June 24, 2006 The passion for spelling fueled by youngsters sweating it out on TV in the National Spelling Bee and in the documentary Spellbound is spilling over to an adult crowd. Watering holes in Washington, D.C., and many other cities are sponsoring "bar bees" that take a more relaxed approach to the competition.
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June 22, 2006 Okay, ducks, I'm out of here. Tomorrow sees the triumphant return of NPR political editor Ken Rudin, who, I maintain, is public radio's next big screen sensation. Step aside, Garrison Keillor. Political Junkie... the movie. Directed by Robert Altman, produced by Mark Cuban.
June 22, 2006 Science desk correspondent Jon Hamilton reports tonight on really, really dated fashion accessories. They're ancient shells with holes punched in them. Figuring out when people first decorated themselves with pretty things is apparently an excellent method of understanding the beginnings of culture. One of the oldest ready-to-wear shells may be 90,000 years old. How appropriate that it's housed in a museum in Paris, the world's couture capital.
June 22, 2006 For the past two days, Morning Edition has run point/counterpoint commentaries on the critical topic of net neutrality. Here, meet two more experts culled from the worldwide web itself: "The Internet of the Future" and "Ask A Ninja."
June 22, 2006 Thursday is science day on the NPR blog, so hello again, Richard Harris! Richard has a story on All Things Considered today about a controversial report written in 1998 that attempted to reconstruct the world's climate history for the past 1000 years. That report graphed global temperature in a way that looked a lot like a hockey stick lying on its side -- a long uninterrupted straight line, then a sharp uptick representing dramatic warming in the 20th century. That report soon took on a life of its own, says Richard. Critics of global warming tore into it, as did certain politicians. Some even asserted that the entire concept of global warming relied completely on this report. Today's story is about a new analysis from the National Academy of Sciences that's intended to settle the dispute. You'll have to listen to Richard's story to discover whether the definitive chart of our climate history resembles a hockey stick... a foosball table... a boomerang... or a soccer ball.
June 22, 2006 NPR Producer Kitty Eisele pointed out to me yesterday that right now, there are no fewer than three movies featuring public radio personages in the theaters. Public radio has heat. First, of course, there’s A Prairie Home Companion, starring down-home public radio figures like Lindsey Lohan, as well as teen hottie Garrison Keillor. Har, har. That was a little Prairie Home humor right there. Then there’s the Pixar movie, Cars, in which “Dusty and Rusty Rust-eze” are raucously voiced by Car Talk’s Tom and Ray Magliozzi. And finally, there’s Wordplay. The documentary about New York Times crossword puzzle master Will Shortz has sent NPR into something of a crossbranding tizzy. That’s because you can hear Shortz stumping listeners every week on Weekend Edition Sunday with Liane Hansen. Both Hansen and Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan are among the famous cruciverbalists featured in the documentary.
June 22, 2006 Late last year, Weekend All Things Considered aired this piece about Navajo children taken in by white Mormon foster families as part of the series Worlds of Difference. It just won the Edward R. Murrow Award for News Documentary presented by the Radio-Television News Directors Association. Reporter/producer Kate Davidson spent a year researching Saints and Indians. Editor Deborah George told me one of the things she loved about this piece was its complexity. "Some of the children [looking back now as adults] were really traumatized. Others are grateful; they're Mormons today. It's not a black and white story."
June 22, 2006 "No good deed goes unpunished." That famous quip was coined by Billy Wilder. Well, no good life goes unprofiled. Day to Day has a fabulous piece on the Austrian-born director today, what would have been his 100th birthday. Even people who think they hate old movies, love Billy Wilder films. He directed Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard and Witness for the Prosecution. Oh, and Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend and The Apartment, the last of which earned him Oscars for writing, producing and directing. Wilder also wrote the screenplay for one of my all-time favorite screwball comedies, Ball of Fire...
June 22, 2006 Heads up, Nina Totenberg fans -- the Supreme Court is expected to resolve, in the words of one news editor, "half a dozen biggies plus a bunch of dogs and cats." Among the biggest of those SCOTUS biggies is a decision about the legitimacy of military courts at Guantanamo. On the Hill, lawmakers are beginning the process of voting through Iraq amendments. Some talk about the best language for line item vetoes, which would expand presidential power. And immigration continues to be an important topic...
June 22, 2006 But not on this blog, not on my watch. Over at Boingboing, some irritable (and cheap) This American Life fans have been grousing over paying for podcasts. The debate encapsulates many of the problems of distributing stuff on the Internet, whether it be radio, music or video. Former TAL intern Chris Ladd says not to blame public radio pinup Ira Glass.
June 21, 2006 The disadvantage to blogging at NPR is this: You have to go into the office, so you can't wear your pajamas. But a pleasing benefit is hanging out with people with whom you normally don't. Case in point: This morning I had a nice long chat with Ron Elving, the senior editor of the Washington desk. Ron explained how President Bush has the thankless job of trying to pass an immigration bill that his own party is trying to undermine: while the president is traveling overseas, the Republicans are trying to spike his preferred bill. Ron says that embarrassing the president while he's out of the country is something that, at one point, didn't even happen with opposition presidents. Now, Republicans are planning on holding hearings around the country -- a kind of answer to this spring's pro-immigration marches. But these hearings, says Ron, may well end any attempt at a balanced immigration bill. You'll hear Jennifer Ludden on the topic tonight...
June 21, 2006 Two sports-related posts in one day. I can't believe it. But this story is just precious. During the last World Cup in 2002, there was a Very Special Game between the two lowest-ranking teams. This year, the event will not be repeated. Reuters quoted FIFA spokesman Markus Siegler at a daily briefing saying, "It's a shame, because it was a great occasion, and there was a great documentary made about it, but there are no plans to repeat the idea." A documentary? It's called The Other Final. Dutch director Johan Kramer follows the team from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and the Caribbean island of Montserrat (ranked at 202 and 203 respectively). I won't give away the ending, but afterward, the two teams together watched Brazil trounce Germany...
June 21, 2006 Remember that embargoed science desk story I mentioned earlier? NPR Science Correspondent Richard Harris reports tonight about what makes black holes work. Richard says magnetism enables black holes to eat anything. Would that we were so lucky.
June 21, 2006 Normally the mention of anything sports-related makes my eyes glaze over. But even I enjoyed Frank Deford fearlessly calling out team owners in this morning's commentary. Those objects of Frank's scorn included the Bidwell family ("the role model for long-term owner-operator ineptitude"), Peter Angelos ("arrogant") and James Dolan ("the highest payroll and the most screwed-up team in the NBA") Then there's Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks. Cuban is different. He is, as Frank sees it, "passionately involved in all the right ways..."
June 21, 2006 This afternoon's All Things Considered profile of writer/provocateur Christopher Hitchens comes from correspondent Guy Raz, his first piece on our air since returning to the fold from the world of (insert your adjective here) corporate media. Hitchens is a British-born literary critic, a public intellectual, an author, a journalist and a wit. He's also a turncoat, according to many of his former friends on the left, who view his unalloyed support for the war in Iraq with horror. Guy told me he's been itching to profile Hitchens for years, particularly because he read much of the author's work while reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq. While Guy said he doesn't always share Hitchens' perspective, he finds himself consistently challenged by Hitchens' arguments and the power of his prose...
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