When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

Alabama authorities say a home burglary suspect has died after police used a stun gun on the man.  Birmingham police say he resisted officers who found him in a house wrapped in what looked like material from the air conditioner duct work.  The Lewisburg Road homeowner called police Tuesday about glass breaking and someone yelling and growling in his basement.  Police reportedly entered the dwelling and used a stun gun several times on a white suspect before handcuffing him.  Investigators say the man was "extremely irritated" throughout and didn't obey verbal commands.

It can be hard to distinguish among the men wearing grey suits and regulation haircuts on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. But David Margolis always brought a splash of color.

It wasn't his lovably disheveled wardrobe, or his Elvis ring, but something else: the force of his flamboyant personality. Margolis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, didn't want to fit in with the crowd. He wanted to stand out.

Montgomery Education Foundation's Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy was spotlighted Wednesday at Carver High School.  The academic-enrichment program is for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School system.  Community Program Director Dillion Nettles, says the program aims to prevent learning loss during summer months.  To find out how your child can participate in next summer's program visit Montgomery-ed.org

A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.

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Agreed, Baby Pandas Are Cute. But Why?

Jan 10, 2013
Originally published on October 29, 2014 11:57 am

Xiao Liwu made his public debut Thursday at the San Diego Zoo. Fans crowded around the exhibit, their camera lenses extended, hoping to catch a glimpse of the 5-month-old giant panda cub. If they're lucky and actually do see the 16-pound panda (his Chinese name means "Little Gift"), there'll be much oooing and aaahing.

You'd have to be heartless not to agree that pandas, especially the youngest of them, are as cute as all get-out. Right? But why?

The New York Times tried to answer that question back in 1987:

"Ask the people at the zoo, and they say things like 'It's the eyes' and 'It's the black and the white.' Ask a behavioral neuroscientist like Dr. Edgar E. Coons, and he will say that giant pandas are the world's most adored animal for a very simple reason: they set off an almost sublime combination of 'hedonic mechanisms.' 'Cues' to Say 'Ooh' and 'Aah.'

"The big eyes in their black sockets, the round face, the pug nose, the way giant pandas tumble about like toddlers: 'There is considerable evidence that these things are what are known as innate releasers to our parenting instincts,' says Dr. Coons, a New York University psychologist who studies the mechanics of pleasure and pain."

In 2005, The Washington Post asked Stephan Hamann, a psychology professor at Emory University, to explain why humans think certain animals are cute. Hamann conducted studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure tiny changes in brain activity.

His studies "found that 'cute' pictures cause increased activity in the middle area of the orbital frontal cortex, located behind the bridge of the nose, and in the amygdala, the emotion-control center of the brain responsible for fear and arousal," the Post reported.

"According to Hamann, increased activity in the middle orbital cortex is usually associated with pleasure and positive emotion. Some evidence suggests the brain activity there is greater when the stimulus is 'neotenous,' which is to say it has juvenile characteristics — a button nose, big eyes, a large wobbly head, chubby extremities or pudgy cheeks."

Many researchers have concluded that "cuteness, or 'baby schema,' is an evolutionary adaptation that triggers nurturing responses from adults — allowing survival of the cutest, in Darwinian terms," the Post said.

NPR's Kitty Eisele had been a panda skeptic until she got hooked watching Tai Shan, the National Zoo's panda cub, in 2005:

"OK. I get it now. I understand. I wasn't in the club before, but now I'm up late and I'm not sleeping and I'm watching him do everything for the first time. It's the first time he scratched his nose, the first time he stretched his legs, the first time he rolled over. After so much waiting, he's finally arrived and I can't stop staring. He is a miracle. He's our panda. And like much of my city, I am mesmerized watching him on my computer on panda cam."

In a blog post last year, NPR's Robert Krulwich explored the mystery of the panda, from the panda's perspective:

"Every giant panda, said evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould, is a riddle. A contradiction. Each one is, first, a soft, furry ball of adorableness 'with a large, round head and clumsy, cuddly body' that we all want to hug. That panda, said Gould, 'exists in our mind.'

"Then there's the hidden panda, the real one that isn't as we imagine, that lives in the wild — and that panda, Gould wrote, 'has remained essentially a mystery.' "

George Schaller, a scientist from the Bronx Zoo, studied pandas in the wild, where he found that they are "rarely romantic, don't cuddle and are certainly not like the pandas of our minds," Krulwich wrote.

"As to what goes on in a real panda's mind, Schaller says he has no idea. After years spent tracking, poop collecting and bamboo measuring, he says pandas remain deeply strange to him. He knows everything they do, but he can't say much about who they are."

(Avie Schneider is NPR.org's business editor.)

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