National News

Ebola Is Not Mutating As Fast As Scientists Feared

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 11:21

Many people have worried that Ebola could evolve into a more deadly virus — or start spreading through the air. A study published Thursday alleviates these concerns.

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FanDuel: Where fantasy draft day is everyday

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 11:18

What if you could combine sports with instant gratification and make some money, while you're at it – all while never having to leave the comfort of your own home.

Generally speaking, you can't bet on sports online in this country. But what you can do is pick your favorite players and set up a fantasy team, where your win-loss record is based on how those players do in real life, not their teams, and make some money that way.

"It’s a game of skill, so you compete with other people in drafting teams," says Nigel Eccles, co-founder and CEO of FanDuel.

Well, 41 million people in the U.S and Canada are doing just that. Fantasy sports has become a different kind of national past time.

However, FanDuel is not your ordinary fantasy sports site. Most fantasy sports leagues can drag on for six-months and require a lot of commitment. And if a user drafts lousy players onto their team, the joy and interest in playing is usually gone by week four or five.

FanDuel is like the fantasy sports site for the non-committed. Users can play for one day or a weekend, whenever they’d like. In the fourth quarter of last year, FanDuel had over one million paying users. 

"The game is great like that because some people love sports, they love basketball, but they are never going to be committed enough to play a seasonal fantasy basketball league. And with this you’re just committing to one evening," Eccles says. 


Live-streaming comes to the smartphone era

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 11:14

Twitter wants us to spend more time live-streaming our lives. Their new broadcasting app Periscope went live today.

Acquired by Twitter for $100 million in January, the app allows users to live stream video from their smart phones (iOS only, for now). Interested viewers who don't catch the stream live can replay it later.

That follows what may prove to be the flash-in-the-pan success of Meerkat, which does the same thing but isn't owned by Twitter, a possibly insurmountable obstacle. Plus, Meerkat more closely resembles Snapchat: Once the stream is offline, it's gone, not to be viewed again. 

The concept of the live stream isn't new, says Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson. Sites like Ustream have been a mainstay of conferences, lectures and festivals for years. But this crop of new apps make it incredibly easy to turn a smartphone into a live broadcast device. One consequence is the increased ability to share moments of idleness or boredom. 

Another app, YouNow, is a streaming and chat service that boasts, among other things, a hashtag called #SleepSquad. Yes, watching people as they sleep. And there's a tip system, too, so conceivably, paying to watch people sleep. 

"It's curious and creepy," Johnson says. "This is the weird, Wild West days of live streaming on your mobile phone and being able to interact with people. Which is cool — but where's the money?"

Beyond the tips passed around YouNow, Twitter's Periscope and Meerkat will eventually seek ways to monetize. The site to watch for clues is Twitch, the video game streaming platform that Amazon acquired for $1.1 billion in 2014. There, gamers can broadcast and watch others. Banter, consistency, level of play, and yes, even production values, boost viewership here. Twitch's top broadcasters gain significant followings, and in some cases advertising and fans' financial support. 

"Here's a number: 20 million. That's the number of viewers who watched the live stream of a video game in the first week it was released on Twitch, last year," Johnson says, adding that YouTube is reportedly developing its own video game streaming service. 

These companies are betting that the growth in interest and viewership around live streaming will draw more advertisers as well. But while live streams can be intimate and personal, they are also unpredictable.

One potential consequence: a resurgence in swatting, where viewers contact 911 with a false gun or bomb threat, to direct SWAT teams to that player's house. 

"For a hacker, they want to be able to play this prank on someone and have — in some cases — 55,000 people watching this guy get thrown on the ground by police," Johnson said. 

No advertiser wants their banner ad plastered over a gamer in handcuffs, and so may stay away from potentially lucrative but chaotic streaming channels. In an interview with Twitch CEO Emmett Shear, Johnson asked whether the company plans to add additional controls.

"The key thing for us is cooperating with law enforcement," Shear said, adding, "Secondly, you know, honestly, not talking about it too much, because I think that there's a negative impact from giving too much attention to people who are honestly seeking attention by doing this."

Not talking about how this content may be moderated or controlled isn't a solution. So while there's growth and interest in live streaming, as well as money to be made, there are potential downsides — and etiquette — to be worked out. 

Census Data Prove It: We Prefer Sunshine And Golf Carts

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 10:46

A new Census Bureau report suggests many Americans would rather be driving a golf cart than shoveling a drive. Last year, Florida was home to six of the 20 fastest-growing metro areas in the nation.

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Indiana's Governor Signs 'Religious Freedom' Bill

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 10:28

Among other things, the controversial new law would allow owners of businesses in the state to deny services to same-sex couples.

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Coach Dean Smith calls one last play before passing away

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 10:24

Dean Smith, the legendary basketball coach for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, died in early February.

Turns out that in his will, Smith specified that every player who earned a varsity letter while he was there was to get a check for $200 along with a note encouraging them to a dinner out.

Compliments of Coach Dean Smith.

After Spending Scandals, Rep. Aaron Schock Says Goodbye

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 10:13

Even in his final floor speech, Rep. Aaron Schock seemed to leave the door open for a future, comparing himself to former President Abraham Lincoln.

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A Single Gene May Decide Why Some People Get So Sick With The Flu

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 10:06

A single genetic mutation might decide who ends up in bed with the sniffles and who heads to the hospital, because it shuts down immune system molecules called interferons.

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How Yemen's Chaos Stretches Beyond Its Borders

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 09:43

The U.S. has lost a key base for counterterrorism operations. The proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is heating up. And one more Middle Eastern state has dissolved into chaos.

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Challenges remain, even after the 'Doc Fix' gets fixed

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 09:05

Kicking the can down the road is old hat in Washington. But one of the cans that's been kicked for nearly 20 years now has been, well, not kicked.

The House of Representatives, by a wide and bipartisan margin, voted for a more permanent solution to the perennial threats to how much Medicare reimburses doctors, the so-called "Doc Fix" legislation. And while the deal still needs to win Senate approval, to some, like American Medical Association President-elect Dr. Steven Stack, it’s a historic moment.

“I don’t want to pass the opportunity to thank Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi," Stack says.

Now, Stack knows there’s almost no chance that kind of quote is ever published, but he wanted to say it anyway. Take it as a sign of the relief he’s cautiously feeling on behalf of the 94 percent of doctors who have worried about Congress cutting their pay.

“Having stability and predictability in physician payment is essential for quality of care and patient safety,” he says.

Under the bill, doctors would see a half percent bump in each of the next four years, well below the rate of inflation — the price they pay for predictability. There’s another price doctors may pay though, warns the Urban Institute’s Bob Berenson, namely more reporting requirements. Berenson says some lack the technology infrastructure to pull it off.

“Small practices will find this too much of a reporting burden and may just throw in the towel,” he says.

Another key provision would pay doctors more for high-quality care rather than the volume of care. Everybody loves that, says Harvard’s Dr. Ashish Jha. The trouble is it’s very hard to measure "quality."

“We are going to focus on paying doctors for a lot of things. Some of which probably represent real quality and some of which clearly represent checking the box,” he says.

Jha says if Washington is serious about paying based on quality, the government must invest several billion dollars. Absent that, doctors may have more financial stability thanks to this deal, but less certainty about how to best serve their patients.

Why borrowers turn to pricey payday loans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 09:05

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is looking to make payday and other short-term loans more consumer-friendly. For example, it's considering creating rules that would require lenders to consider a borrower's ability to repay the loan and/or limit the number of loans borrowers can take out.

But even without such controls, borrowers keep turning to these services — 12 million borrowers each year, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. A typical payday borrower might make $30,000 a year and borrow a few hundred dollars to pay their rent or electricity bill.  Borrowers may find themselves with unexpected expenses and no other options, says's Greg McBride, as traditional banks don’t generally make small loans and borrowers may not qualify if they did.

Alternatively, borrowers might decide these loans are the best of limited options, says Dennis Shaul, CEO of the short-term lender trade group Community Financial Services Association of America. Shaul agrees with the CFPB that lenders should evaluate people’s ability to repay loans. Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, says consumers also need other options to meet their borrowing needs. 

When disasters happen, all airlines are affected

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 09:04

When a plane crashes — it doesn’t matter whose plane it is — the entire airline industry is affected and the entire industry responds. One of the first things airlines do is set to work calming people’s fears.

"So, for example, if a passenger has a question about the type of aircraft being used on his or her flight, call-center employees usually are briefed on how to answer those questions," says Madhu Unnikrishnan, an airline-industry correspondent for Aviation Week. 

Unnikrishnan says other aspects of business as usual are also put on hold.

“They will suspend events, promotional and marketing events for example," she says. "And airlines typically withdraw ads from newspapers and television."

Tragedies bring about cooperation in other areas, says Richard Aboulafia, an airline analysis with the Teal Group.

“I think the most important thing they think about is how to engage with regulatory officials in a positive way,” he says.

In the wake of the Germanwings crash, several carriers, including Norwegian Air and Air Canada have already announced rules changes requiring two pilots to remain in the cockpit at all times. And it’s likely the changes won’t end there. 

"I'd be surprised if their weren't some kind of changes that resulted from this,” says Aboulafia, "because you've got a series a of incidents, that really point to the impact of human malice in the cockpit.”

Eventually, airlines will return to what they do best: compete for business. One thing you will never see them compete on, says Aboulafia, is safety.

That's because most carriers fly the same planes, and they have no interest in raising concerns about a competitors’ pilots or equipment.

Quiz: The gift that keeps on giving

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 08:51

The percentage of 12-17 year olds in gifted classes rose 6 points between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Skinny Jeans, Expanded Waistlines, And A Washington 'Fix'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 08:50

Congress has acted 17 times to prevent a cut in Medicare doctors' payments. But the so-called "Doc Fix" has always been like that pair of jeans you keep in your closet, hoping someday they'll fit.

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Richard III, Whose Remains Were Found Under A Parking Lot, Reburied

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 08:27

The last English king to die in battle was finally given a burial fit for a king — some 530 years after he was killed.

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Some Messy History Behind A Fight Over A Restaurant Called 'Chop Chop Chinaman'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 08:00

Both "chop chop" and "Chinaman" have long, complicated histories, which we thought we'd surface in light of this story.

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Board Games That Bored Gamers

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 07:48

Strolling through the board games of yesteryear we find some that succeeded and some that faded away.

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Pilots Downing Their Planes Is Unusual, But Not Unprecedented

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 07:39

Investigators looking into the crash of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 this week now believe it was the result of a "deliberate act" of the co-pilot. If so, it wouldn't be the first time.

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How Snobbery Helped Take The Spice Out Of European Cooking

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 07:22

Complex, contrasting flavors are a hallmark of Indian cooking. They used to dominate Western food, too. What changed? When spices became less exclusive, Europe's elite revamped their cuisines.

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High-Deductible Health Plans Cut Costs, At Least For Now

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-26 06:31

Health plans that require people to pay thousands of dollars up front cut costs in the first three years, a study finds. But no one knows if costs will rise later as people avoid preventive care.

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