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Kent State Axes West Side Story Over Casting Outrage

The Sharks and the Jets will not be rumbling at Kent State this fall. The university canceled an upcoming production of West Side Story because too many leading roles went to white and non-Latino actors, Fox reports. The decision was made after a campuswide town hall meeting last month that was prompted by complaints about the casting. “The cancellation … was in response to our community members’ voices and the national dialogue regarding the desire for authenticity on our stages,“ Eric van Baars, the university’s theater director, tells Fox. A different musical, Children of Eden, will replace West Side Story as the fall production. Debuting in 1957, West Side Story is a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, centering on the rivalry between the Sharks, a gang comprised of Puerto Ricans, and the Jets, a white gang.

Some students at Kent State were angered when they saw that three leading roles portraying Puerto Rican characters, along with many supporting roles, were given to white and other non-Latino students, Kentwired reports. “It’s more than just getting a role,“ Viviana Cardenas says. She was in the running for a Puerto Rican character, Anita, but an African-American student ultimately got the role. “When there is this story that is about people of cultures like me, about people of color like me, and that gets taken away from me … that was the most heartbreaking.“ However, another theater student tells the Kansas City Star that the university was “bowing to racists.“ The Star notes that casting issues have dogged West Side Story for decades, ever since Natalie Wood, a white actress, was cast as the Puerto Rican female lead, Maria, in the 1961 film.

These Critters Just Landed Man in Jail With $1.5M Fine

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The owner of a Washington-state seafood company will spend two years in prison for overharvesting sea cucumbers and pay $1.5 million in restitution—the second such big bust in the West in just over a year. Hoon Namkoong, 62, was also sentenced Friday to three years of post-prison supervision. He pleaded guilty earlier this year in US District Court in Seattle to underreporting the number of sea cucumbers he bought from tribal and nontribal fisheries in the Puget Sound by nearly 250,000 pounds between 2014 and 2016. Orient Seafood Production then sold to buyers in Asia and the US. The illegal harvest amounted to nearly 20% of the total allowed statewide, said US Attorney Annette Hayes, and seriously damaged the Puget Sound. “Illegal harvesting undermines quotas designed to protect the resource and keep the Sound healthy for our children and generations to come,“ Hayes said.

Sea cucumbers, which are shaped like cucumbers with small feet and measure up to 6 feet, are echinoderms, a family that includes starfish and sea urchins. They’re served dried or fresh and are often braised with fish, vegetables, and traditional Chinese sauces. They’re sought to treat various health issues, reports the AP, and are increasingly in demand in China and Southeast Asian countries. Harvesting sea cucumbers is permitted in the United States and many parts of the world, but with limited quantities and only during high season. Illegal trade is becoming increasingly common and lucrative. Last year, federal officials filed charges against a father-son partnership for allegedly smuggling more than $17 million worth of sea cucumbers from Mexico to the United States and exporting them to Asia.

Here’s What the 4-4 Supreme Court Has on Docket

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It’s the first Monday in October, which means the Supreme Court will be gaveled into session for its new term—even if the fate of the ninth potential justice remains in limbo. The general consensus in coverage is that the upcoming docket is relatively tame in terms of hot-button issues, though that could change as the term proceeds. In fact, the strategy might be intentional. “This makes me think that the justices were aware of [Anthony] Kennedy’s likely departure when they starting granting cases for this term,“ court observer Adam Feldman tells Fox News. And the justices likely anticipated a vacant seat, at least in the early days of the term. Here are some of the bigger cases on tap for now:

  • Frogs: The timber company Weyerhauser objects to land in Louisiana being declared off limits for the protection of the dusky gopher frog, reports NPR. Only 75 of the frogs remain in existence, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to relocate some to a forest owned by Weyerhauser.
  • Death row: The justices will hear a case out of Alabama in which a murderer with dementia is scheduled to be executed. Vernon Madison’s defenders say he can’t remember killing a police officer, and the execution would thus be cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Double jeopardy: In Gamble v. United States, the court will look at double jeopardy, and whether states can prosecute a person for a crime independent of the federal government. The reason it matters? If President Trump pardons someone at the federal level, the person could still face state charges over the same offense, explains the New York Times.
  • The list: For a thorough list of upcoming cases, see Law.com.

Guy Whose Property Was Being Seized Left Crazy Booby Traps

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An Oregon man resisting the sale of his home left booby traps on the property—including one apparently inspired by Raiders of the Lost Ark. Gregory Lee Rodvelt rigged up a hot tub to roll down a hill when a tripwire was triggered, much like the scene where Indiana Jones is “forced to outrun a giant stone boulder,“ according to court documents. At the property in Williams, southern Oregon, an FBI agent and three bomb squad technicians avoided the hot tub and other hazards, including a minivan booby-trapped with animal snares, but the agent was shot by an empty wheelchair inside the home; it had been rigged to fire shotgun ammunition when it was pushed, the Oregonian reports.

The agent was hospitalized with a shotgun pellet lodged in his leg. Rodvelt, 66, faces a felony count of assault on a federal officer over the Sept. 7 incident, the Mail Tribune reports. He had been ordered to sell the home as part of a $2.1 million judgment against him in an elder abuse case involving his 90-year-old mother. He had been in jail in Oregon after an armed standoff with authorities in April last year but was released for two weeks in August to prepare the property to be turned over, according to court documents. Authorities were contacted when the estate’s acting receiver saw a sign saying the property was “protected with improvised devices.“

Student Fools Academic Journals With ‘Rick and Morty’ Paper

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PhD student Farooq Ali Khan’s fake study, Newer Tools to Fight Inter-Galactic Parasites and Their Transmissibility in Zyrgirion Simulation, was accepted by multiple scientific journals, despite being overtly littered with Rick and Morty and other pop culture references.

The paper — an effort to call out institutions that publish dubious science without review — was accepted by three journals without question, and five in exchange for payment.

Ali Kahn said he hoped the scam would highlight the “severe threat to science” posed by predatory journals.


Learn More:    Vice    AV Club

Q&A: Why the Mormon church is renaming its well-known choir

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The world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir was renamed Friday to drop the word Mormon in a move that follows guidelines issued earlier this year by the church’s president calling on people to stop using substitutes for the full name of the religion: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The singing group is now the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

Here’s a look at what prompted the name change:

WHY WAS THE CHOIR RENAMED?

Church President Russell M. Nelson in August said he wants people to stop using the word “Mormon” or the acronym “LDS” instead of religion’s full name.

Nelson in a statement at the time said that the “Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church.“

The faith’s presidents are considered prophets who lead the church through revelations from God.

The church’s full name was given by revelation from God to founder Joseph Smith in 1838, according to the faith’s beliefs.

HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THE CHANGE?

Very. Nelson is not the first leader to call on people to use the full name, so many wondered after his announcement whether the church would follow through with significant steps to show its commitment to the change.

Changing the choir’s name “puts teeth into the announcement,“ said Patrick Mason, professor of religion and chair of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in California. “It appears that this will be the first in a series of changes that the church makes to comply with President Nelson’s wishes.“

WHAT’S BEHIND THE GOSPEL SINGING GROUP’S NEW NAME?

It’s a nod to the home of the choir for the last 150 years, the 19th century domed roof Tabernacle building on church grounds known as Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. It has room for 3,000 people and is used for choir performances as well as community and religious gatherings. It hosted the church’s twice-yearly conference until 2000.

HOW DO CHURCH MEMBERS FEEL ABOUT NELSON’S ANNOUNCEMENT?

Reaction has been mixed.

Mason said that while church members cherish and understand the importance of the full name, they are very comfortable with the universally used terms of Mormon and LDS.

“It’s impractical to use the full name of the church all the time,“ he said.

Using the full name all the time will be difficult for church members and others “partly because it is difficult to get people to change the way they talk,“ Mason said.

Nelson acknowledged the challenge the church is facing in undoing “tradition of more than 100 years” during a trip to Canada following his August announcement. However, he said, the name of the faith is “not negotiable.“ He said church members need to use the proper name if they want outsiders to use it.

DOESN’T THE CHURCH COMMONLY USE THE WORD"MORMON”?

Yes. The Utah-based faith, which counts 16 million members worldwide, recently made a documentary about its followers titled “Meet the Mormons” and uses Mormon and LDS on official websites and materials that church officials. They are expected to be changed in coming months.

The church also ran a series of “I’m a Mormon” ads on TV and billboards starting in 2010, aiming to dispel stereotypes about Mormons by telling the stories of individual members.

The term Mormon comes from the church’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, which followers believe is based on the record keeping of an ancient prophet named Mormon.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Mason said he expects the church to announce more name changes this weekend, when Mormons will gather to hear spiritual guidance and church news during a twice-yearly conference in Salt Lake City.

“Stay tuned,“ Mason said. “... The fact that this is coming the day before (the conference begins) suggests that we may hear a lot more during the weekend.“

Man Cuts Off Own Hand in His Garage to Save His Life

The Free Press WV

It took one man days to decide to cut off his own arm in order to save his life. It took Myron Schlafman just moments. The 69-year-old Jamestown, North Dakota, man was making sausage in his garage on Aug. 17 using an electric meat mixer. The AP reports that as he removed a chunk of meat from the machine he accidentally stepped on the pedal that powered it, pulling his left arm into the device. He says the bone was severed but the hand remained attached via skin, nerves, and tissue—and that he believed he’d bleed to death if he didn’t remove the hand above his wrist immediately, reports KFGO.

“When I cut off my arm, I could feel my nerves jumping,“ the right-handed man says. “If I would have hesitated, I would have stood right there and bled to death.“ He says a tourniquet applied by two responding officers further enabled him to survive. Doctors weren’t able to reattach the hand, reports KFGO, so he’ll ultimately be outfitted with a prosthetic one. His take on the situation is an optimistic one: “I went through Vietnam. I can handle this.“

Therapy dogs can spread superbugs to kids, hospital finds

The Free Press WV

Therapy dogs can bring more than joy and comfort to hospitalized kids. They can also bring stubborn germs.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore were suspicious that the dogs might pose an infection risk to patients with weakened immune systems. So they conducted some tests when Pippi, Poppy, Badger and Winnie visited 45 children getting cancer treatment.

They discovered that kids who spent more time with the dogs had a 6 times greater chance of coming away with superbug bacteria than kids who spent less time with the animals. But the study also found that washing the dogs before visits and using special wipes while they’re in the hospital took away the risk of spreading that bacteria.

The results of the unpublished study were released Friday at a scientific meeting in San Francisco.

One U.S. health official said the findings add to the growing understanding that while interactions with pets and therapy animals can be beneficial, they can also carry risk.

“Whether covered in fur, feathers or scales, animals have the potential to carry germs that make people sick,“ said Casey Barton Behravesh of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pet therapy can help people recover from a range of health problems. Past studies have shown dogs or other animals can ease anxiety and sadness, lower blood pressure and even reduce the amount of medications some patients need.

But there have been episodes of the superbug MRSA riding around on healthy-looking therapy dogs.

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, often live on the skin without causing symptoms. But they can become more dangerous if they enter the bloodstream, destroying heart valves or causing other damage. Health officials have tied MRSA to as many as 11,000 U.S. deaths a year.

The bacteria can spread in daycares, locker rooms and military barracks, but public health efforts have focused on hospitals and nursing homes.

The Baltimore study looked at 45 children who interacted with the four dogs — petting, hugging, feeding or playing with them — over 13 visits in 2016 and 2017.

Among kids who had no MRSA, the researchers found the superbug on about 10 percent of the samples taken from those kids after the dog visits. They also found MRSA on nearly 40 percent of the samples from the dogs. The researchers also determined that the more time someone spent with the animals, the greater the chance of ending up with the bacteria.

The researchers think the dogs were generally clean of MRSA when they first came to the hospital, but picked it up from patients or others while they were there, said one of the authors, Meghan Davis.

“Our hypothesis is it’s really person-to-person transmission, but it happened through contact with the fur,“ said Davis, a Johns Hopkins public health researcher and veterinarian.

Under hospital protocols, therapy dogs must be bathed within a day of a visit and are checked for wounds or other health problems. Children who see them are supposed to use hand sanitizer “but that wasn’t strictly enforced,“ said Kathryn Dalton, another one of the researchers.

Later in the study, the researchers asked the dogs’ owners to bathe the animals with a special shampoo before the visits. They also had the dogs patted down every five to 10 minutes with disinfecting wipes at the hospital.

Those steps dramatically decreased the bacteria level on the dogs, Dalton said.

She hopes further study will show that such cleanings can reduce any risk of superbug infection.

“I really had the opportunity to see how important these dogs were to the patients,“ Dalton said. After the sessions with the dogs, the kids “would say how much this made their day.“

Judge Blocks White House From Stripping Refugee Protections

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They caught a break. Less than a month before 1,000 Sudanese refugees were set to lose their protection under the Temporary Protected Status immigration program, a federal district judge has ruled that ending TPS would cause “irreparable harm.”

The program protects migrants from countries facing crises like epidemics, war and natural disasters.

The injunction, which charged that the policy ending TPS may have been racially motivated, blocks the deportation of 240,000 people who had fled Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Sudan.

The Justice Department has said it will appeal.


Learn More:    USA Today    The Hill

Suspect in $4.3M Bank Theft Had Elaborate Getaway: DOJ

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Seven years after a bank in Alaska had more than $4 million lifted, the man suspected of stealing the money has been extradited back there—all the way from Mexico. A DOJ release reports that 33-year-old Gerardo “Gary” Adan Cazarez Valenzuela, who used to be the cash vault services manager at an Anchorage KeyBank, will appear in court Thursday in the Last Frontier. He stands accused of strolling into the bank on the night of July 29, 2011, filling three large boxes with $4.3 million in cash, and fleeing, all in about 20 minutes’ time. A sworn affidavit from an FBI special agent cited in the New York Times reveals the intricacies of Cazarez’s alleged getaway route: He drove home to stuff the cash into suitcases and other bags, took a charter plane to Seattle, then took a taxi to meet his girlfriend.

After acquiring an AK-47 and another gun, as well as ammo, per the affidavit, Cazarez bought a Ford Fusion, and the two drove to Tijuana, Mexico. They then ditched the car and hopped on a bus bound for Sonora, Mexico—and that’s when they were busted with the weapons and $3.8 million in cash after being randomly flagged for inspection at a checkpoint. Meanwhile, back in Anchorage, it took bank officials an entire day to get the vault door open when Cazarez was a no-show for work. Cazarez was charged and convicted in Mexico for money laundering and illegal possession of firearms and served out that sentence before being shipped back to the US. The AP notes Cazarez’s girlfriend wasn’t charged. If convicted, Cazarez could see up to 30 years behind bars and be hit with a fine up to $1 million.

US fishermen lose quota in new fishing pact with Canada

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American fishermen are losing thousands of pounds of valuable fishing quota under a new catch share agreement with Canada.

Fishermen from the U.S. and Canada seek haddock, cod and flounder on Georges Bank, which is a critical fishing ground east of New England. Under the new agreement, the U.S.’s eastern Georges Bank cod quota is falling by more than 25 percent to about 415,000 pounds and the eastern Georges Bank haddock quota is falling by about 4 percent to about 33 million pounds.

The regulatory New England Fishery Management Council approved the catch share agreement for the 2019 fishing year last week. The council says the quotas are based on historical catches and trawl surveys.

The new quotas face more approvals from the federal Department of Commerce.

Students Support College Chief in Beer Bong Controversy

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Having the president of your college actively involved in student life is desirable. Having one who takes pulls on a beer bong with you at a football game—that’s up for debate. Dr. Carlos Vargas, head of Southeast Missouri State University, says he now realizes his actions before a Sept. 15 pigskin matchup in Carbondale, Ill., weren’t “flattering” and has vowed it “will not happen again,“ per a statement cited by Fox News. Someone caught his chugging camaraderie on video, and the now-viral video on Twitter (so far viewed more than 155,000 times) is something “I am not proud of.“ He also noted the beer bong itself, calling it “a device normally associated with excessive or binge drinking, which is conduct I do not condone.“ But while Vargas is now expressing regret for his actions, many SEMO students are throwing their support behind him.

“Dr. V, you rock!“ someone can be heard yelling in the video (captioned on Twitter with “THATS MY PRESIDENT”) as other students cheer Vargas on and document him on their phones. “I think the student body is proud of him,“ one student tells KTVI; another adds: “I think he’s a great president.“ Inside Higher Ed and the Southeast Arrow student paper note some are even irritated that Vargas apologized. “He is obviously of age, so I don’t see an issue,“ a grad student tells the Arrow. Donald LaFerla, head of the college’s Board of Regents, issued a statement alongside Vargas’, noting that while the president may have had a “lapse in judgment,“ it “does not define who he is” and can be used as a “teachable moment.“ LaFerla adds Vargas has his support and that of the “full Board, now and in the days, weeks, and months ahead.“

Opioid Grants

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On the first day of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, U.S. Attorney Bill Powell is applauding the Justice Department’s announcement of more than $6 million in grant funding to West Virginia to combat the opioid crisis.

The Department of Justice announced it is awarding almost $320 million to combat the opioid crisis in America. The unprecedented funding will directly help those most impacted by the deadliest drug crisis in American history, including crime victims, children, families, and first responders.

“President Trump has made ending the opioid crisis a priority for this administration, and under his leadership, the Department of Justice has taken historic action,“ said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Today we are announcing our next steps: investing $320 million into all three parts of the President’s comprehensive plan to end the epidemic: prevention, treatment, and enforcement. We are attacking this crisis from every angle—and we will not let up until we bring it to an end.“

“We know that we can’t arrest our way out of this epidemic. It is crucial that every facet of the community be an active part of the fight. The various grants awarded will assist with treatment, prevention, enforcement, and research, all important tools in addressing the crisis” said Powell.

In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses, an increase from the 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the 72,000, 1,011 lives were lost in West Virginia in 2017. The majority of these deaths can be attributed to opioids, including illicit fentanyl and its analogues. October marks two important anti-drug events: Red Ribbon Week and National Prescription Drug Takeback Day. Red Ribbon Week takes place every year between October 23-31 and encourages students, parents, schools, and communities to promote drug-free lifestyles. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on October 27 aims to provide an opportunity for Americans to prevent overdose deaths and drug addictions before they start. DOJ expanded on DEA’s Drug Takeback Days and collected more than 2.7 million pounds of expired or unused prescription drugs since April 2017.

The Attorney General has been resolute in the fight against the drug crisis in America. The Department assigned more than 300 federal prosecutors to U.S. Attorneys’ offices and hired more than 400 DEA task force officers, announced the formation of Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge, a new program to reduce the supply of deadly synthetic opioids in high impact areas, and created a new data analytics program called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit to assist 12 prosecutors sent to drug “hot spot districts.” In addition, the Department charged more than 3,000 defendants with trafficking in heroin, fentanyl, or prescription drugs in FY 2017, announced the first-ever indictments of Chinese nationals for fentanyl trafficking, and scheduled variants of fentanyl to prevent illicit drug labs from circumventing the law. In addition, DOJ executed the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action charging more than 600 defendants and proposed rules consistent with President Trump’s “Safe Prescribing Plan,“ requiring a reduction of ten percent in 2019 in manufacturing quotas. The Department dismantled AlphaBay, the largest criminal marketplace on the Internet and has already generated prosecutions in the fight against online drug trafficking through the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement Team (J-CODE).

The approximately $320 million awarded by the Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) will be distributed in order to maximize effectiveness over the country. A breakdown of the grant funding can be found here.


·    Innovative Prosecution Solutions for Combating Violent Crime and Opioid Abuse ($2.8 Million). Help prosecutors develop strategies to address violent crime caused by illegal opioid distribution and abuse.

·    Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Site-based Program ($162 Million). Help jurisdictions plan and implement programs aimed at reducing opioid abuse and mitigating its impact on crime victims, including training and technical assistance.

o   West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Services - $1,300,000

o   West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources - $920,308

·    Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program ($5.9 Million). Address the treatment needs of people using opioids under the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program.

·    Helping Children and Youth Impacted by Opioids ($46.6 Million). Help children and youth impacted by the opioid crisis, including training and technical assistance.

o   Child Protect of Mercer County, Inc. - $750,000

o   Legal Aid of West Virginia - $549,726

o   Marshall University Research Corporation - $750,000

o   Monongalia County Child Advocacy Center, Inc. - $313,078

·    Drug Courts ($81.2 Million). Assist adult, juvenile, and family drug courts and veterans treatment courts, including training and technical assistance

·    Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grant Program ($17 Million). Address the dramatic increase in deaths and the backlogs of seized drugs as a result of the opioid crisis.

·    Opioid-Related Research for Criminal Justice Purposes ($4.1 Million). Development of new tools to enforce the law, ensure public safety, prevent and control crime, and ensure fair and impartial administration of justice.

o   West Virginia University Research Corporation - $1,354,365


OJP provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has six bureaus and offices: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking. More information about OJP and its components can be found at: http://www.ojp.gov.

Thieves’ Scheme to Steal Pot a Hilarious Flop

The Free Press WV

The heist went exactly as planned: Overnight thieves drove a stolen van right through the front doors of a marijuana shop in Colorado Springs, grabbed as much pot as they could carry, abandoned the van, and fled in a getaway vehicle, reports the Colorado Springs Gazette. The only hitch? All the “marijuana” they grabbed was actually oregano, says the owners of the Native Roots Dispensary. The still-at-large thieves, believed to be teenagers, grabbed all the stuff in display cases, and those cases don’t contain the real thing, reports KKTV. Had the thieves made it into a locked “bud room,“ the story would have been different.

Justice Department Sues California Over Net Neutrality Law

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Governor Jerry Brown signed into law net neutrality legislation described as the strictest in the country.

The regulations, immediately challenged by the Department of Justice, go even further than Obama-era rules that sought to prevent companies from blocking or restricting access to certain internet content.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said it was not within California’s rights to regulate interstate commerce.

California is one of several states considering net neutrality protections after national regulations were repealed by the Federal Communications Commission last year.


Learn More:    LA Times    CNET

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