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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Cornstalks Everywhere But Nothing Else, Not Even A Bee

Nov 30, 2012
Originally published on November 30, 2012 11:19 am

We'll start in a cornfield — we'll call it an Iowa cornfield in late summer — on a beautiful day. The corn is high. The air is shimmering. There's just one thing missing — and it's a big thing...

...a very big thing, but I won't tell you what, not yet.

Instead, let's take a detour. We'll be back to the cornfield in a minute, but just to make things interesting, I'm going to leap halfway around the world to a public park near Cape Town, South Africa, where you will notice a cube, a metal cube, lying there in the grass.

That cube was put there by David Liittschwager, a portrait photographer, who spent a few years traveling the world, dropping one-cubic-foot metal frames into gardens, streams, parks, forests, oceans, and then photographing whatever, or whoever came through. Beetles, crickets, fish, spiders, worms, birds — anything big enough to be seen by the naked eye he tried to capture and photograph. Here's what he found after 24 hours in his Cape Town cube:

There were 30 different plants in that one square foot of grass, and roughly 70 different insects. And the coolest part, said a researcher to the Guardian in Britain, "If we picked the cube up and walked 10 feet, we could get as much as 50 percent difference in plant species we encountered. If we moved it uphill, we might find none of the species." Populations changed drastically only a few feet away — and that's not counting the fungi, microbes, and the itsy-bitsies that Liittschwager and his team couldn't see.

Another example: Here's a cube placed 100 feet off the ground, in the upper branches of a Strangler fig tree in Costa Rica. We're up in the air here, looking down into a valley.

What's up? More than 150 different plants and animals live in or passed through that one square foot of tree: birds, beetles, flies, moths, bugs, bugs, then more bugs...

E.O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist, in his introduction to David Liittschwager's book of these photographs, says that it's usually big animals that catch our attention. But if we get down on our knees and examine any small patch of ground, "gradually the smaller inhabitants, far more numerous, begin to eclipse them."

They are the critters that create and aerate the soil, that pollinate, that remove the clutter. And there are lots and lots and lots of them.

Getting Back To The Corn

Which brings me back to Iowa, where my NPR colleague, commentator and science writer Craig Childs, decided to have a little adventure. As he tells it in his new book, he recruited a friend, Angus, and together they agreed to spend two nights and three days ("We'll call it a long weekend") smack in the middle of a 600-acre farm in Grundy County. Their plan was to settle in amongst the stalks (there are an "estimated three trillion" of them in Iowa) to see what's living there, other than corn. In other words, a Liittschwager-like census.

Cornfields, however, are not like national parks or virgin forests. Corn farmers champion corn. Anything that might eat corn, hurt corn, bother corn, is killed. Their corn is bred to fight pests. The ground is sprayed. The stalks are sprayed again. So, like David, Craig wondered, "What will I find?"

The answer amazed me. He found almost nothing. "I listened and heard nothing, no bird, no click of insect."

There were no bees. The air, the ground, seemed vacant. He found one ant "so small you couldn't pin it to a specimen board." A little later, crawling to a different row, he found one mushroom, "the size of an apple seed." (A relative of the one pictured below.) Then, later, a cobweb spider eating a crane fly (only one). A single red mite "the size of a dust mote hurrying across the barren earth," some grasshoppers, and that's it. Though he crawled and crawled, he found nothing else.

"It felt like another planet entirely," he said, a world denuded.

Yet, 100 years ago, these same fields, these prairies, were home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds, hundreds and hundreds of insects. This soil was the richest, the loamiest in the state. And now, in these patches, there is almost literally nothing but one kind of living thing. We've erased everything else.

We need to feed our planet, of course. But we also need the teeny creatures that drive all life on earth. There's something strange about a farm that intentionally creates a biological desert to produce food for one species: us. It's efficient, yes. But it's so efficient that the ants are missing, the bees are missing, and even the birds stay away. Something's not right here. Our cornfields are too quiet.


David Liittschwager's book, called A World In One Cubic Foot is a photographic collection of all the plants and animals that turned up in his various cubes, as you see in my post. But the book takes you to many more places, coral reefs, streams, rivers, backyards. Craig Childs' account of his long weekend in the cornfield comes from his book, Apocalyptic Planet; Field Guide to the Everending Earth. Craig writes like a dream; he uses the cornfield as a metaphor for what a mass extinction might be like, where the Earth becomes "lots of one thing and not much of any other."

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