Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio was first performed in Leipzig on Christmas Day in 1734. In Germany, no matter what the economic and political times, it's the Christmas work. In the oldest functioning church in Berlin, the 13th-century Saint Mary's, performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio is a fixed tradition.
School funding in Texas is in turmoil. State lawmakers slashed more than $4 billion from education this school year — one of the largest cuts in state history — and more than 12,000 teachers and support staff have been laid off.
Academic programs and transportation have been cut to the bone. Promising reforms are on hold or on the chopping block. Next year, the cuts could go even deeper.
Any discussion of Newt Gingrich's journey to Catholicism begins with his wife.
"I have always been a very spiritual person," Callista Gingrich told the Christian Broadcasting Network this year. "I start each day with a prayer, and pray throughout the day, because I am grateful for the many blessings that God has bestowed upon us."
In Pakistan, transit routes for NATO supply trucks heading to Afghanistan remain shut. The CIA drone missile program has gone quiet in Pakistan's tribal area. Pakistan's government has called for a re-negotiation of its troubled relationship with the U.S.
All of this is fallout from an attack on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border last month in which NATO fire from helicopter gunships killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
With his pipe, deerstalker hat and formidable "methods," Sherlock Holmes may be the most recognizable face of the Victorian mystery story. But how does he stack up against Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin, who pioneered deductive reasoning? Or quicksilver Violet Strange, debutante by day, intrepid sleuth by night?
Originally published on Thu December 22, 2011 2:09 pm
Stumping in New Hampshire on Wednesday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney revealed a bit about his strategies for staying in shape on the campaign trail.
"Hey, I heard you pull the cheese off your pizza to stay thin. Is that true?" asked a woman at Village Pizza in Newport, N.H., in the southwestern part of the state, where the Romney bus tour had made a stop.
"You know, on occasion, but on the campaign trail you need all the calories you can get," laughed Romney.
"And do you run three miles a day like they say?" she asked.
The ShoulderFlex massager looks harmless enough. But don't be fooled.
The Food and Drug Administration is warning people not to use the product because it could kill or injure them. There were reports of one person being strangled by the device and another near-death by strangulation, the FDA says.
Clothing, hair and jewelry can get tangled up in the device's rotating parts. And that's a recipe for trouble.
Originally published on Thu December 22, 2011 6:35 am
Any day now it will arrive stamped by the Royal Mail: a truly homemade Christmas pudding from my family in England.
My mother always made Christmas puddings. And before moving to the U.S., I would make two or three puddings every November, too. Now it's my sister and brother-in-law who keep up the tradition. They use a mid-Victorian recipe handed down to my brother-in-law's father by his mother, the former Miss Mortlock. She was a Quaker so these are teetotal puddings.
Tintin — star of a series of vintage Belgian comics that have sold hundreds of millions of copies in dozens of languages — is a crime-fighting boy journalist who specializes in solving riddles with the assistance of his intrepid dog, Snowy.
The year began on a note of cautious optimism on the Iran nuclear front. But talks in Geneva and Istanbul proved inconclusive, and the Arab Spring uprisings soon pushed Iran off center stage. And as 2012 approaches, observers see little reason for optimism regarding a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear dispute.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, under attack from other conservative factions at home, continues to find a safe rhetorical haven in defending Iran's nuclear program — and in attacking the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
As Greece struggles with a financial crisis, there have been violent protests, creditors demanding their money, people losing their jobs and officials hunkering down.
A decade ago, that was the scene in South America when Argentina and Uruguay defaulted. The two handled the economic calamity in very different ways. Economists say their approaches — and what's happened in each country since — are instructive for European leaders as they try lifting Greece from its turmoil.
More than 40 percent of the long-term unemployed say they've received a lot of help from family and friends. But only 1 in 10 reports getting much help from churches or community groups, according to an NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
While family may be the first stop for help, these groups say they're indeed seeing large numbers of people who have been out of work a long time.
Ken Harbaugh is a former Navy pilot and an NPR commentator.
Our Christmas tree gets uglier every year. It's not the tree's fault. This year we sprung for a Fraser fir, cut fresh at a local farm. It has soft needles, that ideal pine-cone shape, and a pointy top perfect for holding a star. But when we got home, I felt like apologizing. This tree did not deserve what we were about to do. We re-cut the bottom, mounted it in its holder, and gave it water. For about five minutes, our tree looked beautiful. Then came the decorations.
Originally published on Wed December 21, 2011 3:18 pm
The Justice Department is calling it the "largest residential fair lending settlement in history:" Bank of America's Countrywide Financial has agreed to pay $335 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed it discriminated against black and Latino borrowers.
A European court ruled Wednesday that airlines flying into and out of European airports will have to pay a price for the carbon dioxide they emit when they burn jet fuel.
U.S. airlines, which had been fighting the idea in court, say the European Union is trying to force other countries to reduce carbon emissions. Europe currently limits carbon dioxide emissions from its major industries to curb global warming. The ruling cannot be appealed, and the decision likely to end the dispute.
New regulations issued by the Obama administration will force the country's coal- and oil-fired power plants to reduce the emission of pollutants such as arsenic and mercury or shut down.
In a statement, the Environmental Protection Agency said the new standards "will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution and provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance."
Abuse in nursing homes and suspicious deaths among seniors often go undetected because postmortem examinations are becoming few and far between.
Earlier this year, an NPR News investigation found that many jurisdictions stopped doing autopsies on people who died over the age of 60, unless it was obvious that a violent death occurred. A lack of resources, both financial and staffing, was often to blame.
Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts made a point of calling Ted Kennedy's old U.S. Senate seat the "people's seat," and he won it in large part by casting himself as the opposite of that glamorous and privileged dynasty.
Brown won in a special election in 2010. Now, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor and Wall Street watchdog, is raising Democrats' hopes they can win the seat back. Just months after announcing her first-ever candidacy, polls show Warren pulling out ahead of Brown.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on Kurdish athorities to turn over Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who sought refuge in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
While North Korean mourners trudged through snow in Pyongyang to pay last respects to their "Dear Leader," defectors from the North now in South Korea are celebrating the sudden death of Kim Jong Il, who died from a heart attack this past weekend.
And as the outside world tries to figure out how much control his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, has over the nuclear-armed state, the defectors are focusing on trying to kickstart a revolution in North Korea.
In a statement from the president's press secretary, the United States called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to stop killing protesters.
"The United States is deeply disturbed by credible reports that the Assad regime continues to indiscriminately kill scores of civilians and army defectors, while destroying homes and shops and arresting protesters without due process," Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
There's a reason why Asian dishes often taste so different from the typical North American fare: North American recipes rely on flavors that are related, while East Asian cooks go for sharp contrasts.
That's the word from researchers at the University of Cambridge, who used a tool called network analysis to chart the relationship between chemical flavor compounds. They did it to test the widely believed notion that foods with compatible flavors are chemically similar.
Dictators suddenly seem to have a lot less longevity. This year, several of the world's longest-serving autocrats have either died or been ousted from power.
The death of North Korea's Kim Jong Il from heart failure had nothing to do with the Arab uprisings that ousted four leaders who had been in power for decades — Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia.