Melissa Block

Among the key figures embroiled in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump is Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who announced last week that he will be resigning later this year.

Gun control has emerged as a key issue in next month's off-year elections in Virginia, a state that is seen as a bellwether of what could come in national elections in 2020.

Republicans currently hold a razor-thin majority in both houses of the state legislature, and with all 140 seats on the ballot this year, Democrats hope to turn those chambers blue.

One race where the discussion of guns is especially fraught is in Virginia Beach, the 8th State Senate district.

The other day, I went down to the National Mall here in Washington, D.C., and heard the sound of hope in sweet, strong, young voices.

A youth choir and chamber ensemble from Haiti are on a U.S. tour that's taken them from Maine to Manhattan to Kentucky over the past month. This stop was in a lush garden of the Smithsonian museums. The tour is meant to showcase Haiti's rich musical heritage — and to raise awareness of the country's rebuilding efforts.

This summer's mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, accelerated calls for more red flag or extreme-risk laws in those states, as well as helped jump-start bills in Congress. The laws allow courts to order the seizure of firearms from those believed to pose an imminent danger to themselves or others. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed such laws.

But, while the political focus may be on mass shootings, states are using the laws far more often to prevent cases of individual gun violence, including suicide.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This week, the Olympic champion runner Caster Semenya of South Africa filed an appeal in a case that hinges on her right to compete as a woman. It's the latest chapter in a fight that's gone on for years, and that raises thorny questions about fairness and ethics in sport.

Arivaca, Ariz., is a tiny village, population about 700, with an outsize problem.

It sits just 11 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border and has become a magnet for self-styled militia groups from out of state that say they want to patrol the border and stop migrants. Their presence has strained a town that has long prided itself on its live-and-let-live, cooperative spirit.

When the women of Arivaca gather for Monday afternoon gentle yoga, there are certain topics they know to avoid.

Pianist Jeremy Denk's latest album is a musical odyssey. Starting with the austere tones of medieval composer Guillaume de Machaut, Denk travels in time across the keyboard all the way to the 20th Century landing on the atonality of Karlheinz Stockhausen and the minimalism of Philip Glass.

Carmen Schentrup was one week away from celebrating her 17th birthday when she was killed in last year's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

A talented musician and driven student, Carmen had dreams of becoming a medical researcher and finding a cure for the neurodegenerative disease ALS.

Now, her parents, Philip and April, wear teal bracelets printed with her name and the dates that mark her short life: 2/21/2001-2/14/2018.

Gun control advocates view 2018 as a turning point in their campaign to strengthen the country's gun laws.

They cite widespread success in passing laws through state legislatures. They're also buoyed by Democratic victories in the midterm elections, which flipped control of the House of Representatives. Another benchmark: In this election cycle, gun control groups outspent gun rights groups for the first time ever.

Doctors across the U.S. have become increasingly vocal in addressing gun violence as a public health crisis, a posture that recently has drawn the wrath of the National Rifle Association.

Yet, in Colorado, a diverse group that includes doctors, public health researchers and gun shop owners has come together to bridge this divide. The Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition has found common ground on at least one issue: preventing firearm suicide.

Families of people with dementia will often take away the car keys to keep their family member safe. They might remove knobs from stove burners or lock up medicine.

But what's less talked about is the risk of guns in the home for those with dementia.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Along with his political campaigning and fundraising, the former president has other projects that will shape his post-presidency. He's writing a memoir. The Obamas have a production deal with Netflix. And they've created the Obama Foundation in Chicago. NPR's Melissa Block went to Chicago to see one of their civic engagement programs in action.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: It's morning at a boot camp, and it's going to get loud.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I said I'm alive.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: I'm alive.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I'm awake.

Immigration is near the top of the list of issues Americans find "the most worrying," according to a new poll conducted for NPR by the research firm Ipsos.

But Americans' views on immigration diverge sharply depending on party affiliation, where in the country we live, and whether we know people who were born outside the United States.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In the Winter Olympics, where races can be won or lost by thousandths of a second, tiny imperfections can make all the difference.

Nowhere is this more true than in the ice venues, where skilled technicians called "ice meisters" have honed their expertise over years of crafting the perfect surface.

Make that surfaces: It turns out that all ice is not created equal.

Depending on the sport, the ice might need to be softer or harder, colder or warmer, textured or smooth.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There are Olympic athletes, and then there are Olympic families. NPR's Melissa Block caught up with a famous former Olympian as she watched her daughter compete in South Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) We will, we will rock you.

Since she was a little girl, Ashley Caldwell has been in constant motion: jumping out of her crib, tumbling off the couch, leaping down stairs, flipping on a trampoline.

So it seems fitting that now, at 24, Caldwell is the reigning women's world champion in aerials skiing — a sport in which she somersaults and spins through the air, some 60 feet off the ground.

Remember this name: Maame Biney.

The short track speedskater just turned 18; she's not even out of high school. But she is already one of the biggest U.S. names at the Winter Olympics.

Here are a few of the big questions hovering over the Pyeongchang Olympics, about to get underway in South Korea:

  • Which Russian athletes will be allowed to compete?

  • How will the North Korean team fare?

  • Can the United States top its highest number of Winter Olympics medals — the 37 it won eight years ago in Vancouver?

But way up on my own list of burning questions is this: What do these athletes dream about?

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Winter Olympics start this week in South Korea. NPR's Melissa Block brings us the story of one athlete who is astonished just to be there. Here's her story.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: She's an accidental Olympian.

At the Winter Olympics, which get underway next month in Pyeongchang, South Korea, some of the most blistering speeds will come in the three high-adrenaline sliding sports, where top athletes zip on the ice at about 90 miles an hour.

There's bobsled, kind of like a downhill race car on steel runners.

In the luge, athletes lie back on a sled, going down the track feet first and face up.

And then there's skeleton, where racers go head-first, face-down, in a blink-and-you-miss-it blur of speed.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A moment now to remember one of rock music's most-beloved musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN GIRL")

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: (Singing) She was an American girl.

On a recent, perfect morning at Johnson Farms in northern Michigan, workers climb wooden ladders high up into the trees, picking bags strapped across their bodies. The branches are heavy with fruit that glows in the morning sun. Their fingers are a blur, nimbly plucking fruit and filling bushel bags: about 50 pounds per load. It's hard, sweaty work.

Apple season was just getting underway on Old Mission Peninsula, a finger of land poking into Lake Michigan, dotted with lush farms.

Right after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, electrician Rocky Breaux, 53, loaded up his airboat in Houma, La., and drove to help rescue people from the swiftly rising floodwaters.

And now that the waters have receded, the ad hoc "Cajun Navy" has gone airborne: Breaux is now helping out with what's being called the "Cajun Airlift." Breaux has his own small plane — a Piper Arrow. When he heard that evacuees at one of Houston's big shelters needed more supplies, he loaded his plane, tanked up, and flew west, with Andy Cook as his co-pilot. "We're locked and loaded," Breaux says.

Sixteen-year-old Murad Rahimov peered down into a gigantic space he had only dreamed about before: the world's largest clean room, kept scrupulously free of any dust or contamination, where NASA assembles and tests spacecraft before launch.

Murad's eyes gleamed and a smile played on his face as he took it all in — the scientists encased in sterile white suits; the replica of the massive new space telescope, the most powerful ever built, that will study the first galaxies born after the Big Bang.

There are only two ways to get to Meyers Chuck, Alaska: by boat or float plane.

If you go by plane, you might hitch a ride on a de Havilland Beaver, circa 1958 — one of the planes that brings the mail every week. It comes in low over specks of islands and the forested Alaska coast, and curves into the protected inlet of Meyers Chuck, splashing down at high tide.

On the day we visit, a handful of boats are tied up along a floating mooring. Small wooden cabins are nestled among the trees.

He brooded, as Lincoln.

He seduced in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. And he murdered, in There Will Be Blood.

This week, Daniel Day-Lewis — a three-time Oscar winner, and incomparable film chameleon — announced he is retiring from acting at 60.

A statement released by his spokeswoman gave no explanation, saying this is a private decision, and that Day-Lewis will have no further comment.

The actor has often taken lengthy sabbaticals between films, but this time it's apparently permanent.

So what will he be doing?

What does it mean to lose your land, your language, and your heritage?

For Alaska Natives, these are existential threats.

On a trip to Southeast Alaska, I traveled to one village that is finding new ways to survive: Klukwan, ancestral home of the Tlingit tribe.

Nestled along the banks of the Chilkat River, Klukwan is quiet and tiny, home to about 90 people.

It all started with vellum.

We were led to believe that Queen Elizabeth's speech opening a new session of the British parliament next week was being delayed because it had to be printed on vellum: a parchment made from the skin of a calf.

And, that ink on vellum takes quite a while to dry. Hence, the delay.

Fascinating! So British!

Well, it turns out, the Queen's speech used to be inked on vellum, but those days are long gone.

Now, it's printed on goatskin parchment. But don't be fooled: there is no actual goatskin in the Queen's goatskin.

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