The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

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.


If A Driverless Car Crashes, Who's Liable?

Mar 8, 2013
Originally published on March 8, 2013 12:25 pm

Some number of years from now, the technology may exist for cars to drive themselves. This could save thousands of lives a year (90 percent of fatal car accidents involve human error).

But getting the technology right won't be enough. Governments and courts will have to figure out lots of new legal and regulatory issues. One key question: If a driverless car crashes, who's liable?

"It's absolutely the case that after the first accident involving an automated vehicle, there will be an automated ambulance chaser following," says Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute.

The auto industry is aware of the legal risk. "We have great exposure as an industry in terms of product liability," says Dan Gage of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "And I think as an industry ... most of us suspect that there will always be someone in that driver's seat."

Jeff Dial, an Arizona legislator, introduced a bill last year that would update Arizona law to cover driverless cars.

"After I introduced the bill, then suddenly all the insurance companies started approaching me with the questions of the liability," he says. "The more you deal with this issue, the more the issue grows and grows."

One possible solution comes from the vaccine industry.

In the 1980s, the rising threat of liability prompted vaccine manufacturers to pull out of the business. So Congress stepped in and created a new system for people who are injured by vaccines. Cases are handled in special hearings, and victims are paid out of a fund created by a special tax on vaccines.

With the threat of liability reduced, more companies started making vaccines again.

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Here's another potentially sobering thought: driverless vehicles. Google is testing a driverless car now, and several automakers are working on similar technology. This has caused a scramble to update transportation laws in states across the country. But in the process of coming up with new regulations, state governments have run into a problem. Cory Turner of NPR's Planet Money team reports on the word at the center of that problem.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Liability. To explain, here's a movie analogy.


KEIR DULLEA: (as Dave) Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

DOUGLAS RAIN: (as HAL) I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.

TURNER: In the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," HAL is an intelligent machine that controls the spaceship. In this scene, HAL is malfunctioning and trying to kill Dave, an astronaut - a classic scene from film history and a lesson from the brave new world of product liability. In the future, we may all have our own version of HAL in our cars, driving for us. And that raises a question: right now, when we're in an accident, by and large we're liable. But if HAL is driving - what then?

DAN GAGE: For us, it's clear. We have great exposure as an industry in terms of product liability.

TURNER: That's Dan Gage. He works for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. It makes sense. Automakers would be much more exposed to liability if they're not just making your car but driving it too. With a human still in the driver's seat, it's easier for automakers to argue in case of an accident that their technology didn't fail, the human did. And this tension is likely to continue.

GAGE: And I think as an industry, while there isn't full consensus on this, I think most of us suspect that there will always be someone in that driver's seat.

TURNER: Still, we're already seeing cases of the human in that driver's seat arguing in court I didn't do it, my car did. Bryant Walker Smith is a trained engineer and lawyer. He's at Stanford, where he spent a lot of time studying automated cars, and he says my car did it could become more and more persuasive.

BRYANT WALKER SMITH: Where more of the decisions are being made by software than by humans in real-time behind the wheel, manufacturers will probably face an increasing share of liability costs.

TURNER: Robert Hartwig is president of the Insurance Information Institute.

ROBERT HARTWIG: It's absolutely the case that after the first accident involving an automated vehicle, there will be an automated ambulance chaser following.

TURNER: And this fight over who should be liable, it makes it hard to write laws for a driverless future.

JEFF DIAL: After I introduce the bill, then suddenly all the insurance companies started approaching me with the questions of the liability.

TURNER: Jeff Dial is one of those state legislators working on an automated car bill. He's in Arizona. And to be clear, he's a big fan of the technology. Even so, that bill he introduced last year, it's still in committee.

DIAL: And it seems like the more you deal with this issue, the more the issue grows and grows and the number of people that you're working with trying to figure this out.

TURNER: It's important to figure out because the faster we can get ourselves out of the driver's seat, likely the better. In 2011, more than 32,000 people in the U.S. died as a result of motor vehicle crashes. And roughly 90 percent of crashes involve some kind of human error - 90 percent. Experts who study this say automation has vastly improved safety in the airline industry and that it could do the same for driving. But who's liable could complicate things.

SMITH: We may have a technology that would be societally very lucrative but for individual companies may be very unattractive because of liability reasons.

TURNER: Bryant Walker Smith of Stanford says it's way too early to know if this will happen with automated cars, but we have seen it before, in the 1980s, when liability suits were on the rise against vaccine manufacturers.

SMITH: Companies producing the vaccines had decided that because of the threat of lawsuits and the relatively low profit potential of these vaccines, it just wasn't - it didn't pay to make them anymore.

TURNER: So Congress stepped in and created a fund to compensate the injured and protect vaccine makers - one possible answer to a problem that doesn't even exist yet. Truly automated cars are years away, and good or bad, that means humans are still very much in the driver's seat. Cory Turner, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.