6:11am

Sat December 24, 2011
Around the Nation

Secular Opponents Of Holiday Displays Get Creative

A skeleton dressed in a Santa Claus costume is part of the holiday displays at the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg, Va. Many local residents are not pleased with the "Skele-Claus" or other displays by secular activists and atheists.
Kevin Dietsch UPI /Landov

Joseph, Mary, and ... the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Nativity scenes have long been a part of holiday displays at city halls and small-town courthouses across the country. This year, some proponents of secularism are finding new ways to protest the time-honored tradition. They're putting up their own versions of the creche — and causing quite a commotion in places like Leesburg, Va.

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6:11am

Sat December 24, 2011
Animals

To Flirt In Cities, Birds Adjust Their Pitch

Have you ever been at a bar where it was just too loud to hit on anybody? Birds feel your pain.

A big part of being a bird is singing, often to attract other birds. Sometimes it's hard to do that amid all the noise in a city. For birds, it's like living in a bar, scientist Peter Marra says.

"Those sounds compete with low-frequency sounds," Marra says, and that makes it hard for birds that sing at a lower pitch to hook up.

But there's no stopping love, and Marra has found that those birds are changing their tune.

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5:10am

Sat December 24, 2011
Asia

In Japan, Radiation Fears Reshape Lives

Japanese shoppers remain concerned about radiation levels in food following the country's nuclear accident in March. Shoppers are shown here in a Tokyo supermarket.
Lucy Craft NPR

Nine months after Japan's nuclear accident, life in Tokyo seems to have snapped back to normal, with a vengeance. The talk shows are back to their usual mindless trivia about pop stars and baseball contracts. The date of the tsunami and nuclear accident, March 11 — known here as just 3/11 — has faded into the background.

But while the horror has receded, for many of us, particularly women with families, things will never be the same.

There's no getting past the fact that the nuclear accident dumped radioactive particles into the atmosphere, soil and sea.

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5:10am

Sat December 24, 2011
Energy

After Fukushima: A Changing Climate For Nuclear

Originally published on Sat December 24, 2011 8:25 am

The crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station is seen through a bus window on Nov. 12. The four reactors that failed were stabilized this month.
David Guttenfelder AFP/Getty Images

This year has something unpleasant in common with the years 1979 and 1986. In 1979, a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania melted down. In 1986, the Soviet reactor at Chernobyl blew up and burned.

This year's meltdown occurred in Fukushima in Japan, and nuclear power isn't likely to be the same as a result.

Nuclear power had enjoyed 25 years of relative quiet, but the Fukushima accident reminded people that despite improvements in safety, nuclear plants could still go horribly wrong.

For some, though, nothing has changed much.

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6:31pm

Fri December 23, 2011
Law

Justice Department Blocks New S.C. Voting ID Law

The Justice Department has blocked a new South Carolina voting law, saying it violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The state law requires voters to present a photo ID in order to vote. The Justice Department says the law disenfranchises minorities, but the state says it protects against voter fraud. For more, Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Pam Fessler.

5:34pm

Fri December 23, 2011
The Two-Way

Work, Life Balance: VW Agrees To Switch Off After-Hours Email

VW workers will no longer get off-hours email on their BlackBerries
Karen Bleier AFP/Getty Images

In an always-connected world, the line between work and life is often blurred. Now, Volkswagen has announced that it is shutting down after-hours email for German employees who are handed Blackberrys.

The BBC has details:

"Under the arrangement servers stop routing emails 30 minutes after the end of employees' shifts, and then start again 30 minutes before they return to work.

"The staff can still use their devices to make calls and the rule does not apply to senior management.

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5:02pm

Fri December 23, 2011
The Salt

Tourtiere: A French-Canadian Twist On Christmas Pie

If you happen to spend Christmas Eve in Canada — especially Québec — you might lucky enough to be invited to a festive dinner after midnight mass. The feast is an old tradition from France called revellion, and it's something to look forward to after a long day of fasting.

"They'll have a huge feast, with sweets and lobster and oysters, everything," says Thomas Naylor, executive chef to the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. "But, in Quebec at least, you'll always have tourtière. It will be the center of the reveillon."

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4:27pm

Fri December 23, 2011
The Two-Way

Britain's Prince Philip Is Hospitalized

(FILES) A file picture taken in June shows Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, attending a reception at Buckingham Palace.
John Stillwell AFP/Getty Images

After experiencing chest pains, Britain's Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has been hospitalized.

The AP reports:

Prince Philip, 90, was taken from Sandringham, the queen's sprawling estate in rural Norfolk, to the cardiac unit at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge for "precautionary tests," a spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said.

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4:10pm

Fri December 23, 2011
The Two-Way

Another Mass Protest Expected In Russia This Weekend

Originally published on Fri December 23, 2011 4:15 pm

Alexei Navalny, a leader of Russia's political opposition, speaks at a meeting to discuss a Dec. 24 opposition rally protesting election results in Moscow.
Mikhail Metzel AP

Tens of thousands are expected on the streets of Moscow tomorrow. As The Guardian reports, 50,000 have said they will show up on "Moscow's Sakharov Prospect, named after the late leading Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov," and thousands more will march across the country.

As we've reported, the protests stem from disputed parliamentary elections and come months before a crucial presidential election that will test Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's 12-year hold on power.

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4:00pm

Fri December 23, 2011
Monkey See

For 'Downton' Fans, A New Season And A New Book

Originally published on Thu December 29, 2011 8:08 am

Brendan Coyle is John Bates and Joanne Froggatt is Anna Smith in Downton Abbey, which returns January 8 to PBS.
Nick Briggs PBS/Masterpiece

It's almost here. And by "it," we mean the new season of Downton Abbey, the UK-produced drama about the Crawley family and their servants that PBS imported for Masterpiece Classic with great success. Series two has already run in the UK, but if you've been good and patient and resisted the urge to obtain it by illicit means, your wait is nearly over: the new season begins on PBS on January 8th.

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