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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David Bowie, Cheesecake, Sex And The Meaning Of Music

Jan 11, 2013
Originally published on January 14, 2013 4:19 pm

David Bowie released a new single this week. The song may be new, but it sounds old. It sounds familiar. Like a David Bowie song. It sounds new and familiar at the same time. This is what makes it so good, I think. (It also has the wonderful lyric: "The moment we know we know we know.")

This got me thinking about the fact that music has a history. This is puzzling. Why should music have a history?

Bowie's music was once new. Now it's not, even when it is. My young son wouldn't be drawn to a song by Bowie as he would be to a song by Jay-Z. Jay-Z is of the now. Bowie is not, even when he is. What is this about?

According to Pinker, music is like cheesecake. We don't have a cheesecake faculty. We are not designed by evolution to appreciate cheesecake. It is our appreciation of fat and sugar, rather, that is adaptive. Cheesecake is simply a well-optimized fat and sugar delivery system.

And so with music. Gary Marcus, in Guitar Zero, says that music is a kind of cognitive cheesecake: it is a refined craft for tickling the brain by acting on reward systems sensitive to repetition and novelty. (Marcus's book is terrific. I hope to come back to it in a later week!)

But if that's what music is like, then why should it have a history? Does cheesecake have a history? Not really. I bet my grandma's cheesecake is better than anything I might find today. Not so when it comes to music. We crave the new. And each generation craves its new music.

The cheesecake theory of music treats music like a species of masturbation. And masturbation has no history. The good that it delivers is unchanging; it is perfect as it is. And for the simple reason that the mechanics of orgasm are fixed by our basic body plan.

To this it will be objected: the pleasures induced by fat, sugar and orgasm may be stable, but the means available to us for achieving these ends — the techniques, practices, technologies and perversionsare indeed always evolving, and with the same rapidity, and so history, as in any other area of technology (transportation, communication, etc).

Music, from this standpoint, is an evolving technology for auto-titillation and reward. Change in music is technological change. Not change in what we like. But change in how we get it. (I think this is Marcus' view.)

This approach doesn't quite hit the nail on the head, I am afraid. The problem is not merely that music changes over time, it's that what we like, what moves us, interests us and seems relevant changes as well. Why should that be?

The problem with the cheesecake-masturbation theory is that it reduces music to mere psychological cause and effect. As if the value of a song is exhausted by its psychological action on a person (or on the person's brain)! Music may give us pleasure, just as sex does; but neither sex nor music is in the titillation business.

Here's another way forward: compare a song to a conversation. A conversation unfolds. It captures the interest of its participants. Sometimes one person talks, sometimes another. The conversation is dynamic. It is also embedded in a situation and unfolds against a background. People aren't just jibber-jabbering (to use a newly trendy word). They are, as the case may be, talking about something, paying attention jointly to a problem, amusing themselves, having fun. In some ways a conversation is constantly changing. In other ways, it is always the same, just people talking. Are some conversations better than others? Yes, certainly. But is the conversation of one generation, or one epoch, better than another? That barely makes sense.

And yet, conversation is always of the now. Not because new technologies are getting deployed in new ways to make better conversational repartee. But because our thoughts, interests, concerns, are contemporary. Music, like conversation, doesn't get old in the sense that the intrinsic quality or character of music changes (even though in a sense of course it always does). It simply ceases to be a response to what people are saying, doing, or thinking about now.

And this explains something else. It is the distinctive limitation of the juvenile, or at least novice listener — whether to conversation or to music — to stay with the present and the new. For the adult listener, though, the new is a passage in to the past — background, history — and then at once a way into a future that only now comes into view.


You can keep up with more of what Alva Noë is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @alvanoe

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