National News

A Century Ago, When The Guns Fell Silent On Christmas

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 23:25

World War I had just begun and the battles were blazing in the winter of 1914. But on Christmas Eve, something strange and unexpected happened. The soldiers in the trenches decided to call a truce.

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A Punch Line In The U.S., Christmas Fruitcake Is Big In Calcutta

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 23:24

Seen as indestructible in the West, fruitcakes are indispensable in the bustling Hindu city. Bakers of all faiths have the ovens running round the clock to feed Calcutta's appetite for the cakes.

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Pope Celebrates Christmas Eve Mass, Calls Iraqi Refugees

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 21:51

Pope Francis celebrated Christmas Eve with a late-night Mass Wednesday in St. Peter's Basilica and a phone call to some Iraqi refugees forced to flee their homes by Muslim militants.

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Obama Hits The Links With Malaysia's Prime Minister

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 21:42

What do two world leaders do when they find themselves on the same Hawaiian island on Christmas Eve? If you're President Obama and Malaysian Prime Minister Razak, you meet on the golf course.

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How to close a deal on a Christmas tree

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 14:30

Ernest Parker Jr. sells trees at Frosty’s Christmas trees in Los Angeles. But selling trees is really more of a hobby for Parker, who used to work for the health department. He says his wife told him he had to find something to do after he retired.

“It’s not so much about the money for me, it’s something to do, it keeps me in shape,” Parker says.

Even after seven years working at the same stand, Parker says he looks forward to selling trees every year.

“We’re a big part of this community now, so it’s a great pleasure to work here on this lot," Parker says. 

Modern gift-wrap tradition has ties to Hallmark

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 13:53

Maybe you’ve already started wrapping your holiday presents. Or maybe you’re one of those up-past-midnight-on Christmas-Eve types.

Either way, the Christmas wrapping session is a holiday tradition. You put the kids to bed, maybe pour yourself a glass of wine and line up the tape, the scissors and the rolls of printed paper.

But where did this ritual come from?

“Have you read "Little Women?" my friend Nancy asks. “The opening chapter is about the girls deciding that they’re giving up their Christmas gifts to help a poor family, and then they decide to use their allowance money to each buy a present for their mother. Somebody gives her a handkerchief, somebody else gives her perfume, and they don’t really wrap them. They tie a rose onto it I think – or some kind of flower.”

Turns out, wrapping presents – especially in paper printed with holiday scenes – is a relatively new thing.

In the early 20th century, “there was plain paper. So there may have been solid white, solid red, green that a package could have been wrapped in,” says Sharman Roberts, the archivist and historian for Hallmark.

An accident of sorts changed things, she says. 

In 1917, J.C. and Rollie Hall – the guys who would go on to found Hallmark – had a stationary shop in downtown Kansas City. They sold out of the plain wrapping paper, so Rollie went back to the warehouse for more. Instead, he brought back sheets of fancy French paper.

“They were printed in bold colors, lots of patterns, very stylized, and we used them for envelope liners at that time,” Roberts says.

The papers flew off the shelves, and, boom: an industry was born.

By the 1920s Hallmark was printing its own wrapping paper. Today, the gift-wrap industry is worth more than $3 billion.

And for some people, the annual opportunity to wrap stacks of presents is no chore.

It is a privilege.

I made a gift-wrapping date with my friends Laura Weber Davis and Nancy Kaffer. Davis is a producer for Detroit Public Radio, and Kaffer is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. They – we – are women who make our living writing and talking about Serious Things.

And gift wrapping is serious business.

“I come from a family of gift-wrappers,” Laura says. “My grandfather was a [World War II] engineer and carried his military precision on to wrapping.”

There are rules to wrapping.

No. 1: No gift bags.

“Everyone who’s really obsessed with wrapping presents knows gift bags are a shoddy substitute. They’re the poor man’s gift-wrap package,” Nancy says.

Another rule: No shiny tape.

“I’m also weird about not using more paper than I need to,” Laura says as she demonstrates her measuring and cutting skills, honed during three years she spent working the gift-wrap counter at a department store. Nancy and I are a little jealous.

Nancy tries her hand at a rather elaborate trick, using an X-acto knife to slice a star out of a piece of paper that will go over a contrasting paper, concealing a box of Lego Friends.

We talk about the right balance of papers under the tree, the beauty of a perfectly offset bow, and the fact that the care we put into these packages is worth the time an effort, even when our handiwork is ripped to shreds by some kid.

It’s a little bit like the Tao,” says Nancy. ”It’s the way and the goal.”


Mishandling Of Ebola Sample May Have Exposed CDC Technician To Virus

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 13:43

The worker will be monitored for symptoms. Officials are investigating the incident, in which the virus was moved from a high-security lab to a low-security lab at the CDC's headquarters in Atlanta.

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Nicaragua's much-touted canal meets with opposition

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 13:33

Nicaragua has broken ground on a nearly 200-mile shipping canal that will carve the country, including Lake Nicaragua, to link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The Nicaraguan government says the canal will create jobs and investment that will lift the country out of deep poverty, but plans for the project have been accompanied by considerable skepticism.

The idea for a cross-Nicaragua canal is 200 years old, yet every time plans have been put into action, they have failed. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a Hofstra University professor who studies global trade and transport, says Nicaragua is probably attempting it once again because a Hong Kong-based firm is raising a reported $50 billion to get the job done. "Nicaragua has a lot to benefit out of this, without forking [over] any of the capital," Rodrigue says. 

The benefits for ordinary Nicaraguans remain to be seen. The promise of jobs that have yet to materialize may be further undercut by worries over the environmental impact on Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in the region. Pedro Alvarez, who teaches civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, says he fears that dredging Lake Nicaragua, a vital source of drinking and agricultural water, will lead to " dead zones. "


When Home And Health Are Just Out Of Reach

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 12:25

Health insurance doesn't pay for housing, but sometimes that is what a patient needs most. A Medicaid experiment helps some elderly and disabled people move out of institutions into their own homes.

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Japanese Artist Indicted For 'Vagina Kayak'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 12:13

Provocative artist Megumi Igarashi has been arrested twice in Japan this year for distributing data that lets people make a 3-D printed kayak that incorporates a model of her genitals.

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A Blizzard Of Cash: Christmas Comes Early To Hong Kong

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 12:11

Drivers and pedestrians leapt into busy Hong Kong traffic to scoop up millions of dollars of bills spilled by a security van. Much of it has not been returned.

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Will 'The Interview' make money for Sony?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:39
Sony Pictures released the Seth Rogen film "The Interview" on various digital media platforms today. It is available for purchase ($15 plus tax) or rent ($6) on Google Play, YouTube Movies (yes, there is such a thing), Microsoft's Xbox, and a special website Sony created for the film.

Marketplace opted for the purchase option:

Purchased for a grand total of $16.13, we are about to watch #TheInterview on YouTube

— Marketplace (@Marketplace) December 24, 2014

The movie clocks at two hours, but its plot has dragged on for weeks — it was at the center of an international hacking incident attributed to North Korea, in which troves of Sony Pictures' secret financial data and executive emails were released.

The film will also be screened in some 200 movie theaters across the country on Christmas Day. It was originally scheduled for a wider release, but the nation's top movie theater chains canceled screenings after attackers issued a threat. Sony then announced its intentions to release the film following a public scolding by President Obama

Now, the question is whether the film will actually recoup the reported $90 million it cost Sony to make and market the movie. 

"I would be shocked if they're going to recoup their ... investment," says Peter Kafka, a senior editor at the technology and media site Re/code. "You can sort of work out how many folks they need ... to rent this thing to make it worthwhile."

That number would be about 16.7 million rentals, if the studio was getting 100 percent of the proceeds from each sale. It won't be.

John Sloss, who advises on digital media distribution at Cinetic Media, says "The Interview" would have had a much better chance at making money if Sony had released the film earlier and on every digital platform at once. After all, he says, cinemas aren't where the profits are for studios.

"More often than not, the theatrical is a loss leader, because most of the releasing costs go onto the theatrical release, which builds awareness," which then helps sell the film on other platforms with better margins, says Sloss.

Sony might have gotten between 40 and 50 percent of the price of a movie ticket at the cinema. But, it'll get between 70 and 90 percent of the money spent on the various video on demand platforms that are showing "The Interview."

"In a couple of years, transactional VOD, when combined with DVD, will exceed the revenue of DVD when it was at its height 10 years ago," says Sloss, adding that that could total to about twice as much as a film makes in movie theaters.

The question now is whether the enormous attention the film has gotten because of the cyber attack will translate to enough viewers — and enough positive word of mouth from those who initially see the movie — to add up to significant revenues for Sony Pictures.

And how did Marketplace feel about the movie?

[View the story "Marketplace watches "The Interview" live" on Storify]  

Tech in 2015: We'll be connected 24/7

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:16

This year, we saw some sci-fi-worthy advances in technology that included drones, virtual reality and space exploration. But in 2015, what technology can we expect that will actually change our everyday lives?

Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson says, get ready for more Internet.

"We're going to be connected, and more effectively connected, not just by our cell connection but by Wi-Fi, all the time," Johnson says.

That ubiquitous Wi-Fi connection might have some drawbacks depending on how you feel about advertisements. "We're going to get advertisements delivered to our phones that relate to the places around us," he says.

If you're not ready to have ads following you around the mall, you have options. "There is a creepy aspect to this ... and we do have some control where you can actually turn off notifications or location reporting on your phone," Johnson says.

Volatility could (maybe) signal end of the bull market

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:13

Volatility in the markets has spiked recently. And while it may be subsiding, some tea-leaf readers expect to see it spike again. 

After all, there is a measure of uncertainty in the markets, and there is much to be uncertain about regarding a whole lot of things right now, like emerging markets, declining oil prices, declining growth in China, problems in Russia ... and so on. 

But there's a seasonal aspect to this volatility, too, which means market strategists are trying to divine whether we can expect more of it, and whether it's a sign of an imminent correction.

Does volatility signal the end of the bull market?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:13

Volatility in the markets has spiked recently. And while it may be subsiding now, some tea leaf-readers expect to see it spike again. 

After all, there is a measure of uncertainty in the markets, and there is much to be uncertain about a whole lot of things right now, like emerging markets, declining oil prices, declining growth in China, problems in Russia, and so on. 

But there's a seasonal aspect to this volatility, too, which means market strategists are trying to divine whether we can expect more of it, and whether it's a sign of an imminent correction.

Holiday music economics: New artists sing old songs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:00

Every year, we get a whole slew of new takes on old Christmas tunes.

For example, "Mary, Did You Know" was originally recorded in 1991 by Michael English, but the Pentatonix released a version of the song this holiday season. And it's one of the top holiday tracks of the year, garnering over 24 million views on YouTube.

Sure, there are current popular artists who record original holiday songs ... Ariana Grande's "Santa Tell Me" was released on her Christmas EP this year:

But for the most part, artists like Sam Smith are recording and releasing songs that were written decades ago:

Judy Garland first recorded "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in 1944 for the musical "Meet Me in St. Louis":

Why keep rehashing the same old material? Sure, there’s the holiday spirit, but consumers are willing to spend on new versions of old songs by their favorite artists, says David Bakula of Nielsen Entertainment, which tracks music sales and streams.

Plus there’s demand from stores and radio stations that often play Christmas music 24/7 during the Christmas season.

But Pinky Gonzales, an entertainment and digital media strategist, says Christmas albums don’t sell as well as their full studio, non-holiday counterparts, and new songs rarely get the same airplay year after year like the classics do. Not every holiday song can perform like Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas."

And maybe that's for the best.

Google knows what's under the Christmas tree

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 11:00

If you are still searching for the perfect Christmas gift, you may as well give up and just get the most popular one. The New York Times published the top-trending gift searches on Google from cities around the country.

There are a few things on there that lots of people seem to be hunting for:

  • Toys from the movie Frozen
  • Legos
  • Cards against Humanity

And then there are some outliers. For example, in Dallas people want Ouija boards; in Austin, kinetic sand. And in San Francisco, people are looking for wireless chargers and smart watches. Of course they are.

View the complete list of gifts here.

Thirty years later, Cabbage Patch Kids are still a favorite

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 10:53

Each year, there’s that one big toy that causes parents to schlep from store to store, stand in long lines, and sometimes, break into fistfights.

Usually, the toy comes and goes.

But there’s something different about the Cabbage Patch Kid, which is still drawing fans decades after its release.  

“Everybody had them,” says Shannon Burress-Buynak, who first got her doll in 1984 (disclosure: she’s also my sister). “And that was the talk. Whether you were a boy or you were a girl, you had to have a Cabbage Patch Kid, and it had to look like you.”

The family story goes our dad finally found a last few Cabbage Patch Kids just before Christmas. In what sounds like a sketchy, back-room deal, he paid “some guy” a 300 percent premium for the dolls, named Carolina Jacobina (my sister’s), and Wiley Ervin (mine).

Fast forward 30 years, and Mother Cabbage Patch is still pushing out little boy and girl dolls at Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia.  Picture a green cabbage patch the size of an amusement park carousel with a nurse stationed in its middle, pulling out naked, newborn dolls.

Babyland General is a 70,000 sq ft. replica of an antebellum mansion nestled in the North Georgia Mountains, about 90 miles from Atlanta. It’s part-museum, part-endless retail store. And it’s a far cry from the humble beginnings where Xavier Roberts first created “Little People” in the late ‘70s.

By 1982, the name changed to Cabbage Patch Kids, says Margaret McClain, director of corporate communications at Babyland General. And for the next few years, they were the standard by which toys were judged.

“The demand was not expected,” McClain says of the early-80's hype. “Sometimes you just don’t anticipate what was going to happen.”

Unlike most popular toys, sales remained strong for decades. In 2010, Time Magazine named the Cabbage Patch to its Top-10 Toy Crazes of all time. Now, a new generation of parents is introducing their children to the phenomenon.

“I was [4 years old], and I was very excited,” says Emily Horas. “It had blond hair and blue eyes, like me.”

She’s brought her son Cody to Babyland to adopt his first doll, Alissa Marie.

So what is it about the Cabbage Patch that still resonates with kids?

“It’s kind of a classic baby doll. Except it’s not. It’s different,” says Chris Bensch, Chief Curator for the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York. The museum is also home to the National Toy Hall of Fame. Bensch says the Cabbage Patch Doll’s adoption papers, custom hair and eye colors, and unusual names distinguish it. So much so, the Cabbage Patch was a finalist for inclusion to the hall of fame in 2010.

It didn’t win.  

“I have every confidence that Cabbage Patch Kids will eventually get in,” Bensch says. “It just wasn’t their year in 2010.”

What won that year? The Game of Life and playing cards.

But at least the dolls didn’t compete in 2005, the year the inimitable cardboard box won.

Would You Like Health Insurance With Those Stocking Stuffers?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 09:35

While shoppers rush to the mall to pick up the last neckties and Transformers for Christmas, health officials are trying to pitch them on an unconventional gift this holiday season: health insurance.

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U.S. Strikes Have Killed 1,100 ISIS Fighters and Cost $1 Billion

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 09:27

Spending exceeds $8 million per day. Operation Inherent Resolve, as the U.S.-led operation against the Islamic State is known, is getting its own inspector general to oversee government costs.

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