an atheist,' she says. 'I live a double life. I feel pretty good on Monday, but by Thursday — when Sunday's right around the corner — I start having stomachaches, headaches, just knowing that I got to stand up and say things that I no longer believe in and portray myself in a way that's totally false.'"

"MacBain glances nervously around the room. It's a Sunday, and normally she would be preaching at her church in Tallahassee, Fla. But here she is, sneaking away to the American Atheists' convention in Bethesda, Md."

Monday
Apr302012


"Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein are no strangers to D.C. politics. The two of them have been in Washington for more than 40 years — and they're renowned for their carefully nonpartisan positions."

"But now, they say, Congress is more dysfunctional than it has been since the Civil War, and they aren't hesitating to point a finger at who they think is to blame."

"'One of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition,' they write in their new book,It's Even Worse Than It Looks."

Saturday
Apr282012


"It is the weirdest thing. There are more ways than ever to communicate with people, yet it sometimes seems like it is more difficult to connect — and stay connected — with anyone."

"Should you shoot off an email? Tap out a text? Post a private message on Facebook? Write on their Facebook wall? Skype, poke, ping or conjure them up on a digital tin can phone?"

"And once you reach someone, you wonder: Is he paying attention? How do you know? Even with the techno-ease of countless communication devices, conversations can still be troublesome. Questions are asked and answered out of order. Instructions and directions go half-read. Meetings are botched. Feelings are hurt."

Saturday
Apr282012

Paul Krugman's Prescription For a Depression

"In his new book, End This Depression Now! Paul Krugman states that the U.S. is in the throes of a depression — not merely an economic crisis. TheNew York Times columnist and Nobel laureate argues that Keynesian economics got us out of a much worse depression in the 1930s, so if we were to follow Keynesian prescriptions now, we could get out of this one too."

"Krugman says he uses the term depression to describe today's economy because "it's qualitatively similar to the Great Depression." He tells NPR's Robert Siegel, 'It is a sustained period of really lousy economic performance and an enormous amount of suffering.'"

"Krugman worries that we're becoming accustomed to this reality. 'We've kind of settled into the notion that this is the new normal,' he says. 'But it shouldn't be. And it's not something we should accept.'"

Thursday
Apr262012


"For the past eight seasons, actor Hugh Laurie has played Dr. Gregory House on the Fox medical series House. House is brash, narcissistic, unsympathetic, addicted to painkillers, confrontational — and 100 percent American."

"Laurie is none of those things."

"'I am not playing House today, so I am dressed as an Englishman and speaking as an Englishman,' he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. 'I'm wearing a bowler hat and carrying a furled umbrella. It's nice to have a day every now and then off from the vocal exercises.'"