National News

Billboards surprise motorists with art instead of ads

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 04:33

Driving across the middle of the country, you see billboards everywhere, for things like diners, casinos and adult bookstores. The sign advertising industry is actually worth $7 billion dollars nationwide.

Missouri averages three billboards per mile – more than any of its neighboring states. But when you get to Hatton, Missouri, there’s one sign that’s not like the others. It’s sandwiched between an ad for a strip club and an ad for more billboards in the middle of a muddy soybean field.

The billboard was designed by artist Kim Beck. It has the words “next exit” written in cloud letters gainst a blue backdrop. The background of the sign bleeds into the actual sky today. There are no logos or branding identification on the artwork.

The billboard towers above Anne Thompson, who teaches art at the University of Missouri. This piece is part of her I-70 Sign Show public art project. Thompson says this sign is meant to subtly confront billboards that ask drivers if they are going to heaven or hell.

“I think the words ‘next exit’ are probably the most [commonly found] along the interstate,” she says. “But when you see them written in clouds as this kind of displaced piece of sky in the sky, it takes on a different kind of poetic meaning, like where is your next exit?”

She picked six artists to create pieces that compete in the shouting match of anti-abortion, gun-rights and political campaign signage along the highway. One piece shows the words “blah blah blah” scrawled across the billboard that tackles the confusion of language. Another sign has the word “Blurred” written half in blue and half in red as a comment on the divided politics of Missouri.

More than 45,000 cars cruise I-70 each day with the chance to catch the socially engaging art.  In a city like Chicago, a sign might run you thousands of dollars a month. Here in rural Missouri? It’s only about $900.

One sign has caught the attention of Jessica Baran, the director of the Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts in St. Louis.

“To have a large, powerful, very assertive African American female figure flanking the exit that’s leading to where the recent unrest in Ferguson has taken place, certainly has a psychic value,” she said.

Indeed, Thompson says when that sign by artist Mickalene Thomas moved from a soy bean field to five miles from where Michael Brown was shot, the conversation changed from gender politics to race politics.

Ultimately, Thompson says she hopes the project continues stirring up more conversations about contentious issues seen from the road.


Why would credit cards want Costco?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 02:16

The Costco and American Express partnership, which is ending at the end of March, was just one example of what credit card companies are doing more of these days. 

American Express offered an official Costco card and had been the only credit card you could use to buy stuff at the retailer, which posted $110 billion in revenues for fiscal year 2014.

Their partnership was a co-branding arrangement. Such arrangements have become more common, says Jason Arnold of RBC, and offer loyalty programs such as airline miles or cash-back cards. These arrangements are alluring to risk-averse credit issuers, says Arnold, because they are less likely to result in delinquencies.

"If a card-member wants to keep their rewards, they typically have to pay their card on time," Arnold says. 

Since the Great Recession, banks have been increasingly employing co-branding agreements to stand out from the competition, instead of competing with each other on lower interest rates, says Arnold.

Co-branding partnerships can encourage spending. American Express says 20 percent of its monthly outstanding balances are on its Costco cards. And, 70 percent of the money people spend on those cards, isn't even spent at Costco, according to the company.

Customers have been using the cards for other purchases, too.

Sameer Gokhale, who tracks the banking industry at Janney Capital Markets, says co-branding gives credit card companies a captive customer base.

"You have this one merchant. You have customers loyal to this one merchant," says Gokhale, "In this case it was Costco."

But he adds that it probably did not make sense for AmEx to retain the partnership under the terms which he thinks Costco was asking: accepting lower fees for point-of-sale transactions at Costco stores. 

For its part, American Express says it will try to hold onto its many Costco credit card customers by offering them other AmEx cards. It also plans to ramp up spending on marketing.

Will there be a U.S. version of Black Mirror?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 02:00

Today, we kick off From the Hills to the Valley, our series on what divides Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and what pulls them closer? We are going to talk about a lot of different things - from creativity and fame to piracy and lobbying -  but we begin with how Hollywood sees and, therefore, represents Silicon Valley.

First up is Jenna Wortham, staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, who recently wrote about Black Mirror, a dystopian British series that’s recently become popular in the US.

Black Mirror, Wortham says, is an un-Hollywood version of how technology is changing our lives. She thinks one reasons it’s difficult for hollywood to represent silicon valley is that people “sitting behind screens,” is rather “boring and hard to illustrate.”

What about The Social Network? “It was great,” she says, “but you couldn’t get away from scenes of Jesse Eisenberg furiously coding. How do you make that sexy?”

Wortham isn’t sure Hollywood could have made a series like Black Mirror.

“I don't know that those narratives are very popular here," she says. “When we do dystopian narratives they tend to focus on collapse of civilization  or a zombie virus outbreak. Not necessarily computers have gone haywire and they are coming for us.”


As Rules Get Sorted Out, Drones May Transform Agriculture Industry

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 01:31

At farm shows across the country, drones have become as ubiquitous as tractors. Drone flights are mostly banned in the U.S., but on Sunday the FAA released long-awaited draft rules.

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Not A Group House, Not A Commune: Europe Experiments With Co-Housing

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 00:16

From urban high-density housing to rural communal living, Europeans are using the principle of co-housing — in which neighbors share space and resources, depending on their needs.

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Fitting In On Campus: Challenges For First-Generation Students

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 23:46

When students are the first in their family to go to college, they often feel out of place. Many say they need more help from their schools.

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Satisfied Patients Now Make Hospitals Richer, But Is That Fair?

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 23:44

The Affordable Care Act made sure that hospitals scoring well on patient satisfaction surveys are paid more by Medicare. But some say that gives small, boutique hospitals an unfair edge.

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Beyond BPA: Court Battle Reveals A Shift In Debate Over Plastic Safety

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 23:42

In 2007, a plastic called Tritan became a hit in part because it was free of the chemical BPA. Then a competitor began suggesting Tritan products contained other chemicals that act like estrogen.

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Egypt Strikes ISIS Targets In Libya After Grisly Video Is Released

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 23:30

Egypt launched airstrikes against so-called Islamic State targets in Libya after the extremist group released a video showing the beheading of Egyptian Coptic Christians it had held hostage for weeks.

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Louis Jourdan, Hollywood's Favorite French Lover, Dies At 93

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 22:01

Louis Jourdan, the dashingly handsome Frenchman who starred in Gigi, Can-Can and other American movies, has died. Through most of his career as a leading man, he was subject to typecasting.

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FAA Proposal On Drones Highlights Safety Over Privacy Concerns

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 13:00

The Federal Aviation Administration has unveiled a long-awaited proposal for rules governing the use of small drones. If approved, the rules could expand the use of drones throughout the country.

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U.N. Security Council Passes Resolution Targeting ISIS Revenue

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 13:00

The U.N. Security Council resolution targets funding streams for the so-called Islamic State. The militant group has been raking in millions of dollars through oil smuggling, antiquities and ransoms.

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Ukraine Cease-Fire Largely Holds, Despite Shelling Reports

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 13:00

The cease-fire took effect Sunday morning, but there have already been accusations of shelling in the city of Debaltseve. NPR's Arun Rath talks to Karoun Demirjian from The Washington Post on the latest from the conflict zone.

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Fake It Till You Make It, Then Come Clean: A Sportscaster's Big Break

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 13:00

How do you become a sportscaster when you've never done it before? Adrián García Márquez, now La Voz De Los Lakers, faked a demo tape with the help of a Sega console and FIFA '95.

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Suspect In Foiled Canadian Mall Shooting Left Social Media Trail

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 11:59

The young man who apparently killed himself as police closed in on him was said to have identified with the 1999 Columbine High School shooters.

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ISIS Video Purports To Show Mass Beheading Of Coptic Christians

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 11:31

The footage is supposed to show militants from the self-declared Islamic State executing 21 Coptic Christians captured by the extremist group last week.

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Philip Levine, Who Found Poetry On Detroit's Assembly Lines, Dies At 87

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 11:29

In his six-decade career, Levine found grace and beauty in the lives of working people, especially the people and places of his youth. He was a United States Poet Laureate and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

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With Oil Fields Under Attack, Libya's Economic Future Looks Bleak

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 08:46

The man who runs Libya's national oil company is struggling to resume production amid conflict and falling prices. A functioning oil industry might define whether Libya is a nation or a failed state.

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Commercial Drone Rules To Limit Their Weight, Speed And Altitude

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 07:08

The long-awaiting Federal Aviation Administration proposal could be a boon to some companies hoping to use unmanned aircraft, but they might complicate the picture for Amazon.

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Boehner Blames Democrats For Scuffle Over Homeland Security Funding

NPR News - Sun, 2015-02-15 06:31

The Speaker of the House's remarks, made on Fox News Sunday, come after days of back and forth over the measure, which also includes restrictions on President Obama's immigration initiative.

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