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Biden, Harris Release Tax Returns In Return To Tradition

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Biden, Harris Release Tax Returns In Return To Tradition

President Joe Biden’s finances took hit over 2020 according to income tax filings released by the White House on Monday.

Evan Vucci/AP

Evan Vucci/AP

What in other years would likely not be huge news is this year making headlines: President Joe Biden has released his tax returns.

The release of his financial records, as well as those of Vice President Kamala Harris, marks the return of a White House tradition defied by former President Donald Trump during the 45th president’s term in office.

“Today, the President released his 2020 federal income tax return, continuing an almost uninterrupted tradition,” the White House said on Monday, the deadline to file 2020 income tax returns.

According to filings released by the White House, Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, jointly earned $607,336 in 2020. The couple gave a little less than $31,000 — about 5% of their income — to charity. Together, they owed $157,414 in federal income tax.

Their combined income for last year, as Biden was on the campaign trail, was significantly lower than for 2019. The couple reported an adjusted gross income of about $985,000 for that year.

Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, appeared to have a more financially successful year, though they too earned less money than in the previous year.

The California couple had an adjusted gross income of $1,695,300 in 2020, according to their tax returns. That is a 45% decrease over their 2019 earnings of $3,095,590.

Harris earned about $346,000 from her work as an author and the couple donated a little more than $27,000 to charity. In all, they owed a total of $621,893 in tax.

In contrast, tax returns obtained by The New York Times showed Trump paid $750 a year in taxes his first two years in office.

Throughout his presidency, Trump maintained that he was unable to release his returns because he was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. The move broke decades of presidential precedent. But the IRS has routinely audited the personal tax returns of every sitting president and vice president since the early 1970s, when President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew were both embroiled in tax scandals during the Watergate era.

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They Had Leftover COVID Vaccines. So They Offered Them To Their Canadian Neighbors

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They Had Leftover COVID Vaccines. So They Offered Them To Their Canadian Neighbors

John Harrower, a truck driver from the Canadian province of Manitoba, receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot in North Dakota in late April.

John Harrower

John Harrower

MONTREAL — With just over 3% of Canadians fully inoculated against COVID-19, a growing number of America’s northern border states and communities have stepped up to offer excess vaccines to Canadians.

Truck driver John Harrower was on the road last month when he heard on the radio that North Dakota had agreed to vaccinate truckers from his home province of Manitoba.

While the United States and Canada have limited travel between them during the pandemic, he still crosses the border twice a week under exemptions for truck drivers transporting goods.

“I phoned, and I talked to this lovely lady named Doris at North Dakota health. And she made my appointment,” he said, “for the next time I was coming past the rest stop.”

Harrower, 45, had struggled to find an appointment back home that would not require taking time off work. Amid a vaccine shortage and high demand, Manitoba and many other provinces are delaying second doses by up to four months.

In North Dakota, he was able to get the first Moderna dose in late April and will receive his second one within weeks.

In the U.S., more than 36% of the population are fully vaccinated, although the pace of daily doses administered has been slowing.

The cross-border vaccine offers have come after frustrations grew in Canada over the pace of arrival of the large numbers of doses the Canadian government has ordered. Even as provinces ramp up vaccinations this month, several remain under severe public health restrictions enacted to overcome a variant-driven wave of COVID-19 infections that has strained hospitals.

As vaccine demand slips in the U.S., some Canadians have jumped at the chance to put America’s surplus doses to use.

Time to be “working closely with our neighbors”

Last month, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said his state will vaccinate 4,000 truck drivers from Manitoba at roadside clinics and may also add oil workers. He said the program would have no impact on the progress of vaccinating North Dakotans.

“We’re starting to move from that place where instead of rationing vaccine, where we’re marketing it,” Burgum said in a news conference with the premier of Manitoba. “This is the time to move to start working closely with our neighbors.”

Drivers lined up for hours at the U.S. border near Cardston, Alberta, in late April to receive excess COVID-19 vaccines offered by the Blackfoot tribe to Canadians, some of whom traveled from as far as Toronto.

Lenora Many Fingers

Lenora Many Fingers

North Dakota expanded the program to include up to 2,000 truck drivers from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Last Monday, Montana began vaccinating drivers from neighboring Alberta, one of the Canadian provinces hit hardest by COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations this spring.

The territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy crosses the border between Alberta and Montana. The confederacy’s health director, Bonnie Healy, said over Zoom that its southern jurisdictions had achieved a 98% vaccination rate by April, and had hundreds of extra doses.

“Then it got to be urgent because their supply was going to expire if not used,” she said. The Blackfeet obtained permission to set up two vaccination clinics at the border, which members refer to as the “Medicine Line,” opening the second, at the end of April, to the general Canadian public.

“People were lining up in the middle of the night,” said Healy, “just really hoping for an opportunity to get vaccinated.”

With vaccine eligibility still descending by age group in Canada, she said, “We had some really sad cases of families not being able to leave their home for over a year because of the vulnerability of their 16 [or] 18-year-old family members that are severely immunocompromised.”

Sherry Cross Child, a Canadian resident of Stand Off, Alberta, receives a COVID-19 vaccine at the Piegan-Carway border crossing near Babb, Mont., on April 29. The Blackfeet tribe in northern Montana gave out surplus vaccines in April to its First Nations relatives and other residents from across the border.

Iris Samuels/AP

Iris Samuels/AP

The Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, which spans the borders of New York, Quebec and Ontario, was able to speed up vaccination of northern residents and others Canadians in close contact with community members.

In Alaska, the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, delivered shots to Canadians herself on a recent visit to Hyder, Alaska. The tiny community hopes vaccinations will help to ease restrictions on most travel to its nearest neighbor, Stewart, in British Columbia.

“Honestly, when I was vaccinating it was kind of like a block party feel,” said Zink. “People were like, ‘I haven’t seen you in a year. How are you? It’s so good to see you!’ “

She had to take three planes to reach Hyder. The only road access comes through Stewart. Hyder’s five school-age children were only allowed to attend classes in Stewart in November.

“If we can really have that whole community vaccinated, Canada and Hyder will feel more comfortable about opening that border and allowing those people to move back and forth,” Zink said, noting the importance of the summer season in Alaska for many seasonal workers.

The border closure has also profoundly isolated Point Roberts, Wash., which sits on a peninsula separated from the rest of the state by British Columbia.

Point Roberts Fire Chief Christopher Carleton said he would like to open drive-in vaccination clinics for American citizens living in Canada, or even Canadian second home-owners whose presence has been sorely missed by local businesses.

“They could come down,” he said, “spend the summer with us, be fully vaccinated with us, and return to Canada safely for the communities that they live in.”

He’d need special accommodations at the border from federal authorities, like those that made other cross-border clinics possible, including an exemption to Canada’s 14-day quarantine for returning travelers.

“We need vaccines. They have vaccines.”

David Musyj, president of Windsor Regional Hospital in Ontario, hopes to access vaccination at a larger scale for residents of his community, also home to 3,000 health care personnel who work on the U.S. side of the border. His hospital system has received patients transferred from the hard-hit Toronto region in recent weeks.

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, recently extended its stay-at-home order to June, citing high cases per capita and positivity rates.

Meanwhile, he noted, Canadians are inundated with American news coverage of states offering rewards and lotteries for Americans to get vaccinated.

Musyj said he has requested to have 75,000 excess vaccines offered by Michigan delivered to the Windsor region. He is also seeking ways to send more Canadians to vaccination sites across the border, in Detroit.

“We need vaccines. They have vaccines. They’ve been at it for weeks now where it’s walk-ins,” Musyj said. “They’re closing mass vaccination clinics down because there are not enough people.”

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Marking Legendary Golden-Age Pianist Erroll Garner’s Centennial

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Marking Legendary Golden-Age Pianist Erroll Garner’s Centennial

Prodigal pianist and composer Erroll Garner, whose centennial birthday will be marked in September.

Vernon Smith/Courtesy of the artist

Vernon Smith/Courtesy of the artist

Erroll Garner, the effervescent and boundlessly inventive jazz pianist and composer, died more than 40 years ago, at the age of 55. A household name and major concert attraction in his prime, he has recently regained a measure of cultural cachet thanks to the Erroll Garner Project, which made a splash five years ago with an expanded rerelease of Garner’s landmark album, Concert By the Sea.

The Garner Project went on to produce material like Nightconcert, a live album from 1964 [Disclosure: An album for which I wrote liner notes]; the Octave Remastered Series, consisting of 12 albums originally issued through Garner’s artist-owned label, and an associated podcast, hosted by jazz historian and scholar Robin D.G. Kelley. Back in 2018, Jazz Night in America devoted a radio episode to the wonders of Garner’s vault and the tireless efforts of his modern stewards. It should come as a surprise to no one, then, that the Erroll Garner Project has big plans in store for Garner’s centennial, which falls this June 15.

Working with the Mack Avenue Music Group, the Project will release a previously unissued album recorded in concert at Symphony Hall in Boston on Jan. 17, 1959. The concert, a sold-out affair produced by the equally legendary George Wein, featured Garner with his working rhythm team of Eddie Calhoun on bass and Kelly Martin on drums.

NPR Music has the exclusive premiere of one song from the concert: “Moment’s Delight,” an impressionistic idyll that previously appeared as the B side to Garner’s single “Misty” in 1957. (Both tunes appeared on the Columbia album Other Voices, featuring Mitch Miller and his orchestra.) In this version, Garner furnishes the tune with a rubato introduction before settling into an easy tempo, maintaining a soft cushion of left-hand tremolos. Almost precisely two minutes in, he adopts a sturdier approach, chording the pulse with his left hand while improvising colorful flourishes with his right.


In addition to Symphony Hall Concert, Mack Avenue and the Erroll Garner Project will release two boxed sets: Liberation In Swing: The Octave Records Story & Complete Symphony Hall Concert, which will feature the full Boston concert on 3 LPs; a single-LP compilation from the Octave Remastered series, and Liberation In Swing: Centennial Collection, which will include the Octave Remastered series on CD, a series of original 1967 promotional boxes with five 7-inch singles, and a cassette replica of Garner’s final live appearance in 1975 at Chicago venue Mister Kelly’s.

Both will include a 60-page hardcover book featuring examples of Garner’s Surrealist-inspired visual art, along with new essays by Dr. Kelley, drummer and NEA Jazz Master Terri Lyne Carrington, and singer and MacArthur Fellow Cécile McLorin Salvant.

On Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. ET, Carrington, Salvant and Dr. Kelley will participate in Erroll Garner at 100: Redefining a Legacy, a panel discussion presented by Jazz Congress. The panel, a virtual presentation accessible free of charge with conference registration, will also feature pianist Christian Sands, the Creative Ambassador of the Erroll Garner Jazz Project; and Peter Lockhart, who as senior producer with Octave Music has served as its lead coordinator.

YouTube

“History is often obscured, allowing for some of our distinguished messengers’ greatest offerings to be taken for granted,” Carrington writes in her essay. “The discovery of this concert recording helps us to clearly understand that Garner’s interpretive freedom of rhythm and melody, combined with his command of the instrument, made him light years ahead of his time.”

Symphony Hall Concert and both editions of Liberation in Swing will be released on Sept. 17.

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India’s Major Cricket Tournament Got Suspended. Should It Have Even Happened?

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India’s Major Cricket Tournament Got Suspended. Should It Have Even Happened?

Cyclists cycle past the main entrance of the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, India, a venue where cricket matches were taking place during the 2021 Indian Premier League — until it was suspended.

Sam Panthaky /AFP via Getty Images

Sam Panthaky /AFP via Getty Images

Sohini Mitter is a huge cricket fan. Normally, she would never miss the Indian Premier League (IPL), a glamorous, action-packed cricket tournament held every year during the months of April and May — and one of the biggest in the world. But this year, Mitter had other things on her mind.

“My parents’ illness coincided with the IPL,” Mitter told NPR.

Both her parents became sick during India’s deadly COVID-19 outbreak. For weeks, India has been confirming more new cases than anywhere else in the world and thousands of daily deaths. Desperate Indians have been turning to social media to procure oxygen cylinders and antiviral drugs. Hospitals in many cities are having to send away patients because there is no space and people have been dying without getting care.

But throughout April, the IPL, a star-studded festival of cricket, continued — sometimes less than half a mile from hospitals where desperate scenes from India’s COVID crisis were unfolding. Critics called it unethical, but fans said it kept them sane. Organizers said the games were cheering people up during a tough time. They defended their decision to keep them going — until one by one, the players started testing positive.

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Isolated from the virus … and from reality

This year’s IPL kicked off on April 9. Every evening that month, star players from India and more than half a dozen other countries squared off on the cricket pitch in their colorful jerseys. The games were held in six cities across India, in empty stadiums due to the pandemic. Audio engineers modified the broadcast with fake crowd cheers and boos for TV audiences. Cricket commentary was interspersed with public service announcements about masks and social distancing. To keep players safe from the virus, the tournament organizers put cricketers and staff in a bio-secure bubble, a special arrangement to limit contact with the outside world, similar to what the National Basketball Association did last year in Florida.

But to many Indians, it felt like the tournament was isolated not just from the virus but from reality, too.

“It was just as if [the IPL was] literally in a different bubble from whatever was happening in the country,” Mitter says.

Online, Indians’ opinions were split over whether the IPL was inappropriate or a blessing.

“If you look at it from the scale of tragedy unfolding & the prevailing medical emergency across India, it’s heartless to hv a sporting event mocking at all of us every evening. However, commercially they want to milk every bit by behaving like an ostrich. #Unconscionable #Apathy,” wrote @TheRahulMetra.

“Personally, I don’t begrudge the IPL for going on. I think it is still useful in helping people have some sense of normalcy every evening – and if only to keep them at home and sane. However, I totally understand & support players pulling out; might have done so myself too,” wrote @ZeeMohamed.

“Was it sensitive to be playing cricket when there was such a disaster, such a crisis happening in the rest of India?” says Karunya Keshav, co-author of a book on cricket.

Through much of April, as the extent of India’s crisis got clearer, there was very little public acknowledgement of the crisis from the IPL’s organizers, teams or players, Keshav says. While ordinary Indians were using social platforms like Twitter and Instagram to share pleas for medicines and oxygen to help COVID-19 patients, the IPL stuck to discussing cricket. Teams’ social media feeds were devoid of any COVID messaging. Some posts were criticized for being offensive. Shah Rukh Khan, a Bollywood actor who owns one of the IPL teams, the Kolkata Knight Riders, posted a celebratory tweet on April 24 about a new sponsor. Soon after, it triggered an online backlash from Indians who said the IPL could put its huge social media following to better use by amplifying requests for help.

The PSAs during matches about masks and social distancing were going on — but they felt inadequate, Keshav says. The backlash grew as the organizers failed to pledge any help for COVID relief and continued to hold matches in cities like Ahmedabad and New Delhi, where the outbreak was among the most severe.

“There was a feeling [among the public] that there wasn’t really any empathy coming from the teams and the organizers,” she says, adding that the players could have at least done something symbolic, like wearing black armbands to show solidarity with those who were suffering.

Some newspapers boycotted the tournament. “In such a tragic time, we find it incongruous that the festival of cricket is on in India,” an April 25 note from the editor of the New Indian Express said. “This is commercialism gone crass.”

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), a regulatory body that oversees the IPL, fended off calls to cancel the tournament by saying it was serving as a positive force during a crisis.

“When you all walk out onto the field, you are bringing hope to millions of people who have tuned in,” the BCCI’s interim CEO wrote to players in an internal email in late April. “While you are professionals and will play to win, this time you are also playing for something much more important … humanity.”

‘It all felt like something very unfair was happening’

Beyond the optics, there were deeper concerns that the IPL was putting a strain on resources already in short supply. While Indian citizens were scrambling to find ambulances to take their relatives to the hospital, IPL organizers had an ambulance on standby outside stadiums. Like many desperate Indians, Mitter had to run around for days in Mumbai to find coronavirus tests for her sick parents, who are both in their late 60s. IPL players, on the other hand, were getting tested almost daily.

“It all felt like something very unfair was happening compared to what the on-ground situation for the common man was,” Mitter says.

The IPL brand is valued at more than $6 billion, making it one of the richest sports tournaments in the world. To maintain the bio-bubble, the players and staff had separate check-in counters at airports when they traveled between matches. Organizers arranged state-of-the-art healthcare facilities for players, including the option to airlift them to safety.

Many cricket fans, and even one IPL player, questioned whether the tournament was doing enough for COVID-19 relief.

“How are these companies and franchises spending so much money, and the government, on the IPL when there’s people not being able to get accepted into hospitals?” Andrew Tye, who plays for the Rajasthan Royals team, told the media in his native Australia, after he decided to pull out of the tournament for “personal reasons.” Another Indian player withdrew to care for family members affected by COVID-19.

As criticism of the IPL mounted, a rare acknowledgement of the controversy from inside the tournament came on April 26. Australian Pat Cummins, of the Kolkata Knight Riders squad, shared a note on social media announcing a COVID-19 donation of $50,000.

“As players, we are privileged to have a platform that allows us to reach millions of people that we can use for good,” Cummins wrote, urging his fellow cricketers to contribute.

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‘Bring in some positivity and cheer’

Back in Mumbai, Mitter finally found coronavirus tests for her parents, and they both tested positive. Her mom was hospitalized and her dad was isolating at home.

“There was this haunting loneliness in the house because nobody was allowed to visit,” says Mitter. “[My dad] was in his own room, I would just leave food outside his room.”

Mitter says throughout the day her dad would just lay on his bed. He didn’t feel like doing anything. But when the cricket match came on in the evening, his mood would change.

“The impact of those four hours of distraction could be seen in his body language, his eating,” she says. “He would go to sleep a much more calm person than he would be in the morning.”

That’s when Mitter started feeling differently about the tournament.

“For selfish reasons I wanted the IPL to go on,” she says. “Because at least every day for four hours I could see my dad leading a normal life.”

But eventually, the coronavirus managed to penetrate even the IPL’s sophisticated bio-bubble. Several players tested positive and on May 4, nearly halfway through the tournament, the organizers suspended it indefinitely. Almost a whole month’s worth of games, including the final scheduled for May 30, were scrapped.

“We have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, however, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times,” the organizers said in a press release.

Since then, several individual players and almost all eight teams have announced financial contributions to COVID-19 funds or say they’re teaming up with nonprofits to help raise money for oxygen and other vital supplies.

“It is our moral responsibility to join this fight and help the country during these tough times,” the Punjab Kings team said in its fundraiser announcement. “The battle against the virus may be tough, but together, we shall overcome this.”

Mitter says suspending the games was the right thing to do but she worries about her dad. “He doesn’t know what to do with his evenings because there’s no IPL,” she says. Maybe the sports channel will air videos of old matches, she says.

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At Miss Universe, Contestants Mix Pageantry With Political Messages

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At Miss Universe, Contestants Mix Pageantry With Political Messages

Left to right: Miss Universe Uruguay Lola de los Santos, Miss Universe Myanmar Ma Thuzar Wint Lwin and Miss Universe Bernadette Belle Ong during the National Costume segment of Miss Universe 2021

Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Thuzar Wint Lwin strode down the runway at the Miss Universe pageant, in a costume that represented her Chin people in northwestern Myanmar.

When she got to the end, she took a bow and unfurled a scroll she’d been carrying.

“Pray for Myanmar,” it read.

It was a powerful message from Myanmar’s Miss Universe contestant — and a reference to the ongoing bloodshed in her country since the military junta seized power in February.

Miss Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin appears onstage at the Miss Universe 2021 – National Costume Show at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on May 13, 2021 in Hollywood, Florida.

Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

There was a time when pageants were dismissed in some quarters for superficiality peppered with some mealymouthed appeals for world peace. But in recent years, participants have openly embraced the platform that such contests offer – and in turn have used them to bring attention to issues dear to them.

At the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Holly wood, Florida, on Sunday night, Thuzar Wint Lwin wasn’t the only one whose costume sent a colorful social message.

Miss Universe Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong appears onstage at the Miss Universe 2021.

Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Miss Universe Singapore, Bernadette Belle Ong, walked the runway in a costume that bore the colors of her country’s national flag. When she turned around, the back of her dress made an undeniable impression. “Stop Asian Hate,” the hand-painted sign read.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans, ranging from verbal abuse to violent attacks, increased in several cities in the U.S. in 2020 from 2019. And six Asian American women were killed on March 16 in spa shootings in Atlanta.

“What is this platform for if I can’t use it to send a strong message of resistance against prejudice and violence!” she posted on Instagram.

Miss Universe Uruguay Lola de los Santos appears onstage at the Miss Universe 2021.

Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Miss Universe Uruguay too sent a message of understanding. Lola de los Santos’ rainbow skirt alluded to the violence and indignities that members of the LGBTQ community suffers and read: “No more hate, violence, rejection, discrimination.”

The weekend’s pageant was the 69th in Miss Universe history. It was delayed last year due to the pandemic. Seventy four contestants took part.

In the end, Miss Mexico Andrea Meza was crowned Miss Universe. “MÉXICO ESTO ES PARA TI,” Meza posted on Instagram. Translated, it reads:”Mexico this is for you.”

Miss Mexico Andrea Meza has been crowned Miss Universe 2020. Here, she appears onstage at the Miss Universe 2021 – National Costume Show at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on May 13, 2021 in Hollywood, Florida.

Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

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Winning Isn’t Everything: Tiny Desk Concerts From Standout Contest Entrants

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Winning Isn’t Everything: Tiny Desk Concerts From Standout Contest Entrants

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Each year, we ask unsigned artists from across the country to send us their songs as part of the Tiny Desk Contest. And each year, one artist wins the grand prize and gets to play their very own Tiny Desk concert.

But winning isn’t everything; NPR Music is introduced to thousands of talented musicians who send us videos of themselves playing their original songs behind their desks. We do our best to share the most impressive entries — NPR Music staff favorites; Contest judges’ favorites; public radio’s favorites and more — with the world. In the past, we’ve taken our winner on tour across the country and invited standout entrants to open for them. Sometimes, Bob Boilen is so blown away by an artist that, after seeing their performance, he invites them to play a set behind his Tiny Desk, too.

The first year of the Contest, we discovered Seratones, a gospel rock and roll band from Louisiana who caught our attention with singer-guitarist A.J. Haynes’ vibrant voice and enrapturing energy. In 2017, at the Tiny Desk Contest On The Road Tour in Portland, we met singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx. She entered the Contest three years in a row, and while she never won, she says the Contest changed her life. We invited Heynderickx to perform her cathartic, delicate songs behind the Desk in 2018.

The most powerful story Bob Boilen has ever come across at the Tiny Desk — a story of friendship, compassion and determination that left us all in tears — comes from Bernie and the Believers, who entered the Contest in 2018 and performed a Tiny Desk concert later that year. That same year, artist Lau Noah, who sings in Catalan, Spanish, English and sometimes Hebrew, earned a spot at the Desk after she dazzled us with her achingly beautiful and thought-provoking song “La Realidad.”

The Contest also introduced us to California rapper Hobo Johnson, whose singularity was undeniable. Over 20 million users on YouTube have been roped in by the crash-and-burn explosive emotion in his 2018 Contest entry, “Peach Scone.” (And when his viral entry earned him a spot behind Bob’s desk, Bob welcomed him with an apt offering: homemade peach scones.)

You’ll find performances from all these artists we discovered through the Contest and more in this playlist. And if you’re an unsigned artist with a song to share, we hope you’ll enter this year’s Tiny Desk Contest by June 7.


Tiny Desks In This Playlist

Seratones
Haley Heynderickx
Bernie and the Believers
Lau Noah
Hobo Johnson
Deqn Sue
River Whyless
Kuinka
Scott Mulvahill
&More

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Green, Violet, Oh My: NASA Rocket Launch Lights Up Eastern Skies

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Green, Violet, Oh My: NASA Rocket Launch Lights Up Eastern Skies

Joshua Guirguis saw a vapor tracer race across the sky in Marlton, N.J.

Joshua Guirguis

Joshua Guirguis

Swaths of East Coasters who looked up at the night sky on Sunday were treated to a light show, courtesy of NASA’s Black Brant XII rocket. And they’ve got the pictures to prove it.

The rocket launched at 8:44 p.m. ET from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. But it was the “vapor tracers” that it released into the atmosphere that most spectators glimpsed shooting across the sky.

Francis Murphy was in Assawoman, Va., across the bay from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, when he caught the launch of the KiNET-X mission.

Francis Murphy

Francis Murphy

On Twitter, those who captured the event shared photos of the wispy, phantom-like vapors trailing across the Atlantic Ocean in response to NASA’s tweet announcing lift-off. Others saw clouds glowing bright green or violet — a short-lived effect that occurs when the barium vapor ionizes as it is exposed to sunlight (though the violet sightings are rare, the space agency says, because the human eye can’t see the color very well in darkness.)

The purpose of the mission? To explore energy transfer in space. NASA uses the vapor tracers to track the movements of winds and ions in the upper atmosphere.

“The mission, called the KiNETic-scale energy and momentum transport eXperiment, or KiNet-X, is designed to study a very fundamental problem in space plasmas, namely, how are energy and momentum transported between different regions of space that are magnetically connected?” read a NASA news release.

The aerial show could be visible along most of the Eastern U.S., stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River, and in Bermuda, said NASA.

The sounding rocket ejected the vapor about 10 minutes into the flight at an altitude of over 200 miles, giving the bright hues just a half-minute window of viewing time.

Several people watching under Bermuda’s clear skies caught some of the sharpest photos of the neon green glares.

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U.N. Security Council Meets Over Israeli-Palestinian Violence

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U.N. Security Council Meets Over Israeli-Palestinian Violence

An excavator clears the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza City on Sunday, following Israeli airstrikes.

Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

Members of the United Nations Security Council met virtually Sunday to deliberate on the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Over the last past week, more than 180 Palestinians and 10 people in Israel have been killed.

Hamas militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel while Israel has responded with airstrikes.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres opened the meeting by expressing his concerns that if a cease-fire isn’t reached soon, violence will continue and the situation will spiral out of control. He called the current hostilities “utterly appalling.”

“This latest round of violence only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair. … The fighting must stop, it must stop immediately,” Guterres said. “The rockets and mortars on one side, aerial and artillery bombardments on the other, must stop. I appeal to all parties to hear this call. The United Nations is actively engaging all sides for an immediate cease-fire.”

Weeks of sporadic violence intensified in East Jerusalem earlier this month following protests over evictions of Palestinian residents from properties Jewish settlers are claiming as their own. And on May 6, Israeli police in riot gear confronted crowds of Muslim worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

In some cities inside Israel, Jewish and Palestinian mobs have attacked property and each another. Palestinian Arabs account for about 20% of Israel’s population.

Palestinians clash with Israeli forces at the Hawara checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Nablus on Sunday.

Majdi Mohammed/AP

Majdi Mohammed/AP

Nearly every country participating in Sunday’s talks urged both sides to agree to a cease-fire. Representatives acknowledged Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens, while simultaneously saying that Israel is in a more powerful position in this particular conflict, and must act accordingly.

The Israel Defense Forces has conducted hundreds of precision attacks against alleged Hamas structures and fighters. However, some of those attacks have damaged or destroyed refugee camps, schools, hospitals and, as of Saturday, a high-rise building that was home to several media organizations including The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera.

Speaking on Face the Nation on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel will “do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet and the security of our people and deterrence.”

Netanyahu said Israel, like other countries, has a right to defend itself.

“We’re trying to degrade Hamas’ terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again,” he said. “So, it’ll take some time. I hope it won’t take long, but it’s not immediate.”

The prime minister said the attacks against Hamas, which the United States recognizes as a terrorist organization, are targeting rocket sites, weapons caches and fighters.

When asked what proof the IDF had that Hamas was using the building that also housed the offices of the AP and Al-Jazeera, Netanyahu said Israel had intelligence that Hamas had “an intelligence office … that plots and organizes the terror attacks” from the building.

A building that housed The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and a number of offices and apartments was leveled by an Israeli air strike Saturday.

Hatem Moussa/AP

Hatem Moussa/AP

During the U.N. Security Council meeting, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour wondered how many Palestinian lives it would take for the international community to intervene. The conflict, he said, isn’t between quarrelling neighbors; it’s colonialism.

“There is no people on Earth that would tolerate this reality. Israel keeps saying, ‘Put yourselves in our shoes,’ but they aren’t wearing shoes, they are wearing military boots,” Mansour said. “Why not put yourself in our shoes? What would you do if your country was occupied? What would you do to achieve independence? How many Palestinians killed is enough for condemnation? We know one Israeli is enough, but how many Palestinians?”

Hamas combatants fired more rockets into Israel Sunday while Israeli airstrikes destroyed three buildings in Gaza and killed at least 42 people, marking the single deadliest day since the violence began a week ago.

U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said Sunday that at least 181 Palestinians, including 52 children, have been killed and 1,200 injured in airstrikes. At least 34,000 have been left homeless. In Israel, nine Israelis, including two children, and one Indian national were killed, and over 250 injured, he said.

Speaking to the U.N. Security Council, Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan echoed many of the prime minister’s statements, saying Hamas is using civilians as human shields and that Israel has a right to defend itself.

“Israel has made its choice. We will take all steps necessary to defend our people,” he told the U.N. “Now, you must make yours. The world is watching.”

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Israeli Airstrikes On Gaza Continue After Global Pro-Palestinian Protests

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Israeli Airstrikes On Gaza Continue After Global Pro-Palestinian Protests

People search for victims under the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza City’s Rimal residential district on Sunday, following Israeli airstrikes.

Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza continued Sunday as Hamas militants fired more rockets into Israel, marking the seventh day of the fire exchange. Three buildings in Gaza collapsed and at least 42 people were killed in what is now the deadliest single attack since fighting began a week ago, according to the Associated Press.

More than 180 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since last Monday, including dozens of children. Eight people have been killed in Israel. Thousands more in Gaza are now homeless as a result of the Israeli airstrikes.

The Israeli military said Sunday that it destroyed the home of Yahiyeh Sinwar, one of Hamas’ top officials, NPR’s Ruth Sherlock reports. Israel has targeted the homes of other Hamas officials, many who have gone into hiding.

The airstrikes on Sunday also led to a large crater in a main road that leads to Gaza’s largest hospital.

Hady Amr, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, is one of the international mediators working on an end to the fighting. The United Nations Security Council met on Sunday to discuss the ongoing conflict in an open meeting.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said what is happening is “utterly appalling” and called for an immediate end to the fighting.

“This latest round of violence only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace,” Guterres said. “Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately.”

Guterres reiterated U.N. calls for a ceasefire, saying there has already been “unconscionable death, immense suffering and damage to vital infrastructure.”

Pope Francis also called for an end to the fighting on Sunday, saying the deaths of innocent people, including children, are “unacceptable.”

Mariam Abou-Ghazala speaks to protesters and activists near the Washington Monument as part of pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world on Saturday.

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

On Saturday, thousands across the world took part in pro-Palestinian protests to commemorate Nakba Day, which marks in period 1948 when displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians began as Israel declared independence.

The Palestinian Youth Movement organized events in at least 22 cities across North America. In Washington, D.C., activists marched from the Washington Monument to the Capitol building chanting “Free, Free Palestine!” and demanding more action from the Biden administration. President Biden said last week that Israel “has a right to defend itself” and that he hoped the violence would end “sooner rather than later.”

Prior to the protests, an Israeli airstrike leveled a high-rise building on Saturday that housed the offices of The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and several other media outlets. The building, which was evacuated before the attack, also included residential apartments.

Israel Defense Forces released a statement saying the building was targeted because Hamas had intelligence offices there. But AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt is calling on the Israeli government to provide proof of that claim.

In a statement, Pruitt said that all the journalists and freelancers in the building made it out before the attack, but noted that the world will now “know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”

NPR’s Ruth Sherlock contributed to this report.

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Prepone That! Your Accent Is Funny! Readers Share Their ESL Stories

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Prepone That! Your Accent Is Funny! Readers Share Their ESL Stories
Comic

Marc Silver/ NPR

Last month, we published a story in collaboration with the NPR podcast Rough Translation about nonnative speakers navigating the world of “good” and “bad” English. Dozens of readers wrote in with their own stories about how challenging — and frustrating and rewarding — it can be to learn and teach English.

We’re featuring three responses that we found especially insightful: an English professor from India shares an English word she’s used for years — not found anywhere in the dictionary; an author points out the politics behind terms like “native language” and “mother tongue”; and an engineering professor discusses why stereotypes about “accented English” are totally hypocritical.

Brave new word

Aparna Gollapudi is a professor of English at Colorado State University who grew up in New Delhi. She used a word in her classroom one day that made her see her relationship to the English language in a totally new way. Here’s her story (edited for clarity and length):

A month or two after I began teaching in the U.S., I had to make some changes to the class schedule. “We’ll need to prepone the quiz, I’m afraid,” I said, steeling myself for the groans from students that were sure to follow.

Instead, there was deafening silence.

I looked around to see blank expressions on my students’ faces — that look of “I have NO idea what you just said,” which stops any teacher worth their salt mid-lecture to backtrack and explain a concept further.

It was then, in the 33rd year of my life, that I found out that “prepone” was not an actual word in English, based on the dogma that all legitimate words in a language must be found in a dictionary.

I believed that prepone meant the opposite of postpone — moving an event to an earlier time rather than putting off something to a later time. So when I realized it wasn’t “proper” English, I was dumbfounded, flummoxed, astounded, nonplussed, flabbergasted (and all the other words in the Oxford English Dictionary that mean “mind blown”). It was akin to a paradigm shift in my linguistic self-image.

I had grown up in India, where fluency in English is synonymous with education and cultural privilege. I was an English major with a robust vocabulary, a “convent school” accent and fondness for reading Dickens, Austen and other such august writers, and my comfort with English had insidiously shaped my sense of self. In a world divided into linguistic “haves” and “have-nots” I definitely knew I was one of the “haves.”

But that day in the classroom, my incomprehensible English taught me that being an linguistic “have” is unstable and delusional at best. It is a lesson I have learned many times over since then. From my tendency to confuse pronouncing ‘v’ and ‘w’ (vonderful wegetables!), my occasional Britishisms (thrice and not three times) to my initial shock at a TV show titled “Pimp My Ride” (what DO Americans do to their cars??!!) — leaving India took me out of my insulated and privileged linguistic bubble and opened my eyes to the rich world of Englishes rather than “proper” English.

In fact, there are many varieties of English that have developed in previously colonized nations (or in countries currently dominated economically by the U.S.). These countries have taken a language imposed on them by historical circumstances and made it their own. So by acknowledging the validity of these localized or indigenous versions of English instead of just seeing them as “not right,” one can begin to subvert the linguistic tyranny that continues long after the actual British empire has dissolved.

In the classroom, I have learned to embrace my occasional linguistic “otherness” with humor. When I stumble while pronouncing some words — woeful virgin, for example (and there are plenty of those in 18th century literature!) I just stop and shrug and say with a grin, “Hang on, folks.”

And of course, though prepone is not yet a proper word, it’s so very useful and concise that it’s a shame to consign it to the heap of Wrong English. So these days, I’ve made it my mission to popularize this handy little word and tell my students all about it!

Who gets to have the label “native speaker”?

Srikanth Chander Madani is an author with interests in climate change, social equity and the creative arts. Under the pseudonym Karn Kant, he is the author of Encounters of a Slow Traveler: Nietzsche, Hope and Where Are You From. His work addresses the question of identity and “placing people in boxes” — two ideas that can often be tied to language and accent. Madani shares his experiences being asked to prove his language proficiency time and time again.

The words we use to describe the many ways to speak English — like “mother tongue,” “native” and “non-native” speaker — are often fraught.

Srikanth Chander Madani is experienced with many languages: “My ‘mother-tongue’ is Hebbar,” Madani says, “a language specific to a certain group of Indians who moved between two linguistic regions centuries ago, with words from Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada.”

He speaks English, Hindi, German and French fluently. He’s in the process of learning Italian and trying to improve his written French. And he says he’s unsuccessfully tried to learn several more languages but “many words [from these languages] and their music” have stayed with him.

Madani has found it frustrating to be so frequently asked to credential his ability to speak languages he is both proficient and prolific in.

“In one instance,” he said, “while working at a large Swiss firm, an American manager quibbled at my CV asserting that English was my native language.

” ‘Why not?,’ I asked.”

” ‘Because ‘native’ refers to the language you spoke as a child,’ she answered with a tender, patient look.”

“I grew up with three languages, as my parents did not share the same ‘mother tongue’ ” Madani says. “And, in any case, how would this manager know what language I grew up with? I was especially miffed as she spoke but one language.”

The whole concept of “mother tongue” is a political construct to keep certain people out, says Madani. “[The American manager] did not want someone like me to be in the same club as her.”

According to Madani, the hoops that many non-American or non-British English speakers are forced to jump through in order to credential their English seem nonsensical when their American and British counterparts with equal or lesser proficiency are never asked to prove it.

“Having lived in the U.K., I know many whose first (and only) language is English and who make routine errors when speaking and many more when writing,” says Madani. “Why should they get a free pass and not be forced to go through a TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language] or IELTS [International English Language Testing System]? These tests not only cost money but add to the complexity and time of Kafkaesque processes.”

All accents welcome

Sergio Serrano is a professor of engineering science and applied mathematics at Temple University. Having lived in North America for 40 years after growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, Serrano shares his experience speaking English in academic settings and dealing with accent stereotypes.

Sergio Serrano has participated in many international scientific conferences across the globe. “In a typical situation, a group of foreign researchers are discussing a complex technical issue with very precise and elaborate formal English,” Serrano says, “until an American joins the group.”

In our previous article about speaking English, we discussed research that found understanding goes down in a room of nonnative speakers when a native English speaker joins the conversation. The research found that communication is inhibited in part due to native speakers’ use of language not held in common, like culturally specific idioms.

But this scenario doesn’t fit with Serrano’s experiences of English, where nonnative English speakers who learned the language in a classroom are often more educated on grammar rules and complex technical terms than American native speakers.

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For Serrano, when an American joins in a conversation among nonnative speaking scientists, the conversation does falter, but not because the American’s language is too complex.

“On the contrary, communication ends because [the foreign researchers] cannot explain to the American, in simple language, the advanced topics they were discussing. Yet, the American takes over the conversation.”

Serrano also discusses his experiences being singled out for his accent.

“After 40 years living in North America,” he says, “I still encounter the situation when a stranger interrupts me after a few words I spoke to interrogate me: ‘You have a strong accent. Where are you from?’ It is a continuous reminder that you are forever an alien in your own country.”

“I politely explain my origins, and then I add, ‘I cannot catch your accent. Where are you from?,’ ” says Serrano. Indeed, those who single out Serrano for having a “strong accent” seem to be unaware that everybody (themselves included) has an accent.

This article was written in collaboration with Rough Translation, a podcast from NPR whose mission is to “follow familiar conversations into unfamiliar territory.” Rough Translation‘s episode, “How to Speak Bad English,” is out now. The podcast is available from NPR One, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Spotify and RSS.

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