Weekend Edition Sunday for Sunday, February 9, 2014

Humanitarian workers continue to try to evacuate civilians from the besieged Syrian city of Homs as negotiators in Geneva prepare for the next round of peace talks. NPR's Rachel Martin gets the latest from reporter Alice Fordham in Geneva.

Al-Qaida Steps In To Step Out Of Syria

Al-Qaida's central leadership has cut ties with the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria, or ISIS. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with Jessica Stern, author of Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, about what this split tells us about the future of al-Qaida.
This coming week, the U.S. Agency for International Development plans to announce a new monitoring program that is designed to keep track of the aid dollars being spent in Afghanistan. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Larry Sampler, head of USAID programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

U.S. Speedskaters Get A Little Help From Their Friends

U.S. Olympic teams have been more successful in speedskating than in any other winter sport. The secret to their success includes talent, skill and hard work, but there's also a network of support that buoys the team.
Every few years when the winter Olympics come around, reporter Robert Samuels' heart begins to flutter. Samuels talks with NPR's Rachel Martin about his lifelong passion for the sport.

Why Confounding Coincidences Happen Every Day

David Hand, an emeritus professor of mathematics at Imperial College in London, believes that miracles and rare events actually aren't so uncommon. Hand speaks with NPR's Rachel Martin about his new book, The Improbability Principle.

Learning About Love From Prairie Vole Bonding

The small mammals take on monogamous partners for their entire lives — a trait scientists say we might be able to learn from. Even when a partner dies, most prairie voles never take up another mate.

Break Loose, Break Loose, Kick Off Your Sunday Shoes

Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase in which the first word has a long-A vowel sound (as in "break"), and the second word has a long-U vowel sound (as in "loose").
On Feb. 12, 1964 a high-stakes gig and some backstage tension led to a singular performance caught on tape.
Some call Tim Walsh the disaster garbage man, but he prefers waste management specialist. After major natural disasters, the Briton comes to clean up and put people to work. Amid destruction he's seen from Indonesia to the Philippines, he's learned that there's opportunity, and hope, even in a dump.
This week the Justice Department encouraged people sent to prison under tough old drug laws to apply for clemency. The Senate Judiciary Committee also advanced a bill that advocates call the biggest sentencing reform in decades. Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson speaks with NPR's Rachel Martin.

Addict Lives With 'Monster' That's Waiting To Pounce

In the 1980's and 90's, crack cocaine ravaged the nation's capitol, helping to earn D.C. the moniker "the murder capital of the United States." For this week's Sunday Conversation, NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with Ruben Castaneda, who was himself addicted to crack even while he reported on the crack epidemic for The Washington Post.
France became the first European country this week to join a worldwide effort to destroy ivory. The goal is to send a warning to ivory traffickers and to anyone who might not consider buying it a serious crime.

Was That Jump A 6? Subjectivity In Olympic Judging

Vote-trading scandals in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics forced the International Skating Union to make major changes to its judging system, including obscuring which judge issued which mark. Sports correspondent Mike Pesca discusses the issue of transparency and subjectivity in Olympics judging with NPR's Rachel Martin.

New Yorkers Lead The States In Winter Games Golds

The first gold medal of Sochi's Winter Olympics went to Team USA's Sage Kotsenburg, from Utah, making him the third from that state to win a gold. NPR's Rachel Martin takes a moment to look at who has historically won the most gold medals in the Winter Olympics, both inside the U.S. and globally.
British graphic designer Nick Hudson bicycled 500 miles along the Hudson River valley, striking up conversations with local artists and craftspeople as he went. Those stories — from maple syrup producers, sculptors, boat restorers and more — have been collected in a new book, Conversations on the Hudson.
People who have never experienced earthquakes are starting to feel rumbles, which scientists say may be linked to the rise in oil and gas activity. Along with the quakes are shockingly loud noises that can put residents on edge.

A Vietnamese Pioneer, Modeled On An American Legend

Pioneer Girl is the story of a young woman whose brother has disappeared. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with author Bich Minh Nguyen about the novel, and its connection to the writer Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The Handy Ambassador To New Zealand's Music Scene

New Zealand singer-songwriter Neil Finn is the front man for the pop band Crowded House. He speaks with NPR's Rachel Martin about his new solo album, called Dizzy Heights.

Collecting The Letters Of Wartime

Letters written in a time of war reflect almost universal longing and loss, no matter the century or the enemy. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Andrew Carroll, the director of the Center for American War Letters, about his personal collection of wartime correspondence from every American conflict, going back to 1776.
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