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In 2011, when North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il died, the state news agency reported that Mount Paektu took on a supernatural glow, and that at its summit, Heaven Lake shook with cracking ice.

Those reports were pretty unscientific. But several years earlier, between 2002 and 2005, Mount Paektu had experienced a swarm of little earthquakes.

On a hillside overlooking the steppes of northeastern Mongolia, an entire family shovels jet-black chunks of coal into a truck. Every half-hour or so, they fire up a machine that steadily pulls a steel cable attached to what looks like a roller-coaster car emerging from a hole in the ground. It takes five minutes before it arrives at the surface, full of more coal, extracted by cousins working half-a-mile beneath the earth.

For some rural Mongolians, risking their lives in crude, makeshift mines is the only way to survive.

Congress had a full seven months to block a rule change for federal courts that lets judges authorize the hacking of digital devices well beyond their districts.

But after a September attempt in the Senate to vote on the measure failed, opponents on Capitol Hill waited until the day before the rule change was to take effect to introduce three motions aimed at shooting it down or at least delaying its implementation.

Twenty-two states still allow corporal punishment in school: 15 expressly permit it while another seven do not prohibit it. That's according to a recent letter written by U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. to the nation's governors and state school chiefs.

Not sure what, exactly, corporal punishment is? Here's a quick primer.

It often involves a paddle. Always, pain. That's the point.

Two months after Colombian voters narrowly rejected a peace deal with the Marxist rebel group FARC, the nation's Congress has ratified a renegotiated agreement.

If implemented, it will bring to an end a more than half-century guerrilla war that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced an estimated 8 million.

Reporter John Otis in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, tells our Newscast unit:

When young adults set out to pick a college back in 2010 and 2011, they were making a decision of a lifetime amid big financial obstacles: soaring tuition and the great recession.

And as they progressed through their college careers, a debate over the value of college grew louder.

A long held mantra – that the best investment is a good education – is increasingly being called into question. Some politicians, high-profile entrepreneurs and even educators, have become publicly skeptical of the worth of a degree that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain.

While the HIV/AIDS epidemic no longer looks as menacing as it did in the 1980s and '90s, efforts to stop the spread of the disease have hit a brick wall.

You can hear Harold Lopez-Nussa's training when he plays. The 33-year-old pianist is reluctant to admit the classical influence on his jazz playing, but he's quick to acknowledge that he, like many other great Cuban pianists, was classically trained. "This is the school that we have to learn music in Cuba; it's classical," he says. "I did all my stuff there from 8 years old to 25."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Millions of years ago, a little beetle lived among beeches and buttercups on a sparely vegetated tundra at the head of a fjord in Antarctica.

The beetle was small — less than a centimeter long — and it was brown with the typical six legs and two antennae attached to a body protected by a hard shell.

The Obama administration has issued a sweeping final rule banning smoking in all public housing units nationwide, extending a smoke-free environment to nearly a million units.

A new report from the National Academy of Sciences says it's hard to know how many people in the U.S. actually have food allergies or whether they're on the rise.

Part of the challenge is this: Food allergies are often self-diagnosed and symptoms can be misinterpreted. Sometimes people can't distinguish a food allergy from other conditions such as lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity, which don't fit the medical definition of an allergy.

In the race for video streaming domination, Netflix surges forward. On Wednesday, Netflix announced and implemented in its latest update, the ability to download TV and movie titles on mobile devices.

As expected, the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday imposed additional sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program. But the fine print included one punitive measure that caused some head-scratching: a ban on the export of monuments.

Is there really an international market for monuments made in North Korea?

And who's buying them?

Well, yes, there is a market. And some of the most avid customers are African nations and rulers.

The federal ethics watchdog isn't the kind of agency that typically airs its positions on Twitter — let alone in a snarky tone, with exclamation points.

But it's been an all-around weird day at the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

It all started with a report of a mountain lion sighting in a city park. That's when police in Gardner, Kan., decided to install trail cameras — but instead of cougars, the cameras captured scenes of costumed people romping in the park, dressed as gorillas and, in one case, a beer-drinking Santa.

Gavlebocken, we hardly knew ye. Truly.

Every year for Advent, the town of Gavle, Sweden, builds a giant Christmas goat out of straw. And every year, arsonists do their best to bring it down.

This time, despite high-tech cameras and two security guards, the goat didn't even last a full 24 hours.

An annual study released by the Brazilian government estimates that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has increased by 29 percent over last year.

That's the second year in a row that deforestation in the Amazon quickened; last year, the pace rose by about 24 percent.

There's no shortage of speculation about how the incoming Trump administration, whose appointees so far are staunch abortion opponents, might crack down on access to the procedure.

But reproductive rights groups say the big picture is getting lost: Women in large parts of the country already have limited access to abortion, due to hundreds of Republican-backed laws passed by state legislatures over the past half-decade.

Every year, new words, senses and changes in word usage are added to the American Heritage Dictionary. Here & Now‘s Robin Young finds out some of the additions for 2016 from Executive Editor Steve Kleinedler (@SKleinedler) of the American Heritage Dictionary (@ahdictionary).

Singing legend Tony Bennett (@itstonybennett) turned 90 this year, but the crooner says he has no plans to retire.

If any image haunts TV news, and perhaps our conscience, it's the seemingly ceaseless river of migrants seeking refuge from war, dictatorship and poverty. These desperate souls inspire pity, fear and election-year arguments about whether to offer them welcome or keep them out.

Congress has reached a compromise on the Pentagon's effort to claw back millions of dollars in bonuses paid by the California National Guard, agreeing to forgive the debt in cases where soldiers "knew or reasonably should have known" they were ineligible to receive the money.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled the rebel-held neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo, as Syrian regime forces make major gains.

Joint replacements. Cardiac care. Chemotherapy.

What do those things have to do with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act?

Well, an often overlooked part of Obamacare is a test kitchen within the Department of Health and Human Services that experiments with new ways for the government to pay for some expensive and frequently used health care services, including those three.

Updated at 5:55 p.m. ET

In eastern Tennessee, deadly wildfires are still burning and authorities say it's still too dangerous for thousands of people to return to their damaged and destroyed homes and businesses.

On Wednesday, authorities in Gatlinburg, Tenn., said the confirmed death toll had grown to seven people, reported The Associated Press. Search and rescue crews from local law enforcement agencies and the National Guard combed through the remains of buildings looking for survivors.

It was in 1974 that William Christenberry found the little red house.

The photographer and painter, a vital chronicler of rural Alabama, came across the building standing alone among the pine trees, deep in the Talladega National Forest. All he had with him was his tiny, no-frills Brownie camera — a long-cherished gift that "Santa brought my sister and me."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Nancy Pelosi beat back her toughest challenge yet to her leadership of Democrats in the House of Representatives, defeating Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan to secure another term as House minority leader.

The California Democrat got 134 votes to Ryan's 63 in a secret ballot vote on Wednesday. Pelosi had boasted going into the vote that she had support from two-thirds of the caucus, and she received just over that amount.

A police officer in Charlotte, N.C., will not face charges in the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott.

Scott's death in September unleashed two days of unrest in Charlotte, when protesters took to the streets and in some cases threw objects at police and smashed windows.

R. Andrew Murray, the Mecklenburg County district attorney, said during a news conference Wednesday that he was "entirely convinced" that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Brentley Vinson "was lawful in using deadly force."

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