NPR Picks

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.'"

Monday
Apr232012

Steinbeck In Vietnam: A Great Writers Last Reports

"The last piece of published writing from one of America's greatest writers was a series of letters he sent back from the front lines of war at the age of 64."

"John Steinbeck's reports shocked readers and family so much that they've never been reprinted — until now."

"Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 for a life's work writing about those who had been roughed up by history — most notably his Depression-era novels, Of Mice And Men and The Grapes of Wrath. Four years later, Steinbeck left for Vietnam to cover the war firsthand."

Sunday
Apr222012


"Members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition sport calluses and legs hardened by three months of hiking through sawgrass, palmetto stands and piney woods."

"On Sunday, these four adventurers mark the end of a 1,000-mile trek across Florida, from the tip of the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp."

"That might have been the easy part. Their next goal is to create a continuous corridor for wildlife running the length of the state. By documenting their journey, they hope to draw attention to the shrinking habitats and remind Floridians of their connection to the environment."

Saturday
Apr212012


"Call it the Cuban Sandwich Crisis. Two cities, Tampa and Miami, are locked in a battle to claim the Cuban sandwich as its own. It's a battle for hearts, minds and bellies. And you get to weigh in. Read on!"

"For the uninitiated, a Cuban sandwich is shredded pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and dill pickles – served either cold or hot-pressed on Cuban bread. Think of it as the ham-and-cheese for the guayabera-wearing set."

"Tampa's version includes salami, and it might have a swipe of mayo, depending on who's making it. Each city uses differently-shaped bread. Those are about the only substantive differences."

Friday
Apr202012


"It's a classic scenario in sentimental fiction: An adorable orphan humanizes a crusty old codger. "Humanize" might not seem the obvious verb for what happens in Chimpanzee, Disneynature's latest kiddie documentary. But it's dead on; this escape to the planet of the apes is anthropomorphic to a fault."

"The story, delivered excitedly by narrator Tim Allen, is about a "precious baby boy," given the only-in-Hollywood tag of Oscar by filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. They call the baby's mother Isha, and the local chimp patriarch Freddy. The leader of a nearby chimp "mob" that threatens Freddy's clan is outfitted with the name Scar (although not with Jeremy Irons' voice)."

After Isha's off-screen death — only partially the fault of Scar and his gang — Oscar is abandoned. None of the other moms in the 35-chimp tribe is prepared to take responsibility for another hungry baby. But before he starves to death, Oscar is adopted by an older male chimp, which is apparently a rare occurrence."

Wednesday
Apr182012

From Silicon Valley, A New Approach to Education

"Last year when Andrew Ng, a computer science professor at Stanford University, put his machine-learning class online and opened enrollment to the world, more than 100,000 students signed up."

"'I think all of us were surprised,' he says."

"Ng had posted lectures online before, but this class was different."

"'This was actually a class where you can participate as a student and get homework and assessments,' he said."

"The class was interactive. There were quizzes and online forums where teaching assistants, fellow students and Ng answered questions. In the end, tens of thousands of students did all the same work and took the same tests that Stanford students took; thousands passed."

Monday
Apr162012


"'Americans now walk the least of any industrialized nation in the world,' says writer Tom  Vanderbilt. To find out why that is, Vanderbilt has been exploring how towns are built, how Americans view walking — and what might be done to get them moving around on their own two feet."

"Talking with Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep about what is wrong with Americans' relationship with walking, Vanderbilt says, 'The main thing is, we're just not doing enough of it.'"

"'We've engineered walking out of our existence and everyday life,' Vanderbilt says. 'I even tried to examine the word 'pedestrian,' and it's always had sort of this negative connotation — that it was always better to be on a horse or something, if you could manage it.'"

Sunday
Apr152012


"Census data from the past is really hot. When the National Archives posted details from 72 years ago — the 1940 census — online recently, millions of Americans stampeded the website to try to learn more about their past."

"But imagine how cool it would be if, by some twist of time, the National Archives were to make available detailed census information from nearly 70 years in the future — the 2080 census."

"We asked James Dator, director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, what kind of information census takers will be soliciting seven decades in the future. Dator says that possible questions might include:

—Do you have a home, or "biophysical domicile"? If so, is it on Earth, the moon, Mars or elsewhere?

—What is your current sex?

—What is your permission number for drinking water?"

Friday
Apr132012

The (Monkey) Business of Recognizing Words

"New research shows that first-graders and baboons have at least one thing in common: Both can tell the difference between actual written words and random sequences of letters. This finding challenges some conventional ideas about what goes on in the human brain when we read."

"Scientists have assumed that reading relies on the same brain circuits involved in spoken language, but now they are considering a more complicated explanation, thanks to six baboons who took part in an unusual experiment."

"The baboons live in the south of France, spending their time in an enclosure that includes nine testing booths. Jonathan Grainger, a researcher at Aix-Marseille University, says that baboons, like first-graders, can be motivated by food and video games. So he put treats and touch-screen computers in the testing booths."

Thursday
Apr122012


"Since the Arab oil embargoes of the 1960s and 70s, it's been conventional wisdom to talk about American dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf. But the global oil market has changed dramatically since then."

"Today, the U.S. actually gets most of its imported oil from Canada and Latin America."

"And many Americans might be surprised to learn that the U.S. now imports roughly the same amount of oil from Africa as it does from the Persian Gulf. African imports were a bit higher in 2010, while Persian Gulf oil was accounted for a bit more last year."

Monday
Apr092012


"Blaise Pascal once wrote that writing succinctly can be hard. It's something many of us aim for, yet few of us master. But if you're writing on Twitter, you have to keep it short."

"The Nigerian writer Teju Cole recently devoted himself to the goal of writing in brief. On his Twitter account, he crafts compact stories based on small news items, things you might overlook in the metro section of a newspaper. And with brevity, his stories gain deeper meaning."

"In observance of National Poetry Month, Cole recently joined NPR's Steve Inskeep to discuss the Tweet-sized narratives he calls 'Small Fates.'"

Sunday
Apr082012


"Across the country, more than 7,700 daily temperature records were broken last month, on the heels of the fourth warmest winter on record."

"While it might be time to lie on a blanket in the park, climate scientists are worried. They say all these sunny days are actually an extreme weather event, one with local and global implications."

"In Iowa, March was so hot — a record-breaking 84 degrees — that some crops there, like oats, are now running way ahead of schedule."

Saturday
Apr072012

Sex, Drugs, and Rock Photography

"Mick Rock is really his name — though he's Michael to his mother — and he is exactly what you might imagine a rock photographer to be: tall and hip with shaggy hair. Shaded Ray-Bans, jean jacket, scarf. Oh, and an English accent to boot — so he can drop words like "bloody" and "shag" with allure (though he doesn't shy from the American equivalents, either)."

"'In any other era, dogs wouldn't have pissed on me,' he says. 'Thank God for Mick and Keith,' who helped make lanky, messy Englishmen cool. He's referring to the Rolling Stones, of course."

"Now in his 60s, Rock remembers the '70s well. Or, parts of them. And it goes without saying that the times have changed."

Friday
Apr062012

Intel Legends Moore and Grove: Making It Last

"In Silicon Valley, the spotlight is often on young entrepreneurs with fresh ideas that will change the world — people like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, or Jack Dorsey of Twitter."

"But for decades, two older titans of the high-tech industry thrived in that fast-paced world: Gordon Moore and Andy Grove of Intel."

"Speaking recently in a rare joint interview, the two discussed how their company survived, and what they think of the current crop of Silicon Valley techies."

Thursday
Apr052012

Shake It Off: Earth's Wobble May Have Ended Ice Age

"The last big ice age ended about 11,000 years ago, and not a moment too soon — it made a lot more of the world livable, at least for humans."

"But exactly what caused the big thaw isn't clear, and new research suggests that a wobble in the Earth kicked off a complicated process that changed the whole planet."

"Ice tells the history of the Earth's climate: Air bubbles in ice reveal what the atmosphere was like and what the temperature was. And scientists can read this ice, even if it's been buried for thousands of years."

"But when it comes to the last ice age, ice has a mixed message."

Tuesday
Apr032012


"Everybody knows that there's just one Moon orbiting the Earth. But a new study by an international team of astronomers concludes that everybody is dead wrong about that."

"'At any time there are one or two one-meter diameter asteroids in orbit around the Earth,' says Robert Jedicke, an astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii."

"Since most of these objects are too small to see, Jedicke had to use indirect methods to reach his conclusions. He started with a few well known facts."

Monday
Apr022012


"Nylon stockings became all the rage. Black fedoras were the "pure quill" — meaning the real deal. Bing Crosby crooned Only Forever on the console. And Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American actor ever to take home an Oscar."

"Ah, 1940. Three score and 12 years ago, America was in a very different place — economically and culturally."

"But on April 2, 2012, when the National Archives releases detailed data from the 1940 census, we will get an even keener idea of how much — or how little — this nation has really changed in the past 72 years."

Sunday
Apr012012

Does a Chocolate Habit Help Keep You Lean?

"A new study finds that people who eat chocolate several times a week are actually leaner than people who don't eat chocolate regularly."

"Really, we asked? Last time we checked chocolate was loaded with fat and sugar. But this new research, along with some prior studies, suggests chocolate may favorably influence metabolism."

"To test this theory, Beatrice Golomb, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, asked about 1,000 people, ages 20 to 85, a simple question: "How many times a week do you consume chocolate?" The participants then completed food frequency questionnaires to estimate their caloric intakes of a whole range of foods including chocolate. They also had weight and height measurement taken to calculate their body mass index, or BMI."

Saturday
Mar312012

"Novelist Christopher Moore says he isn't very good at giving elevator speeches — those quick pitches on your latest project that Hollywood screenwriters are so good at.

"'[That's] one of the reasons I probably don't work in Hollywood,' Moore tells NPR's Scott Simon. But if he had to give a brief rundown of his latest novel,Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art, he says, 'I'd talk about it being a book about the color blue, and about solving the murder of Vincent van Gogh and the sort of mystical quality of making art. And it's funny.'"

"The narrative winds all around late 19th century Paris through artists' homes, cafes and brothels. But it begins and ends with a meditation on blue."