This is the time of year that either has you humming about a one-horse open sleigh or bah-humbugging the various versions of "Jingle Bells" you've heard in stores, on hold and in commercials. Wherever you reside on the Christmas cheer spectrum, we have something to annoy even those who wear reindeer sweaters.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
(SOUNDBITE OF CIRCUS MUSIC)
SIMON: When the bright lights beam under the Big Top of the Big Apple Circus, Grandma shuffles in. She's got a silver hair, a slow walk, a sly smile, and a purse so huge you think she might have New Jersey somewhere in there. I mean Grandma the Clown.
Lots of comments came in this week about host Scott Simon's remembrance of Laura Nyro. We also heard from several Krampus revelers, who celebrate the Christmas Krampus, a horned, mythical kind of dark sidekick to Santa Claus. Host Scott Simon reads listener reaction to last week's program.
With the Iraq war officially over and the pullout of U.S. forces nearly complete, host Scott Simon talks with Tom Ricks, author of The Best Defense blog, and Jon Lee Anderson from The New Yorker about the most influential turning points of the war.
Gadgets, like cell phone cameras and digital tablets, can turn almost anybody into some kind of amateur journalist. But writer Gwen Thompkins wonders when the amateurs will realize that what the professionals already know - recording an event often stops people from experiencing what's right in front of them.
Coquito, an eggnog made with rum and coconut, is as integral to a Puerto Rican Christmas as presents under the tree.
In New York on Saturday, 12 coquito makers are battling to be this year's Coquito Masters champion. It's the 10th year of the contest. Trolleys will take fans to different locations in Spanish Harlem to sample coquito and vote for their favorite drinks in blind taste tests.
It may be telling that Christopher Hitchens should die in this season. I don't mean the holiday season but a contentious season in Congress and on the campaign trail, with politicians jabbing fingers and accusing each other of inconsistency.
When your grandfather is a bootlegger and your family runs an illegal small-town roadhouse, you must have a lot of stories to tell. Cam Penner does, and he tells them in his music. The Canadian singer-songwriter's latest album is titled Gypsy Summer.
Originally published on Thu December 15, 2011 4:56 pm
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated in cities across Russia today to protest alleged vote-rigging in recent parliamentary elections. Protests reportedly took place in more than 50 cities, but the largest by far was in Moscow. Reporter Peter van Dyk is in Moscow and joins us. Peter, thanks so much for being with us.
PETER VAN DYK, BYLINE: Thank you.
SIMON: You were in the crowds. What were they like?
Most of the names announced for induction to the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame this week are familiar: Guns N' Roses, Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The name Laura Nyro may need some explaining.
She was the daughter of a New York jazz trumpeter, who took her along to his gigs. She sold her first song, And When I Die, to Peter, Paul and Mary for $5,000 when she was just a teenager; left New York's School of Music and Art; and became a star at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival at the age of 20.
Last week, we spoke with artist John Morse. He creates traffic warning signs complete with haikus for the New York City Transportation Department.
JOHN MORSE: (Reading) Cyclist writes screenplay. Plot features bike lane drama. How pedestrian.
SIMON: Michael Haslam, in Bellows Falls, Vermont, asks: Is there a potential downside to the New York City haiku signs for pedestrians and bicyclists? Crossing street downtown, signs catch attention, enthrall; fatal distraction.
European Union leaders completed a marathon of treaty negotiations overnight to address the continent's debt crisis. Host Scott Simon checks in with NPR's Philip Reeves about how this new plan will impact Europe.
While Newt Gingrich may not have universal appeal among Tea Party voters, he seems to be drawing wide support from a key Republican constituency, Christian conservatives. The religious right has significant influence in many early voting states, including Iowa, which has its caucuses coming up on January 3rd.
Anita Desai's new collection of stories, The Artist of Disappearance, reads a bit like three symphonic movements in a minor key. They're three novellas, set in modern India, where the past is giving way. In one story, a government official inspects the forgotten treasures left behind in a fated mansion. In another story, a translator becomes a little too creative; and in the third, a man living in solitude finds his world upset by roving visitors.
"There was no pianist breathing or cueing me," cellist Zuill Bailey says. "The good news is that he was very consistent." Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian adds, "It's absolutely true — it takes a little bit of adjusting."
Bailey and Bayrakdarian are talking about their accompanist: the late — very late — Manuel de Falla, who died in 1946. With the help of new recording technology, the two have performed de Falla's Seven Popular Spanish Songs for a new release, The Spanish Masters.
Back in the 1930s, Boyd Lee Dunlop taught himself to play music on a broken piano left out on the streets of Buffalo, N.Y. Only half the keys worked.
He also taught his little brother Frank to play the drums while they were growing up. Frankie Dunlop went on to record with Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, among other jazz greats. Boyd Lee Dunlop went to work in the steel mills and rail yards of Buffalo, occasionally playing piano at local clubs.
Herman Cain is appearing before his supporters in Georgia now, and NPR's Don Gonyea is going to join us. He's speaking but, in fact, he hasn't reached what we would call the hard news lead to announce whether he's staying in the race for the Republican nomination for president, or getting out. Don, are you there?
And we're going to end with some breaking news today. Moments ago, Herman Cain announced that he is suspending his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Here is what Mr. Cain said moments ago; his wife, Gloria, standing behind him outside of his Georgia campaign headquarters.
HERMAN CAIN: Today, with a lot of prayer and soul searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign.