Scott Simon

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

For all the words uttered about urgent, vital issues at this week's Democratic presidential debate, one was missing: Syria.

The war in Syria has gone on for 9 years.

At least half a million people have died. More than 5 million Syrians are now refugees. Almost another million have had to flee their homes in the Idlib region just since last December, as Bashar al-Assad's army, supported by Russian air strikes, has tried to bomb and shell the people of the province into an obliteration from their own country.

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Some weeks you may wonder what has happened to public speech in America. Or even good manners.

This week, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference, declared he will not invite Sen. Mitt Romney to this year's CPAC after Romney cast the lone Republican vote for President Trump's removal at his impeachment trial.

"We won't credential him as a conservative," Schlapp told Greta Van Susteren on her program Full Court Press. Then he added, "This year, I would actually be afraid for his physical safety, people are so mad at him."

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Let's ask R. Eric Thomas to tell us about the church in which he grew up.

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After Kirk Douglas produced and starred in Spartacus in 1960, a film that won four Oscars and was the biggest moneymaker of the year, he could probably get Hollywood to finance almost any film he wanted to make. Another epic, like Spartacus? An adventure, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? A scorching star vehicle, like Lust for Life?

Afrobeat will probably always be associated with one man, one time and one country — Fela Kuti, in late 1960s Nigeria. But for the past 20 years, Antibalas has been establishing Brooklyn, N.Y., as a new center of the Afrobeat universe. The band's seventh studio album was just released and it has a name that calls back to its martial arts origins: Fu Chronicles.

It can be hard to reconcile Bob Marley's massive and ongoing influence with the fact that the genre-defining reggae artist was just 36 when he died of cancer in 1981. Marley would have turned 75 this Thursday; to this day, his music accounts for nearly a quarter of the reggae listened to in the United States.

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When I met Tom Railsback a few years ago, he told me he'd worried about going to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Peoria in the fall of 1974.

Tom Railsback of Illinois was a middle-aged Republican congressman from a state in the middle of America when he was on the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 that heard the case for impeachment against President Richard Nixon.

Mr. Railsback greatly admired President Nixon. "His opening of the door to China," he told me, "had to be the most brilliant foreign policy move ever."

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The toll of the Australian bush fires is staggering. 27 people have died, more than 2,000 homes destroyed and 18 million acres have burned. A billion animals may have been killed.

Try to hold that horrifying number in your mind a moment: a billion animals.

There are scores of holiday stories on streaming services this season, and a lot of them seem rolled out of the same candy cane factory: snow, smiles and the real meaning of love.

As an aficionado of the form, I've tried to sketch out my own version:

Charlayne had an exciting life as managing editor of a Manhattan fashion magazine. But something was missing.

A woman lived in her car in front of our apartment building for a couple of weeks. Our family brought down some food, clothing and a blanket, but the woman hesitated to open her door when we knocked and smiled.

After all, who were we? Why should she trust us?

We did not call police or a city agency to say, "There's a woman living in a car on our street." I've reported stories where I've spent the night in city homeless shelters. They can feel crowded and unsafe, and have little privacy. I can see why someone would choose to stay on the street or in their car.

What makes a banana taped to a wall worth $120,000 to someone?

If it has been put there by the right artist.

This banana was duct-taped to a wall by Maurizio Cattelan, the Italian artist, and it's on display this week at Art Basel in Miami Beach.

The banana is real, by the way, not a sculpture. It will soon go brown, slimy, and may already be ... fragrant.

The Perrotin art gallery of Paris has already sold this piece of produce, and it turns out that $120,000 is practically a bargain. Another banana the artist taped to a wall is going for $150,000.

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And talk about methane release. Time to talk sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

William Ruckelshaus was a conservationist, an Indiana Republican conservative who believed in conserving balanced budgets, limited government powers, constitutional checks and balances, and clean air and water.

"Nature provides a free lunch," he said, "but only if we control our appetites."

He helped write Indiana's first air pollution laws as a state deputy attorney general in the 1960s, and was appointed the first head of the Environment Protection Agency by President Nixon in 1970.

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Meg Schmidt's signature song is a Top 40 track that could have been written for her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHUT UP AND DANCE")

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The forced imprisonment of more than a million Muslim Uighurs in detention camps in the Xinjiang region of western China may make Americans feel outrage and sadness. But many may just shrug and ask, "What does that have to do with me?"

Look down at your shoes.

About 99% of the shoes sold in America are made overseas, with China being the largest manufacturer by far. Nike, Naturalizer, Dr. Scholl's, Hush Puppies, Keds and many other American companies make shoes in China, where the costs of production are far less.

It might be called "Revenge of the Pin-Stripes."

In this week's House Intelligence Committee hearings, career diplomats dressed in somber suits who have often been derided as "elites," "insiders," "the establishment," and even "the Deep State" got the chance to tell Americans how they have been nonpartisan representatives of America from administration to administration.

Those parts of their testimony weren't news "bombshells." But their words are worth noting.

The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years. Today, Nov. 9, marks the 30th anniversary of when it began to come down.

It may be hard to imagine, a generation later, what a momentous event that was and why the sight of ordinary citizens, chipping away by hand and hammer at that edifice of cruelty, lifted so many hopes around the world.

Bernardine Evaristo's novel Girl, Woman, Other is just being published in the United States — after being awarded the U.K.'s Booker Prize last month (an honor shared with Margaret Atwood's The Testaments).

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NPR has lost a friend and an old colleague. News reached us this week that David Rector died last month at the age of 69. He'd suffered an aortic dissection years ago that left him a quadriplegic.

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President Trump will attend the Ultimate Fighting Championship, MMA, mixed martial arts event at Madison Square Garden Saturday night. The event, of course, is a punching, kicking, pay-per-view brawl between Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal that takes place inside a cage.

The winner gets a belt embellished with the initials BMF, which does not stand for Best Mocha Frappe.

Mr. Trump is not expected to be booed at Madison Square Garden, as he was at a World Series game earlier this week. The president is a fan and used to book MMA events at his casino in Atlantic City.

How much human life goes into a single day? Life and death, effort and rest, love, loss, and striving. Gene Weingarten — who's won two Pulitzer Prizes for his Washington Post feature writing — decided to try and tell stories from a single day in history, and remind us of the preciousness of life in everyday moments.

Thirty-nine people were found dead in a trailer this week in Essex, in the United Kingdom. Thirty-one men, and eight women.

They were discovered in the morning, in a sealed, refrigerated container of the kind that ordinarily transports fruits, vegetables or frozen food.

Four people, so far, have been arrested in connection with the deaths. But identifying those who died could take a long time.

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