Nov. 23, 1936, was a good day for recorded music. Two men, an ocean apart, each stepped up to a microphone and began to play. One was a cello prodigy who had performed for the queen of Spain; the other was a guitar player in the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta. But on that day, Pablo Casals and Robert Johnson each made recordings that would change music history.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is one of those small corners of the government with an important mission: It's supposed to help protect federal whistle-blowers and shield civil service workers from politics.
But during the Bush years, the office was engulfed in scandal. It was raided by FBI agents, and its chief was indicted for obstructing justice.
It's into that unsettled environment that the new leader, Carolyn Lerner, arrived five months ago. And good government groups say she's already taking the office in new directions.
The congressional supercommittee announced Monday that it failed to come to an agreement on reducing the deficit. After three months of negotiating, the Democrats and Republicans just couldn't agree on how much spending to cut or how high to raise taxes.
But this is not a story about how the left and right disagree with each other. In fact, they actually largely agree.
President Obama Monday put the blame for the supercommittee's failure squarely on congressional Republicans — and their unwillingness to consider higher taxes on the wealthy. Obama also threatened to veto any effort to escape from the automatic spending cuts agreed to in August without a balanced plan to reduce the deficit. Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Scott Horsley for more.
With Thanksgiving hard upon us, now is a good time to think about our past. History writers can tell the best stories from centuries of human achievement and folly, yet too often they produce recitations of one damned thing after another. A few, though, combine a respect for accuracy with a deep understanding of the longings, fears and triumphs of the people of our past. Such books make magic.
Comedian Bill Maher wraps up every installment of his TV show, Real Time, with a segment called "New Rules." That's where he takes potshots at whatever's bothering him — from wrappers on ice cream cones, to red light cameras, to more serious subjects like war and economic ruin.
His new book, The New New Rules: A Funny Look at How Everybody But Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass, sports a title we can't say on the radio and a mix of rules both lighthearted and serious, some of which never appeared on television.
It's Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.
MAHMOUD SHAMMAM: What we can confirm now that Saif al-Gadhafi has been arrested and he should be tried in front of the Libyan court, by Libyan people and by Libyan justice.
SULLIVAN: That's Mahmoud Shammam, Libya's National Transitional Council's information minister, announcing that Moammar Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam had been captured. The U.S. State Department hasn't confirmed it yet.
Billy McCarthy lost his mother to suicide when he was a teenager. He cared for his schizophrenic brother as best he could after that, but his brother landed in solitary confinement in prison, where he eventually took his own life, too. Somehow, McCarthy found a way to rise above his anguish — as a songwriter. He began playing music while living in foster care in California.
Kurt Vonnegut was a counterculture hero, an American Mark Twain, an avuncular, jocular friend to the youth — until you got to know him.
"Kurt was actually rather flinty, rather irascible. He had something of a temper," author Charles Shields tells weekends on All Things Considered host Laura Sullivan. Shields is the author of a new biography of Vonnegut, called And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life.
"But as I also point out in the book," Shields adds, "he was a damaged person."
A report out this week by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity highlights severe environmental violations by a copper smelting plant in Hayden Arizona. The smelter in question belongs to the American Smelting and Refining Company, or ASARCO, which operates four plants in the southwest. ASARCO once operated a similar smelter in El Paso, Texas. When the company was shut down, they left behind a legacy of pollution.
Reviewer Jim Terr sees a lot of cultural and entertainment events in the course of a year in northern New Mexico. But he says his favorites have come down to a small number, including one event that occurs annually in Los Alamos.
The Roman Catholic Church is about to buy a beacon of Protestant televangelism.
The Crystal Cathedral, a temple of glass in Garden Grove, Calif., will be sold to the Catholic Church for $57 million — a decision that left some congregants furious and their future up in the air.
When the Crystal Cathedral declared bankruptcy last year, it soon became clear that the legendary building would have to be sold. There were several offers, but in the end, the church's board favored the Catholic diocese in Orange County.
While the professional basketball season is on the verge of collapse, Major League Baseball and its players wrapped up a new contract. Guy Raz talks with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis about what's next in the NBA negotiations and what's new for baseball with this agreement.
Melissa Block talks with John Seabrook, staff writer at The New Yorker. His latest article, "Crunch," delves into the world of the SweeTango — a new hybrid apple that is part Honeycrisp, part Zestar. It's sweet and tangy. There's a hint of cinnamon, a hint of pineapple and a whole lot of crunch.
Imagine flying from L.A. to New York in about 30 minutes. That's roughly eight times the speed of sound. And yesterday, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command managed to launch a missile that flew at that speed. The test missile was sent from Hawaii to hit a site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific about 2,400 miles away, and within a half hour, the missile struck its target. And the military is hoping to speed it up even more.
In Egypt today, a rare move. Islamists and secular activists joined forces in several cities for a protest. They want to pressure their military rulers to cede control to an elected civilian government. The protest was sparked by a document floated by the interim government. It would give the Egyptian armed forces unchecked power.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson went back to Cairo's now famous Tahrir Square and found tens of thousands of demonstrators.
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. President Obama arrived in Indonesia today, the latest stop in a 10 day trip across the Pacific. He's used the trip to send a message that the U.S. is shifting its attention to the Asia Pacific region, both for economic and security reasons. That includes the announcement yesterday that the U.S. will deploy 2,500 Marines to Australia.
When Barron Lerner was writing his book on the history of drunk driving in America — and efforts to control it — he carried out an experiment at home that involved a bottle of vodka, a shot glass and a Breathalyzer. He was the guinea pig.
"I was trying to figure out just how drunk you had to be in order to not drive safely," says Lerner, a professor of medicine and public health at Columbia University, who wrote One for the Road. He decided to drink and test his levels — but he didn't actually get into a car.
A special deficit-reduction supercommittee has less than a week to go before a deadline to vote on a plan cutting the nation's deficits. Melissa Block talks to one of the members of the bipartisan panel, Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.