National News

Are Women Better Tasters Than Men?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 13:32

Many in the wine and beer industry claim women have a keener sense of smell, and thus taste, than do men. Sensory scientists who've tackled this question say there's something to this.

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Are Women Better Tasters Than Men?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 13:32

Many in the wine and beer industry claim women have a keener sense of smell, and thus taste, than do men. Sensory scientists who've tackled this question say there's something to this.

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Big Fun Toys plays the niche card

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-08-31 13:03

 Steve Presser, owner of Big Fun Toys in Cleveland, says business isn’t great, but he's doing his best. One of the biggest obstacles he faces is online shopping.

That trend has become not just a trend, it’s become a fact of the matter. I’ve watched people do what they call show-rooming, where they come in with an application on their smart phone. They take a photo of my product and they check prices instantaneously. So we’ve seen quite a move toward that, and as a brick-and-mortar, it’s very frustrating.”

Presser tries to keep customers in the store and offline.

As my mother would say, "Kill 'em with kindness." We’ve always been a niche business, and so a lot of product you just can’t readily find online. But you just want to hope that people understand that the local mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar store has been here for years, has supported the community. They’re your friends, they’re family members, their kids play soccer with your kids. And so we hope that has some sort of equitable value when it comes to buying an item.”

In addition to online competition, the ups and downs in China haven't made things any easier.

When people hear that China is shutting down, they’re not sending out as much product … or the stock market is dropping precipitously, that has a psychological effect on our customers.... The China effect for someone like me … who sells you know toys, novelties, collectibles … we don’t feel that immediately. But there is the story you know, "the slow boat from China," and so when we’re waiting for product and it just doesn’t come in, you know, it’s frustrating for our customers.

With the holiday season slowly creeping up, Presser says he'll stay optimistic for the next few months. “Hopefully they’ll be good,” he says.



Why we don't buy cable TV set-top boxes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-08-31 13:00

The Federal Communications Commission has released a report from an advisory committee on how to encourage competition in the market for set-top boxes. 

Right now, if you don’t want to rent a cable set-top box from your cable company, you don’t have a lot of options. And it’s kind of a pain. You still need to rent a card from your cable company to run the box. It’s almost like the days when you had to rent your phone from the phone company. 

But when that changed, "a market developed overnight," says Edgar Dworsky, founder of  "You could go to the store, buy a telephone.  How come that hasn’t developed the same way with cable companies?”

The report comes up with two options for solving this problem. One would let you buy a cable box that could search for, say, your favorite movie.

“You search for the name of a movie, and if it’s airing on TV, it’ll show you those results. But if it’s on Netflix, it’ll show you the movie result there,” says  John Bergmayer, an attorney at the consumer group Public Knowledge.

Public Knowledge was on the advisory committee, along with experts from the cable and tech industries.

Bergmayer says cable companies don’t want cable boxes sending you to Netflix. They prefer a second option, that could eventually replace cable boxes with an app. The cable companies emphasize that there are already lots of ways to get your cable.

“There’s never been more choice and competition for consumers and how they receive their content,” says Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Still, some consumer advocates wonder why, if you do want a set-top box,  you can’t just buy one as easily as you’d buy a cell phone or TV for that matter. This is something the FCC is still wrestling with. It’s now in the information gathering phase, accepting comments on the advisory committee's report.



Wes Craven's legacy: Hollywood loves horror

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-08-31 13:00

Hollywood is remembering horror-movie mastermind Wes Craven, who died Sunday at age 76. The writer and director of 1984’s “Nightmare on Elm Street” helped define the teen slasher genre that he later mocked in the "Scream" films.

That first Freddy Krueger movie broke ground by offering a surreal twist on slasher films, all while establishing Craven as an innovator whose movies made big money on small budgets. With little need for pricey stars or locations, the horror genre’s cost-effectiveness has long made it appealing to Hollywood execs.

“There’s literally no relationship between the cost of a horror movie and how successful it can be at the box office,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak, which measures audiences. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money, and that’s why horror films are among the most profitable films of all time.”

Horror films grossed $403 million in 2014 domestic box office, according to Rentrak data. They were led by “Annabelle,” which cost a mere $6.5 million to make and raked in $84 million domestically.

That’s a fabulous profit, but some horror movies do even better. Famously made for around $15,000, “Paranormal Activity” grossed nearly $200 million worldwide and spawned popular sequels.

In a digital age where studios and theaters fret about losing young audiences to bootleg downloads, horror movies may have an advantage.

“One of the things you’ll hear theater owner tell you is that horror itself is one of those pirate-proof genres,” says Tatiana Siegel, senior film writer at the Hollywood Reporter. “People don’t want to sit in their home and watch a movie like Paranormal Activity. It’s too scary.”

Most classic horror movies, particularly slasher flicks, are filled with unknown actors. They’re anonymous, good-looking cannon (or ax, or chainsaw, or machete) fodder for the movie’s real stars — your Michael Meyerses, your Freddie Krugers, your Jason Voorheeses and so on. The low-budget horror movie is something of a rite of passage in Hollywood, and a select few go on to become superstars. Here are Craven’s unknowns-done-good. Fair warning: Some of these clips are pretty bloody.

Johnny Depp

Three years before “21 Jump Street” and six years before “Edward Scissorhands,” Johnny Depp’s first movie was “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” He was a supporting player but had the movie’s most notable death: after dozing off, Freddy sucks him into a hole into the bed before gushing an absurd amount of blood all over the ceiling.

Patricia Arquette

Today she is winning Oscars and starring in police procedurals, but Patricia Arquette’s first role was also in a “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie — the third installment, “Dream Warriors.” Unlike Depp, Arquette’s character lived through the movie, only to be recast (and killed) in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.”

Gerard Butler

Gerard Butler’s first big movie role wasn’t a victim but a monster — he played the titular role in “Dracula 2000,” produced by Craven. In a twist, the vampire was also Judas Iscariot — like, from the Bible. The movie couldn't be resurrected.

Sharon Stone

Technically, Sharon Stone’s first film was a small part in “Stardust Memories,” but her first starring role was in a lesser Craven work, “Deadly Blessing.” The New York Times called the movie, about the horrors two friends from California find when visiting a religious community, “better than average.”

Jesse Eisenberg

A few years before his breakout role in “Zombieland,” Jesse Eisenberg starred in Wes Craven’s werewolf movie “Cursed.” It was a box office bomb, and many critical pans focused on the poor special effects. Critic A.O. Scott wrote the werewolves looked “rendered by computer-generated imagery and a few trips to post-Halloween party-store sales.”

Mark Garrison: The first Freddy Krueger movie broke ground by offering a surreal twist on slasher films. Craven was innovative, but he also followed a decades-old Hollywood horror business plan: big scares, low prices.

Paul Dergarabedian: There’s literally no relationship between the cost of a horror movie and how successful it can be at the box office.

Paul Dergarabedian is senior analyst at Rentrak, which measures audiences. Scary movies generally don’t need pricey stars or locations.

Paul Dergarabedian: You don’t have to spend a lot of money and that’s why horror films are among the most profitable films of all time.

Famously made for around 15 grand, Paranormal Activity grossed nearly $200 million worldwide and spawned popular sequels. And horror movies have advantages in the digital era, says Tatiana Siegel at The Hollywood Reporter.

Tatiana Siegel: One of the things you’ll hear theater owner tell you is that horror itself is one of those pirate-proof genres because people don’t want to sit in their home and watch a movie like Paranormal Activity. It’s too scary.

Horror also speaks to fundamental human needs, says Paul Patterson, who teaches an unusual graduate class at Saint Joseph’s.

Paul Patterson: The name of the course is Drag Me to Hell: Horror Films and Literature.

He says people across the ages flock to scary stories because they help us face our fears without being in real danger. Hollywood loves horror because we do and because they can scare us dirt cheap. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

Prosecutor Says Texas Gunman "Unloaded The Entire Pistol Into Deputy"

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 12:50

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson says Miles ran up behind Sheriff Deputy Darren Goforth and shot him 15 times.

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Alaska's oil industry struggles amid climate change

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-08-31 12:39

President Barack Obama is visiting the state that oil built Monday. He'll spend three days in Alaska focusing on the effects of climate change. A lot of those effects are most pronounced in the arctic and come from burning oil and fossil fuels. However, reducing the use of oil is a hard sell in a state that's so dependent on drilling and transporting it. 

In Alaska, 90 percent of the state budget relies on oil, and about a third of jobs can be traced back directly to petroleum, but the state is in some economic trouble. Alaska’s government assumed that oil would be selling for $105 a barrel this year, but it’s currently selling for $40 a barrel. That leaves the state with a big deficit problem.

A long-term problem is that oil production has fallen to a quarter of what it was in the 1970s. If the Trans-Alaskan pipeline flow gets too low, the oil has to be warmed up. This costs the state money and perpetuates a negative cycle.

“Warming melts the ice, which leads to more drilling, which leads to more warming,” says Marketplace’s Scott Tong.  

I've Always Wondered: 'The Travellin' Band'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-08-31 12:38

This “I’ve Always Wondered” question comes from Connor Cox, who works in digital marketing in San Diego: “I’ve always wondered how band managers decide what cities and which venues to book their touring acts.”

Cox says he’s a huge fan of live rock shows.

“On U2’s last tour, they played in Los Angeles, but they didn’t even stop in San Diego. Sometimes we’re just a second thought.”

To learn a bit about the economics of band tours, we checked in with a successful working-and-touring artist — Devon Allman, who is 42 years old, from Corpus Christi, Texas, son of the legendary southern rocker Gregg Allman. Devon Allman has a long discography of his own, recording and performing with his own bands and in collaboration with artists such as Cyril Neville and the Royal Southern Brotherhood.

This summer, Allman’s been on a national tour promoting his new album, “Ragged & Dirty,” and he played the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Oregon, on July 4 weekend. After his own band performed, he joined his father in a guitar jam to close the first night of the festival.

Backstage before his performance, Allman said he likes the touring life; he even liked it earlier in his career when he wasn’t all that successful on the road.

“As we get to about 10 minutes before show time, it gets exciting,” Allman said. “I don’t get nervous, I just get stoked, I really get pumped. Especially festival crowds — it’s such good energy.”

“Festivals are good money,” adds Jill Kettles, Allman’s Atlanta-based publicist.

A mid-tier artist can make tens of thousands of dollars for a single festival appearance. Plus, there’s often a nice hotel on site; there’s media buzz created by all the artists who are performing; and the festival does its own promotion and ticket sales, so the artist doesn’t have to work as hard to fill the seats.

Kettles says festivals are what you put up on the calendar first as anchor dates.

“Anchor dates can also be big cities like New York, Washington, Chicago, Dallas,” says Kettles. “And then you fill in with the Davenports, Toledos, Daytons — whatever.”

Kettles and other band-tour-planners say those in-between venues should be a manageable drive from each other, and most artists want a day off after they’ve performed several days in a row. Picking specific concert halls or clubs that have a history of drawing for the specific artist or for her/his genre of music is a plus. So is having some fans in the area that the artist can try to bring in through social media.

Still, says Kettles, dates between anchor performances can still be duds. Certain nights — like Tuesday and Wednesday — can be particularly hard to draw a big crowd.

“Playing for 50 people? Oh, yeah,” says Kettles, “you always end up playing for the sound man, the bartender and the waitress at one point. And it is sort of disheartening.”

The way tour dates are typically arranged, the venue offers the band a base payment, called the “guarantee.” It can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands or tens of thousands, depending on the size of the venue and the fame of the artist. The artist then often receives a percentage of ticket sales in addition to the guarantee, once the venue has taken a set cut for its expenses and profit.

The soul artist D'Angelo and his band The Vanguard is on a very successful world tour this summer, and played to a 1,500-person sold-out crowd in Portland, Oregon, in August before continuing on to Seattle and Japan. Tour manager Tina Farris says festivals are good, easy money, but it's the smaller cities and venues the artist plays in between that can make or break a tour. 

“You do smaller shows to fill in those days off so you can keep your same staff on tour, otherwise you’re just spending money and not getting anything back," says Farris. “And keeping the smaller shows going is what keeps the mystique about the artist. The festivals are fun and everybody gets to party, but I prefer D’Angelo any day in a 1,500-seat room than a giant festival.” And she says with the decline in recorded music sales, touring is no longer optional for artists. “Everybody has to come out and tour to make money. That’s why you see the resurgence of the Eagles, they’re finally doing it, the 'last tour.' George Clinton’s going to do the 'last tour.'” 

Gabe Johnson leads a funk band called “Elektrapod’ out of Bend, Oregon, and he also runs a booking firm, In the Pocket Artists, that schedules tours for small- to midsized bands all over the country.

“It’s the crunch on the middle class,” Johnson says, “it’s hard for bands to make ends meet.” He says a sparsely-sold show may not pay the band enough to cover gas for the tour vans, food, hotel rooms and the crew. That’s why bands just starting out sometimes try to stay with friends or fans along the way.

Johnson says a band that’s invited to open for a big act on tour might be paid as little as $250 or $300 dollars per gig. Still, the tour could be worth it — to help the opening band build buzz, sell merchandise and get people who hear them live to pay to download their music later.

He knows of one up-and-coming bluegrass-Americana band, he says, that “got an opportunity to open up on a national tour for one of the heaviest hitters in bluegrass-Americana. That tour has opened up all of the East Coast markets to them, it was undoubtedly the best plan. But they lost at least $8,000 to $10,000 in a month.”

Our conclusion: Where a band stops on a tour is about the money — especially when the artist can line up several lucrative festivals that don’t require much additional marketing and expense on the artist’s part. But money isn’t the only consideration in tour planning. Bands may chose to fill in a tour calendar with venues that aren’t guaranteed to pay top dollar, but can provide exposure, new fans, media and social media buzz.

The Restaurant With No (Visible) Workers

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 12:34

A new highly automated restaurant opening in San Francisco looks to speed service through efficiency. You won't see any people taking your order or serving you at eatsa, a fast-casual quinoa eatery.

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Self-Help Author And Speaker Wayne Dyer Dies At 75

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 11:47

Many of his fans saw Dyer's own life story — he grew up an orphan in Detroit — as proof of the power of his ideas.

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Bucking Trend, Ohio Doctor Opens Clinic That Provides Abortion Services

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 11:32

Ohio has put many restrictions on abortion. Since 2010, about half the clinics performing the procedure in the state have closed. But Dr. David Burkons sees offering abortion as part of patient care.

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Are Some Of Trump's New York City Buildings A Mirage?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 10:55

Plenty of buildings still boast Donald Trump's name in Manhattan, where he became famous as a real estate developer. But he doesn't actually own most of them and never has.

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Oliver Sacks: A Neurologist At The 'Intersection Of Fact And Fable'

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 10:09

The neurologist, who died Sunday, saw "infinitely moving, dramatic, romantic situations" during his decades studying the human brain. Fresh Air remembers Sacks with two interviews from 1985 and 2012.

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Notorious Cocaine Dealers' Release Requests Test New Sentencing Guidelines

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 09:48

A man who helped flood Washington DC with drugs in the 1980s wants to reduce his sentence using guidelines that help drug offenders secure early release. But a federal judge doesn't seem convinced.

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Brady, Goodell Don't Reach Deal; Judge Will Rule On 'Deflategate'

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 09:31

Also, Jane Rosenberg, the sketch artist whose vision of Brady at his first appearance in federal court sparked a flood of commentary, issued a new sketch of the quarterback.

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Pennsylvania Falls Short Of Little League World Series Title, But Not To Fans

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 09:22

The Red Land Little League team of Lewisberry, Pa., had an eight-run lead but lost to a team from Tokyo, 18-11. The combined 23 runs set a record for a championship game.

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Pennsylvania Falls Short At Little League World Series Title, But Not To Fans

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 09:22

The Red Land Little League team of Lewisberry, Pa., had an eight-run lead but lost to a team from Tokyo, 18-11. The combined 23 runs set a record for a championship game.

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Thai Police Issue Arrest Warrants For 2 More Bombing Suspects

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 06:58

Over the weekend, police arrested a man whom they have not charged. Police, however, gave themselves the $84,000 reward for tips leading to an arrest.

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How Shows Like 'Will & Grace' And 'Black-ish' Can Change Your Brain

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 06:19

Go ahead, use this article to justify binge-watching Orange Is The New Black all weekend.

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Kanye Is Running For President And One Other Must-Watch VMA Moment

NPR News - Mon, 2015-08-31 03:36

Perhaps the most controversial moment came when Nicki Minaj took on Miley Cyrus. It'll be the talk of the water cooler today, so you might as well take a look.

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