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.

It's happened enough that it's a thing: A stellar actor is awarded for a not-so-stellar role. Many feel it happened again this week with the Oscar nominations.

"The right actors win Oscars, but for the wrong roles," Katherine Hepburn once said.

The Motion Picture Academy has a history of rewarding stars for less-than-celestial performances, and this week's Oscar nomination announcements left a lot of people scratching their heads — over the snubs for Selma, for example, and the nomination of Robert Duvall for best supporting actor in The Judge.

"I think most people hadn't even heard of The Judge before that nomination," says Alyssa Rosenberg, culture columnist for The Washington Post.

Rosenberg says most critics were not impressed by the movie, about a judge who is aging, cranky and hates his new dependence on his criminal-lawyer son.

To be clear, Rosenberg loves Duvall.

"He is wonderful," she says. "But it's not a particularly notable performance. It's weird. It's like they woke up and said, 'You know who hasn't seen a statue in some time?' "

Robert Duvall hasn't seen one since 1983 and Tender Mercies. Rosenberg says recognizing actors out of a sense they're overdue is an Academy tradition that goes back to at least 1935.

That was the year Bette Davis won her first Oscar for a thoroughly mediocre movie, Dangerous. The Academy had ignored her incandescent performance the year before as a manipulative waitress in the film, Of Human Bondage.

"It's using the awards to back up and say, 'We know you're good. Really, we know you're good, even if we missed it before,' " Rosenberg says.

That's what happened in 1960, she adds, to a certain violet-eyed 28-year-old, Elizabeth Taylor.

Taylor went unrewarded by the Academy for National Velvet, Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly Last Summer. She won for Butterfield 8, a movie she herself called a stinker. But the actress' third husband had recently died in a plane crash, six months after the birth of their daughter.

"People felt bad for her," Rosenberg says.

Other consolation Oscars might include Denzel Washington's in 2001, for playing a vicious cop in the movie Training Day. Critics preferred Washington in an earlier movie, The Hurricane, not to mention in Malcolm X.

Or Dame Judy Dench, who won not for her layered portrayal of Queen Victoria in the movie Mrs Brown in 1997, but won, instead, the next year. Dench had a sense of humor about accepting her best supporting actress statuette for her eight-minute appearance as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare In Love.

"Um," she said, "I feel, for eight minutes on the screen, I should only get a little bit of him."

Sometimes it takes a little while for a great performance to sink in. Sometimes the field is too crowded with too many great performances.

The phenomenon goes beyond the Oscars. Playwright Edward Albee did not win the Pulitzer Prize in 1963 for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf because it was seen as too controversial. A few years later, the Pulitzer committee basically backtracked, rewarding Albee for another play, A Delicate Balance.

Far better, says Rosenberg, if the cultural horse races that are awards shows were guided not by sentimentality or nostalgia, but singularity and guts.

"If you want people to take your awards ceremony seriously as an arbiter of artistic quality, these are strange decisions," she says.

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Provo, Utah, is one of three cities in which Google is rolling out its Googl...
Some U.S. cities are bypassing private Internet providers and creating their own, faster networks. But laws in 19 states impede those efforts, and some cities want the FCC to get involved.

Americans increasingly see decently fast Internet as more like a functioning sewer line than a luxury.

And a number of cities are trying to get into the Internet provider business, but laws in 19 states hamper those efforts. President Obama announced this week that he wants to lift those restrictions, and supporters of what is known as municipal broadband can't wait.

During a speech in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the president presented a plan promoting high-speed Internet for the country's more remote cities and towns. The executive director of Next Century Cities, a coalition promoting high-speed Internet, Deb Socia, says dependable high-speed broadband has become a social justice issue.

"This is about people, and people in communities who need resources for businesses, for e-government, for participatory democracy, for health care, for transportation, for education," she says. "Everything we do is related to our access to technology."

Anyone who's waited for a page to load or a stalled movie to resume wants faster Internet. But the major Internet service providers don't face much competition in many places, so they're not that motivated to upgrade. Faced with that, some towns have gotten into the Internet service business themselves.

"They started their municipal electric utility over a century ago, long before we had computers and toasters and microwave ovens, on the faith that this electricity thing was going to be important to the local economy," says Mikel Kline, who works for a municipal broadband company in Chanute, Kan. "Well today, the city fathers have that same vision about this broadband network."

Chanute's broadband network runs about 100 times faster than typical American Internet. Kline says it's given his remote Kansas town one of the fastest growing junior colleges in the country, and connected its hospital to distant specialists.

Kline, who's an engineer, says all of this was feasible because Chanute already ran its own electric utility.

"They already have line workers, they already have utility poles, the rights of way. The infrastructure is largely in place," he says.

But the cable industry has a warning for towns that don't have that ready-made infrastructure, says Brian Dietz of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

He says there have been "several examples where government-run networks have failed because they aren't able to compete effectively with private-run networks."

Dietz points to Provo, Utah, which spent more than $39 million building a fiber network. The system lost money, and the city wound up selling it to Google for $1. Dietz says Internet service providers have invested more than $230 billion nationwide building networks.

They've also been pretty successful at convincing state legislators that taxpayer-funded municipal broadband is a bad idea. Nineteen states now prohibit or at least discourage public involvement in the broadband business.

"We've got the largest city-wide, robust, gigabit network in the country," says Ken Hays, who works with the gigabit network serving Chattanooga, Tenn.

The city built it on its publicly owned electric utility, just like in Chanute. Chattanooga wants to expand service to outlying areas, where Internet speeds plunge, but it ran into one of those prohibitive state laws.

"Our electric utility actually petitioned the [Federal Communications Commission], along with Wilson, N.C., to ask the FCC to use their authority to override the legislatures," Hays says.

That's what Obama wants in all 19 states, but Internet service providers and some Republican members of Congress say the FCC has no authority to meddle in the way states regulate the Internet.

Copyright 2015 KCUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.kcur.org/.

Lending money to energy companies can be pretty profitable. But if oil prices drop enough, the threat of bank defaults becomes real, Portales Partners analyst Charles Peabody tells NPR's Scott Simon.

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