All Things Considered

Weekdays at 4 pm
  • Hosted by Peter Biello, Melissa Block, Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish

Every weekday, local host, Peter Biello, and national hosts Melissa Block, Michele Norris, and Robert Siegel present two hours of breaking news mixed with compelling analysis, insightful commentaries, interviews, and special -- sometimes quirky -- features from NHPR and NPR.

If you're looking for the reasons for unrest in Morocco, you can find some answers while zipping along in a golf cart at a resort in the historic town of Marrakech.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has been in the news because of its clash with Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

But another aspect of Komen's activities hasn't received much attention: Komen's position on research using human embryonic stem cells.

Despite raising millions of dollars for breast cancer research, Komen hasn't funded any of this work, prompting questions about whether that decision is rooted in politics.

R.I. Student Draws Ire Over School Prayer Challenge

Feb 7, 2012

There are not many 16-year-olds who take a police escort to school, but until recently, Jessica Ahlquist was one of them.

An atheist, Ahlquist sued the city of Cranston, R.I., over a banner hanging in the auditorium of her high school, Cranston High School West. Printed on the banner, a longtime feature at the school, is a prayer to "Our Heavenly Father."

In January, a federal judge ordered the banner removed. The school board is expected to decide Thursday whether to appeal.

(Note: This is a post about obscenity. Proceed with caution if the subject bothers you.)

We've got one more thing to say about "the bird" and singer M.I.A.'s flipping of her middle finger on national TV during Sunday's halftime show at the Super Bowl.

Super Bass: Can You Hit This Note?

Feb 7, 2012

Calling all basses: Decca Records is on the hunt for someone who can sing a low E, nearly three octaves below middle C. The note is featured in a new piece called De Profundis (Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord — Psalm) by the Welsh composer Paul Mealor.

I'm really attracted to the depths of the human spectrum," Mealor tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "We're seeking to find the person that can sing the lowest note ever written in choral music — and not just that note, but the solo in this piece for bass solo and choir. So we're looking for someone very special."

Dennis Potter says he started doing meth when he was 16. Two years later, he learned how to make it.

"It's so easy," he says. "Any person can do it. You can go to Walgreens, Home Depot and Wal-Mart, and they sell every bit of the ingredients."

Roger Boisjoly was a booster rocket engineer at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol in Utah in January, 1986, when he and four colleagues became embroiled in the fatal decision to launch the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Boisjoly was also one of two confidential sources quoted by NPR three weeks later in the first detailed report about the Challenger launch decision, and the stiff resistance by Boisjoly and other Thiokol engineers.

According to the libertarian social scientist Charles Murray, America is "coming apart at the seams." Class strain has cleaved society into two groups, he argues in his new book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010: an upper class, defined by educational attainment, and a new lower class, characterized by the lack of it. Murray also posits that the new "lower class" is less industrious, less likely to marry and raise children in a two-parent household, and more politically and socially disengaged

So-called helicopter parents first made headlines on college campuses a few years ago, when they began trying to direct everything from their children's course schedules to which roommate they were assigned.

With millennial children now in their 20s, more helicopter parents are showing up in the workplace, sometimes even phoning human resources managers to advocate on their child's behalf.

Megan Huffnagle, a former human resources manager at a Denver theme park, recalls being shocked several years ago when she received a call from a young job applicant's mother.

Just three days after announcing it would no longer fund cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, the pink-ribboned breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure abruptly reversed course today. But the Komen foundation's actions still leave many questions unanswered — not to mention a public relations challenge.

Federal prosecutors say they have dropped its doping case against seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. For two years, prosecutors looked into allegations that Armstrong and his United States Postal squad used performance-enhancing drugs.

The AP reports:

"In a press release, United States Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. says the case has been closed but didn't disclose the reason for the decision.

When he was 30 years old, David Finch's wife, Kristen, sat him down and asked him a series of odd questions:

"Do you notice patterns in things all the time?"

"Do people comment on your unusual mannerisms and habits?

"Do you feel tortured by clothes tags, clothes that are too tight or made in the 'wrong material'?"

"Do you sometimes have an urge to jump over things?"

David's answers to all of these questions — and more than 100 others — was an emphatic yes.

The Mona Lisa's Twin Painting Discovered

Feb 2, 2012

The Mona Lisa is one of the most enigmatic and iconic pieces of Western art. It has inspired countless copies, but one replica at the Madrid's Museo del Prado is generating its own buzz: conservators say that it was painted at the same time as the original — and possibly by one of the master's pupils, perhaps even a lover.

Yes, we're a nation of cheese-eaters. We load it onto pizza, layer it in burritos, sprinkle it on salads, and slap it on sandwiches.

In fact, we eat about 31 pounds of it per person each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimates. That's nearly triple the amount Americans were eating in 1970.

But is cheese the true culprit behind flabby thighs and paunchy bellies?

For any Ani DiFranco fan amazed by her one fine album a year between 1995 and 1999, the many albums she put out in the '00s just weren't up to par. So her new record, Which Side Are You On?, comes as a surprise and a tremendous relief.

The first words out of her mouth are the most striking she's uttered on record in over a decade. The opening track, "Life Boat," is sung in the voice of a homeless woman who's pretty jaunty, considering:

The path to international fame as a poet generally doesn't involve writing short poems about sea cucumbers. Yet for the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, who won the Nobel Prize in 1996 and died Wednesday, the little things — onions, cats, monkeys, and yes, sea cucumbers — turned out to be very big indeed.

A popular writer in Poland for many years, Szymborska became a reluctant international literary celebrity after her Nobel win.

S'il-Vous-Plait: Raising Your 'Bebe' The French Way

Feb 1, 2012

When her first child was born, Pamela Druckerman expected to spend the next several years frantically meeting her daughter's demands. In the U.S., after all, mealtimes, living rooms and sleep schedules typically turn to chaos as soon as a baby arrives. That's the reason one friend of mine used to refer to his child as a "destroying angel."

At 75, many people imagine they'll be retired and spending their time playing cards or on a golf course. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of working seniors is actually on the rise. In fact, it's more than doubled since 1990.

Ella Washington decided to go back to work at 83. Today, she's a receptionist in training at a senior living home outside Washington, D.C. She's hoping it will be a stepping stone to a real job, which she's been looking for since 2005.

Rachel Gotbaum / NHPR

New Hampshire has one of the worst prescription drug abuse problems in the country. The state now ranks 5th in the nation for percentage of residents who abuse medications such as percocet, vicodin, and oxycodone, according to the Federal Centers for Disease Control. The problem is especially alarming among young people. New Hampshire has the second highest rate of 18-25 year olds who abuse prescription drugs in the nation.

Danielle Fiore , 24, says she was addicted to painkillers for most of her childhood.

"I had fractured my ankle and I was prescribed vicodin and it felt good. I was ten or eleven," she says. "As time went on I would get something else hurt or a toothache or something and I would get more painkillers. I have a bunch of teeth missing because I would complain and get them pulled so I would get pain killers."

Currently New Hampshire has no prescription drug monitoring program. The program, which is up and running in 48 other states, is initially funded through federal grants. The proposal to create a centralized prescription database that doctors and law enforcement could check to track so called "doctor shoppers" has been defeated several times in the state Legislature. A new bill is now being considered this session and its sponsor Senator Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, is hopeful that there is enough support for a statewide prescription monitoring program this time. He cites the growing number of overdose deaths in the state from prescription drugs. In the last decade overdose deaths from these medications have more than tripled.

Powered by Tableau

Data source: NH Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

"There are more people dying because of abuse of prescription drugs that are legal than automobile accidents, he says. "We ought to have a tool to try to sort out the legal use of these drugs and the appropriate use and those that aren’t."

For those who oppose a statewide prescription drug database privacy is a major issue. Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, says such a program goes against the Granite State's core philosophy.

 "This is New Hampshire, this is the 'Live Free or Die' state, " says Kurk.  "One of the major reasons this bill has not been adopted is because most people feel it’s the independent philosophy,  personal responsibility philosophy that prevails and that government should be small and not interfere with people’s lives."

Many of the state's independent pharmacists are also against a monitoring program because they worry they will end up footing the bill. The database would be drawn from pharmacy records. Rick Newman, a lobbyist for the New Hampshire Independent Pharmacy Association, says the small business people he represents will be end up carrying the burden of the costs of such a database.

"I can’t sit here as anyone with any kind of intelligence and disagree that’s there's a problem with people abusing prescription drugs in this country, of course there is," says Newman. "The question becomes whose burden is that? We can’t pass laws to put the burden on the small business person because they happen to be one part of the pipeline."

Emergency room doctors and those that treat pain say they are often confronted by patients who may be faking symptoms to get narcotics for their addiction or to sell on the street.

"I want people who have legitimate pain to get the proper pain medications that they need," say Dr. David Heller, an emergency room physician at Portsmouth Hospital.  "But I don’t want to feed somebody’s addiction and I don’t want to write a prescription for drugs that are going to be sold to my kids or my kid's friends."

When Joshua Bell was 21, he recorded an iconic piece of chamber music for piano and violin — the Sonata in A major by Cesar Franck. Today, Bell is 44 and he's recorded it again. It's on his new album, French Impressions, with pianist Jeremy Denk.

All Things Considered host Robert Siegel invited Bell to listen to his old recording for a little session of compare-and-contrast.

"Do you hear the same violinist?" Siegel asks, after playing for Bell the opening bars of his 1989 recording.

courtesy New Hampshire High Tech Council

A planetarium on your flat-screen monitor. Streaming music from an iPad all over the house. And a germ-fighting mask for health care first responders dealing with an outbreak of disease.

Those are some a few of the finalists in the New Hampshire High Tech Council’s Product of the Year award, which will be presented tonight at an event in Manchester.

Sara Plourde/NHPR

"If I would've finished that flight I would have come home to sell war bonds," says Herman "Herk" Streitburger of Bedford.  That last flight did not go as planned; instead, the B24 Liberator Bomber on which he served as gunner was shot down, and as he puts it, Herk became a guest of the German government for about a year.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/auvet/4864672208/in/photostream/" target="blank">jimmywayne</a> via Flickr/Creative Commons

The phrase “first in the nation” is the shorthand we use for talking about the New Hampshire presidential primary coming before any other.

New Hampshire is first among states in other ways, too. Some are good – like having the lowest rate of child poverty among states. Some are not so good – like having the highest student debt load in America.

Herman Cain and Mitt Romney, the two current front-runners in the Republican presidential race, spoke in Washington on Friday at a conference for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

Their speeches came as a new Washington Post-ABC poll found they're running almost even among Republican voters. And on Friday, the two candidates underscored the differences in their appeal to activists.

timsackton / Flickr/Creative Commons

It takes a lot of effort, determination, and bravery to come to a new country as a refugee and learn not only a new language but a new culture.

One could compare it to climbing a mountain.

A Manchester resident is going to climb a few mountains himself to raise money for the city’s refugees.

Starting tomorrow, Dan Szczesny aims to climb New Hampshire’s 4000 foot peaks… all 48 of them… in a month.

But first he joins us in the studio to talk about the project.

[Spoiler alert: This review gives away some elements of the story.]

When a friend gave me Merce Rodoreda's Death in Spring, he told me it would blow my mind. Ten pages in, I doubted his claim.

The book begins when the narrator, a 14-year-old boy from a small mountain village, slips into a cold, sometimes savage river to escape a bee. His swim is interspersed with descriptions of his isolated community, with its pink painted homes and wisteria vines that "over the years, upwrenched houses."

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