NPR Picks


A Lost 'Little Boy' Nears 100: Poet And Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti

"For Lawrence Ferlinghetti, living to be 100 is no fun. Speaking from his home in San Francisco recently, Ferlinghetti said he's practically blind now — he can't read, and he's skipping his big birthday bash at the bookstore he co-founded, City Lights in San Francisco."

'They're going to have quite a celebration,' he says. 'But I won't be there. It's no use, my appearing in public, because I couldn't speak. I mean, I could speak, but on account of my eyesight it would be' — he pauses to laugh — 'I don't know what it would be.'"

"Nevertheless, Ferlinghetti — who will turn 100 this Sunday, March 24 — has a lot to celebrate. Once a standout poet of the Beat Generation, his bookstore has become a popular landmark and the small press of the same name is still in business after more than 60 years. And he's just published a new novel."

"His 1958 book of poetry A Coney Island of the Mind sold more than a million copies. In it, he compares the horrors depicted in Goya's paintings of the Napoleonic Wars to scenes of post-World War II America:

We are the same people / only further from home / on freeways fifty lanes wide / on a concrete continent / spaced with bland billboards / illustrating imbecile illusions of happiness"

"Gerald Nicosia is a Bay Area critic who has written extensively about the Beat writers. He says Ferlinghetti is notable for writing poetry in everyday language."



Massive U.S. Machines That Hunt For Ripples In Space-Time Just Got An Upgrade

"Scientists are about to restart the two giant facilities in the United States that register gravitational waves, the ripples in the very fabric of the universe that were predicted by Albert Einstein more than a century ago."

"Einstein realized that when massive objects such as black holes collide, the impact sends shock waves through space-time that are like the ripples in water created by tossing a pebble in a pond."

"In 2015, researchers made history by detecting gravitational waves from colliding black holes for the first time — and this was such a milestone that three U.S. physicists almost immediately won the Nobel Prize for their work on the project."


Misophonia: When Life's Noises Drive You Mad

"For 18-year-old high school senior Ellie Rapp of Pittsburgh, the sound of her family chewing their dinner can be ... unbearable."

"'My heart starts to pound. I go one of two ways. I either start to cry or I just get really intensely angry. It's really intense. I mean, it's as if you're going to die,' she says."

"Rapp has been experiencing this reaction to certain noises since she was a toddler. She recalls a ride home from preschool when her mother turned on the radio and started singing, which caused Rapp to scream and cry hysterically."

"'That's my first memory ever,' Rapp says."

"Over the years, 'everybody was pretty confused, but on the inside I felt like I was going insane,' she says."

"It wasn't until middle school that she found a name for it. Her mom, Kathy Rapp, had been searching for years for help. Then she found an article on the Web about a condition known as misophonia."


Flying Taxis. Seriously?

"Two words for you: flying taxis. That's right. In the not-so-distant future, you'll open your ride-hailing app and, in addition to ground options like car, SUV, scooter or bicycle, you'll see on-demand air flight."

"At least that's according to the optimists at South by Southwest, the annual tech-music-film convention in Austin, Texas."

"When the flying taxi comes, most of us will be passengers. We might hail it on our smartphones and head to the rooftop, where a ride is waiting at the helipad. It might look like a minivan with wings and four seats; or more like a gigantic drone."

Either way, it won't fly itself anytime soon, experts say. One seat will be reserved for the driver-pilot.

"'If air taxis are going be what everybody wants them to be — thousands at a city, for example — we won't be able to find enough conventional pilots,' said Carey Cannon, chief engineer of technology and innovation at Bell."

"In a crowded pavilion at South By Southwest, Cannon has set up a virtual reality simulation of what it feels like to drive one of these small flying vehicles of the future. I decide to try it out."



Cholesterol Redux: As Eggs Make A Comeback, New Questions About Health Risks

"Eggs have made a big comeback. Americans now consume an estimated 280 eggs per person, per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And that's a significant increase compared with a decade ago."

"Part of the renewed appeal stems from the dietary advice we got back in 2016. That's when the U.S. Dietary Guidelines dropped a longstanding recommended limit on dietary cholesterol. The move was seen as a green-light to eat eggs."

"But a new study published in the medical journal JAMA re-opens a longstanding debate about the risks tied to consuming too much dietary cholesterol."

"'What we found in this study was that if you consumed two eggs per day, there was a 27 percent increased risk of developing heart disease,' says researcher Norrina Allen, an associate professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University."

"'It was surprising,' Allen says."

"The researchers behind the JAMA study tracked the health of about 30,000 adults enrolled in long-term studies. On average, participants were followed for about 17 years."


Scientists Call For Global Moratorium On Creating Gene-Edited Babies

"A group of prominent scientists and bioethicists is calling for a global moratorium on any new attempts to bring gene-edited babies into the world."

"'We call for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing — that is, changing heritable DNA (in sperm, eggs or embryos) to make genetically modified children,' the 18 scientists and bioethicists from seven countries write in an article published Wednesday by the journal Nature."

"The call was prompted by the announcement last year by a scientist in China, He Jiankui, that he had used the powerful new gene-editing technique CRISPR to create the world's first gene-edited babies. He says he edited the twin girls' DNA when they were embryos to try to protect them from the AIDS virus."

"The announcement was widely condemned as unethical and irresponsible. It also prompted an intense debate about whether more could have been done to have stopped the scientist — and should be done now to try to prevent any more researchers from going rogue."

"In response, the new coalition of scientists and bioethicists proposes that every country declare a moratorium, perhaps for five years, on scientists trying to create babies whose DNA has been edited."



Are Doctors Overpaid?

"Every year, medical students apply for residencies at hospitals around the country through the National Resident Matching Program. It's like a dating app for med students and hospitals, and it culminates this Friday, which is Match Day, when more than 30,000 students find out who they've got a really long date with."

"Some people view Match Week as a beautifully engineered dance between supply and demand that ensures the best and brightest learn how to be good doctors at top hospitals. Others, like Dean Baker, Senior Economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, say this residency system makes health care dramatically more expensive for Americans. A 2011 study in Health Affairs found American doctors, who make an average salary of almost $300,000, are paid around twice as much as doctors in other rich countries."

"Baker says 'doctors are seriously overpaid' and a big reason is rules that restrict the number of people who can get residencies. He calls these rules the work of 'a cartel,' and in economics, those are fighting words. A cartel limits the supply of something in order to increase the amount of money they can charge. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, is a classic example."


It's 2050 And This Is How We Stopped Climate Change

"Mass Electrification (Batteries Hold The Power)"

"(Editor's note: Each story has two sections, the first reflecting the present and the second imagining the world of 2050.)"

"2019: I went looking for people who've mapped out this world without greenhouse emissions. I found them in Silicon Valley."

"Sila Kiliccote is an engineer. The back deck of her house, high up in the hills, overlooks Cupertino. Apple's circular headquarters is hidden in the morning mist. It's a long way from Istanbul, in Turkey, where she grew up; a great place to conjure up future worlds."

"'Maybe you'd like some coffee?' Kiliccote says."

"Her coffee machine is powered by solar panels on the roof. So is her laptop and her Wi-Fi."

"'Everything runs on electricity in this house,' she says."


Mysterious Type Of Killer Whale, Sought After For Years, Found In Southern Ocean

"Scientists say they've found a mysterious type of killer whale that they've been searching for for years. It lives in parts of the ocean near Antarctica — and it could be the largest animal to have remained unidentified by biologists."

"The notion that there might be some unusual kind of killer whale emerged in 1955. Photos from New Zealand showed a bunch of whales stranded on a beach. 'This was a very different-looking group of killer whales,' says Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration."

"The whales were smaller than other killer whales, and they had rounded heads and pointier fins. 'And most importantly,' Pitman adds, 'they had a little tiny eye patch,' a white spot under each eye characteristic of killer whales. These patches were unusually small, in some cases almost nonexistent."

"Biologists were mystified."


Thousands Of Israelis Now Call Berlin Home And Make Their Cultural Mark

"For decades after the Holocaust, many Jews refused to visit Germany. Some still do."

"But now it has become common to hear Hebrew spoken in the bakeries and bars of Berlin."

"At least 10,000 Israelis are estimated to have moved to the German capital in the last decade, according to Tal Alon, the Berlin-based editor of the Hebrew-language magazine Spitz. (The Israeli Embassy in Germany said it had no official statistic.)"

"Though the community is much smaller than some of the other immigrant groups in the city of more than 3.5 million, Israelis punch above their weight culturally. They are helping drive Berlin's blossoming culinary scene, with several high-end Israeli restaurants in the city including Layla, opened last fall by Tel Aviv celebrity chef Meir Adoni. And the director of Berlin's Maxim Gorki Theater, Yael Ronen, is Israeli, as is Daniel Barenboim, the conductor of Berlin's state opera."


The Unintended Benefits Of Vaccines

"A new study shows that vaccination with a weakened strain of salmonella not only protects against typhoid fever but also seems to rev up the immune system to fight off other problems like influenza and yeast infection."

"By chance, in an earlier study looking at how the typhoid oral vaccine affects the gut, researchers noticed that the vaccine also triggered a protective response against influenza. So they designed a new study of 16 adults, reported Feb. 27 in the journal Science Advances, to look specifically at the broader, indirect effects of the vaccine on other infections. "This was the first time anyone looked at typhoid vaccine in this way," says Shaun Pennington of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who has a Ph.D. in infection and immunity and is an author of the new study."

"But this small study "fits into a larger story," says Dr. Michael Mina, a pathologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who studies how measles and the measles vaccine influence the immune system. "Live vaccines have the very broad benefit of going much further than protecting just against the targeted disease." Mina was not involved in the new typhoid study."



How Do You Preserve History On The Moon?

"Historic preservationists are hoping that the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing this summer will persuade the United Nations to do something to protect Neil Armstrong's footprints in the lunar dust."

"Some of his boot marks are still up there, after all, along with other precious artifacts from humanity's first steps on another world. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left behind tools and science equipment, a plaque that read, "We came in peace for all mankind" and the U.S. flag, which has likely been bleached white by five decades of harsh ultraviolet light."

"Other than a dusting of lunar soil or the random micrometeorite impact, Tranquility Base has been an untouched time capsule since the astronauts departed — though that could change as more nations and even commercial companies start to explore the moon."

"'There has never been historic preservation off our planet. It's a really difficult subject,' says Michelle Hanlon, a law professor and space law expert at the University of Mississippi who co-founded For All Moonkind, a nonprofit group devoted to protecting historic sites in space."



Scientists Release Controversial Genetically Modified Mosquitoes In High-Security Lab

"Scientists have launched a major new phase in the testing of a controversial genetically modified organism: a mosquito designed to quickly spread a genetic mutation lethal to its own species, NPR has learned."

"For the first time, researchers have begun large-scale releases of the engineered insects, into a high-security laboratory in Terni, Italy."

"'This will really be a breakthrough experiment,' says Ruth Mueller, an entomologist who runs the lab. 'It's a historic moment.'"

"The goal is to see if the mosquitoes could eventually provide a powerful new weapon to help eradicate malaria in Africa, where most cases occur."

"'It's very exciting,' Mueller says."

"NPR was the only news organization allowed into the lab to witness the moment the releases began in early February."


Massive Loss Of Thousands Of Hives Afflicts Orchard Growers And Beekeepers

"Almond bloom comes nearly all at once in California — a flush of delicate pale blooms that unfold around Valentine's Day."

"And beekeeper Bret Adee is hustling to get his hives ready, working through them on a Central Valley ranch before placing them in orchards."

"He deftly tap-taps open a hive. 'We're gonna open this up, and you're going to see a whole lot of bees here,' Adee says."

"Under the lid, the exposed sleepy occupants hum away. He uses a handheld smoker to keep them calm and huddled around their queen."

"This third-generation beekeeper works night and day with a crew of more than 35. Adee has been busy staging more than 100 semi truckloads of his honey bee hives in almond orchards over a 200 mile swath of the Central Valley."

"When temperatures rise and the blooms open, his bees wake up and go to work. It's his hives' first yearly stop on a 6,500-mile tour across the nation."

"But this almond bloom, Adee's scrambling more than usual."


As More Electric Cars Arrive, What's The Future For Gas-Powered Engines?

"Most American automobiles are powered by internal combustion engines: Gas or diesel goes in, tiny explosions power pistons and turn a crankshaft, the car moves forward, and carbon dioxide goes out."

"But a growing chorus environmental activists, business analysts and auto executives are predicting a sea change as battery-powered electric vehicles grow in popularity."

"Going electric is not just an eco-friendly goal, an ambition that would help fight climate change. It's a business reality, according to industry analysts. But if the general path ahead is widely agreed on, the speed of the change — and the role that combustion vehicles will play during the transition — is far from clear."

"'Electrification, you cannot stop it anymore — it's coming,' says Elmer Kades, a managing director with the consulting firm AlixPartners. 'We have fantastic growth rates, between 50 and 60 percent on a global level.'"

"Electric vehicles are currently a tiny fraction of the car market, which is dominated by internal combustion engines. But many more electric car models will hit showrooms in the next few years, and several factors have analysts convinced that is part of a major transition in the industry."



Ph.D. Student Breaks Down Electron Physics Into A Swinging Musical

"A scientist just scored honors for a musical adaptation of his research on Friday."

"Pramodh Senarath Yapa, a physicist currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, has been named the 2018 winner of the 'Dance Your Ph.D.' contest."

"The competition, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Science magazine, invites doctoral students and Ph.D. recipients to translate their research into an interpretive dance. The winner takes home $1000."

"It took Senarath Yapa six weeks to choreograph and write the songs for "Superconductivity: The Musical!" — a three-act swing dance depicting the social lives of electrons. The video is based on his master's thesis, which he completed while pursuing his degree at the University of Victoria in Canada."

"The 11-minute sing-songy rendition is far less paralyzing than the jargony title of Senarath Yapa's thesis alone: 'Non-Local Electrodynamics of Superconducting Wires: Implications for Flux Noise and Inductance.'"



Sky Islands And Starry-Eyed Frogs: Breathtaking Photos Of Remote Ecosystems

"Prasenjeet Yadav's photography grew out of the wildlife and soil on his father's farm in the central Indian state of Maharashtra."

"As a kid he loved nothing more than to watch 'the ants and the birds. I'd look at the animals day in and day out' Yadav says. 'And not just see to them, but to try to understand what they are doing, to understand their behavior.'"

"That passion to comprehend the bugs and the birds led Yadav to get a master's degree in molecular biology. He eventually studied molecular ecology at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore. Now he describes himself as a 'natural history, environment, ecology, conservation, science photographer based in India.'"

"The 30-year-old Yadav immerses himself in scientific field studies of remote ecosystems and endangered species."

"My approach always has been that these pictures should have a life beyond what I'm showing in them," Yadav says of his projects. "The story should be much larger than just the visuals. The story should reach out to a larger audience. It should create awareness and make people care a little bit."



Airbus To Stop Production Of A380 Superjumbo Jet

"European aerospace behemoth Airbus has announced it will stop building its A380 superjumbo jet after the plane's biggest customer, Dubai-based Emirates Airline, cut its order by 39 planes."

"Airbus has 'no basis to sustain production, despite all our sales efforts with other airlines in recent years,"' CEO Tom Enders said in a statement Thursday, adding: 'Today's announcement is painful." Airbus says it will deliver its final A380 to Emirates in 2021.'"

"After investing billions into the A380, Europe's largest aerospace company had hoped to overtake its biggest competitor, Boeing's 747 jet. Airbus had once positioned itself as a luxury airplane with enough amenities to rival the seven wonders of the world, which it proclaimed in one commercial ad. Some carriers included showers, lounges and duty free shops as well as bars on both decks of the A380s."

"After a stronger than expected start, Airbus struggled to sell the $446 million plane that can seat more than 800 passengers — the largest and most expensive commercial passenger aircraft ever made, and the first to have two full decks. Most airlines preferred smaller aircraft that were more economical to operate."



Butterflies V. Border Wall: National Butterfly Center Seeks Restraining Order

"The National Butterfly Center, in danger of losing access to most of its wildlife nature preserve along the Rio Grande, is asking a court to stop federal officials from building a border wall across its land."

"The North American Butterfly Association first sued more than a year ago after government officials allegedly cut down trees and cleared brush on its Texas property. The planned wall would cut the 100-acre property in two, with as much as 70 percent of the land inaccessible between the wall and the Rio Grande, Butterfly Center Executive Director Marianna Trevino Wright has told NPR."

"Trevino Wright told CNN last week that the case had been "languishing" in the court since then, and she was exploring further legal action. This week she asked the court to stop the government from bringing heavy machinery onto its land, until the court can rule on its original 2017 request."

"It's the latest court challenge brought by environmental groups that lament the damage caused by construction of barriers between U.S. and Mexico. On Monday a federal court ruled that the Trump administration has broad authority to waive environmental laws in the name of border security. The Department of Homeland Security has already said it will waive regulations to build along the Rio Grande."



Sweden's Cashless Experiment: Is It Too Much Too Fast?

"Cash is still king around the world, but there are pockets of places, especially in Europe, moving away from cash. And no one is dropping cash as fast as Sweden."

"In 2018, only 13 percent of Swedes reported using cash for a recent purchase, according to a nationwide survey, down from around 40 percent in 2010. In the capital, Stockholm, most people can't even remember the last time they had coins jingling in their pockets."

"By contrast, around 70 percent of Americans still use cash on a weekly basis, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center."

"In Sweden, however, especially in bigger cities, going cashless is becoming the norm. Purchases usually happen as digital transactions — by card, online or with Sweden's most popular mobile payment app, Swish."

"'It's good for both the guests and for us,' says Christopher Loob, general manager of Urban Deli, a restaurant and ecological food company in Stockholm that stopped accepting cash a year ago. 'It's saved us a lot of time in that we don't have to count cash anymore. There's hardly been any reaction. Almost everybody has the alternative payment method — a credit card.'"