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After Ebola, Surf's Up Again In Liberia

Feb 6, 2016

"Wait for the next one!" a teenager yells, perched on a shaded rock with a group of his friends.

"That's it, that's it!" cries another, gesturing toward a swelling wave that's gathering speed as it heads toward a surfer about 25 yards offshore. When he lets the wave pass him by, bobbing over its crest on a scuffed board, the group laughs. "Look at him, he's scared."

Nearly six years after its enactment, the Affordable Care Act remains a hot issue in the presidential race – in both parties.

"Our health care is a horror show," said GOP candidate Donald Trump at the Republican debate in South Carolina in December. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, winner of the Iowa caucuses, said at the debate in Des Moines that the health law has been "a disaster," adding it's "the biggest job-killer in our country."

Five pages into A Decent Ride, Irvine Welsh's newest novel, he makes a mention of Sick Boy — one of the main characters from his popular 1993 debut Trainspotting. That doesn't mean A Decent Ride is a sequel to Trainspotting (Welsh already did that with 2002's Porno). Instead, it's yet another visit to Welsh's shared universe of unsavory characters, a universe that sprawls from novel to novel while remaining mostly contained within his hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland.

As the U.S. presidential campaign moves into primary season, America's allies and rivals are starting to pay a lot closer attention to the candidates. That includes Russia, whose relations with the U.S. are at their lowest levels since the Cold War.

So here's a look at the U.S. campaign through the eyes of a couple of Kremlin-friendly analysts:

First of all, do Russians see the current elections as a possibility for improving relations?

Emily Martin created a state-by-state map of the gender wage gap in the United States. She calculated: Washington, D.C., has the smallest wage gap where women average nearly 90 cents to a man's dollar; Louisiana has the largest gap — women there earn just 65 percent of what men do.

Nationally, women earn an average 79 cents for every dollar men do. The gender wage gap is even wider for black and Hispanic women.

You wouldn't think of calling a mosquito "man's best friend." But that's the nickname that biologist Denise Valle uses for Aedes aegypti, the species that's been spreading the Zika virus in Brazil and many other countries in Latin America.

I think "man's best enemy" might be better.

The thing is, this mosquito likes to live near humans.

You could think of this week's meme as the Rorschach test of the Democratic base. Depending on who you ask, it's either light-hearted and fun, or a symbol of gender bias and discrimination.

A major natural gas storage well in Southern California is still leaking, though less so than back in late October, when the giant gas leak was first reported. More than 5,000 families and two schools have been relocated since then, and the local utility that operates the facility is now facing several legal actions.

With the Iowa caucuses in the books, the focus of the political world has shifted to the first-in-the-nation-primary state, New Hampshire. New Hampshire voters, with their contrarian reputation, head to the polls Tuesday. Expect the unexpected.

Here are five things to know about how it all works:

1. Voting is straightforward

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The Jordanian movie Theeb has been nominated for a best foreign language film Oscar. It's a beautiful, sweeping story set in 1916 in an area of western Saudi Arabia then known as the Hejaz. The film's director, Naji Abu Nowar, says Theeb covers a pivotal moment in the region's history.

"The First World War is kicking off ... and the war is coming toward this area of Hejaz," he tells NPR's Kelly McEvers. "The British are ... inciting the Arab tribes to revolt against the Ottoman imperialists. And so you're on the brink of a massive change."

News services say at least 14 people, including a baby and a 40-year-old man, have been killed in an earthquake in Taiwan.

A magnitude 6.4 quake shook the southern city of Tainan just before 4 a.m. local time Saturday. The shallow quake caused severe damage to several large structures, including one residential building where authorities say hundreds live.

NPR's Elise Hu, in Taiwan, tells All Things Considered that residential building was 17 stories tall but collapsed down to the height of about four stories.

Time for the second installment in my playlists for the 2016 election. This time: New Hampshire.

We've already brought you tunes to keep a roving political reporter sane while logging miles in a rental car in Iowa.

On Friday's All Things Considered, I have a story about how a recent federal court ruling is restricting when police may use Tasers in the five Southeastern states covered by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. In a nutshell, police there may no longer shock a nonviolent, noncooperative suspect with a Taser stun gun— even if he is trying to escape custody.

The new movie, Rams, has absolutely nothing to do with Peyton Manning. It's a story from Iceland that involves sheep, snow, a herd-afflicting virus called scrapie, and sufficient sibling rivalry to power a Greek tragedy.

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The jobs numbers are in: 150,000 jobs were added to the economy in January. That's fewer than expected, though the unemployment rate fell to an eight-year low.

President Obama took the opportunity this morning to take a shot at some of his more vocal opponents.

"The United States of America, right now, has strongest, most durable economy in the world," he said. "I know that's still inconvenient for GOP stump speeches, as their 'Doom And Despair' tour plays in New Hampshire — I guess you cannot please everybody."

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With all the recent controversy around the cost of prescription drugs, we got to wondering how exactly do companies decide how much they should charge for a drug? So we asked NPR health policy correspondent Alison Kodjak to look into it.

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Comedian Larry David has emerged this political season as a highlight of "Saturday Night Live" for his impersonation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

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Our co-host, Robert Siegel, has been in New Hampshire all week with the other journalists, pundits and campaign staffers who descend on the state every four years, and he's been captivated by some of the other visitors.

A hole-in-one is a cause for celebration, even (especially?) when a robot does it.

LDRIC, a cleverly named golf robot, aced the par-3 16th hole at Arizona's TPC Scottsdale course earlier this week on just its fifth try.

As you know if you are interacting with American commerce or popular entertainment at the moment, the Super Bowl is this weekend. Stephen Thompson, as he has explained for NPR in the past, has an annual Super Bowl party and chicken-eating contest called Chicken Bowl. This year will be Chicken Bowl XX — that is, Chicken Bowl 20, for those of you who are not Romans.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., had strong words for Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on Thursday regarding the VA's failure to compensate thousands of World War II veterans who were exposed to mustard gas.

Which beer goes with guacamole? And which brew adds a nice clean, crisp finish to spicy wings?

Those are burning questions for anyone who wants to take his snack game to the next level this Super Bowl weekend. And two craft beer experts who wrote the book on pairing have the answers.

OK, Google, Where Did I Put My Thinking Cap?

Feb 5, 2016

Take a look at this question: How do modern novels represent the characteristics of humanity?

If you were tasked with answering it, what would your first step be? Would you scribble down your thoughts — or would you Google it?

Terry Heick, a former English teacher in Kentucky, had a surprising revelation when his eighth- and ninth-grade students quickly turned to Google.

"What they would do is they would start Googling the question, 'How does a novel represent humanity?' " Heick says. "That was a real eye-opener to me."

Last week, Mattel announced that Barbie is getting a makeover. A whole bunch of them, in fact. Now, 33 new Barbie dolls are available for purchase through the website, in three new body types — petite, tall and curvy — and seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 14 "face sculpts." We rounded up some sharp thoughts on this news, ranging from what this means for Mattel's bottom line to whether a widely hyped debut of Barbie's new looks is really a step forward.

There aren't a lot of people who have dined on meat from the Pleistocene, prehistoric humans notwithstanding. That's why accounts of the 1951 Annual Dinner of the Explorers Club, a society of scientific adventurers, all agree that the organizer of the night, Wendell Phillips Dodge, threw the dinner party of the century. Legend has it that Dodge served the meat of a woolly mammoth.

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