This soulful song won NPR's 2020 Tiny Desk Contest: 'Green Tea Ice Cream' by Linda Diaz

It's easy to understand why singer/songwriter Linda Diaz's deeply soulful "Green Tea Ice Cream" won NPR's 2020 Tiny Desk Contest:

Diaz is a singer and songwriter from New York City, and her winning entry, "Green Tea Ice Cream," has a powerful message and euphoric sound. To me, Diaz's song is about slowing down and trying to find moments to enjoy life. Hearing her sing the line, "you should be living out your dreams / but you're tearing at the seams" seemed particularly poignant this year as we're all struggling to find balance in our lives.

Diaz's compelling entry and captivating stage presence left a mark on our other judges, too. "Linda stood out in a crop of thousands of talented musicians, but I knew early on that she was the one to beat," Tiny Desk producer and Contest judge Bobby Carter said. "Her tone, her message and the band's overall musical presentation were simply undeniable." Carter was so impressed with Diaz's entry early on that he interviewed her in the very first episode of Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf.

Judges Tarik Moody of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee and Tiny Desk alumna Gina Chavez agreed that we all needed Diaz's entry this year. "It was meditative and reminded me to take care of myself during this craziness that is 2020," Moody said. Chavez added, "If harmonies are medicine, then Linda Diaz is a salve for the soul."

Linda writes:

This song is about finding and honoring your passions/peace in a society that values you based on your productivity.

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Listen to the original NPR radio drama adaptations of the first STAR WARS trilogy

In my 90s childhood Star Wars obsession, I remember hearing a lot about the fabled NPR radio drama adaptations (read: "podcast") of the original trilogy. They were supposed to be canonical, in-as-much as they were Lucas-approved stories that expanded on the familiar ones we already knew.

Now, someone has finally compiled them all on YouTube (although apparently you can find the MP3s on Archive.org as well). And wow, they are expanded — the A New Hope radio drama is 13 hours long!

It's quite a stark departure from the movies I'm used to. The first chapter focuses exclusively on Luke, and highlights his relationships with his friends at Tosche Station — Cammie, Fixer, Deke, and the OG prodigal son, Biggs Darklighter (there's a version of some of this material floating as a deleted scene, but it's not nearly as expansive as this). Chapter Two turns more attention to Leia and her relationship with her father, as well as the information that lead them to the Death Star plans in the first place. It's not even until the third chapter that we get to the opening scene of the movie (that's as far as I've listened yet). It definitely conflicts with the newly established canon, especially Rogue One, but I'm enjoying the experience of re-discovering this world in a different format, with different and exciting details filling out the edges. I'm eager to find out what other ancillary characters might get more of a spotlight treatment here.

From the editor who posted these compilations on YouTube:

I have combined all episodes of the original radio drama using excerpts from John Williams' original soundtrack and Ben Burt's sound effects for a more seamless blending from one episode to the next.

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How the United States re-branded as "America"

NPR's Throughline had a great recent episode about what's essentially the branding of the American Empire. Host Rund Abdelfatah speaks with Daniel Immerwahr, a history professor at Northwestern University, who the changing ways that America has identified itself over the years.

I always found it kind of strange to say "America" (even though I do it), as it also refers to two entire continents. And I've similarly found it interesting when I hear Europeans refer to the country as "the States." But Immerwahr took things a step further, and traced the history of self-reference through American presidential speeches. Prior to 1898 — the time of our rarely-mentioned war with Spain, which saw American expansionism grow beyond the continental borders and into the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba and so on — it was rare to hear a President refer to the country as "America." It could be the Republic, or the Union, or the United States, sometimes even Columbia or Freedonia (like "land of the free people," yes that was apparently a real thing at one time).

Immerwahr smartly connects this to curiosity to the country's intrinsic relationship (and subsequent, neverending identity crises) with imperialism. We were founded on conquered land, and though we aspired to be a union of independent nation-states with open borders and shared currency, that never actually happened. The "free" people of the United States distinguished themselves from the black slaves who tilled their fields, and the various Native American nations with whom they sometimes shared the land. Read the rest

Sesame Street Muppets perform at NPR's Tiny Desk

Oh my heart. The Muppets of Sesame Street had their own Tiny Desk concert!

NPR's Bob Boilen:

The news has stopped! Count von Count and the NPR kids count us down: 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1!

And there they are at the Tiny Desk: Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Rosita, Abby Cadabby and Cookie Monster, all singing about a sunny day and how everything is A-OK. The Sesame Street crew — including Elmo, Grover and other surprise guests — visited NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C., to celebrate Sesame Street's 50 years of teaching the world its A-B-Cs, its 1-2-3s, how to be kind and how to be proud, all while spreading love and joy.

Sesame Street has won more major awards than any other group to play the Tiny Desk, including 11 Grammys and 192 Emmys. There was a lot of love as the cast of Sesame Street got to meet NPR hosts and newscasters, who in turn got to geek out meeting their favorite Muppets and the creators behind the felt and fur. These folks include Matt Vogel, Sesame Street's puppet captain and performer, and music director Bill Sherman.

I even got to sing with Grover. And I'll also say, on a personal note, that this may well have been the hardest-working, most dedicated group of performers I've ever worked with. I'm so proud of these Muppets and so happy to celebrate all that they've meant to the world for these 50 years.

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Bundyville: a bingeable new podcast that delves into the apocalyptic cult of Cliven Bundy

For many of us, the Cliven Bundy story started when a fringey rancher got a bunch of his militia pals to flex their white privilege by threatening to shoot federal law enforcement officers who'd demanded that Bundy stop stealing public land and grazing; then Bundy's loathsome offspring led a terrorist takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. Read the rest

Service animal registries being built to root out fakes

The Air Carrier Access Act, written back in 1986, was kind of lazy in how it defined ‘what a service animals is, to the point where almost anything goes. As such, there’s been a whole lot of folks of late bringing their animals on board of airplanes claiming that they’re emotional support animals. This peacock is an example of that sort of thing. Maybe some help calm their owners on what would be a harrowing in-air experience, without them. But for individuals with verifiable medical conditions who have been given specially-trained psychiatric service animals to help them better navigate their lives, it’s a serious pain in the ass.

With travelers and airlines alike getting tired of people attempting to bring their ‘comfort’ and ‘support’ animals on flights with them, the idea of bringing along an animal for legitimate medical reasons, even one that comes with documentation from a doctor or mental health professional, can cause a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. That’s not OK. It’s a problem that can be especially prevalent with veterans afflicted with PTSD. Many rely on their service dogs to ground them during a flashback, make them feel like someone is watching their back in public places or wake them from reoccurring nightmares. It's not the sort of tool that you want to leave at home when you travel.

Thanks to a pair of new registries currently in development, the epidemic of false service animals that’s cropped up in the news of late could come to an end while, at the same time, helping those with a legitimate medical need to have their prescribed pooches with them on a flight do so, with less hassle. Read the rest

Enjoy this delightful live mini-concert from Superorganism

Hipster quirkcore band Superorganism recorded this delightful live performance replete with sounds made by toy cars, apples, and soda cans. Read the rest

Soldier destroys Humvees with the power of gravity

I don't know about you, but back when I was working a nine-to-five gig that forced me to wear pants and show up on time, I had days at work where I wanted nothing more than to knock everything off my desk and set the office on fire. I'm betting it's a feeling that former U.S. Army Sergeant John T. Skipper can relate to.

During a training exercise back in 2016, Sgt. Skipper, now a former member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, decided that he'd totally be into finding out what happens to a Humvee when its parachute straps are tampered with during a tactical airdrop from a C-130 Hercules.

The answer: As this YouTube video captured by spectators on the ground illustrates, nothing good. However, the premise that a vehicle that reaches terminal velocity during a fall will be destroyed on impact with the ground can't be taken as gospel. An experiment has to be repeated, with the same result, for it to become a fact that you can rely on. So, apparently in the name of Science, Skipper cut the straps on not one, but three Humvees during the course of the exercise.

This past week, Sgt. Skipper was court-martialled for his dabblings with gravity. As a result, he was convicted of three counts of destroying military property with a value of more than $500 and providing a false official statement. "More than $500" is an understatement. While you can buy a well-loved Humvee at auction for a few grand, these days, the ones still in service, or bought new, have an estimated worth of starting at around $70,000. Read the rest

Very cute hedgehogs announce NPR's Tiny Desk Concert contest

Hedgehogs dream of musical glory in these charming announcements for NPR's annual Tiny Desk Concert competition. Read the rest

Gothamist unionized and its evil Trumpist billionaire owner shut it down; now public radio is bringing it back

Last November, evil Trump-supporting billionaire Joe Ricketts shut down Gothamist (and its sister sites) to punish its staff for forming a union. Read the rest

NPR top news editor accused of sexual harassment by multiple women

“The worst part of my whole encounter with Oreskes [was] the fact that he utterly destroyed my ambition,” says one victim.

Michael Oreskes is now NPR’s Senior Vice President of news. He is accused by two women of sexual harassment dating back a number of years, including “unwanted physical contact with them” while he was employed by another news organization “nearly two decades ago.” Read the rest

Trumplings triggered by NPR's July 4 tweets of the Declaration of Independence

NPR celebrated July 4 by tweeting the Declaration of Independence, one line at a time: when they got to "A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people," America's fragile right-wing broflakes went berserk, unhinged by reality's well-known liberal bias. Read the rest

Podcasts we love: NPR's 'Invisibilia' uncovers invisible truths

One of the things I love about long summer weekends is catching up on podcasts and filling my mind with something other than bummer political news. The third season of NPR's most popular podcast, Invisibilia, just launched, and I'm really enjoying it.

One of their latest episodes is about the minds of dogs. You should subscribe. Read the rest

Check out Tank and the Bangas, 2017 NPR Tiny Desk contest winners

Six thousand musicians entered NPR's Tiny Desk Concert competition, but this year's unanimous winner was Tank and the Bangas for this delightful jam. Read the rest

Podcasts, positivism and "explainerism"

David A Banks argues that the boom in NPR explainer podcasts -- Radiolab, Note to Self, Hidden Brain, Freakonomics Radio and others -- are ideologically bankrupt, presenting individual, often neurological explanations for social phenomena -- rather than turning to the traditional social science accounts of these issues, so that the weird, broken, messed up things in our world are the result of our human "hardwiring" rather than the outgrowth of policies and ideology. Read the rest

Senate investigates Wells Fargo retaliations against whistleblowers

One after another, ex-Wells Fargo employees have come forward to reveal that when they blew the whistle of millions of frauds committed against the bank's customers, the bank's management fired them and blackballed them from the banking industry for life, by falsifying claims of wrongdoing on a semi-secret list of corrupt bankers that is consulted by the industry before they make new hires. Read the rest

Hard work and lower standards raise our national high school graduation rate

Nationally the High School graduation rate has been on the rise. NPR reports the rise is due to a combination of hard work that benefits students, and some states simply lowering standards so they earn passing grades.

Via NPR:

While the graduation rate continues to climb, the improvement comes at a time when the scores of high school students on the test known as the "Nation's Report Card," are essentially flat, and average scores on the ACT and SAT are down.

As we've reported, the rising graduation rate reflects genuine progress, such as closing high schools termed "dropout factories," but also questionable strategies by states and localities to increase their numbers.

"For many students, a high school diploma is not a passport to opportunity, it's a ticket to nowhere," says Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, a national nonprofit that's long advocated for higher standards and graduation requirements.

Cohen points out that roughly half of states now offer multiple diplomas. Some of those credentials are rigorous, some aren't. "You don't know how many students who were in that graduation rate actually completed a rigorous course of study. We're not transparent about that. We're concealing a problem."

In many places, the high school graduation exam is also a low bar, Cohen says, while some states have dropped it altogether.

Just last month, in a major school funding ruling, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher excoriated his state for watered down graduation standards that, he says, have already resulted "in unready children being sent to high school, handed degrees, and left, if they can scrape together the money, to buy basic skills at a community college."

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