Weekend Edition Saturday

Saturday mornings are made for Weekend Edition Saturday, the program wraps up the week's news and offers a mix of analysis and features on a wide range of topics, including arts, sports, entertainment, and human interest stories. The two-hour program is hosted by NPR's Peabody Award-winning Scott Simon.

Drawing on his experience in covering 10 wars and stories in all 50 states and seven continents, Simon brings a humorous, sophisticated and often moving perspective to each show. He is as comfortable having a conversation with a major world leader as he is talking with a Hollywood celebrity or the guy next door.

Weekend Edition Saturday has a unique and entertaining roster of other regular contributors. Marin Alsop, conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, talks about music. Daniel Pinkwater, one of the biggest names in children's literature, talks about and reads stories with Simon. Financial journalist Joe Nocera follows the economy. Howard Bryant of EPSN.com and NPR's Tom Goldman chime in on sports. Keith Devlin, of Stanford University, unravels the mystery of math, and Will Grozier, a London cabbie, talks about good books that have just been released, and what well-read people leave in the back of his taxi. Simon contributes his own award-winning essays, which are sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant.

Weekend Edition Saturday is heard on NPR Member stations across the United States, and around the globe on NPR Worldwide. The conversation between the audience and the program staff continues throughout the social media world.

When NPR correspondents report about that group, they try to make it clear that it is not a "state" in the standard sense of that word. This month's "Word Matters" conversation explains why.

Eight months after a notorious group of fighters in Iraq and Syria became regular characters in the news, NPR still begins most of its reports with words such as these:

-- "Self-declared Islamic State."

-- "Self-proclaimed Islamic State."

-- "The group that calls itself the Islamic State."

Some NPR listeners and NPR.org users have questioned why the qualifiers are still being used. As Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon wonders, wouldn't people still know who we were reporting about if we didn't include a "self-declared" or "self-proclaimed?"

Yes, most listeners and readers would not be confused at this point. But, as we talk about in our latest "Word Matters" segment and as is explained here, NPR editors believe it is still important to add the extra words.

The primary reason why: Not adding expressions such as "self-described" would by omission imply that the organization is a "state," when in fact it is not an "independent government ... within defined borders." Those are key parts of the word state's definition.

The latest Word Matters conversation also explores:

-- The overuse and misuse of the word "countless." In the past year, for instance, the word has been heard on NPR's airwaves more than 110 times. Most of the references have been to things that can be quantified, at least roughly. Did any 2014 congressional candidate, for instance, really visit "countless community festivals, civic group meetings and even a couple of high school football games," as we reported?

-- The "NPR Grammar Hall of Shame," and in particular the problem that we heard about most often when we asked the NPR audience to tell us about grammatical mistakes they come across every day. The No. 1 gripe, as we've previously posted about, concerns misuses of "I," "me" and "myself."

If you would like to take the "I or me" quiz we created earlier, we've attached it to this post as well.

Mark Memmott is NPR's standards and practices editor. He co-hosted The Two Way from its launch in May 2009 through April 2014.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Carnegie Mellon University recently emailed about 800 graduate school applicants to say they'd been accepted. But it was a mistake. NPR's Scott Simon reflects on acceptance letters in the digital age.

A lot of people saw their hopes and dreams fulfilled this week — for just a few hours.

Carnegie Mellon University emailed about 800 people who had applied to graduate school to say, 'Congratulations, you're in.' They were — to quote the message of acceptance — "one of the select few" to be accepted into Carnegie Mellon's prestigious Master of Science in Computer Science program.

A young woman in India who was accepted wrote on Facebook that she quit her job, bolstered by this act of faith in her future. Her boyfriend proposed marriage.

Ben Leibowitz of Stamford, Conn., went out to dinner to celebrate with his parents. Imagine the toasts of dewy-eyed pride and esteem that parents and child must have lifted to each other.

There was a follow-up email from the school by the time Leibowitz got home. The 800 "select few" might have opened them with excitement, thinking the messages were about course registration or graduate housing.

But instead the emails said: "Sorry. Those acceptances were a mistake."

"This error was the result of serious mistakes in our process for generating acceptance letters," said a school statement. "We understand the disappointment created by this mistake, and deeply apologize to the applicants for this miscommunication."

But do school officials already sitting on their degrees in their offices really understand that disappointment?

To feel rewarded and recognized one moment, and begin to dream of the rest of your life; then have that dream smashed in the next, by some nebulous, unnamed error.

Ben Leibowitz, the young man who celebrated with his parents, told the Associated Press, "It was brutal. Now I have to clean up the mess. I'm calling all my relatives, I'm going, 'I'm sorry it's not happening.' "

The young woman in India who had quit her job and accepted a proposal of marriage asked, "What do I do now?"

Carnegie Mellon's computer science school is tied with Stanford, MIT and the University of California, Berkeley for No. 1 in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings; though it seems a bad week for Carnegie Mellon to chant, "We're number one!"

MIT, Johns Hopkins and others have made similar acceptance letter mistakes in recent years.

I hope one of the snubbed 800 will use their botched rejection as a spur and go on to win whatever is the Oscar of computer programming. They've already learned a valuable lesson: Experts make mistakes, too.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Kathy Hanlon and her sons, Sergio (left) and Cristian, were traumatized by S...
As Sandy victims and FEMA work to resolve accusations of falsified damage estimates, some are questioning how the agency can be both a flood insurance provider and a regulator of flood insurance.

After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Kathy Hanlon's life crumbled. Her Long Beach, N.Y., home had no electricity, her family was traumatized and one of her sons was getting sick. On top of that, there was the bureaucratic maze of flood insurance.

"I cried many times because I was so angry when I got off the phone with the insurance company," Hanlon says. "It was demeaning. We had to send them things repeatedly. We had to wait for phone calls. We had to wait for people to come visit the house."

What Hanlon experienced is the private-insurance side of the flood program, in which adjustors are tasked with making sure damages are legitimate.

The National Flood Insurance Program has a public element, which helps people get money after a disaster to rebuild their homes. The private part comes when FEMA contracts with regular insurance companies.

This week, FEMA began settlement talks with homeowners devastated by Sandy, and there's a lot to resolve.

Homeowners say engineers hired by insurance companies falsified damage estimates and that the homeowners aren't being repaid for the actual damage that Sandy caused. Some are questioning whether FEMA can be a watchdog for both disaster victims and taxpayers who subsidize the federal flood program.

The problem arises when FEMA tries to protect the interests of its policy holders while it also makes sure they don't get paid too much, says Ben Rajotte, a lawyer for the Disaster Relief Clinic at Touro Law School on Long Island.

"That provides tension within the program," Rajotte says. "Then that tension is magnified by the fact that you have basic fundamental principles of administrative law that we don't think are being followed."

Rajotte says his team of law students has tried to help local Sandy victims navigate the insurance maze, but he says they kept getting stuck in the flood program's dual roles. For example, he says, FEMA repeatedly changed how much proof was required to show damage losses.

"You have essentially FEMA making up the rules as it's going, and the rules favor the insurers," he says.

Rajotte wants FEMA to cede its regulator role to a third party, so that when policy holders have problems — like questionable engineering reports — they have a place to go that isn't also charged with keeping insurance payouts low.

FEMA says it has done this. Two months ago it created a public advocate's office. Still, flood insurance companies continue to take a great deal of criticism for lowballing damage estimates.

Complaints arise when people misunderstand the limits of the National Flood Insurance Program, says Ed Pasterick, who worked for the program for 40 years before retiring in 2014.

"The policy as it stands now only covers damage caused by flooding," Pasterick says.

Right now, Pasterick says, the premiums paid by homeowners in flood plains don't even cover all of the risk created by flood alone. Taxpayers have to chip in to pay for the rest. If homeowners want a flood policy to cover other damage, Congress would have to pay for it, he says.

"You know, that's up to somebody to decide," he says. "If they decide that the program should cover everything, than you're going to expand the program significantly."

Copyright 2015 WSHU Public Radio Group. To see more, visit http://www.wshu.org/.