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MIKE PESCA, host:

Welcome back to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. We're always online at npr.org/bryantpark. And when you go there, you will find hard news stories. You will find little squishy news stories. And you will find other news stories, which are hard to classify but kind of can generally be put basically - sneaker time, basically be put under the sub-category of The Ramble.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: We'd like to welcome a man identified as a guest Rambler, but you've been here so often, Dan Pashman. Are you, like, a permanent guest? Like when Eddie Murphy first was on "Saturday Night Live," he was a guest, you know, not a permanent cast member, but yet, in all the sketches.

DAN PASHMAN: Right? I don't know. We'll have to - you'll have to tune in tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day.

PESCA: I see. We're building tension. What will happen with guest Rambler, Dan Pashman? Go ahead, Dan.

PASHMAN: Here we go. Mike, you know, it's almost the 4th of July, and I know you're very socially phobic, very awkward, and shy.

PESCA: Kind of a loner.

PASHMAN: Yeah, very much. So I thought I'd pass along some conversation talking points for your July 4th barbecue, courtesy of the IRS. All right, here goes, you ready? Hello. Good to see you. How are the kids?

PESCA: The guy has kids, right?

PASHMAN: Right. Can I get you a beer? How about those economic stimulus checks? See, just like that, nice and natural, and just the way the IRS drew it up. Yeah, that's right, they want you to - they want Americans to pepper their 4th of July festivities with talk of stimulus checks. According to a spokesman in Milwaukee, they say people still haven't gotten their stimuli since they have to file tax returns to get them. And some people aren't required to file tax returns for a variety of reasons. So don't forget, don't leave that money on the table. Payments are 300 dollars per person, up to 1200 dollars for a married couple, plus 300 dollars for each dependent child.

PESCA: Right. You can't spend them on fireworks, I guess, but you can spend it on other things.

PASHMAN: It depends on what state you live in. Indiana, go to town.

PESCA: No, I mean, if you don't get it by July 4th.

PASHMAN: Oh, true.

PESCA: South Carolina. A town in Minnesota has changed its name. It was Burns Township. Now it's officially known as The City of Nowthen. Why? Apparently, it goes back to a mistake made in the 1890s, and the story goes a little like this. I feel like there should be some banjo music and a jug of whiskey. And you'll be rocking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of banjo imitation)

PASHMAN: That wasn't even close!

PESCA: Back then, they needed a post office, and one fellow made a list of possibilities. And he wrote, quote, guy telling the story is like an old, grizzled grandpa usually say, quote, just to make sure that you know, that they're quoting the article.

PASHMAN: Right.

PESCA: And he wrote, and I quote, inverted commas. "Now then, one of these ought to do. And that's what people picked." Those Minnesotans and their sense of - oh, sorry, this is not the guy talking anymore - but - this is me. Those Minnesotans...

PASHMAN: I think between my impression of a jug band and your impression of a Minnesota accent, we are so far off at this point that we need to abandon all hope.

PESCA: OK.

PASHMAN: Trish is giving us a thumbs down from the control room.

PESCA: Yeah. Nowthen.

PASHMAN: Well, the actor who portrayed the first African-American U.S. president on Fox's "24" says he hopes his work on screen helped lead the way for Barack Obama's presidential bid. Dennis Haysbert played the role of the fictitious President David Palmer, and he says actually that identity has stuck a year and half into a new project. People are still stopping him on the street to encourage him to run for the Oval Office, or pledge their support. And so, Dennis Haysbert, trying to take a little credit for that.

But I also have some other interesting Barack Obama news, Mike. I think he's abandoning the fist bump.

PESCA: Huh?

PASHMAN: A report from the campaign trail yesterday in Ohio, a kid held out his fist, Obama turned away and said, aw, if I start that, and then, kind of, his voice trailed off. We don't know what his concern is, but we will keep on the fist-bump beat.

PESCA: I would guess he's not a germophobe. In fact, fist bumping is probably...

PASHMAN: More sanitary.

PESCA: Yeah, less - fewer germs than a handshake. But it's like, once you start that, it just becomes a nightmare. It just snowballs, and you've got to fist bump everyone. And that becomes your thing. And just as Dennis Haysbert gets annoyed with people saying, hey, you should run for president! Hey, you should run for president. Barack Obama will get not only that, which he's already getting, and he's kind of like, I am. He'd get so many fist bumps.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PASHMAN: Yeah.

PESCA: Requests. Yeah. And some violin news for you.

(Soundbite of song "The Flight of the Bumblebee")

PESCA: A Dutch doctor and an Arkansas violin maker teamed up to find what makes Stradivarius violins sound so good - density of the wood. According to a scientific survey published in the online journal PLos One, the pair conducted experiments with a modified computer program that usually measures lung density in people with emphysema. The methodology helped them keep the valuable instruments intact, but it didn't provide all the answers.

There's still no way to say what accounts for the density of the high-performing wood on the Stradivarii. There are various possibilities. It could be because of climate change. Wow! This bumble bee is flying around my head, and it's one of the 12 million bees that overturned in yesterday's Ramble, I think, but it could be because of climate change, or the fact that today's trees grow a little differently than those of the past. They do? Or, maybe the wood is just less dense because it's been aged for three centuries. And that is the buzz. And that is "The Flight of the Bumblebee" played by virtuoso Yitzhak Perlman.

PASHMAN: You could really hear the density in this performance.

PESCA: Yeah, that was pretty dense. That is your Ramble, to put a fine point on it. Links to these stories and a whole lot more on our site, npr.org/bryantpark.

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