National / International News

Pixar: From 'Toy Story' to today

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 11:56

In 1995, a relatively unknown company called Pixar released the first animated movie made entirely on a computer. The movie was called "Toy Story" and one of the guys at the head of that company was Ed Catmull.

But Catmull downplays the importance of the computer in "Toy Story's" success.

“It’s not about the technology,” he says.  “We use the technology, we develop it, we love it, [but] it’s about the story.”

Catmull’s new book, “Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” takes a look at the company’s history and their creative process.

The key, says Catmull, is being prepared to deviate from the plan: "Every one of our films, when we start off, they suck... our job is to take it from something that sucks to something that doesn’t suck. That’s the hard part.”

Sometimes, those "deviations" are more like "overhauls": “Almost half our movies have gone through complete restarts.”

He cites "Ratatouille" as an example where of a dramtic reboot. The original version follows a rat who wants to be a chef -- and it also followed the rat’s mentor, a French chef whose star has faded in the culinary world. The Pixar team found themselves stuck. Who was the story really about? The rat or the chef? They brought in Brad Bird of “The Incredibles” who killed the chef. Literally. Catmull credits Bird with saving the film.

“The trick is, in everything we do, there are things we love. And sometimes the things we love get us stuck. And it’s only if we let go of some of those things that we free the movie up to become greater.”

External forces also helped make Pixar successful – including Steve Jobs and the sale of Pixar to Disney, their longtime partner.

“As we developed, we needed to have other resources,” says Catmull, about how Disney got involved. Jobs at this point knew he had cancer, and was trying to set Pixar up for long term success.

Jobs already had a good relationship with Disney’s Bob Iger. Catmull says he felt Iger “was the right guy to go with” after Disney and Apple made a groundbreaking deal to release episodes of "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" on iTunes, back when most people felt uneasy about putting their content on the web. Catmull says he realized Iger was someone who could take risks – something he values at Pixar.

When asked to summarize Pixar's theory on innovation, Catmull says: “Everything’s interconnected. That’s the way life is.”

We believe we can progress - Mourinho

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 11:55
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho says his side can overturn a two-goal deficit against Paris St-Germain in the Champions League.

After Voting, Afghans Must Now Wait For A Winner

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 11:53

Counting ballots in the presidential election is a painfully slow affair. The voting took place Saturday, but results are still weeks away. And a runoff election is widely expected in June.

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Police Federation leaders to quit

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 11:46
The chairman and general secretary of the Police Federation of England and Wales both announce their retirements after a "turbulent" period.

VIDEO: 'India's Banksy' wants to provoke voters

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 11:29
Daku is India's answer to Banksy - a graffiti artist and political activist who operates unseen and anonymously.

Barclays settles mis-selling case

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 11:08
Barclays settles a case accusing it of mis-selling a Libor-linked financial product to the owner of Guardian Care Homes.

No new inquiry into pub bombings

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 11:05
There is to be no new investigation into the Birmingham Pub bombings, police say.

Delayed foreclosures: drawing out the agony?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:56

The townhouse where Robert Witherspoon and his eight-year-old son live is in a quiet cul-de-sac in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Witherspoon greets me as I drive up, telling me he’s lived here for 10 years. 

The brick townhouse is solidly built, like Witherspoon, a 52-year-old Navy veteran who now manages a small IT company and works from home.

This house is lived in, but it was sold in a foreclosure auction last September. Witherspoon says his bank bought the house, and that he hasn’t paid his mortgage in a couple of years. 

Witherspoon first fell behind on his mortgage payments when he was laid off in 2009. Now, he’s squatting – not so unusual in Maryland, which has the second-highest foreclosure rate in the country, the forefront of a second wave of foreclosures across the U.S.

Approximately one out of every 540 homes is in foreclosure in Maryland, says Marceline White, the executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition. 

She says it’s not that unusual for people to keep living in foreclosed homes, since the foreclosure process takes so long. On a recent afternoon in Prince George’s County, she pointed to one example.

“It’s clearly occupied,” she said, pointing out a jet ski. “There are cars in the driveway.“

At one point, while banks were negotiating a national settlement, they stopped foreclosing in some states. And still, the average foreclosure in Maryland takes almost two years. That’s because Maryland requires foreclosures to be approved by a judge. And new laws slowed things down even more by allowing things like mediation.

Opinions vary on whether that's helpful for homeowners.

“The longer process has definitely helped,” says Lisa Butler-McDougal, executive director of Sowing Empowerment and Economic Development, a group that helps homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Butler-McDougal says foreclosures in Maryland used to be rushed.

“Some people’s homes were being foreclosed in 15 days, 30 days," she says. "Where before they could even understand the notice of intent to foreclose, they were receiving notice of a sheriff’s sale.”

But there's a flip side.

“There’s so many people that come in here that have medical issues as a result of the stress of trying to hold onto a house, that isn’t worth it,” says Manny Montero, an attorney who represents homeowners in foreclosures.

Montero says many homeowners don’t realize that living rent-free in a foreclosed house could eventually cost them, because it makes it much tougher for them to file for bankruptcy and wipe out their debts. 

The pace of foreclosure proceedings in Maryland appears to be picking up, says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. 

“I would guess sometime this year Maryland would turn the corner and we’d see the numbers go back down,”

Back in his townhouse, Robert Witherspoon says he doesn’t want to file for bankruptcy, and he says he’s tried to start making mortgage payments again. He couldn’t because the bank wanted a lump sum up front, which he didn’t have. Witherspoon’s bank, JP Morgan Chase, wouldn’t comment other than to say it made several attempts to reach out to him. Now, Witherspoon is afraid he’ll get an eviction notice.

Witherspoon says he plans to move after the end of the school year, but he’s hoping to avoid being evicted – something that happened to him as a teenager.

“When you’re in high school and you come home and you see your bed outside the house and not in the house – I was totally embarrassed by that,” he says.

Of course, Witherspoon says his current situation is embarrassing, too. But even after the pain of foreclosure, he still wants to – someday – buy again.

Disease Detectives Are Solving Fewer Foodborne Illness Cases

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:42

The government has reported 42 percent fewer foodborne illness cases in the past decade and solved less than half of them, a report finds. But that doesn't necessarily mean the food supply is safer.

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VIDEO: Rwanda: How life has changed

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:41
Commemorations have been taking place across Rwanda to mark 20 years since the 1994 genocide.

Sex with pupil teacher spared jail

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:30
A 26-year-old drama teacher who admitted having a sexual relationship with a teenage pupil is spared a prison sentence.

NY train crash driver had sleep woes

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:28
The driver of a New York commuter train that derailed in December, killing four, suffers from a serious sleep disorder, investigators reveal.

UN concerned over Kenya mass arrests

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:21
The UN's refugee agency says it is concerned over the mass arrests of Somalis and others in Kenya amid an operation against militant Islamists.

Coal country starts to ask 'What comes after coal?'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:20

It’s no secret that coal is on the outs in the United States. The country’s natural gas boom and environmental regulations are dethroning King Coal after decades of rule in the electricity market. That should be good for the climate, but the transition to natural gas and renewables has human costs. Right now Central Appalachians are taking the hit, forcing communities there to contemplate a future beyond coal.

In eastern Kentucky, coal mining has been the lifeblood of the economy for well over a century. Now it's facing what might be termed a “low coal” future. Much of the easy-to-get coal has already been mined out. What’s left is harder to get, so production costs are higher. “The coal seams, they’re getting smaller,” says 30-year-old Ryan Trent, a laid-off miner who started at age 19. “You’ve got strata in between it, which is not full coal. So the more rock you cut,  the less coal you’re getting.”

That’s partly why Appalachian coal is having a hard time competing, not just against cheap and cleaner natural gas, but against newer, more efficient coal mines in the West’s Powder River Basin and the Midwest’s Illinois Basin. Coal companies also blame stricter EPA water quality standards, which they argue has effectively halted permits for Appalachian strip mining. 

The overall effect has been a wave of production slowdowns, mine closures and rising unemployment in the last two years. The median unemployment rate for eastern Kentucky’s top 10 coal-producing counties is 15.05 percent. That statistic includes Trent, who was earning $24.50 an hour, non-union, and says coal mining “is in his blood.” He’s been looking for another mining job since he was laid off in December 2012. “I’ve got the softest hands in eastern Kentucky, I’ve been doing so many dishes,” he jokes.

Trent and other miners are used to the ups and downs of the coal business, but Justin Maxson, president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, says this time is different. “To lose almost 7,000 jobs in almost 18 months is a catastrophe,” he says. “It’s a huge economic collapse. Folks to some degree feel like they’re under cultural assault.”

The realization that this could be a permanent decline in what’s been the lifeblood of the region is just now beginning to settle in, after years of warnings and, some would say, denial. John Haywood, owner of a tattoo parlor in Whitesburg, called The Parlor Room, says some of his more regular customers were coal miners, but many have stopped coming in.  “They used to come in once a month, even twice a month,” Haywood says. “Tattoo collectors that were willing to sit for a long time and get covered up.”

“Coal miners are our middle class.” That’s a common refrain in eastern Kentucky, where more than a quarter of the people live in poverty. According to Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, starting salaries in the mines average $65,000 and the jobs don’t require a high school education.

Communities are just now beginning to seriously discuss economic alternatives. Some blame the slow start on the “War on Coal” rhetoric, saying it’s distracted attention from preparing for a “low coal” future. Others say political leaders have spent coal severance tax money on basic services instead of diversifying the economy. 

Regional leaders who gathered in the mining town of Hazard to talk to Marketplace stressed they didn’t believe there was one single thing that could “replace” coal. They hope a new bi-partisan effort called SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) will come up with some alternatives. The region has already been targeted for special assistance from the federal and state government, but residents fear the money won’t be enough.  

“I mean, what happened in Detroit when that industry was threatened,” says Jeff Whitehead, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.  “There was a lot of government support. Lots of it.”

Jennifer Bergman, JobSight Services Director at the program, says the region should develop an “entrepreneurial” economy, “but we need people with money to spend to have that entrepreneurial base.”

Many here say the region should take advantage of its cultural distinctness and build an economy based on central Appalachian folk arts and crafts. Previous efforts to develop that have fallen victim to politics and lack of funding. Doug Naselroad, master artist in residence at the Appalachian Artisan Center in Hindman, says the incomes generated might not rival coal’s, but that’s not the point. “What we’re trying to create is something sustainable and that’s rooted in the culture and tradition of the people here, instead of something which just plunders the land and moves on.”

Dan Estep, 56, a former coal miner, is experimenting with that idea. He’s teaching blacksmithing and knife-making at the Kentucky School of Craft and selling his wares at craft fares. He doesn’t make much money, but says he’s happy to have a skill that’s “marketable.” “I’m grateful to live in this country,” Estep says.  “Every day’s an opportunity.”

Debut writers dominate Baileys list

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:15
Three debut writers are up against a previous winner on the six-strong 2014 shortlist for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

Biofuels, beer and Boardwalk Empire

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:10

From the Marketplace datebook, here's what's coming up April 8:

Cosmos speed-check for dark energy

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 10:05
Scientists produce a precise measurement of the rate at which the early Universe was expanding to try to get new insights on dark energy.

Rodriguez ruled out for six months

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:57
Southampton and England striker Jay Rodriguez is ruled out of the World Cup with a ruptured anterior cruciate knee ligament.

VIDEO: House of Commons

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:53
Theresa May denies plans to amend the European Arrest Warrant are facing hurdles.

Briton one of two Somalia UN dead

BBC - Mon, 2014-04-07 09:44
A British man is one of two foreign United Nations workers who have been shot dead in Somalia, the Foreign Office has said.
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