Ailsa Chang

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Dr. Joel Zivot stared at the autopsy reports. The language was dry and clinical, in stark contrast to the weight of what they contained — detailed, graphic accounts of the bodies of inmates executed by lethal injection in Georgia.

Do you love a great story?

Try Daniel Nayeri's new autobiographical novel, his first, Everything Sad is Untrue (A True Story), which begins with these memorable words: "All Persians are liars and lying is a sin."

That's what the kids in Mrs. Miller's class think, but I'm the only Persian they've ever met, so I don't know where they got that idea.

My mom says it's true, but only because everyone has sinned and needs God to save them. My dad says it isn't. Persians aren't liars. They're poets, which is worse.

It was Memorial Day, May 25th, 2020. The coronavirus had locked down the country for weeks. Tens of thousands had died. Millions were out of work. And in Minneapolis, a 46-year-old Black man named George Floyd went to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Floyd's stop ended with a police officer's knee dug into his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd begged for his life, called for his mother and repeatedly told the police, "I can't breathe." His cries went unanswered and he died in police custody.

With soaring synths, spiked hair and studded leather jackets, the Psychedelic Furs were the quintessential '80s rock stars. But once the '80s ended, so did the band. Now, 29 years after the group's last album, the Psychedelic Furs is back with a new record called Made of Rain. Singer Richard Butler says this time, the band made it on its own terms.

Historically Black colleges and universities have an extra factor to consider as they plan on how to operate this next school year: Black communities are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

According to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, Black people are dying from the coronavirus at two and a half times the rate of white people.

COVID-19 has now killed more than 148,000 people in the U.S. On a typical day in the past week, more than 1,000 people died.

But the deluge of grim statistics can dull our collective sense of outrage. And part of that has to do with how humans are built to perceive the world.

The day Margo Price walked into the studio to start recording her new album, That's How Rumors Get Started, she had butterflies in her stomach, a mixture of excitement, trepidation — and morning sickness.

"I definitely was not expecting to be pregnant," she says. "I had planned to go into the studio regardless of what was happening in my personal life."

Across the country, students of color have been demanding change from their schools. At one Denver school, the push for a more inclusive and diverse curriculum came last year, from a group of African American high school students at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College.

Pirette McKamey is fighting for anti-racist education.

Over her more than 30 years as an educator, the principal at Mission High School in San Francisco spent a decade leading an anti-racism committee.

For most artists, choreographing a Beyoncé music video might be a career peak. But for Teyana Taylor, who did it when she was just 15 years old, it was only the beginning. She was signed to Pharrell's label, Star Trak Entertainment, around that same time and since then, Taylor's grown up in the entertainment business, acting in movies, modeling, starring in reality TV shows, directing and dancing in music videos.

Questions of how to reform law enforcement in America have dominated Washington this week.

Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt has been a voice in that debate. He represents the family of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old black man who was pursued by three white men and then fatally shot while jogging in a South Georgia neighborhood in February. He is also co-counsel for the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

In the weeks since police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, people around the U.S. and the world have flooded the streets in rage and protest against police violence toward African Americans.

Looting, fires, vandalism and the National Guard on the streets — for many, the unrest of 2020 evokes memories of the destructive riots of 1992 in Los Angeles.

Both times the protests began in anger over police violence against black men — in 1992, when four police officers were acquitted of the brutal beating of Rodney King; now, when George Floyd died in Minnesota after a policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

"Immunity passports" have been proposed as one way to reboot economies in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The theory is this: The approval of the so-called passports would rely on the positive results from an antibody test of your collected blood sample. If you have antibodies to the coronavirus after recovering from an infection, you might be immune from future infection and therefore could be authorized to work and circulate in society without posing a risk to yourself or others.

At least, that's the idea.

Over her decades-long career, Tracee Ellis Ross has starred in beloved shows such as Black-ish and Girlfriends. But as she sees it, her latest role is her most daunting one yet. In The High Note, available to stream on Apple TV on May 29, she plays a superstar singer named Grace Davis, who's facing career stagnancy. Meanwhile, Davis' personal assistant Maggie (played by Dakota Johnson) has musical ambitions of her own as an aspiring producer.

Moses Sumney spent years searching for the sound on his new, double album grae. It began in 2013, when he first tried to break into the Los Angeles music scene — and got interest from record labels almost immediately.

School hasn't ended yet in most places around the country. But educators are already grappling with what the next academic year will look like, as the future spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. remains unclear.

This week, California State University — the largest four-year public college system in the country — announced it plans to suspend in-person classes for its roughly 480,000 students for the semester beginning in August and move most instruction online.

The university system consists of 23 campuses, covering an 800-mile swath of the state.

Coronavirus fatalities in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities account for at least one-third of the deaths in 26 states.

Beanie Feldstein does not like the way teenage experimentation and growth gets dismissed as just a phase. "There tends to be the sort of stigma or judgment," she says, whether it's about dress, mood, makeup, or music choice.

What she loves about her latest film, How to Build a Girl, is that it gives teen phases the respect they deserve. "Those phases matter," she says. "It doesn't mean they're going to last, but they do matter. ... I think we could all be reminded of that lesson — especially adults."

Listen close to the New Orleans band Sweet Crude, and you'll hear a linguistic relic from America's deep South. They sing in Louisiana French, a dialect spoken for generations in Louisiana — until the 20th century, when schools in the state became more Anglicized.

"My grandfather's first language is Louisiana French — and he would get punished in school if he spoke French," singer Alexis Marceau says. "So it started to dissipate and go away."

The coronavirus outbreak has thrown hospital systems throughout the U.S. into crisis — both medical and financial. The cost of treating coronavirus patients, combined with the loss of revenue from canceling elective procedures, has left many hospitals in desperate financial straits.

Some estimates suggest hospitals are losing $50 billion a month, says Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association.

Inspiration can strike at unexpected times. That was the case for Fiona Apple, the celebrated singer and songwriter who released her first album in eight years this month. It's called Fetch the Bolt Cutters and the title comes from a piece of dialogue that struck her while watching a crime drama on Netflix.

In one episode of The Fall, a British show starring Gillian Anderson as a police detective, Anderson and her crew track down and free a girl who had been kidnapped and locked away.

To test for the coronavirus, you need a swab.

But only two companies in the world manufacture the specialized instrument used to collect a sample from noses.

The limited supply has led to a shortage in the U.S. and a scramble by those two manufacturers to produce more.

One of those companies, Puritan Medical Products, based in Guilford, Maine has ramped up its production to more than 1 million swabs per week, according to Timothy Templet, the company's vice president of sales.

As rockers enter middle age, is there a graceful way for their music to reflect that same transition? It's a question that Stephen Malkmus has been trying to answer on a string of recent solo albums.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

As the U.S. Senate solemnly considers the fate of a president, Twitter has been somewhat less solemn, considering another question. Can you drink milk on the Senate floor?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Twenty-four hours over three days - that's how long each side gets to make its case in the Senate impeachment trial.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Shortly after noon on this cold and bright Tuesday in Washington, President Trump's impeachment trial began. First, some tradition and ceremony - Senate Chaplain Barry Black opened the trial with a prayer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

The question of how Billboard determines the most popular music in the country has gotten a lot harder in the digital age. It used to be a simple question of which album sold the most physical copies, but now Billboard needs to consider things like Spotify plays and mp3 downloads. Starting Jan. 3, it will also include YouTube streams.

NPR's Ailsa Chang talks to Chris Molanphy, a chart analyst and pop critic at Slate, about the significance of this change. Listen at the audio link and read on for an edited version of their conversation.

The past is prologue in Steph Cha's new novel, Your House Will Pay.

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