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With a stroke of her pen, Queen Elizabeth II is giving royal support to equal rights.

Her majesty is expected to sign a new charter for the Commonwealth on Monday. The charter declares the core values for the 54 member states, most of which were once under British rule. It's getting attention for statements on gender equality and what it may imply for gay rights.

Last-minute preparations are under way at the Vatican where the conclave to elect the new pope begins Tuesday.

The 115 cardinal electors will remain at the Sistine Chapel incommunicado from the rest of the world as they vote. In the era of social media, however, Vatican officials are taking every precaution to prevent cardinals from yielding to the temptation to tweet and text.

A soft-spoken, clean-shaven, 31-year-old aid worker hopes to determine, in part, the future of Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky launched a nationwide conversation last week with his 13-hour filibuster of the president's nominee to lead the CIA.

Paul vowed to keep talking until the White House clarified whether it has authority to kill U.S. citizens on American soil with drones.

There are only about 1,000 people of pure Hawaiian descent left in the world, but island residents are cooking up an idea to keep native island culture from fading away. The key ingredient? Reviving a starchy food called poi.

Lucy is a stereotypically giddy black labradoodle. She's not what you picture when you think of a military dog serving on the front lines in Afghanistan. She wiggles around the room chasing her tennis ball and thinks my microphone cover is a chew toy.

But her handler, Spc. Heath Garcia, says when Lucy is on a mission, she's all business. She's highly trained to sniff out improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which are the No. 1 killer of civilians and troops in Afghanistan.

Did you leave a message after our prompt? For Round 10 of Three-Minute Fiction, we asked you to submit a short story in the form of a voice mail message. For this contest, the original fiction must be read in about three minutes, no more than 600 words.

After four weeks and more than 4,000 stories, we have a winner.

Venezuela's elections commission announced Saturday that voters will go to the polls on April 14 to choose a successor to President Hugo Chavez, who died this week after a battle with cancer.

The nation's constitution mandated that an election be called within 30 days of Chavez's death on March 5, but the scheduled date falls outside of that window. Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's vice president, was sworn in as interim leader on Friday.

The weekends on All Things Considered series Movies I've Seen A Million Times features filmmakers, actors, writers and directors talking about the movies that they never get tired of watching.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ARMAGEDDON")

STANLEY ANDERSON: (as the President) What is this thing?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's enormous.

BILLY BOB THORNTON: (as Dan Truman) It's an asteroid, sir.

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

In the 1998 film "Armageddon," the character played by Bruce Willis saves the Earth by knocking aside an asteroid headed straight for us. Pure fiction, right? Well, maybe not.

In the 1940s and '50s, Tadd Dameron worked with everyone who was anyone in jazz, from Miles Davis to Artie Shaw, Count Basie to John Coltrane. Everything Dameron touched had one thing in common, says Paul Combs, author of Dameronia: The Life and Work of Tadd Dameron.

"A penchant for lyricism," Combs says. "Almost everything that he writes has a very lyrical grace to it."

It was supposed to be the most modern election in African history. Biometric identification kits with electronic thumb pads, registration rolls on laptops at every polling station, and an SMS-relayed, real-time transmission of the results to the National Tallying Center in Nairobi.

Ambitious? Of course. Only 23 percent of the country has access to electricity.

The Islamist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra has been secretive, keeping to itself and refusing to meet Western journalists. The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the Obama administration and was thought to be made up mostly of foreign fighters, working alongside Syrian rebels.

But lately, members are starting to open up as more Syrians join the group and they make more gains on the ground in the fight against the Syrian government.

Could This Robot Save Your Job?

Mar 9, 2013

The man who invented Roomba, the robotic vacuum, is back — this time, with Baxter. Rodney Brooks, roboticist and entrepreneur, brought Baxter, his latest robot, to the TED conference in Long Beach, Calif., last week.

Ex-skater and former US Speedskating President Andy Gabel faces a second accusation of sexual misconduct, as first reported by member station WUWM in Milwaukee.

Former skater Nikki Meyer told the NPR affiliate that she was assaulted by Gabel in the 1990s when she was 15 and he was 26.

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

Snowquester fizzled.

Wednesday was more or less canceled this week in official Washington, D.C. An enormous winter storm bore down on the region, threatening ice, a foot of snow in the city (more in the suburbs), and wind and misery throughout the region.

Most of the federal government was closed. I know, I know. How could they tell? Local governments and schools, too. Flights were canceled, planes diverted, and throngs descended on grocery stores, picking the shelves clean of bread, milk and toilet tissue.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Two American sailors were laid to rest yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery more than 150 years after they died.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "TAPS")

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

If it just sounded like this, might not be all that bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRASSHOPPER)

SIMON: That's a grasshopper, and this is the sound of what happens when grasshoppers go biblical, and become a swarm of locusts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWARM OF LOCUSTS)

SIMON: Just such a swarm of locusts have entered Israel's Negeve desert on Friday and that's bad news for farmers because the insects eat everything that's green.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

At the same time, there are millions of Americans you can't find in monthly job reports. They've been unemployed so long they're no longer counted, or they're working just a few hours a week in jobs that can't support them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also said yesterday that what they call the labor force participation rate fell again to 63.5 percent, the lowest number since 1981.

It takes an adventurous palate to be a food journalist, who must sample and judge from a wide world of cuisines. So it's understandable why some chefs and foodies might be suspicious of a food editor who decides to cut himself off from a broad swath of eating possibilities by becoming vegetarian.

Sure, we know that gluten-free is the Jennifer Lawrence of food trends. But we were still startled to hear that one-third of Americans say they're trying to avoid gluten. Really?

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the participants in this project have been speaking about being separated from their loved ones.

This week, Weekend Edition is featuring two stories of families reuniting after deployment.

Brothers' Bond

Both of the Radlinski brothers served in the Navy. Luke deployed in 2001 to the Persian Gulf in support of the conflict in Afghanistan. His brother, Mark, went to Iraq in 2006.

Venezuela's late president, Hugo Chavez, was a tremendous supporter of Latin American countries, especially those sympathetic to his socialist ideals.

The country's vast oil reserves are a key source of economic aid, but the Chavez didn't just help out his ideological peers like Cuba and Nicaragua. He was also a great benefactor to key U.S. allies in the Caribbean — many of whom now worry whether their vital oil lifeline is about to be shut off.

Susan Spencer-Wendel knows how to spend a year.

She left her job as an award-winning criminal courts reporter for The Palm Beach Post and went to the Yukon to see the northern lights. Then to Cyprus, to meet family that she never knew. She and her husband, John, took their children on trips on which her daughter got to try on wedding dresses and Susan got kissed by a dolphin.

A Big Battle Over A Tiny Isle In The Nile

Mar 9, 2013

It's not easy to get to Qursaya island, a tiny bit of land in the middle of the Nile River in Cairo, Egypt's capital. You have to take a boat from the riverbank. There are no cars on the island, and it's only had running water for a few years.

It's a quiet 70-acre patch of agricultural land amid a megacity, where mooing cows provide the soundtrack, and farmers and fishermen have lived for generations.

But not all is as bucolic as it seems: The island is at the heart of a yearslong legal battle between those farmers and the government.

When it comes to talking a big game, no one does it better than the North Koreans.

Just this week, Pyongyang vowed to turn Seoul, the capital of archrival South Korea, into a "sea of fire," promised to launch a "pre-emptive strike on the headquarters of the aggressors" (read: the United States) and called on its army to "annihilate the enemy."

A bomb exploded near the Defense Ministry in Kabul on Saturday morning as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was visiting in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility, calling it a message to the new Pentagon chief.

Update At 10:49 a.m. ET: Hagel Not Surprised

Hagel was nowhere near the attack, but the AP reports he heard the blast:

A French mother was in court Wednesday for what she says was a simple birthday celebration but what the government alleges is a clear provocation, an allusion to terrorism.

The BBC reports that Bouchra Bagour, 35, has been charged with "glorifying crime" after she sent her three-year-old son — named Jihad — to school wearing a T-shirt that read "I am a bomb" and "Born on 11 September."

The BBC adds:

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