Scott Simon

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I've had açaí berries, being one of those Americans who longs to be healthier, especially if I can do it by plopping a few berries into a smoothie.

Açaí, which to me taste a little like dull blueberries, reportedly brim with antioxidants, vitamins and fiber. They are said to promote energy, healthy digestion, and even a dewier complexion.

But how do açaí berries get from the tops of trees in Brazil's Amazon into the açaí bowls that sell in San Francisco, Austin and West Des Moines?

Many are picked by children.

Author Jodi Picoult says she couldn't wrap her head around how she might tell the story of the pandemic — to both memorialize it and make sense of it.

At 85-years-old, the Nobel-Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa is one of Latin America's most significant writers.

The Peruvian, who rose to international prominence in the 1960s, has a new book out called Harsh Times. And, like most of his work, it examines the dangers of power and corruption in Latin America.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Max Cleland wore a Mickey Mouse watch to remind himself, he said, "not to take life too seriously." It was advice from a man who had received the Bronze and Silver Stars for valor as a young U.S. Army captain during the Vietnam War.

There may be a reason why astronauts are rhapsodic about the view from space but never mention the food.

NASA and other space agencies strive to give crews aboard the International Space Station nutritious and interesting meals.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet can reportedly occasionally consume lobster, cod and almond tarts with caramelized pears onboard the space station, prepared in collaboration with famous French chefs. But even an astronaute français must slurp most meals out of a plastic squeeze-bag.

Updated October 23, 2021 at 7:24 PM ET

At the height of her journalism career, Katie Couric's success at the Today show rested on balancing a girl-next-door likability with getting the story.

It was the cutthroat heyday of morning news shows, when ratings often trumped ethics.

In her new memoir, Going There, Couric dishes on what audiences couldn't always see during the years she worked for ABC, CBS, NBC and Yahoo. She also details what was happening in her personal life at the time.

Nick Offerman is best known as Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation, and is perhaps the most famous actor who also owns a woodshop. He's also a comedian, musician and author.

And in his new book, he's making it known that "outdoorsman" is also on his list of hobbies.

Though he lives in Los Angeles, "I feel a hell of a lot better after I walk in the woods," he tells NPR's Scott Simon on Weekend Edition.

There's a photo that went viral in 2019, of two mountain gorillas behind a park ranger as he snaps a selfie in Congo's Virunga National Park.

One gorilla seems to glance over at the human with all the merely mild interest of a New Yorker, waiting on a subway platform, her hands at her side, as if rammed into imaginary pockets. The second gorilla, just behind the ranger, seems to lean into the shot, as if to say, "Hello! Look who's here, too!"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A Facebook whistleblower told Congress it's time to regulate the social media company.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire. It may sound strange to call something so deadly "great," but it suits Chicago's self-image as a place where things are bigger, taller, and greater, even tragedies.

The 1871 fire killed an estimated 300 people. It turned the heart of the city, wood-frame buildings quickly constructed on wooden sidewalks, into ruins, and left 100,000 people homeless.

"Six o'clock in the morning. How's your head?"

So begins a poem written this month by the Cuban writer Katherine Bisquet. She continues:

"Is it cold in Berlin?


I go to bed this morning - I'm trying to change my habits - with a complaint,


There's an animal in the front yard that eats the neighbor's pigeons.


The beast eats everything it sees in its path,


How can I tell it not to eat what doesn't belong to it?


Are there cypresses there?


Here the ceibas have lost their leaves

This week 45 of the 50 city of Chicago aldermen accepted a 5.5% pay raise to increase the highest-paid among them to an annual salary of $130,000.

The pay raise is automatic, and tied to inflation — which, as we've heard on this very program, is on the rise. This is a reform that prevents aldermen from raising their own salaries. It also frees them from having to defend their pay raises when they run for reelection.

Elijah McClain taught himself how to play the violin, and played it to comfort kittens in need of homes.

This week a grand jury in Colorado indicted two police officers, a former officer and two paramedics for manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the death of Elijah McClain.

Updated August 28, 2021 at 10:27 AM ET

With President Biden remaining committed to pulling U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31, time is running out for emergency evacuation missions.

Some of the most esteemed figures in the history of France, including Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Simone Veil, are interred in the Panthéon in Paris. And now a new spirit will join them: an entertainer, activist, and agent of the French resistance.

Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis in 1906, began performing in her teens, and moved to Paris.

"I just couldn't stand America, and I was one of the first colored Americans to move to Paris," she told The Guardian in 1974.

Zalmai Yawar showed me the stars one night. We were in the mountains of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in 2002 — just a few months after the war began. We had spent the day reporting on the mass graves of Hazara people the Taliban had murdered after blowing up the ancient statues of Buddha carved into the nearby cliffside.

Neal Conan and I were once briefly roommates in Neal's apartment in a fifth floor walkup on 101st Street in New York. There was a window about the size of a cereal box over a sink that opened onto a gray gravel roof upholstered with pigeon poop.

"That's the balcony," said Neal.

Busy week? I had news meetings, family stuff, and interviews, of course. And then I got a call from an officious, digitized voice that said they were the IRS. It informed me they've noticed suspicious activity on my account. Not a good start to the day.

Soon, more bad news. A call from a similar-sounding robo-voice — maybe they're siblings — said they've noticed suspicious activity on my credit card account.

But good news, a minute later: a peppy, friendly, recorded voice, told me my spotless driving record entitled me to receive a great new deal on car insurance.

No matter if you aren't on a beach at this very moment — late summer is the time for losing yourself in novels. Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries series, has some recommendations for books that can be devoured anywhere — some old, some new.

(These recommendations have been edited for clarity and length.)

How do you honor historical figures?

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced this week the state will rename nine Garden State Parkway service areas after noted New Jerseyites: Judy Blume, Celia Cruz, Connie Chung, Larry Doby, James Gandolfini, Whitney Houston, Jon Bon Jovi, Toni Morrison, and, ladies and gentlemen, the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra.

They join a few other Jerseyites already enshrined along the New Jersey Turnpike, including Alexander Hamilton, who was a rest stop in Secaucus before he was a Broadway musical.

A lot of Americans may feel this week like someone who's run a long race, sees the finish line and begins to counts each step and breath to the end, only to hear as we get close, "Oh, sorry. You've got another mile or two to go."

"I had no idea how many funerals I'd be going to," Dave Marlon of Las Vegas told us. "Including this weekend."

Marlon is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor and CEO of CrossRoads, an addiction treatment center in Nevada. We spoke just after U.S. government statistics released this week revealed that a record 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2020, what we might call the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Andy Kim bought a blue wool suit off the rack during post-holiday sales. J.Crew, cobalt blue, standard cut. He looked forward to wearing the suit to President Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.

But first Kim, a Democrat who represents New Jersey's 3rd District, wore his new suit to work in the halls of Congress on Jan. 6, to count and certify the ballots from the Electoral College. He was on his way to the House chamber around 1 p.m. that day when the U.S. Capitol was invaded by a mob trying to overturn the election by force.

Lucio Arreola is going to have an astounding Father's Day this year. He finds just about every day astounding now.

Arreola has a new heart; or at least, new to him. He is 50 years old, the father of three daughters and a banking executive in Puerto Rico. On April 20, doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital performed a transplant to implant inside him the heart of a deceased 25-year-old man whose identity he may never know, but to whom he and his family will always be grateful.

We are grateful this Memorial Day weekend for those many who have fallen in service to the country which, even with the changes it needs to make, so many enjoy today.

I know our family, and perhaps yours, will see one or more venerated films that resonate with a holiday that, after all, is about more than sales on websites. I've chosen just three of my favorites here:

Nella Rogers is happy at first to see that another Black woman has been hired as an editorial assistant at Wagner Books. She's tired of being just about the only Black person in the room — or really any room at Wagner. And then one morning, Nella looks through a small crack in a cubicle and sees what she calls "the flash of a brown hand."

It's Hazel-May McCall, resplendent in locs, "every one as thick as a bubble tea straw and longer than her arms," a sharp marigold pantsuit and red patent leather ankle boots "that Nella would have broken her neck just trying to get into."

Dr. Ayman Abu al-Ouf worked into the small hours last Sunday at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where he was chief of internal medicine, trained medical students and supervised a ward for COVID-19 patients.

A former colleague told the BBC, "I would say he was the most kind-hearted and compassionate person I have ever seen in my life."

Everybody jokes about just doing away with the Internet after some data hack, service outage or other frustration reveals how much of our lives revolve around it. As David Yoon writes in his new novel about a fictitious platform called Wren — and only the name may be fictitious:

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