The NPR staff likes celebrating the year at our holiday office party just as much as any team of fun-loving employees.
But before we gather to drink warm beverages and mingle over appetizers while festive music plays in the background, we like to... work up our appetites.
We're talking about the annual relay challenge, where we compete in somewhat wacky, yet always clever, feats of smarts and speed. And where prizes include tote bags (of course), and the obviously-more-important bragging rights.
In the years past, the relay has always been held outside, where team members tag-teamed it around the entire building, competing in ego-crushing challenges along the way.
With our move to a new headquarters building earlier this year, we decided some fresh traditions were in order. So we brought the relay inside our main lobby and asked NPR White House Correspondent Scott Horsely to follow up with several of the teams for a game day tradition: post-competition interviews.
First, he talked with the winners, the 'Angry Nerds' from Finance, about how teamwork helped them come out first:
(Editor's Note: The prize wasn't a quarter of a million dollars. It really was a tote bag.)
Then, when talking to the intern team, who finished last, Horsley asked if they had a rebuilding plan for next year:
(Another Editor's Note: The competition was not rigged to ensure that interns came in dead last.)
Ok, yeah, from NPR program name Pictionary to making Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish recipe while blindfolded, we had a pretty fun time during this year's relay. And we've got the pictures to prove it.
NPR producer Victor Holliday contributed to this post.
Word from the Obama administration that Americans who recently had their health insurance canceled will be allowed to buy "catastrophic policies" mostly intended for young adults has upset the insurance industry, NPR's Julie Rovner tells our Newscast desk.
The Washington Post goes a bit further, saying that the administration's decision to once again relax some of the rules of the new federal health care law sparked "an immediate backlash from the health insurance industry and raised fairness questions about a law intended to promote affordable and comprehensive coverage on a widespread basis."
Here's how Julie describes what's happening:
"Six U.S. senators — five Democrats and one independent — asked the Department of Health and Human Services to allow people whose policies were cancelled and were facing higher premiums to be allowed to purchase the less expensive, but also less generous catastrophic plans.
"Those plans had been limited to those under age 30 and those who could prove financial hardship.
"HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius confirmed in a letter to the senators that those whose plans have been cancelled and who have been unable to find affordable replacement coverage will be considered as part of that hardship group.
"The insurance industry, however, says potentially allowing many more people to buy stripped down policies could destabilize an already fragile market."
"The Oct. 1 launch of the HealthCare.gov website became an embarrassment for the administration after problems with the online gateway to coverage froze out millions of potential customers. But the biggest political damage to the president has come from cancellations issued to at least 4 million people who had individual plans they purchased themselves. Those plans did not pass muster under the health care law, which generally requires more robust benefits."
But the chances announced Thursday, "could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers," Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the insurance industry's trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans, said.
Bloomberg News adds that "the change, which administration officials said will affect fewer than 500,000 people, comes days before a Dec. 23 deadline for people to buy new coverage effective Jan. 1." Bloomberg also rounds up the administration's recent responses to the difficult roll out of its program:
"Obama has responded with a flurry of last-minute policy changes to give people more time to sign up for insurance and blunt the effect of cancellations.
"He announced Nov. 14 that states could allow plans to extend current policies for a year. ... A week later, he pushed back the deadline to sign up for coverage effective Jan. 1 by eight days, to Dec. 23.
"On Dec. 13, the administration urged insurers to provide more leniency to people shopping for new coverage by allowing them to pay for plans later in January and sign up retroactively for coverage beginning Jan. 1. The government also asked insurers to cover care from any doctor or hospital in January and to cover refills of prescriptions during the month regardless of any network restrictions."
The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- Paul Torday, the author of the 2007 novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, died Wednesday at the age of 67. After many years as a businessman, he came out with his first novel, Salmon Fishing, when he in his early 60s. The book follows a sheikh who has a vision of salmon filling the Yemen River and "my countrymen ... all classes and manner of men" standing side-by-side to fish. To achieve it, he turns to British fishery expert Alfred Jones. The book became a runaway hit and was turned into a movie with Ewan McGregor, Amr Waked and Emily Blunt. The film was so popular that the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board had to warn tourists that there is not, in fact, salmon fishing in Yemen. Torday published six more novels in the years before he died, each in a different genre.
- J.K. Rowling will co-produce a play based on her Harry Potter books, according to a statement posted on her website, which says that production will explore "the previously untold story of Harry Potter's early years as an orphan and outcast." The play will open on London's West End. Back in September, you may recall, there was word that she's writing the screenplay for a Potter spinoff film.
- In an essay published in The Guardian, author Dave Eggers condemns the National Security Agency's surveillance programs: "Think back to all the messages you have ever sent. All the phone calls and searches you've made. Could any of them be misinterpreted? Could any of them be used to damage you by someone like the next McCarthy, the next Nixon, the next Ashcroft? This is the most pernicious and soul-shattering aspect of where we are right now. No one knows for sure what is being collected, recorded, analysed and stored — or how all this will be used in the future."
- The New Yorker has launched a poetry podcast, hosted by Irish poet Paul Muldoon. He writes that, "each podcast consists of a conversation between myself and a guest poet. In each, the guest reads not only a poem of hers that has appeared in The New Yorker but also introduces, and reads, a poem by another contributor to the magazine that she particularly admires." The first podcast featured Philip Levine.
- The Detroit-based literary group Write-A-House will award a handful of writers a home in Detroit. The writers will live-rent free for two years, and after that, will be given the deeds to the houses. "It's like a writer's-in-residence program, but the writers get to keep the homes, forever," the group's fundraising page says, adding, "We believe this is a city that could really use some more writers."
Andrea Elliott, the author of "Invisible Child," a recent New York Times series that followed a homeless girl named Dasani, has sold a book based on the series to Random House. Dasani, Elliott wrote in the Times, "belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America." According to Publisher's Weekly, the book "will go deeper than the series and speak more broadly to the issue of child poverty in the U.S."
Good morning, here are our early stories:
And here are more early headlines:
Senate Reaches Deal On Presidential Nominations; Yellen's In Jan. (Los Angeles Times)
Jailed Russian Financier And Dissident Pardoned By Putin, Goes Free. (Guardian)
Credit Rating Agency Lowers European Union's AAA Rating. (Bloomberg)
Firefighters Gain More Control Over California's Big Sur Blaze. (AP)
Gunmen Slay Philippines Mayor In Airport Shooting. (CNN)
California School To Test Hundreds For Tuberculosis. (Desert Sun)
Oklahoma Suspect Finishes Marriage Proposal Before Arrest. (AP)
"Ham Jam" After Truck Spills 40,000 Roasts On Georgia Highway. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)