Book lovers rejoice! Tis the season to curl up with a good read. If you're in need of some literary inspiration, here's a novel idea: let NPR's Book Concierge guide you through this year's best picks, cover by cover.
If revenge is a dish best served cold, in Washington it can also be served with a heaping side of irony.
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to Sen. Mitch McConnell's request to let Senate Republicans participate in the high-profile case Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board.
The question in that case is whether President Obama abused his recess appointment power in naming NLRB members. The president claims the Senate was in recess, which would make his appointments constitutional; Senate Republicans dispute Obama, saying the chamber wasn't in recess.
The court had initially given the lawyers for the administration and Noel Canning 60 minutes to make their case.
But McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, asked for time to present the Senate minority's position. The court granted that, adding 30 minutes for arguments. The administration will now get 45 minutes; Noel and Senate Republicans will split the same amount of time.
And the lawyer poised to make the Senate GOP's argument before the Supreme Court? Miguel Estrada, who argued the case for Senate Republicans in the lower court.
At the start of George W. Bush's administration, it was Democrats who filibustered Bush's nomination of Estrada to the D.C. Circuit. That filibuster contributed to the toxic spiral of filibusters that first caused Senate Republicans, then Democrats, to threaten using the nuclear option to weaken senators' ability to filibuster nominations until Democrats actually did it last month.
If the Obama administration and Senate Democrats wind up losing in the Supreme Court, the Estrada and nuclear-option backstory could make the win for Republicans especially sweet.
The track record of commercial products designed with privacy as a top priority has been abysmal — at least until recently. The ephemeral texting app Snapchat is turning assumptions upside down about young people and their desire for digital privacy.
Fred Cate, director of applied cybersecurity research at Indiana University, is an expert on privacy in the digital age. But when it comes to the viability of tech products that promise privacy, Cate has always been skeptical.
"We have seen so many privacy-oriented companies come and go," he says. "And I am not talking about a handful, I'm talking about hundreds of companies that offered services like, you could shop confidentially, you could ship confidentially. Not a single one has succeeded in the market."
Until now — with Snapchat.
Snapchat lets users send photos and short messages that disappear from a recipient's phone after just a few seconds. It's wildly popular, especially among teens.
"Everyone else started to communicate with Snapchat," says Sophie Varon, a high school student from Oakland who works with Youth Radio. "So I had to get it, because everybody else was getting it."
Her Youth Radio colleague, Sunday Simon, has reported on why teens are taken with these ephemeral messages.
"If you put it on Snapchat, and it goes away, that was the purpose — you didn't want it to be permanent, you didn't want it to stick," Simon says.
Despite some parental paranoia, this app is not usually about sexting. Simon surveyed teens and asked to describe their "snaps." Some of the most common responses: ugly, greasy, funny.
Snapchat simply lets kids share photos that aren't part of some permanent social media record. The app now shares more than 400 million ephemeral photos every day.
For years, the conventional wisdom was that privacy doesn't sell: It's not sexy, no one wants it, young people don't care. But Snapchat sort of questions those assumptions.
"The people that care are ... well, kids, number one," says Drea London, a security consultant at digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg.
And it makes sense: Teens are among the most heavily monitored people on the planet, when you think about how some parents treat their kids' cellphones.
But, London says, even though Snapchat might stop moms and dads from snooping through their teenagers' cellphones, their snaps won't be safe from hackers like her.
"It's great for what it is, right? Its purpose is not to share national secrets," she says. "You've got more sophisticated tools that actually advertise to a different audience."
These tools include Wickr and Silent Circle. They're both apps that take privacy seriously. Like Snapchat, Wickr is free app offering messages and photos that self-destruct. But unlike with Snapchat, when London and her colleagues tried to trace conversations on Wickr, they came up completely blank — no metadata, nothing.
Thor Halvorssen, founder of at the Human Rights Foundation, uses Wickr to talk to activists around the world. He says these contacts in authoritarian countries used to censor themselves out of fear that they were being watched.
"Wickr has changed a lot of this, as have some of the apps for encrypted voice," Halvorssen says.
These apps are tough to crack, even for spy agencies, because they use something called perfect forward secrecy. It's like using a really strong lock and never using the same lock twice, Wickr co-founder Robert Statica explains.
"Once you generate the key, only one message will be encrypted with that particular key," he says.
In the past couple of weeks, Twitter and Microsoft announced that they'll start using this technology too, presumably to thwart the likes of the NSA.
In a little more than a year, Wickr has been downloaded more than a million times. Still, that's nowhere near the kind of runaway success that Snapchat experienced.
Cate, with Indiana University, says Snapchat's success doesn't necessarily prove that privacy is a profitable.
"Nothing would make me happier than to think that privacy was gaining traction in the marketplace," Cate says. "The problem, of course, is we now have a sort of sample of one."
And even though Snapchat is popular, it's not profitable. Despite a recent offer from Facebook to buy the company for billions of dollars, it doesn't produce any revenue.
This week's pick for World Cafe: Next is Dott, a young quartet from Galway, Ireland. The music on the band's debut album, Swoon, calls upon the sounds of garage-pop, with chugging, jangly guitars out front and the vocals of Anna McCarthy on top.
Sometimes, the other two women of Dott, Laura Finnegan and Miriam Donahue, will chime in on the harmonies, while Tony Higgins makes his presence known on the drums. Hear two tracks from the glowing and infectious Swoon when you download this week's podcast.
- "Small Pony"
- "Talk To You"
Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott perform together on Mountain Stage, recorded live on the campus of East Tennessee State University. Recognized as two of roots music's most respected singers, songwriters and instrumentalists, O'Brien and Scott took a break from their busy solo careers in 2000 to record their first album as a duo, titled Real Time. The record included many performances that are now considered classics, including "Long Time Gone," which was covered by The Dixie Chicks.
Thirteen years later, the duo returned to the studio to record Memories and Moments. Here, O'Brien plays fiddle and mandolin, while Scott sticks mostly to the guitar. The set includes songs from their previous stint together, along with material from their new album. "Keep Your Dirty Lights On," which is featured in this set, received a 2013 Grammy nomination for Best American Roots Song.
- "Brother Wind"
- "Long Time Gone"
- "Time To Talk To Joseph"
- "Memories And Moments"
- "It All Comes Down To Love"
- "Keep Your Dirty Lights On"
- "House Of Gold"
- "Small Pony"
- "Talk To You"