National News

Detroit real estate on the rise

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-12-25 02:00

After suffering through some of the very worst of the Great Recession and housing crisis, property values and rents in Detroit are headed back up again. Developer Richard Baron is the CEO of St. Louis-based McCormack Baron Salazar, which is building 400 new rental units.

“The market has firmed up very nicely, certainly for apartments in downtown, around the core, and we think that it will continue to grow,” says Baron.

Even the long-stalled market for single-family houses is beginning to approach pre-recession levels.  

“If anything, our biggest challenge is that I have way more buyers than I do quality houses that are move-in ready,” says Ryan Cooley, an agent for O’Connor Real Estate. Despite the good news for downtown, Cooley says many outlying neighborhoods are not seeing the same turnaround.

'Christmas Story' house a major award for Cleveland

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-12-25 02:00

Ten years ago, San Diego entrepreneur Brian Jones bought a ramshackle house in Cleveland. 

But don’t write this off as your standard fixer-upper yarn, as that rickety heap was used in the filming of the 1983 holiday classic, “A Christmas Story”.  You know, the one with little Ralphie wishing for a Red Ryder BB Gun, but forever warned he’ll “shoot his eye out.”

 Jones took a brave shot himself at saving the house, which he has turned into one of Cleveland's biggest tourist attractions. 

Coming in from the cold, the day’s first tour — about 20 people — squeeze into “A Christmas Story” House. They’re greeted by tour guide Jeff Woodard. 

“Come on in, welcome to Ralphie and Randy’s,” he smiles.

The visitors play with a Red Ryder BB gun or pose with the infamous leg lamp by the window. There are also elf hats and other novelty head wear, though the “pink nightmare” bunny pajamas are across the street in the gift shop.

Woodward explains how this house was used during the filming of “A Christmas Story” in 1983.

“Basic rule of thumb is, if you can see a shot through a window or through a doorway into outdoor ambient light, that shot was filmed in this house,” he says.

But after filming wrapped up, 3159 West 11th Street became just another address in hardscrabble Cleveland. Nature, via economic downturn, took its course.

Then in 2004, Brian Jones — a fan of the movie who had also launched a thriving leg lamp enterprise the year before — learned that the home was listed on eBay for $99,000.

“Never mind that the houses in this area are $25,000 and $30,000 homes,” says Woodward. “(Jones) doesn’t know that, he doesn’t care. He calls the two brothers who own the house, and he says, 'Make you a deal. You take this off of eBay today, I will write you a check for $150,000.'”

The visitors gasp.

Flash forward to today.  Jones, who lives in Florida now but drops in every now and then on business, reflects on the time and money spent restoring the house to its cinematic grandeur, inside and outside.

“You’re looking at about one and a half million dollars invested over the past decade,” says Jones.

The house now sees visitors from all over the world.

“There was guy from South Africa," says Jones. "He was crawling under the sink, just like Randy: "'Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie.'"

And last year, Jones launched the Christmas Story House Foundation, which helps fix up other homes in the immediate neighborhood. Last year it raised $60,000. 

Rich Weiss was a beneficiary. He applied for funding and got approved this past year. “A completely painted house exterior, and a completely replaced porch, that isn’t inexpensive,” Weiss says.

While the operators of “A Christmas Story” House and Museum wouldn’t disclose annual revenues, it’s safe to say, with most of its 50,000 annual visitors paying the adult admission rate of ten dollars, that its profits are cozier than a set of pink bunny pajamas.  

 

 

PODCAST: Cat cafe

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-12-25 01:45

As oil prices plummet, what is the effect on the alternative energy sector. We find out. Plus, a surge in jobs has brought people back to downtown Detroit, making apartments scarce and prompting a building boom. And Oakland cat-lovers Adam Myatt and Ana Dunn opened Cat Town Cafe - the country's first feline filled coffee shop - and they have been so busy that they are taking reservations. The main product isn’t the hip local coffee and bagels, it is the cats themselves.

Unexpected Life Found In The Ocean's Deepest Trench

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 23:34

An expedition to the Pacific's Mariana Trench has found evidence that life exists miles below the surface. But it's not life as we know it.

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Christmas Tree Farmers Invest Long-Term In The Holiday Spirit

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 23:29

Americans buy 25 million Christmas trees every year. They're slow-growing crops, but the trees can be a smart investment for small farmers like the Carroll family in Louisa, Va.

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The French Go Crazy For 'An American In Paris'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 23:28

The first-ever stage production of the 1951 Hollywood film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, with a Gershwin score, is getting rave reviews during its premiere in the city that inspired it.

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Inside The Indiana Megadairy Making Coca-Cola's New Milk

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 23:27

Coca-Cola got a lot of attention in November when it announced it was going into the milk business. In fact, its extra-nutritious milk product was invented by some dairy farmers in Indiana.

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Pope Francis And His Gift For Blending The Spiritual And The Political

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 23:26

Despite detractors within the church, Pope Francis' emphasis on humility and mercy has won him strong support worldwide. He has addressed thorny issues such as Vatican finances and clerical sex abuse.

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Pittsburgh Tries To Attract Enterprising Immigrants And Refugees

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-24 23:26

Pittsburgh is the latest Rust Belt city hoping to lure high-skilled immigrants into its labor force by helping refugees and other immigrants land the kind of jobs they held back home.

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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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