Scientists are beginning to understand how people tune in to a single voice in a crowded, noisy room.
This ability, known as the "cocktail party effect," appears to rely on areas of the brain that have completely filtered out unwanted sounds, researchers report in the journal Neuron. So when a person decides to focus on a particular speaker, other speakers "have no representation in those [brain] areas," says Elana Zion Golumbic of Columbia University.
The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is an especially tough blow for Cuba, whose feeble state-run economy has been propped up for more than a decade with Venezuelan oil shipments and other subsidies.
The Castro government has declared three days of mourning, calling Chavez "a son" of Cuba, but privately Cubans are quietly fretting about the potential loss of billions in trade and the threat of a new economic crisis.
Economists look at many tea leaves as they try to determine the health of the economy. One of the most important surrounds vehicle sales, and more specifically pickup truck sales, which are tied to the construction industry. And as last month's sales rose 18 percent, the auto industry is betting big on a real estate rebound.
It's arguable that the Ford F-150 is the most important vehicle to come out of Detroit since the Model-T. It's also built where many parts for the old Model-T were made in Dearborn, Mich.
Twenty years ago, theatrical clowns Bill Irwin and David Shiner collaborated on a Broadway show called Fool Moon — a giddy mixture of slapstick, improv and audience participation that proved such a success that it came back to Broadway for two more runs and toured both the U.S. and Europe. Now Irwin and Shiner have put together a new show called Old Hats, and it's been receiving rave reviews off-Broadway.
Irwin and Shiner's rubber-faced, loose-bodied clowning hasn't gotten easier over two decades.
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Every spring, you hear that almost anyone can win March Madness. Well, this year, it's true. There's no obvious favorite in this month's NCAA men's basketball tournament, at least a dozen contenders from schools big and small. And conference championships began today. So who knows which contender will fall on its face and which dark horse no one considered will emerge in the next two weeks?
As Secretary of State John Kerry wraps up his first official trip overseas, he's walking a fine line on Syria. Kerry says the Obama administration has been stepping up assistance to rebels who are trying to topple the Syrian regime. But the U.S. is also worried about how all of this will play out. NPR's Michele Kelemen spoke with the secretary of State today in Doha, Qatar, and he said he's taking this one step at a time.
Some members of Congress have put aside partisan sparring in defense of a legendary fighter. Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Harry Reid are among those calling for a posthumous pardon for the heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. Johnson became the first black man to win that title back in 1908. His next win in 1910 sparked race riots and his relationships with white women added to the controversy.
Here's actor Samuel L. Jackson as Johnson in the 2005 Ken Burns documentary, "Unforgivable Blackness."
Federal officials warned Tuesday that an especially dangerous group of superbugs has become a significant health problem in hospitals throughout the United States.
These germs, known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, have become much more common in the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the risk they pose to health is becoming evident.
Spring has come early to the Yosemite Valley, and the melting snow makes for a spectacular rush of water off the granite face of Yosemite Falls, the tallest in North America.
Early March is when park officials would normally be gearing up for the busy tourist season. Instead, they're figuring out how to cut $1.5 million from their budget. Without a budget deal, the sequestration has forced the Park Service to cut a total of $134 million from sites around the country.
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Can we keep evolving as we get older? That's a question comedian and commentator Kevin Heffernan decided to explore. And his approach to changing himself was an aromatic one.
KEVIN HEFFERNAN, BYLINE: Cologne, it's a life choice. Some say it's hereditary. If your dad did it, you will. Like what sports team you root for or circumcision. Some say it's cultural. Some say it's a necessity.
On the shores of Lake Michigan, the tiny town of Ludington, Mich., is home port to the last coal-fired ferry in the U.S. The SS Badger has been making trips across the lake to Manitowoc, Wis., during the good-weather months since 1953. And as it runs, the 411-foot ferry discharges coal ash slurry directly into the lake.
An Environmental Protection Agency permit allows the Badger to dump four tons of ash into the lake daily. But now, the agency has put the permit under review — and that means the Badger could stop sailing.
Though the thought of horse meat in British lasagna or Ikea meatballs may be stomach-churning to some people, in some cultures the practice of eating horse meat is not just acceptable, it's a treat. NPR's Peter Kenyon just returned from the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan and checked out the meat market at the Green Bazaar in Almaty.
For years, Canada has welcomed waves of newcomers from Latin America and the Caribbean. A thriving music scene has grown out of this migration — like the one at Lula Lounge, a nightclub in a working-class neighborhood of Toronto. The club's co-founder, Jose Ortega, cut his teeth in New York's legendary Latin scene. When he came to Toronto, he found the vibe fresher, more open to experimentation. And he found talent. It was just a matter of time before the country produced great Latin bands.
The hallways at Westlake High School in Maryland are just like thousands of other school hallways around the country: kids milling around, laughing and chatting on their way to class.
On a recent morning, about 30 kids took their seats in a classroom that initially seems like any other. The major difference here is that instead of a chalkboard and a lectern at the head of the class, there are two enormous flat-panel screens and thin, white microphones hanging in four rows across the ceiling.
Margaret Bonds, who died in 1972, is perhaps near the top of the very short list of African-American female composers. Thanks to her partnerships with Langston Hughes and soprano Leontyne Price and others, she's remembered in some circles as an important figure in American composition. But, mostly, she's been forgotten.
"It's amazing that people don't know who she was, although she was quite well known in her time," says Louise Toppin, an opera singer and a voice professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For seven years, Mary Robinson served as the first female president of Ireland. Yet, she also has a long record of service as a human rights advocate.
After leaving office in 1997, she was appointed as the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations. She now runs The Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice. This week, she has a new book out called Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice.
The death of a Polish nail polish inventor has opened a window into a world of specialty cosmetics. Wojciech Inglot was a chemist and entrepreneur who tried to come up with a more healthful alternative to traditional nail polish. He died Feb. 23 at the age of 57.
Inglot leaves behind a market of grateful customers: Muslim women, who have flocked to his invention of a "breathable" polish that allows air and moisture to reach the nail bed. Some scholars say the cosmetic is uniquely permissible under Islamic law.
In a small public-TV studio before an invitation-only audience of 30 people, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made his case Friday for taking control of Detroit's finances away from the city's elected officials.
The state's signature city is grappling with a declining population, a dwindling tax base and decades of mismanagement — including corruption so pervasive at times that former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is currently on trial for federal racketeering charges.
A Parisian Jew who dies in 1773 reappears in the 21st century as an angel, fluttering gently down to Earth — or, so he thinks. He imagines himself as "a fully formed Christian seraph, a Viking with blond hair, a beautiful chiseled torso, hairless feet, and eyes the color of whiskey." So imagine his shock when he realizes he's no angel — he's actually been reincarnated as a common housefly.
These are difficult times for the Republican Party. In the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Democrats led Republicans — in some cases by double digits — on issues like Medicare, taxes and the economy.
Two rapid-fire snowstorms belted Kansas with more than 2 feet of snow this week. They caused thousands of accidents and all kinds of hardships — but they also produced very broad smiles from some quarters.
That's because in a place as dry as Kansas has been lately, a blizzard can be a blessing for farmers and ranchers.
If food is love, Americans must love their kids a lot. About one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
And our emotional response to food may be one of the reasons so many kids eat so much, according to a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. The poll found that in more than a quarter of families, food is considered an important way to show affection.
The way Americans get their electricity is changing. Coal is in decline. Natural gas is bursting out of the ground in record amounts. And the use of wind and solar energy is growing fast. All this is happening as power companies are trying to choose which kind of energy to bet on for the next several decades.
Until recently, half of these plants burned coal to make electricity. Now, that's down to about one-third. Since 2010, about 150 coal plants either have been retired or it's been announced they will be retired soon.