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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Stepping off the plane in Zimbabwe a quarter century ago was a huge shock. A college student on my very first visit to Africa, I was surprised how familiar everything felt.

It was Christmas Eve 2002, at the height of midsummer, when I arrived to take up a year-long job as doctor at Halley base – the most remote research station operated by the British in Antarctica.

As we cruised up to the Caird Coast of Antarctica, a crowd of us stood out on the deck of the supply ship RRS Ernest Shackleton, singing Christmas carols in the 24-hour sunlight, wearing Santa hats and reindeer antlers.

On a day when President Obama added his voice to criticisms over the decision to pull the satire The Interview, Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton says the studio "did not capitulate" to hackers, and that its actions have been misunderstood.

Lynton defended his studio in an interview on All Things Considered, saying that Sony still wants an audience to see The Interview — if not in theaters, then by other means.

Cuba is dominating the news, following President Obama's announcement that he will begin to normalize relations with the island nation.

For our series This Week's Must-Read, poet and Cuban-American writer Richard Blanco turns to literature for another perspective on this story.

"The dog ate my homework?" Try, "I was protesting a grand jury decision," instead.

Students at some top law schools want exam extensions for what they are calling the trauma of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions. But other law students are wondering what message that sends to future employers.

It was an honest mistake. But when President Obama meant to talk about James Franco and instead said "James Flacco" — on a Friday marking the full-on start of the holidays, no less — the slip was eagerly received by people on Twitter and elsewhere.

Today, details of the Obama administration's plan known as the Postsecondary Institutional Ratings System, or PIRS, finally saw the light of day. The idea, in this incarnation, was just under three years old.

The president announced its conception during his State of the Union address in 2012.

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued new national standards designating coal ash – a nearly ubiquitous byproduct of coal-fired power plants that contains arsenic and lead – as non-hazardous waste.

NPR's Christopher Joyce reports that coal-fired power plants produce more than 130 million tons of the coal ash each year and they have long stored millions of tons of it in giant ponds.

But many of those ponds have failed in recent years, allowing contaminated water to get into rivers and streams, and ultimately into drinking water.

The main boulevard in Tunisia's capital, Tunis, is alive with political debate about the two candidates for president in this Sunday's election.

In one tent, campaign workers play music and hand out fliers for Beji Caid Essebsi, an 88-year-old candidate who held posts in the old regime and then served as an interim prime minister after the country's revolution in 2011.

Some witnesses were clearly lying when they spoke to a grand jury about the August police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., according to St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch. In an interview about the case Friday, the prosecutor says he won't seek perjury charges.

Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice president for operations, has responded to a BBC report that workers at Asian suppliers for the iPhone 6 are mistreated and overworked, saying he's "deeply offended" by the accusations.

In an email to some 5,000 Apple staff in the United Kingdom, Williams hit back at the British broadcaster's Panorama program, which sent in undercover reporters to observe conditions at the Pegatron factory, near Shanghai, where iPhones are assembled.

Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps was sentenced to 18 months' supervised probation today after pleading guilty to drunken driving.

He was arrested in September after leaving a casino in downtown Baltimore. Police documents show that he swerved over a yellow line while going 84 in 45-mph zone. Police say Phelps failed field sobriety tests and registered a 0.14 on a blood-alcohol test. In Maryland, the legal limit is 0.08.

This Christmas Eve, many Latinos will celebrate the holiday by unwrapping delicious little presents: tamales.

At its essence, a tamale consists of masa (dough made from corn or another starch) that's been wrapped in aromatic leaves, then steamed or boiled. Some come bundled in corn husks, others in plantain, banana or mashan leaves. Some are sweetened with molasses or coconut milk, others spiced with mole or seasoned with achiote. Some are plain; others are filled with meat, cheese or vegetables.

Less than three years after Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion, the photo-sharing service is now worth $35 billion, according to analysts at Citigroup.

Instagram's user base has skyrocketed since the acquisition, in part because of its integration with Facebook but also because the purchase roughly coincided with the release of an Instagram app for Android smartphones.

Earlier this month, Instagram announced that it surpassed 300 million users.

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