NPR Staff

Two composers and a songwriter walk into a bar. That's not the start of a joke; it's the start of a band.

More than 250,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced as a result of the conflict in Syria. But the destruction also extends beyond human lives. Significant parts of that country's heritage are now lost. Architecture, art and antiquities dating back more than a thousand years have been wiped out — in what some have called cultural genocide.

In 1988, when Eddie Murphy presented the nominees for Best Picture at the 60th Academy Awards, he told the audience that when he'd been invited to present the award, his initial reaction was, "I'm not going, because they haven't recognized black people in the motion picture industry."

Almost 30 years later, the 88th Academy awards will be presented under a similar cloud. For the second year in a row, all the acting nominees are white.

With apologies to Andy Williams, now is the most wonderful time of the year ... for it is Girl Scout cookie season.

But after plowing through several sleeves of Thin Mints, fatigue can set in. So we wondered, when you're starting to feel sick of Girl Scout cookies, is there a way to rekindle the love?

When the military opens front-line combat roles to women soldiers — across all branches — in April, it will mark the culmination of a years-long process, which was often subject both to consternation and controversy. It will also mark a historic first for a female service members, many of whom enlisted decades ago in a very different kind of military.

Among those women is Capt. Margie Finlay, who first enlisted in 1973.

Before NASA had its Mercury 7 astronauts, the Air Force was launching its own team into the stratosphere — in balloons.

Without the glamour or budget of NASA, these early space scientists and test pilots performed extreme experiments that helped pave the way for the Mercury crew. Among them was Captain Joseph Kittinger, who in 1960 stepped from his balloon into free fall from 103,000 feet above the ground — nearly 20 miles.

If Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz makes it to the White House, it will be historic — it would mean this country had its first ever Latino president.

Both have a Cuban background, but neither candidate can necessarily count on the support of Latino voters to win. That's because most Latinos in this country lean Democratic, even with no Latino candidate represented in the Democratic field.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A presidential race that has been full of surprises provided another one yesterday as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who dropped out of the race just over two weeks ago, said he was supporting Donald Trump.

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At an estate sale in Rochester, N.Y., in 2009, a rare book seller came upon a curious literary artifact. As it turned out, it was a memoir written in the 1850s by Austin Reed, a black man who spent most of his life in prison. It's the earliest known prison memoir by an African-American writer, and it has now been published as The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict.

Just days away from the Oscars, Hollywood continues to face down questions over its lack of diversity — particularly among the nominees for its top prize. The controversy has helped prompt a viral hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, and has led the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to pledge to diversify in years to come.

If you got a parking ticket in the city of San Francisco between 1995 and 2012, you may be owed some money.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency says it has identified a total of $6.1 million in overpayments — in other words, vehicle owners who sent the government too much money — for some 200,000 tickets.

San Francisco issues 1.5 million tickets a year, Paul Rose, a spokesman with SFMTA, tells NPR's Robert Siegel.

From now until March 3, people can get their money back. After that, the government will keep the money.

Last year, Ford asked people if they could imagine themselves buying or riding in a self-driving vehicle.

Out of the eight countries surveyed, India and China had the highest positive answers at 84 percent and 78 percent, respectively, compared to the U.S. and U.K. at 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, the study found.

The day when you'll be chauffeured to work by your car may not be far off.

Right now, the legal groundwork is being laid to make way for the self-driving car around the nation. NPR's Robert Siegel is talking to several key players this week about the emerging world of self-driving cars.

In the latest conversation, he spoke with Brian Soublet, deputy director and chief legal counsel for the California Department of Motor Vehicles — an agency that robotic car advocates have accused of squelching innovation before it even gets on the road.

In 2006, Derek Amato suffered a major concussion from diving into a shallow swimming pool. When he woke up in the hospital, he was different. He discovered he was really good a playing piano. Yes, we're serious. Derek is one of just a few dozen known "sudden savants" or "accidental geniuses"—people who survive severe head injuries and come out the other side with special gifts for music or math or art. We were skeptical, so we brought Derek into a studio and asked him to play. He can't read music or even play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," but the music he improvises is beautiful.

U.S. operation of the Guantanamo Bay military detention center in Cuba is "contrary to our values" and is seen as "a stain on our broader record" of upholding the highest rules of law, President Obama said Tuesday as he announced plans to close the facility.

The NPR Politics team is back with a quick take on the winners and losers of the Republican primary in South Carolina and the Democratic caucuses in Nevada. Does Trump's win in South Carolina solidify him as the Republican nominee? Does Clinton's big win in Nevada make the road tougher for Sanders? The team answers those questions and also gives a listen to some new campaign ads narrated by the one and only Morgan Freeman.

On the podcast:

  • National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson

Would you have a computer drive for you?

Some say yes if the computer is accurate and has no bugs in it, while some say no because they want to be in control and they enjoy driving.

A University of Michigan survey found that about 90 percent of Americans have some concerns about the concept of self-driving cars. But most also say that they do want some aspects of the car to be automated.

Here's a trend in new books: Publishers commonly promote them by comparing them to other books — and when the books are crime fiction or thrillers, and written by women, they get compared to the same books again and again and again. Those books would be Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. So let's explore why those two are so influential.

Apple shareholders will be voting on a proposal at the annual meeting Feb. 26. It's a proposal that the company opposes, which calls for the tech leader to increase diversity in its senior management.

North Korea is considered the most reclusive country in the world. Outsiders know very little about what happens inside the Hermit Kingdom.

North Koreans, in turn, know very little about the outside world. The regime of dictator Kim Jong Un bans nearly all forms of outside media. North Koreans are exposed only to what their government tells them, giving them a skewed view of their own country.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One more word on politics. Following Hillary Clinton's victory in the Democratic caucuses today, just moments ago, Bernie Sanders conceded in Henderson, Nev.

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Ra Ra Riot has been making music together for over a decade, and has just released its fourth album, Need Your Light. Fans of the band know that it incorporates string instruments with traditional rock ones — but in the early years, that fact threw some people.

Ferrante Fever goes something like this: You pick up one of Elena Ferrante's books because a friend told you that you had to read it. You read a few pages, and then before you know it, it's 3:00 o'clock in the morning, you've finished the book, and you're on the hunt for the other three titles in the Neapolitan series.

The world wasn't prepared for Zika to fly across continents in the span of a few months. In 2015, when the virus began rapidly spreading across the Americas, health workers were surprised, and researchers were caught flat-footed when it came time to provide information to protecting the public's health.

Joshua Myers, 29, has Down syndrome. These days, he considers it a gift — but he didn't always.

"At first," he says, "I thought it was a curse."

In fact, the condition proved so overwhelming for Myers that, once, he even walked out into the middle of a busy intersection, hoping that a car would hit him and end his life. But a stranger stopped for him. She brought him into her car to talk things through.

Myers hasn't seen her since.

The NPR Politics Podcast team has its weekly roundup a day early as it looks ahead to the upcoming Republican primary in South Carolina, the Democratic caucuses in Nevada, and all the political attacks that accompany them.

The team also takes a listener question and, as always, they end the show with their personal political obsessions of the week.

On the podcast:

  • Political Editor Domenico Montanaro
  • White House Correspondent Tamara Keith

The showdown between the FBI and Apple could result in huge changes for security and privacy, but one thing it may not do is deliver a big break in the San Bernardino case.

One of the leading figures in the government's bailout of banks deemed "too big to fail" after the 2008 financial crisis says major banks are still at risk.

Neel Kashkari, now the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that despite changes to Wall Street made as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, big banks are still too big to fail.

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