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May 3, 2009

Mostly Mild Swine Flu Spreads Across U.S.

With 226 cases in 30 states, the swine flu has spread in the United States with more cases to come, The New York Times reported that federal health officials said Sunday.

"I think it’s circulating all over the U.S.,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the interim deputy director for science and public health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a news conference. “The virus has arrived, I would say, in most of the country now.” (The New York Times)

The good news is that most cases of the swine flu, or H1N1, have been mild, she said. Cases in Mexico seem to be leveling off, health officals there said.

"I don't think we're out of the woods yet," Schuchat said.

However, a concern is that the swine flu has come when the seasonal flu typically ends, so people have little or no resistance to it, she said.

It also appears to have affected young people; the median age is 17. Of 30 people hospitalized in the United States, the higher portion were older children and young adults. It is a big change compared to the seasonal flu, which typically affects the elderly and young children, she said.

Scientists at the C.D.C. were preparing a “seed stock” from virus samples that could be used for a vaccine, she said.

Similar work began several weeks ago to make a vaccine to protect pigs from the H1N1 virus, said Dr. John R. Clifford, the chief veterinary officer for animal health for the Department of Agriculture. The new virus had never been found in pigs in this country, he said, but pigs in Canada have contracted it from a human. This indicates that the animals are susceptible.

“Just like people have flu seasons, so do pigs, normally in fall and winter,” he said.

April 19, 2009

420 Hints at Change for Marijuana Advocates

David Perleberg sold pro-marijuana T-shirts at the forum for Monday's secretly located and sold-out event for High Times magazine's annual beauty pageant, for which its sponsor says will "turn the Big Apple into the Baked Apple," The New York Times reported.

Advocates of legal marijuana said this year’s “high holiday,” April 20, the unofficial day of celebration for marijuana, carries extra significance. Momentum toward acceptance of the drug, either as medicine or entertainment, seem to be increasing, they said.

“It is the biggest moment yet,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington. “There’s a sense that the notion of legalizing marijuana is starting to cross the fringes into mainstream debate.” (The New York Times)

From the nation’s statehouses, where more than a dozen legislatures have begun to allow some medical use, to its swimming pools, where Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps was largely forgiven, the signs of changes are everywhere.

“We’ve been on national cable news more in the first three months than we typically are in an entire year,” said Bruce Mirken, the director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, a reform group based in Washington. “And any time you’ve got Glenn Beck and Barney Frank agreeing on something, it’s either a sign that change is impending or that the end times are here.” (The New York Times)

Beneficiaries include Norml, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which advocates legalization. Web traffic and donations, sometimes in $4.20 increments, have surged, according to Norml.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. suggested that federal law enforcement resources would not be used to pursue legitimate medical marijuana users and outlets in California and a dozen other states that allow medical use of the drug.

“The balancing act this year is trying to get our most active, most vocal supporters to be more realistic in their expectations in what the Obama administration is going to do,” said Allen F. St. Pierre, executive director of Norml.

For marijuana fans, perhaps the biggest indicator of changing attitudes is how widespread the observance of April 20 has become, including its use in marketing campaigns for movie openings like “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay,” “Super High Me” and “Half Baked."

April 20 dates to a ritual begun in the early 1970s, in which a group of Northern California teenagers smoked every day at 4:20 p.m. Word of the ritual spread and expanded to a yearly event in various places. “420” became code for smoking and using it as a sign-off on fliers for concerts where it would be plentiful.

Several colleges have urged students to just say "no" to April 20 events. At the University of Colorado, Boulder, administrators sent an e-mail message this month pleading with students not to “participate in unlawful activity that debases the reputation of your university and degree.”

April 12, 2009

Sunday School Teacher Arrested in Killing of 8-Year-Old

Police arrested a Sunday school teacher in connection with the killing of an 8-year-old Tracy, Calif., girl whose body was found in a suitcase dumped in an irrigation pond by farmworkers last week, the Star Tribune reported.

Melissa Huckaby, 28, a local minister's granddaughter, was arrested late Friday, police Sgt. Tony Sheneman said. She was being held without bail in connection with the death of Sandra Cantu, who disappeared on March 27.

Huckaby walked into the police station Friday and started a conversation with officers, Sheneman said. She went back and forth from being calm to emotional, eventually becoming "resigned," he said.

FOX News additionally reported that Huckaby voluntarily went to police for questioning and was taken into custody nearly five hours later, at 1 a.m. Saturday.

“She gave enough information to us during the course of the interview that probable cause was there to arrest her,” Tracy Police Sgt. Tony Sheneman said. (FOX News)

The Star Tribune reported that police said Huckaby's daughter was a close friend of Cantu. Cantu's mother was devastated, said Angie Chavez, Cantu's aunt, to the Associated Press. Cantu lived in a mobile home park with her mother.

"It's not over," Chavez said. "This is just the beginning of a horrible nightmare."

$32,000 was the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Cantu's killer, last seen skipping down the street near her mobile home, police announced in a Friday afternoon press conference, FOX News reported.

No autopsy results have yet been released. Police said they do not know the motive for the killing.

"I want to know why she did it, if she did it," Chaves said. (FOX News)

April 6, 2009

Art in Motion

Chicago sculptor Nick Cave's work is a new exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts show in California, the New York Times reported.

An Alvin Ailey-trained dancer, Cave, 50, has become known over the last decade for making sculptures which can be worn by (modern) dancers, which he has named Soundsuits.

Some Soundsuits make noise from the design, from the clanking of metal toys and tops atop a bodysuit made of crocheted hot pads, to a suit whose exteriors is made from twigs collected outside, which, broken and forsaken reminded him of himself and became his first soundsuit.

Others, however, fall quiet; like the Soundsuits made of human hair.

The Soundsuits also explore themes of costuming, masquerading and de-identifying gender and race. The suits marry his passions of dance and sculpture.

“I was always interested in movement,” he said, “but I knew I didn’t want to devote myself exclusively to dance. I wanted to bridge dance and art.” (New York Times)

The current exhibition, "Meet Me at the Center of the Earth, features 40 Soundsuits, related photographs, videos and sculptures. It runs through July 5.

To accommodate the name, a globe sculpture is at the center of the main gallery. Caves said this is because he hopes the fruits of his imagination will help bring strangers together, if only to compare their perplexed responses.

“I’ve been a voyeur at other shows of mine in the past, and I’ve seen complete strangers talking to each other,” he said. “They were saying, ‘What is that?’ Or, ‘I remember when my mother made doilies like that.’ ” (New York Times)

He kick-started his career as his mother enthusiastically praised his artwork as early as handmade birthday cards.

“When you’re raised by a single mother with six brothers and lots of hand-me-downs, you have to figure out how to make those clothes your own,” he said. “That’s how I started off, using things around the house.” (New York Times)

March 29, 2009

Green Day Takes Theater, Too

The album "American Idiot" from punk band Green Day, is scheduled to make its debut as a new musical production in September at the Berkeley Repertory Theater in California, the http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/30/theater/30berk.html?_r=1&8dpc reported.

Green Day Berkeley Rep will announce Monday that “American Idiot,” the adaption that shares its title with the original song, will premiere as the first production of the theater’s 2009-10 season, and run from Sept. 4 through Oct. 11.

Green Day members Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool will work with Tony Award-winning Michael Mayer, director of the musical “Spring Awakening,” in a collaboration band members are even shocked to see become so grand. According to Varity, choregraphy will be done by Steven Hoggett, Theater Mania additionally reported.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Armstrong said in a telephone interview with the New York Times, “but that’s what I love about it. When people see it, it’s going to be my wildest dream.”

“American Idiot” (Reprise) was released in 2004 as their response to the depressing realities of the post-9/11 era. Many of its singles, including “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and the title track sold over 12 million copies worldwide.

Mayer discovered “American Idiot” while he was still in the early stages of directing “Spring Awakening,” and became a fan. After two workshops in New York in 2008, Green Day gave consent to Mayer and his producing parter Tom Hulce for the full-scale, staged production.

“It was very much in my head all during that time,” Mayer said. “Sometimes I really would say things like, ‘Why can’t this have a groove like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”?’ ” (New York Times)

Narritive work is in process, which might include names for characters created directly from the album like Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy and Whatshername. The ensemble will likely include 19 performers playing characters in their early 20s, although no casting has been announced.

Although Mayer considers it too early to think about a Broadway run for “American Idiot,” he said the show will almost certainly go beyond its California debut.

For the album to get a stage meant that Green Day had at least measured up to its idols the Who, which is a reward, Armstrong said.

March 15, 2009

Jean Biden Hospitalized after Fall

NBC Philadelphia news reported that 91-year-old and Vice President Biden's mother, Jean Biden, was injured by a fall at her home in Delaware Sunday, White House officials said, and was taken to a hospital in Pennsylvania.

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania confirmed there is a Secret Service at the hospital. The Associated Press additionally reported that a hospital spokeswoman confirmed Biden's placement, but was unable to release any further information.

Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Biden "is currently receiving treatment and is in good spirits," Elizabeth Alexander, Biden's spokeswoman, said in a statement after not immediately returning messages about Biden's condition.

The Biden family is from Claymont, Delaware, where Jean and her late husband, Joseph Sr., moved their family from Scranton, Pennsylvania when the Vice President, or, Joe Jr., was 11, NBC reported.

AP reported that she lives in a guesthouse at Biden's home in Greenville, a suburb of Wilmington.

March 8, 2009

Thrift Stores Thrive in Recession

Thrift stores are seeing more sales as the economy declines and other businesses report decreasing sales, the Minnesota Daily reported.

Savers, Everyday People and other thrift stores have reported increased sales, including Goodwill Industries International, which has reported an increase by at least 10 percent since October 2007.

Goodwill spokeswoman Lauren Lawson said although people are holding onto their items, there has been an increase in donations as well, by about 9.6 percent for the first nine months of the year compared to last year's first nine months.

“We tell customers to donate often and shop often since you’re putting people in work,” Lawson told the Minnesota Daily.

Week News reported that Goodwill's traffic volume and revenue have both increased by 13 percent, and they said it was partially due to the recession.

According to consumer research firm America’s Research Group, about 16 to 18 percent of Americans will shop at a thrift store during a given year whereas for consignment and resale shops, it is about 12 to 15 percent, the Minnesota Daily reported.

Co-owner of Dinkytown’s Everyday People Kitty VanHofwegen similarly said January and February are usually slow months for business, but this year those months have been busy.

Production supervisor of North Minneapolis' Savers Jeff Erickson said for the two years he has worked there, he has seen an increase because of the deals.

“Everyone’s feeling the crunch and there are people that are going to find deals,” Erickson said. “When you can find a pair of jeans for $7 compared to a pair of $40 jeans off the rack at Kohl’s , it’s a great value.” (Minnesota Daily)

Jenny Hauk recently got her hours cut at work and to prepare, in case she joins the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, she told Week news that she shops for a lot of her husband's clothes at Goodwill, some so new they even have tags on them.

"Business is really good at Goodwill and we're so fortunate to be able to say that. That means we're being able to help an awful lot of people during this hard economic time," Duffy Armstrong, Goodwill Development Director told Week news.

March 1, 2009

New Junior Senator Faces Criticism

New York's junior senator is determined to not let critics define her, the Washington Post reported.

Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who had previously served one term in the House, took Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's seat. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Robert F. Kennedy once held the seat as well.

Colleagues said she may be too inexperienced, New York Times tabloids said she has changed her stance on issues, and her long-standing issues, advocates said, do not parallel the Democratic state.

"Folks don't know me well," Gillibrand said, "and they need to know who I am; what I believe in." (Washington Post)

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, said he was not comforted by her 100 percent approval rating from the National Rifle Association, and that gun violence is high priority in New York. A lawmaker from a rural GOP House district can represent a broader, more urban constituency, Gillibrand said.

She said while her views will not change, there is no sense in not "tweaking" them as her experience progresses.

New York Democratic Gov. David Paterson chose Gillibrand in January. Gillibrand said before she took the seat, the relationship with her colleagues was what she believed to be strong. Her former district is primarily white and Republican. She said she thinks there is disappointment because everyone else has far more legislative experience.

Gillibrand faces a special election in 2010 and another campaign in 2012. Threatened challenges from within her own party who worry about the certainty of the seat as well as from Republicans said she will worry about her political survival.

Newsday reported that she is in the Special Committee on Aging, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Committee on Environment and Public Works and Committee on Foreign Relations.

Lawrence O'Donnell, a Democratic activist said Paterson "has chosen someone better at representing cows than people." (Washington Post)

February 22, 2009

Questionable Powder in Disneyland

When authorities at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., noticed the suspicious powder stuck to the windows of many ticket booths, they temporarily closed them Sunday morning. The booths reopened, however, after the substance was determined to be merely fine-grained sand, the New York Times reported.

Resort cleaning crews had originally spotted the mystery substance.

Although some guests were able to enter the park when it opened at 8 a.m., the ticket booths were later shut down for the investigation.

The Orange County Register
reported that Suzi Brown, Disneyland spokeswoman, said park officials decided to temporarily hold back guests from the ticket booths.

"We thought it would be best to close off all ticket booths until we could make sure there was nothing hazardous."

The booths reopened at 9:45 a.m.

Investigators are reviewing surveillance video, and no arrests have been made, the Orange County Register reported.

February 15, 2009

Hispanic Laborers Become Victims of Racist Robbery

Laborers still working to rebuild post-Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans are "walking A.T.M.'s," the New York Times reported Sunday.

Tension between new Hispanic illegal immigrants and longtime black residents have made them vulnerable and targeted because of language barriers and many paychecks from their labor within the high-crime induced city, the New York Times reported.

"I think it’s not directly racial,? Rev. John C. Raphael Jr., a prominent face in the New Orleans anti-crime movement said, but rather “the fact that they were vulnerable, they were taken advantage of.?

Hate crimes include being mugged, punched, stabbed or shot, police and workers said. The Hispanic laborers are given no choice but to hand over their money.

“You don’t get a chance to say anything,? Geovanny Billaldo, Honduras, said. “They just fall on top of you. It’s better to just give the money up front. If you don’t give it to them, they’ll beat you and take it anyway.?

Police estimate that at least half a dozen Hispanic laborers died from post-Hurricane Katrina attacks, and there are weekly reports of muggings or hold-ups.

Laborers said police either ignore their calls for help, arrive too late, or scold them for working illegally.

Victims are encouraged to hide their money, however they are also often robbed right after work, according to the New York Times. The money is usually for their families.

“We dedicate ourselves to look for work, and we just want the chance to be here,? said Mr. Cruz, the Honduran. “We have children to support.? (New York Times)

February 7, 2009

Obama Artist Arrested

A street artist famous for his "Hope" themed paintings of President Obama was arrested in Boston on Saturday on two warrants, the Star Tribune reported.

Shepard Fairey, 38, was at the Institute of Contemporary Art for an event kicking off his new exhibit. The Washington Post reported that this was his first solo exhibit, and he was arrested on his way to the event.

The Star Tribune reported that according to police, the warrants were from last month when Fairey allegedly tagged property. The Washington Post reported that the graffiti, based on his Andre the Giant street campaign earlier in his career, was on the property of two locations.

The Washington Post also reported that according to Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk District Attorney, Fairey is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Brighton District Court, and he will be arraigned on a default warrant related to a separate graffiti case in the Roxbury section of Boston.

Fairey was release a few hours after his arrest, the museum told the Washington Post.

He is in a copywrite dispute with the Associated Press about his Obama image, the Star Tribune reported. A California lawyer who represented Fairey in this case did not promptly respond to an e-mail seeking comment on this arrest, the Washington Post additionally reported.

February 1, 2009

Senate Debates President Obama's Stimulas Plan

Fox 9 News reported that the Senate will debate President Obama's stimulus plan that the House already passed with $819 billion.
With solely Democratic support, the plan includes budgeting "strained" states in funding for roads, infrastructure, and cutting taxes between $500 and $1000 for workers.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is in favor of this and urges other Republicans to pass the plan. However, because there was no support from Republicans in the House, the plan has gone to Senate.
"I'm calling on the Senate to pass this plan, so we can put people back to work, " President Obama said Saturday to the public and to Congress.
Republicans said the plan needs more tax cuts and housing help, and less government spending, Fox 9 News reported. Kare 11 News reported that Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican leader, said Sunday that the plan will not pass unless it has a clearer focus on housing issues and tax cuts. He and other Republicans said it needed an overhaul because not enoughtax cuts are going toward the private sector, which "allows Democrats to go on a spending spree unlikely to jolt the economy," (Kare 11 News)
Democrats, although willing to compromise, want to begin action right away, Kare 11 News reported.