Arts & Culture

Arts & culture

I came home from a trip the other day with a small plastic bag filled with 4 ounces of brown powder that, truth be told, made me a little nervous.

The powder had a strong odor that reminded me of badly burnt coffee, with perhaps a note of brown sugar.

I didn't dare open that bag. It contained crude caffeine, about 90 percent pure. That small bag held as much caffeine as 1,000 tall lattes from Starbucks, or 2,000 cans of Coke or Pepsi. It was enough to kill several people.

Marley Dias is like a lot of 11-year-olds: She loves getting lost in a book.

But the books she was reading at school were starting to get on her nerves. She enjoyed Where The Red Fern Grows and the Shiloh series, but those classics, found in so many elementary school classrooms, were all about white boys or dogs ... or white boys and their dogs, Marley says.

Black girls, like Marley, were almost never the main character.

Just days away from the Oscars, Hollywood continues to face down questions over its lack of diversity — particularly among the nominees for its top prize. The controversy has helped prompt a viral hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, and has led the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to pledge to diversify in years to come.

At the end of a grueling Academy Awards race, we at Pop Culture Happy Hour like to unwind with a good, long talk we call our "Oscars Omnibus" — a roundup of our thoughts on all the Best Picture nominees, notable acting nominees, and issues and themes surrounding the prior year in movies. This year gave us plenty to chew on, as you can imagine, and as you can hear for yourself on this page.

U.S. Navy

Living alone isn't always easy, but living alone for almost two decades?

On San Nicholas Island, the woman who inspired "Island of the Blue Dolphins" did just that.

All that glitters is not gold in the chintzy mythological adventure Gods of Egypt, but most of it is — a CGI jewel-box festooned with golden sands and towering spires, golden spears and diamond-spackled bracelets, and metallic wings that shimmer in the sun. Even the gods themselves, once shivved in battle, bleed out in resplendent puddles of liquid gold.

In Triple 9's beyond-shadowy opening, a group of reprobates discusses plans for a military-precision bank robbery. The illumination is so dim that a bit of Anthony Mackie's brow is about all that's visible. Subsequent scenes allow a little more light, yet this laughably nihilistic movie just gets darker and darker.

A 'Last Man' Imperfectly Remembered

Feb 25, 2016

Humans have an easier time remembering the first and last of things than we do the middles. The ends bulge out in our minds, becoming signifiers of the whole. So for someone raised in the United States, when you're asked to recall the men we've sent to the moon, your mind probably goes first to the originals: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. You'll perhaps associate their names with the swelling up of pride the nation felt at seeing those boots hit the lunar turf for the first time.

Meat has a greater impact on the environment than pretty much any other food we eat. As The Salt has reported, billions of cows, pigs, sheep and poultry we raise as livestock guzzle massive quantities of water and generate at least 10 percent of the total greenhouse gases attributed to human activity.

But scientists say we've been slow to acknowledge yet another side effect of our taste for meat: nitrogen pollution.

Publishing giant Simon & Schuster is launching a new imprint, Salaam Reads, which will focus on children's and young adult books featuring Muslim kids and families.

The company said in a statement that it believes Salaam Reads, launched Wednesday, is "the first imprint at a major publisher focused on Muslim characters and stories." (The five big publishing houses are home to several Christian imprints, while numerous small, independent publishers focus on a variety of religions.)

If you're tired of overwhelming whiteness at the Academy Awards, you're in good company. Famous people and normals alike have expressed indignation over the fact that for the second year in a row, zero people of color were nominated for any acting award.

The night Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston, the reigning heavyweight champion, crowds had squeezed into the venue, expecting to watch Liston beat the stuffing out of the young braggart. The odds were 7-to-1 in Liston's favor. The air was filled with testosterone and cigar smoke. Few people noticed the tall, quiet man at ringside, immaculately dressed in a dark suit and tie and crisp white shirt, watching the fight intently.

Should Sprouts Come With A Warning Label?

Feb 25, 2016

You will never catch prominent food-safety attorney Bill Marler eating sprouts. Not on a heaping deli sandwich. Not on a freshly tossed salad. He puts them in the same category as raw milk — a food item he says is not worth the risk it carries. Unfortunately, 13 people sickened across four states have discovered that risk the hard way.

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Plenty Of Shadows Loom In 'Gathering'

Feb 25, 2016

The title of this followup to V.E. Schwab's 2015 fantasy novel A Darker Shade Of Magic might be considered a warning for impatient readers: In A Gathering Of Shadows, plenty of shadows gather. Portents simmer. Tension mounts. Disaster looms. Evil threatens. But nothing much comes of any of it until the final pages, which dash to an intense cliffhanger ending.

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