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Talk of the Nation is NPR's daily talk show, hosted by Neal Conan and featuring knowledgeable guests and calls from listeners.

The holiday season means family, food, friends — and a slew of holiday films. The 1983 comedy A Christmas Story has become one of the cult favorites of the season, in heavy rotation on television screens across America each year.

The quirky film follows a boy named Ralphie and his misadventures with his parents, friends and neighborhood bullies — all while he pines for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.

Violence in Syria between the government and the opposition continues to mount and expectations for a peaceful resolution are low. Turkey was once closely allied with the Syrian president, but now calls for him to step down. Ibrahim Kalin, chief advisor to Turkey's prime minister, explains his country's position on Syria and its role in the Middle East.

House members on Tuesday rejected a Senate plan for extending the payroll tax cut. To attract House conservatives, the Senate had included a controversial provision forcing President Barack Obama to decide on the fate of a planned oil pipeline within 60 days.

Many job seekers assume they won't make much progress in their search over the holidays. Not so, says Lauren Weber of The Wall Street Journal. Weber explains why job hunters may want to consider keeping their search alive through the holiday season.

The death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, Jr. continues to reverberate at schools nationwide. His death exposed a hazing culture unfamiliar to many, but band directors and school administrators have been dealing with the problem for many years.

Before the 2011 film version of John Le Carre's spy novel, British director John Irvin directed the original 1979 multi-episode series for the BBC, starring George Smiley as the master spy recalled from forced retirement to root out a traitor in the top ranks of the British intelligence service.

NPR's Neal Conan reads from listener comments on previous show topics, including realizing how much college actually costs, recovering from a traumatic injury and the season's big video games.

Autism Rates Have Spiked, But Why?

Dec 20, 2011

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly one percent of U.S. children have some form of autism, 20 times higher than the rate in the 1980s. Alan Zarembo of The Los Angeles Times and clinical psychologist Catherine Lord discuss what's behind the growing number of diagnoses.

Finding Bright Spots In A Difficult 2011

Dec 20, 2011

2011 has been a tough year in many ways: the economy is still struggling, Europe's dealing with a huge debt crisis and Japan is still recovering from a devastating tsunami. But from Chrysler to coconut water, there are people, products and ideas that have done well in 2011.



Well, contrary to the old belief, the ukulele is no joke. Just listen to this.


The American public, military and the intelligence community were all affected by the Iraq war. Tom Ricks of the Center for a New American Security, retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson and Army veteran Andrew Exum discuss how Americans will remember the war, and what we should learn from it.



Future Uncertain For Reclusive North Korea

Dec 19, 2011

The death of North Korea's Kim Jong Il leaves many open questions about the secretive country's future. Former Ambassador Christopher Hill and North Korea experts Hazel Smith and Alexander Monsourov discuss how Kim's death may affect the country's relationship with the international community.

Chad Harbach's debut novel The Art of Fielding is as much about literary fiction as it is about America's national past time. The book follows the baseball team at a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin — with side trips to the big leagues of American literature.

Henry Skrimshander is that college's talented but socially awkward shortstop, destined for big-league stardom. But when a routine throw goes wrong, Henry's life falls apart as he ends up embroiled in conflicts with his teammates, his roommate and a school administrator.



This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. Scientists have been searching for decades for a subatomic particle called the Higgs Boson. You've heard about it. It's been in the news, and you know, in theory, it explains why and how objects have mass.



This holiday season I'm sure is finding many of us on airplanes, flying around the country. It could take tedious hours of body scans, the crummy back-of-the-seat TV and scary airplane bumps and noises. But if you marvel at nature and technology, though, you can turn this torturous event into a more enjoyable learning experience.

What Makes Wings Work?

Dec 16, 2011

Researchers at New York University are studying flight with a speaker, a soup pot, straws and a box full of paper aircraft. Emeritus professor Stephen Childress describes the experiment and what he and his colleagues have learned about flight from their homemade flying objects.



This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. You know that nice feeling you get when you listen to your favorite tune? What about music that can actually be medical therapy? It does exist. It's prescribed for illnesses from speech disorders to autism, Alzheimer's, even cancer.

Take the case of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. After she was shot in the head earlier this year, one way she learned to talk again was by singing her favorite songs, like this Cyndi Lauper tune.




It's time for our monthly episode of Science Diction, where we explore the origins of scientific words with my guest Howard Markel, professor of history of medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, also director of the Center for the History of Medicine there. He joins us WUOM. Welcome back, Howard.

HOWARD MARKEL: Good afternoon, Ira.

FLATOW: We have a very interesting word, or actually lab equipment today.

MARKEL: That we do. It's my favorite plate. It's the Petri dish.