Scott Simon

One year ago, the coronavirus outbreak was officially named a global pandemic, and our ordinary routines came to a sudden halt.

We have lost so many lives, each of them irreplaceable; and so many millions have lost their livelihoods and have had to live in deprivation and fear. The coronavirus has intensified the sharp inequality in America, in which the poor, and old, and Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people are at the greatest risk.

The narrator of Layla Alammar's new novel Silence is a Sense is a journalist who can't kick the habit. She's escaped the Syrian civil war and now lives in an apartment block in the UK where she looks at neighbors through her window: South Tower A, second floor. She sees the father who always forgets his key card. East Tower, third floor is the guy who barely turns on his lights and melts cheese on toast.

Kyal Sin was clear-eyed as she prepared to take part in protests this week against the military regime in Myanmar. The teenage girl wrote down her blood type in a Facebook post, should she be injured; and asked that her organs be donated should she die.

Her nickname was Angel.

If you're fortunate enough to have a job in this pandemic, what's fun after a day of Zoom conferences where people bark, "Am I on mute?"

If you live in the liveliest city on earth, what about an effervescent evening of Zoom conferences, where you can hear candidates for mayor of New York bark, "Am I on mute?"

Stocks, bonds, bitcoin or baseball cards?

In the midst of all the losses of this pandemic, prices for collectible baseball cards seem to be ... outta here.

A mint-condition 1952 Mickey Mantle card has sold for $5.2 million; a Mike Trout card for $3.9 million.

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Iram Parveen Bilal's new film "I'll Meet You There" opens with scenes that depict two of the worlds 17-year-old Dua navigates as she grows up on the bustling South Asian Devon Avenue neighborhood on the north side of Chicago.

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Alexei Navalny wore a dark sweatshirt and a wry smile as he stood in a glass box in a Moscow courtroom this week and was sentenced to two years and eight months in a prison colony for failing to keep a parole appointment.

"This is how it works," Navalny said from behind the glass. "Imprison one person to frighten millions."

He couldn't keep that appointment last Dec. 29 because he was in Berlin, recovering from being poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok — as certified by doctors and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

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We had some special guests turn up at our editorial meeting earlier this week. Not BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music.

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EVIE STONE, BYLINE: Are you looking at the screen, D (ph)?

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The day after the military in Myanmar seized power, people opened their doors and windows. They banged pots and pans in protest. Anger over the military's detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other elected leaders is growing, and people seem to be growing bolder. Doctors and government workers are on strike. The state has imposed a near-total Internet blackout and banned access to social media.

Reporter Michael Sullivan joins us now from neighboring Chiang Rai, Thailand, where the Internet is working. Michael, thanks for being with us.

Should the 2022 Winter Olympic Games be held in Beijing? The games are set to open one year from now, coronavirus permitting.

A coalition of human rights groups has called on the International Olympic Committee to move the games out of Beijing. The IOC says it will not. Political figures in several Western democracies have even suggested their countries may boycott the games.

A year ago, who would have thought 78-year-old Joe Biden would be sworn in this week as president?

He had just finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses. He would soon finish fifth in the New Hampshire primary. He was derided as old, out-of-touch, an elderly, silvery centrist who said screwball things, as when he told a crowd, "Folks, I can tell you I've known eight presidents, three of them intimately."

I have interviewed some truly hateful people. It's part of what we have to do in the news business.

When I first got to know Neil Sheehan, he was going through trying times. We were war correspondents of different generations and I was in awe of the intrepid reporter of the Vietnam conflict, first for United Press International, then The New York Times. He was the first to get his hands on the leak of official documents that became known as the Pentagon Papers, which revealed how U.S. government officials had lied to the American people about the Vietnam War.

A new federal health care rule will require hospitals to publicly post prices for every service they offer and break down those prices by component and procedure. The idea behind the Transparency in Coverage rule is to let patients choose where to go, taking price into consideration.

The copyright on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby expired on the first stroke of 2021 and the book entered the public domain.

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all o'er the house
Stirred the clicking — most frantic — of every mouse
All the stockings were hung by the TV with flair
But children played on apps in their rooms without care
Sneaking smart-phones and laptops right into their beds
While visions of going viral danced in their heads
When out on the street there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter
When what to my wandering eyes did appear
An electric sleigh, without any reindeer

Another holiday tradition will be missed because of the pandemic this year. "The Nutcracker" is not being performed before many live audiences in America.

Not by the New York City Ballet, The Joffrey in Chicago, or companies in Atlanta, Boston, Austin, Milwaukee, Sacramento and Philadelphia. That may spare a number of gingerbread soldiers and mice. But the cancellation of so many presentations of Tchaikovsky's ballet strikes at the heart of the health of dance companies and the arts across America.

The power of a president to pardon people for crimes has always been controversial. Some early American leaders thought it smacked too much of royalty.

But Alexander Hamilton argued the law should have avenues for mercy, or "justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel." He thought one person was more likely to use such power with conscience than a committee.

This story was edited for radio by Martha Ann Overland.

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You know, we could all use a good companion these days. A dog - but they shed. A cat - but they scratch. How about a snail?

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Snails are so hot right now.

William Butler Yeats wrote "The Second Coming" a hundred years ago, when the world seemed on the verge. Perhaps like now, perhaps like many years.

The losses of the First World War were still overwhelming when millions more began to die in the waves of a flu pandemic, which infected Yeats's wife, Georgie Hyde-Lees, while she was pregnant. She and their child would survive.

Yeats's poem was published in November 1920. And over the century since, perhaps no poem has been more invoked for vexing times, to convey, in Yeats's own incomparable words, that:

To open a book by Jan Morris is like popping the cork on a bottle of champagne: pop, fizz, then bubbles of delight.

She climbed with Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on Mt. Everest, covered wars across deserts, and wrote dozens of books, including the Pax Britannica trilogy — her at once lyrical and irreverent history of the British Empire — fine novels, and scores of essays about the world's great cities. Listen to, or savor, her description of Hong Kong, just before the handover from British to Chinese control:

We don't know when this will all be over. Those may be the hardest words to hear.

We spend most of our lives planning around calendars and clocks, schedules, seasons, schooldays, holidays, ETAs, projections and informed predictions.

I try not to compare any other tests in life to war. But because I've covered wars and conflicts, I think I recognize what many people in places like Sarajevo, Asmara, or Afghanistan always told me: it is not just the danger, but the uncertainty of not knowing when a crisis, the hardship, loss, and peril, will be over.

Evidence of election rigging has roiled New Zealand's "Bird of the Year" competition after a case of ballot-box stuffing has threatened to derail avian democracy.

Suspicion began when organizers received more than 1,500 votes sent from the same email address early Monday — each vote was in favor of the little spotted kiwi (kiwi pukupuku), according to a statement from Forest & Bird, a conservation organization that runs the election.

Does it still pay to "follow the money" in politics? Some of the campaigns that raised the most money in the 2020 elections still lost.

Jaime Harrison's campaign for the Senate in South Carolina raised more than $107 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money — $40 million more than his incumbent Republican opponent, Lindsey Graham.

Mr. Harrison lost.

You never know where an act of kindness ends.

Tara Berliski of Magnolia, Texas, offered to donate a kidney to her husband, John Berliski. His were removed in July because of polycystic kidney disease. Doctors at the Houston Methodist Hospital living donor program explained that because John Berliski has type AB blood, he could receive a kidney from almost any donor. But if John and Tara Berliski chose to enter a kidney swap program, they might be able to help someone else, too; someone else might help them.

Sam Smith is known for their soulful voice and its satin falsetto. But the singer's lyrics, whether in a ballad or a bop, aren't just about loving or losing others: They're also about the love of the genuine, the true, the self. The artist joined NPR's Scott Simon to talk about their new album, Love Goes, out Oct. 30. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

There's a controversy in Gloucester County, New Jersey, that began at a football game on October 4. The national anthem was about to be played when the running back for the Gibbstown Falcons told his coach, Rashad Thomas, "I want to kneel."

Coach Thomas told his running back, "I'll kneel with you." An assistant coach joined them. Coach Thomas told his players that no one had to kneel, but soon the whole team had joined them, and held hands. They were teammates.

In the torrent of news this week, one line especially pierced me: "Interactions may be less positive when they become artificial."

It comes from researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and the Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Austria, who compared the vital signs of 28 cows as they were petted while listening to a live human voice, and those same cows being petted while they heard merely a recording. They published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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