Scott Simon

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.

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."

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.

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

During a year when many Americans have had to forgo close gatherings with family and friends, holiday cards are among the few things that can still be shared with loved ones.

But when 2020 has been more "sick and tired" than "merry and bright," what goes on a greeting card?

Chandra Greer, owner of an online stationery boutique, says her best-selling cards this season feature designs that acknowledge the gloomy realities of the present moment.

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.

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:

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.

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.

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.

A true reporter knows you don't have to venture to the other side of the world to find great stories. Look right in front of you.

Jim Dwyer was 19, and a Fordham student, when he saw a man on the ground, shaking on a sidewalk in the Bronx. He was having an epileptic seizure. Jim was among the strangers who stopped to try to help. But there were also people who passed by and muttered, "'junkie, 'scumbag,' that sort of thing," he later wrote for the student newspaper, The Fordham Ram.

A lot of Americans may wonder this morning: How could the president, of all people, come down with the coronavirus?

The President of the United States is often called the most powerful person in the world. They can cause armies to march and rockets to soar. They also can hear directly from some of the finest scientific and medical minds in the world. Presidents are surrounded by rings of highly-trained security guards, who protect them at all times.

Congress used to like to pass spending bills before an election. Representatives could return home to campaign and say, "Look what we did for you!"

But with 13.6 million people out of work, Congress may not pass a new coronavirus relief bill. Both parties may feel, in today's fractious politics, they can fire up their supporters best if they don't compromise, and blame the other party.

The dreamscape of California has looked like a hellscape this week. California, America's Golden State — "Warm, palmy air — air you can kiss ..." wrote Jack Kerouac — has had choking air, scalding heat and surreal orange skies.

California has been the dreamland of so many who hope to strike it rich or start over, a state of mind, as well as a state: a place for fresh starts, freeways and free love.

Now and then, two news stories rub up against each other and strike sparks.

This week David Blaine, the magician and illusionist, strapped himself to 52 helium-filled balloons, lifted off into the big, blue skies above Arizona's Great Basin Desert and floated. It was something out of a childhood dream.

"I want to go up and become a tiny dot in the sky," he had told the New York Post.

The greatest athletes know: Children are watching. They see them in the stands and on the streets, wearing small versions of their jerseys. They hear them shouting their names. They know from their own lives how children can see sports figures as heroes — and imitate how they play, walk and talk — and what they do.

Posthumous pardons don't do much for the people who receive them. They're usually given to try to make a statement for history.

But President Trump's pardon this week of Susan B. Anthony, on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which secured the right for women to vote in America, has dismayed some of those who know the most about Susan B. Anthony, and her story.

"A pardon says you've done something wrong," Rutgers Professor Ann Gordon, a leading scholar of the women's suffrage movement, told us. "Susan didn't think a woman voting was wrong."

TAB RAG SCRIBE MAKES LAST DEADLINE!

Pete Hamill was a tabloid man: a columnist and top name on the masthead, mostly for the New York Post and Daily News, who wrote punchy, passionate, lyrical chronicles of city life, often for people who had to read them while they held onto a strap, standing on the Number 7 train from Queens.

I've had lunch with politicians, clergy, reporters and people who've just been indicted at Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen in Chicago, and there's a code of silence over the clatter: it doesn't count. The schmear of cream cheese thick enough to be a ski jump? No calories! Potato pancakes hefty as manhole covers?

No calories!

Ants do it. Lobsters do it. Even equatorial mandrills do it. Why don't many Americans do it: Wear masks and keep a wise social distance from each other?

Scientific American reports this week how several animals seem to know how to take precautions and keep their distance so they're less likely to be infected by a peer.

Baseball's Negro Leagues were formally founded a hundred years ago this week. They should never have had to exist — but they sure had some glorious players and times.

Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and many more stars who couldn't play in the major leagues because of the cruelty of segregation engineered a sports enterprise of their own with superb teams that included the Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants and the Homestead Grays.

When actor Matthew Rhys first found out about plans to reboot the legal drama Perry Mason his first question was: Why?

"Why would you? How can you?" says Rhys, who stars in the new HBO show.

This Perry Mason is no rerun of your grandfather's Perry Mason from the 1960s. He's not a sharply creased L.A. defense lawyer, with a voice that booms in wood-paneled courtrooms.

No, this is "a very dark Perry Mason to which I was instantly very attracted," Rhys says.

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