National News

Ukraine's Separatists To Proceed With Vote, Despite Putin

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 02:42

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin told separatists in Ukraine they should postpone a referendum on secession, leaders of a militant group say they'll hold the vote this Sunday as planned.

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Jonny Greenwood's radio moves

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-08 01:36

Yeah, I'll admit it. I'm a Radiohead fan

We're a devoted lot, and because of that, we're pigeon-holed, stereotyped, etc. But everybody should have that one band they love, right? And because "The Bends" came out when I was in high school, Radiohead was that band for me.

I actually liked the later stuff better -- "Hail to the Thief" is my favorite album, the peak before the band's lesser works of recent years. But even better than the recordings were the live shows. Somehow, here was a group of musicians that was doing stadium rock without the Aquanet and tights.

A Radiohead live performance was truly odd and yet still had mass appeal. But I saw guitarist Jonny Greenwood do something in the early 2000s that really blew my mind. It gave me a new understanding of both improvisation and the art of making every performance unique. 

Greenwood pulled out a radio at the beginning of the song "National Anthem" and just started madly switching channels. Static spat, voices barked, music played over his brother Colin Greenwood's driving bassline -- it was awesome. And the beauty of it was that every time he pulled the move it was different.

In Germany, it was German radio. In Japan, the voices chirped in Japanese. Here's an example. 

 

Jonny Greenwood's move was part of the inspiration for this week's Marketplace Tech series Playing With Machines. Musicians are great ambassadors and early adopters of technology. Unless you're a staunch classicalist or a virtuoso on an acoustic instrument, you're always trying to figure out ways to make new sounds or bring forth new ideas.

That can mean picking up an instrument you don't understand, or trying to push an instrument you know to the limit for a surprising result. It can mean something as simple as playing to a metrinome, or something as complex as composing music for a robot guitarist with 78 fingers.

Like most artists, good musicians are a wonderful mix of technical ability and whimsy. So the way they think about and interact with technology is a treat to witness. 

Women On Capitol Hill Reach Across Party Lines To Get Things Done

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 01:15

There's an assumption that women are more likely than men to collaborate. But as the number of women in Congress has increased, so has the partisanship and gridlock. Does a woman's touch help?

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Computers are jerks: a conversation with Dan Deacon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-08 01:00

If you're going to see a Dan Deacon show, chances are the composer and electronic musician won't ask you to put your cell phone away. In fact, he'll probably encourage you to keep it handy. That's because having a smartphone loaded with Deacon's app turns the audience into a makeshift light show.

It looks something like this (skip to :55 to see the start of the show):

The app, made in conjunction with Wham City Lights, reacts to a tone which then syncs your phone to the next song in the set. It blurs the line between audience and performer in a way that Deacon enjoys -- rather than just going to see a show, attendees contribute to the performance. The app also invites smartphones into a concert setting, an area in which it is usually strictly banned. It's part of Deacon's M.O.: to use technology in a way that enhances his vision of what a Dan Deacon show should look and sound like.

This in spite of the fact that he also refers to the computer as "the biggest jerk I've ever worked with."

It overheats, it is unreliable, and it quits unexpectedly. Deacon points out, though, that it also has a right to be as fickle as it is, seeing as its advanced capability allows him to do so much with his compositions.

He also feels that technology is putting the music world on the precipice of its next big change:

"The last 100 years saw such an insane change in music, it's almost impossible to think about the next 100 years having any less. There was a time before music, there was a time before opera, and there was a time before what we're about to enter into."

The Executioner's Lament

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 23:22

When things go wrong during an execution, the people responsible for carrying it out experience stressful, chaotic scenes. But even when the process goes right, it can take a lasting toll.

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The Art Of A Lost American Couturier, On Display At The Met

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 23:07

After a two-year renovation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute is reopening with an exhibit on the work of Charles James, who is now obscure, but considered America's first couturier.

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At Times All A President Can Say After Disaster Is, 'We're Here'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 23:04

President Obama visited Arkansas on Wednesday, where he surveyed the damage of last month's tornado and met with residents. It's a task he and many presidents before him have had to do far too often.

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Less Nutritious Grains May Be In Our Future

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 23:04

When crops are surrounded by high levels of carbon dioxide, they're more productive. But they may have lower concentrations of some crucial nutrients, which could increase malnutrition in the future.

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Civil War Invades An Elephant Sanctuary: One Researcher's Escape

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 23:02

Andrea Turkalo spent 22 years in central Africa, studying rare forest elephants. Then civil war forced her to flee — and poachers killed many of the elephants she'd shared a life with.

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Legendary D.C. Law Firm To Pay Chevron In Ecuador Pollution Case

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 22:15

Rain forest residents had sued the oil giant, and Washington law firm Patton Boggs tried to make the company pay up. But Chevron sued the law firm for fraud — and is now due $15 million.

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More Americans going online to find cremation urns

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 22:00

Google. Amazon. Walmart.com—These aren’t the first places that people think of when planning a funeral service. But more people are shopping online for cremation urns. 

David Thompson lives in Carson City, Nevada, and he buys a lot of stuff on Amazon. Recently, he bought an urn a few days before his wife passed away. He was looking for a wider selection than what the funeral home offered.

“To be honest, I was really glad to be home, near my wife, while I was going through this process of finding her cremation urn,” he says. “The one that I chose just jumped off the computer screen and told me essentially that, ‘This is the right thing. This matches your wife’s personality'."

Cremation has become commonplace. Two years ago, 43 percent of Americans were cremated. By 2017, it’s expected, there will be more cremations than burials. 

In Traverse City, Michigan, Stardust Memorials has built its entire business around selling cremation urns online. Owner Jordan Lindberg started the company four years ago, after his father got sticker shock while looking for an urn for his grandmother. 

“I wasn’t interested in selling any kind of normal product, anything that you’re likely to find when you go into Target,” he says. 

Potter Phil Wilson is molding clay into an urn on the wheel. He and Gretchen Palmer of Spinner Ceramics are creating a line of ceramic urns for Stardust Memorials. 

Palmer says the handmade aspect offers a personal touch. “These are not made by a machine. They're all made by hand by Phil, with glazes that he mixed and he designed,” she says. Neither potter said they would purchase a cremation urn online. But the new work has made family members think about their final wishes. 

“When I told my mom and her husband what I was doing, they were like, ‘Oh, I wonder what color urn I would like.’ I was like, ‘Mom, seriously?'," she says.

Stardust Memorials did $1 million in sales last year, and expects to double that this year.

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