Scott Simon

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Let's ask R. Eric Thomas to tell us about the church in which he grew up.

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Some weeks you may wonder what has happened to public speech in America. Or even good manners.

This week, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference, declared he will not invite Sen. Mitt Romney to this year's CPAC after Romney cast the lone Republican vote for President Trump's removal at his impeachment trial.

"We won't credential him as a conservative," Schlapp told Greta Van Susteren on her program Full Court Press. Then he added, "This year, I would actually be afraid for his physical safety, people are so mad at him."

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It can be hard to reconcile Bob Marley's massive and ongoing influence with the fact that the genre-defining reggae artist was just 36 when he died of cancer in 1981. Marley would have turned 75 this Thursday; to this day, his music accounts for nearly a quarter of the reggae listened to in the United States.

After Kirk Douglas produced and starred in Spartacus in 1960, a film that won four Oscars and was the biggest moneymaker of the year, he could probably get Hollywood to finance almost any film he wanted to make. Another epic, like Spartacus? An adventure, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? A scorching star vehicle, like Lust for Life?

Willis Wu is often seen as a generic Asian Man in a restaurant or the background of a crime scene on a television drama called Black and White. You kind of know the show: She's an accomplished young detective, he's a third-generation cop, together they are Black and White, and they solve impossible cases.

Willis hopes one day to be a Kung Fu Guy on movie screens around the world. But for now, he's the star of Interior Chinatown, the new novel from Charles Yu, an award-winning writer for Westworld and other shows.

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When I met Tom Railsback a few years ago, he told me he'd worried about going to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Peoria in the fall of 1974.

Tom Railsback of Illinois was a middle-aged Republican congressman from a state in the middle of America when he was on the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 that heard the case for impeachment against President Richard Nixon.

Mr. Railsback greatly admired President Nixon. "His opening of the door to China," he told me, "had to be the most brilliant foreign policy move ever."

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The toll of the Australian bush fires is staggering. 27 people have died, more than 2,000 homes destroyed and 18 million acres have burned. A billion animals may have been killed.

Try to hold that horrifying number in your mind a moment: a billion animals.

When Anna Wiener was a 20-something, she left her job at a literary agency in New York and moved to California to join the high-tech world of "inflection points," "designpreneurs," "blitzscaling," "upleveling," and "disrupters." A world she came to see from the inside as destructive, intrusive, dominating and dangerous. And she writes about it in a new memoir, Uncanny Valley. "I think the stories that are told about the industry are largely on the industry's own terms," she says. "They tend to be these sort of triumphalist narratives about innovation and baby geniuses.

Two young British soldiers, Blake and Schofield, are given an uncommon mission in World War I: deliver a message that could save 1,600 lives — including Blake's brother.

That's the conceit of 1917, starring Colin Firth as the general who gives the order, and Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay as the two soldiers. They're assigned to move across a hellscape of gouged-out trenches, burnt ruins, fat rats, and war's wreckage.

There are scores of holiday stories on streaming services this season, and a lot of them seem rolled out of the same candy cane factory: snow, smiles and the real meaning of love.

As an aficionado of the form, I've tried to sketch out my own version:

Charlayne had an exciting life as managing editor of a Manhattan fashion magazine. But something was missing.

At the height of the Cold War in 1958, Van Cliburn, a curly-headed kid from Texas, won the International Tchaikovsky Competition. He was hugged by Nikita Khrushchev and heralded like Elvis Presley when he returned.

A woman lived in her car in front of our apartment building for a couple of weeks. Our family brought down some food, clothing and a blanket, but the woman hesitated to open her door when we knocked and smiled.

After all, who were we? Why should she trust us?

We did not call police or a city agency to say, "There's a woman living in a car on our street." I've reported stories where I've spent the night in city homeless shelters. They can feel crowded and unsafe, and have little privacy. I can see why someone would choose to stay on the street or in their car.

What makes a banana taped to a wall worth $120,000 to someone?

If it has been put there by the right artist.

This banana was duct-taped to a wall by Maurizio Cattelan, the Italian artist, and it's on display this week at Art Basel in Miami Beach.

The banana is real, by the way, not a sculpture. It will soon go brown, slimy, and may already be ... fragrant.

The Perrotin art gallery of Paris has already sold this piece of produce, and it turns out that $120,000 is practically a bargain. Another banana the artist taped to a wall is going for $150,000.

It's the holiday gift for when you can't think of what else to give. Good for old, young, women, men, north, south — NPR even sells 'em! Socks. And they are having their moment. "Socks have gone through their ups and downs and have had very very many different moments in the fashion world, and there's certainly a resurgence today, as you have probably noticed," says Steven Frumkin, a dean at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. "People want to make a statement, and one of the nice ways of doing it is to have a pair of socks that says something."


As the impeachment inquiry against President Trump continues its march through Congress, questions are churning around his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

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And talk about methane release. Time to talk sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Knives Out is a human jigsaw puzzle of a whodunit: a dead, rich novelist on a divan upstairs; scheming, back-stabbing family members downstairs quarreling over the spoils; an appealing family attendant; and a famously astute detective in the drawing room, armed only with his wits — and, in this case, a slow Southern drawl.

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William Ruckelshaus was a conservationist, an Indiana Republican conservative who believed in conserving balanced budgets, limited government powers, constitutional checks and balances, and clean air and water.

"Nature provides a free lunch," he said, "but only if we control our appetites."

He helped write Indiana's first air pollution laws as a state deputy attorney general in the 1960s, and was appointed the first head of the Environment Protection Agency by President Nixon in 1970.

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Meg Schmidt's signature song is a Top 40 track that could have been written for her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHUT UP AND DANCE")

To prepare to play Fred Rogers, Tom Hanks estimated he watched "about 8 million hours" of Mister Rogers programming. "I saw every one that I could possibly see," Hanks says.

Hanks never met Rogers, who died in 2003. But he'd seen plenty of imitations of the beloved children's television star, from comics such as Johnny Carson, Eddie Murphy and Martin Short.

The forced imprisonment of more than a million Muslim Uighurs in detention camps in the Xinjiang region of western China may make Americans feel outrage and sadness. But many may just shrug and ask, "What does that have to do with me?"

Look down at your shoes.

About 99% of the shoes sold in America are made overseas, with China being the largest manufacturer by far. Nike, Naturalizer, Dr. Scholl's, Hush Puppies, Keds and many other American companies make shoes in China, where the costs of production are far less.

What did a meal taste like nearly 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylonia? Pretty good, according to a team of international scholars who have deciphered and are re-creating what are considered to be the world's oldest-known culinary recipes.

The recipes were inscribed on ancient Babylonian tablets that researchers have known about since early in the 20th century but that were not properly translated until the end of the century.

Mary-Louise Parker is drawing rave reviews for her central role in Adam Rapp's new, two-character Broadway drama, The Sound Inside.

In the play, Parker stars as Bella Baird, a 53-year-old Yale English professor and fiction writer living with cancer, a role Parker herself describes as "arduous."

Night to night, under the direction of David Cromer, she's tasked with commanding a bare stage as she narrates her thoughts and actions during the better part of 90 minutes.

To achieve the appearance of effortlessness she musters great effort, she says.

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