NPR Staff

Shannon Johnson, a researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, found that when she talked to youngsters about sea snails, she communicated a little more effectively if she skipped the technical description and called them "punk-rock snails."

"Their entire shells are covered in spikes," Johnson explains. "And then the spikes are actually all covered in fuzzy white bacteria."

It's a story almost too strange to be true: Throughout much of the 1960s and '70s, the wistful, wide-eyed children of painter Walter Keane were absolutely everywhere.

Paintings and posters of the big-eyed waifs, often in rags, their hair unkempt, brought fame and fortune to the charming, smooth-talking artist — along with widespread critical disdain.

But years later, it emerged that the art was actually the work of Walter's wife, Margaret Keane. She painted in secret, behind closed doors, and he publicly claimed the work as his own.

We are well into the Christmas season, and if you live in Japan, that means sponge cake.

The traditional Japanese Christmas dish is served with strawberries and cream, and it is rich, thanks to lots and lots of butter. But the Japanese have been using even more butter for their Christmas cakes this year, exacerbating what was already a national butter shortage.

Earlier this month, after the events in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y, the White House announced the creation of what it's calling a Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

The group's job is to find ways to strengthen the relationship between police and the public, and to share recommendations with the president by late February.

Dr. Kent Brantly considers himself a lucky man.

He was diagnosed with Ebola five months ago while working with Christian aid group Samaritan's Purse at a hospital in Liberia's capital, Monrovia. He became so sick that he thought he was going to "quit" breathing.

Journalist Paul Salopek is on a seven-year trek around the world, retracing early humans' first great migration, out of Africa.

We first spoke to him two years ago, when he was in Ethiopia, at the very beginning of his odyssey. Since then, we've reached him in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Cyprus. Eventually, he plans to walk 21,000 miles in total — and make it all the way to Tierra del Fuego in South America.

On this last leg of his trip, he has faced all manner of obstacles — both natural and man-made.

Every year since 1896, Los Angeles County has held a somber ceremony for the men, women and children who die there, but whose bodies are never claimed.

Some of those buried are unidentified; they are buried as Jane and John Does.

Many others have been identified, but for a variety of reasons, family and friends never picked up their cremated remains.

This year, in an interfaith ceremony on Dec. 9, the county buried the ashes of 1,489 people in a mass grave in the County Cemetery in LA's Boyle Heights.

Many plants we eat today are a result of genetic modifications that would never occur in nature. Scientists have long been altering the genes of food crops, to boost food production and to make crops more pest-, drought- and cold-resistant.

"Product of Mexico" — it's a label you see on fruit and vegetable stickers in supermarkets across the U.S.

It's also the name of an investigative series appearing this week in the Los Angeles Times.

As a civil rights attorney, Constance Rice became known in the 1990s for, as she puts it, going to war with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Rice filed lawsuits against the department, mainly over their treatment of minorities in underprivileged communities.

Following the recent decisions not to indict white cops in the deaths of two black men — President Obama has said one of his top priorities is building trust between minority communities and local police.

Ruth Coker Burks was a young mother in her 20s when the AIDS epidemic hit her home state of Arkansas in the early 1980s. She took it upon herself to care for AIDS patients who were abandoned by their families, and even by medical professionals, who feared the disease.

Coker Burks, now 55, has no medical training, but she estimates that she has cared for nearly 1,000 people over the past three decades, including her friend Paul Wineland's partner.

The year was 1975. Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese as American troops and civilians were forced to evacuate the country. Ronald Reagan entered the presidential race against Gerald Ford. A show called Saturday Night Live debuted on NBC.

And Ricky Jackson, Wiley Bridgeman and Bridgeman's younger brother, Ronnie, were charged with the murder of an Ohio salesman. Jackson was 18, Ronnie Bridgeman was 17 and Wiley Bridgeman was 20.

A version of this story was originally published on Nov. 21, 2012.

Everyone knows the schoolhouse version of the first Thanksgiving story: New England pilgrims came together with Native Americans to share a meal after the harvest. The original menu was something of a joint venture, but over the years, a lot of the traditional dishes have lost their native flavor.

It's like the start of a bad joke: a vegan, a gluten-free and a paleo walk into a bar — except it's your house, and they're gathered around your Thanksgiving table.

More and more Americans are passing on gluten — some for medical reasons, most by choice. Others are adopting diets that exclude meat, or insisting on the kinds of unprocessed foods that early man would have hunted and gathered.

All of this is a challenge to the traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry Dies

Nov 23, 2014

Marion Barry, the fiery Washington, D.C., politician who was famously re-elected after going to jail for crack cocaine possession, has died after months of battling health issues. He was 78.

The four-term mayor, who was still serving his third term on the D.C. Council, was famous for fighting for the District's disenfranchised, but won national notoriety after he was caught on FBI video with an ex-girlfriend and crack cocaine in 1990.

He was considered by many to be the district's most charismatic and controversial politician.

The United States has seen many fundraisers headlined by an Obama in recent years, but this week it won't be the president or the first lady — it will be his step-grandmother, Sarah Obama, who is raising funds to build a school and hospital in her hometown, Kogelo, Kenya.

Since Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill in 1997, more than 700 people have taken their lives with prescribed medication — including Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with an incurable brain tumor, who ended her life earlier this month.

Yes, you can fit a recipe into a tweet.

Just ask Maureen Evans, author of Eat Tweet: A Twitter Cookbook. She has been sharing recipes with friends and families for years from the Twitter account @Cookbook, and realized early on that not only is it entirely possible, but it can also be fun.

In the Dutch town of Eindhoven, artist Daan Roosegaarde has paid homage to its most famous resident, Vincent Van Gogh, by creating a glowing bike path that relies on solar-powered LED lights and interprets his classic painting Starry Night.

Protecting young people from sexual predators would seem to be a universally-held value in this country: No state has an age of consent lower than 16.

But in some courtrooms, attorneys argue that children can make decisions about whom they have sex with — and in some cases, those attorneys are winning.

One of those cases is currently under appeal in California. In 2010, a 28-year old middle-school math teacher began a six-month sexual relationship with a 14-year-old female student at his school.

When you think philanthropy, Facebook and Google don't usually come to mind.

But maybe in your travels across the Internet this week, you notice that both companies placed banners ads on their pages asking you to help end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

Google pledged to match every dollar donated by its users with $2. The company has already reached its limit of $7.5 million — $5 million from Google and $2.5 million from donors.

Apple pie isn't American in the way people often mean. Every ingredient, from apples to butter to nutmeg and cinnamon, came from somewhere else.

But then, so do most Americans.

A new book traces the roots of American tastes from pemmican to Coca-Cola to what are now called "molecularly modified" foods. Libby O'Connell, the chief historian and a senior vice president for the History Channel and A&E networks, wrote The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites.

The imprint Ron Riveira's grandparents made on his life has been indelible. Ron, a hospice nurse in California, served as a Navy corpsman and a medic in the Marines. His grandmother and grandfather — a Korean War vet — helped raise him.

Ron remembers that his grandfather may not have said much, but his love for his wife was obvious. "They were a phenomenal couple," Ron tells his friend Jason Deitch at StoryCorps in Concord, Calif.

Filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood is tired of hearing about "black films." In fact: "It is one of my goals in life to obliterate the term 'black film,' " she tells NPR's David Greene.

Prince-Bythewood tells love stories. She created the films Love and Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees, and most recently, Beyond the Lights.

"For me it's just about putting people of color in every genre and making it become normal," she says.

As you may be aware, there's a hot new space movie now in theaters — Interstellar. Here's the premise: It's just a little bit in the future, conditions have become pretty horrible on Earth and some astronauts head out in search of a new planet for humans to inhabit.

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