Monthly Archives: September 2012
SUNDAY Sept. 30, 2012 — Researchers who discovered an immune system mechanism that seems to provide some people with a natural defense against HIV say their finding could help efforts to develop a vaccine for HIV/AIDS.
In most people, HIV infection without treatment almost always progresses to AIDS. But about one in 300 HIV-infected people remain AIDS-free without having to take medications. These people are called “elite controllers.”
After conducting experiments with laboratory animals, the researchers concluded that elite controllers suppress HIV by generating a powerful CD8+ T killer cell response against just two or three small regions of the virus.
“By focusing on these selected regions, the immune response successfully controls the virus,” David Watkins, a professor of pathology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said in a university news release.
“Understanding this mechanism may shed light on how to develop an effective vaccine to eradicate the global HIV/AIDS crisis,” he added.
Scientists, however, note that research with animals often fails to provide similar results in humans.
The study was published Sept. 30 in the journal Nature.
The next step is to determine why these particular killer cells are so effective, Watkins said.
Watkins and his colleagues recently received a $ 10 million grant from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop an HIV vaccine from the yellow fever vaccine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has questions and answers about HIV/AIDS.
Posted: September 2012
By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut patients suffering from certain debilitating medical conditions will soon be able to apply with the state Department of Consumer Protection to receive medical marijuana.
Starting Monday, the agency will make applications available online. The step is among the first toward creating a new system in Connecticut of legalized medical marijuana for palliative purposes.
Some other new state laws that take effect Monday pertain to sex trafficking, used cars and highway safety.
Claudette Carveth, spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer Protection, said Friday the agency has received calls from people interested in an application but the agency has not kept a waiting list.
To qualify for a temporary registration certificate, a person must be at least 18 and a state resident. A Connecticut-licensed doctor must initiate the registration process and certify that the person meets the medical prerequisites.
Only certain medical conditions are eligible for the treatment. They include AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, among others.
Meanwhile, the consumer protection agency has until July 1 to submit new regulations to the General Assembly as to how the drug will be dispensed and other details. The program is expected to be up and running by late 2013.
“From talking to a lot of people, Connecticut clearly will have the tightest, most restrictive system in the country,” said Michael Lawlor, the governor’s criminal justice adviser.
Lawlor said people who do end up qualifying for medical marijuana will now be allowed, under state law, to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana as of Oct. 1. Until state-approved sources of medical marijuana are established, transactions to obtain the drug will still be illegal. But “the basic possession will be lawful, assuming you have the card,” Lawlor said, adding how he doesn’t expect a large number of people will qualify in the first months.
Among the other new laws that take effect in October is one that makes it a crime for someone to place an advertisement for sex that includes a depiction of a minor. The legislation is intended to help combat sex trafficking.
Proponents of the measure, including former House Speaker James Amann, had originally wanted to make the publishers of escort advertisements, online and print, criminally liable if the ads were deemed exploitation of minors. They proposed requiring publishers to get verification of the age of the person featured in the ad before running it.
Under the legislation ultimately signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the new crime of commercial sexual exploitation of a minor is created, a Class C felony punishable by one-to-10 years in prison and up to a $ 10,000 fine.
Also on Monday, some new motor vehicle laws take effect.
One law attempts to ensure that auto dealerships provide buyers with a state-required safety check on used cars. Items that must be signed off as checked include service brakes, the parking brake, tires, wheels, the steering system and exhaust. In the past, some dealers did not do a thorough safety check, officials with the Department of Motor Vehicles say.
“This new law helps to protect consumers in the future from those situations where a few dealers have not done the checks as required,” DMV Commissioner Melody A. Currey said.
Under the new law, a dealership owner faces arrest and fines up to $ 2,000 if they don’t conduct the safety inspection
Another new law expands the current statute requiring motorists to move over when approaching a stationary vehicle. The law now applies to roads with two lanes of traffic going in the same direction. Originally, it had applied to those with three lanes or more.
In the mountains of Mendocino County, a middle-aged couple stroll into the cool morning air to plant the year’s crop. Andrew grabs a shovel and begins to dig up rich black garden beds while Anna waters the seedlings, beginning a hallowed annual ritual here in marijuana’s Emerald Triangle.
In the past, planting day was a time of great expectations, maybe for a vacation in Hawaii or Mexico during the rainy months or a new motor home to make deliveries around the country.
But this year, Andrew and Anna are hoping only that their 50 or so marijuana plants will cover the bills. Since the mid-1990s, the price of outdoor-grown marijuana has plummeted from more than $ 5,000 a pound to less than $ 2,000, and even as low as $ 800.
Battered by competition from indoor cultivators around the state and industrial-size operations that have invaded the North Coast counties, many of the small-time pot farmers who created the Emerald Triangle fear that their way of life of the last 40 years is coming to an end.
Their once-quiet communities, with their back-to-nature ethos, are being overrun by outsiders carving massive farms out of the forest. Robberies are commonplace now, and the mountains reverberate with the sounds of chain saws and heavy equipment.
“Every night we hear helicopters now,” Anna said. “It’s people moving big greenhouses and generators into the mountains.”
Andrew, 56, and Anna, 52, who agreed to be interviewed only if they would be identified by their middle names, live in a rambling house down a trail through tanoaks and Douglas firs. Their electricity comes from a windmill and solar panels, their water from a spring. They cook on a wood stove and use an outhouse with a composting toilet to conserve water for their crop.
Though they are not complete back-to-the-landers — they have a nice car, satellite TV and Internet access — they keep their gardens relatively small, tucked in the trees throughout their property.
Among their plants, they post their own medical marijuana cards so that if they’re raided, it looks as though they’re growing under the aegis of state law. But because dispensaries generally prefer the more potent weed grown indoors, they still sell mostly to the black market, where mom-and-pop growers now struggle to compete.
“These big commercial growers have really ruined our business,” Anna said.
Until recently, life in the hills of Mendocino and Humboldt counties had changed little in the decades since hippies from the Bay Area began homesteading here. The pioneers initially grew marijuana for themselves and to make a little money.
Then in the 1980s, cultivation of high-grade seedless marijuana opened the possibility for big money as it brought a higher premium. Many of the farmers cashed in. But many remained small and discreet to avoid attracting the attention of state and federal agents.
They raised their families where they cultivated. They drove beat-up Subarus and small Toyota pickups, pumped their water from wells and chopped their own firewood.
The mountain hamlets operated like breakaway states. Marijuana farmers paid for community centers, fire departments, road maintenance and elementary schools.
Even today, small cannabis-funded volunteer fire stations and primary schools are scattered throughout the ranges. And the local radio station, KMUD, announces the sheriff’s deputies’ movements as part of its public service mandate.
But the liberalization of marijuana laws in the last decade upended the status quo.
From Oakland to the Inland Empire, people began cultivating indoors on an unprecedented scale at the same time that growers from around the world flooded the North Coast because of its remoteness and deep-rooted counterculture.
Now, with the market glutted, people are simply planting ever-larger crops to make up for the drop in price.
Longtime residents complain that the newcomers cut down trees, grade hillsides, divert creeks to irrigate multi-thousand-plant crops, use heavy pesticides and rat poisons, and run giant, smog-belching diesel generators to illuminate indoor grows. They blaze around in Dodge monster trucks and Cadillac Escalades and don’t contribute to upkeep of the roads or schools.
“They just don’t care,” said Kym Kemp, a teacher and blogger in the mountains of Sohum, as locals call southern Humboldt County. “They’re not thinking, ‘I want my kids to grow up here.’
“Now there are greenhouses the size of a football field that weren’t even there last year,” she added.
Kemp said she feels her region is being colonized and worries about the colorful, off-the-grid people that small cannabis patches long supported.
“So many people who live here are just different,” she said. “They don’t fit in regular society. They couldn’t work 9-to-5 jobs. But they’ve gotten used to raising their kids on middle-class incomes. What are they going to do?”
Tom Evans, 61, a small-time grower in northern Mendocino, said the sense of peace and self-reliance he moved here for 30 years ago is disappearing so fast that he may leave for Mexico.
“It used to be a contest to see who could drive the oldest pickup truck,” said Evans, a former Army helicopter mechanic who sports a woolly gray beard and tie-dyed shirt. “There’s just been this huge influx of folks who have money on their mind, instead of love of the land. A lot more gun-toters. A lot more attack dogs.”
Evans lives in a small rented home that generously could be called a fixer-upper. He said he doesn’t have a bank account or credit card, and his Honda Passport has more than 300,000 miles. “It’s ‘make a living, not a killing,’” he said.
His friend, a bear of man who goes by the name Mr. Fuzzy, noted that it’s not only outsiders causing problems.
“You know the weird part, these are our kids too,” he said.
It’s a recurring lament among longtime growers. Some of their own children are going for the large-scale grows, big money and fancy cars.
The larger irony is that the marijuana pioneers are being pushed to the margins by the legalization they long espoused.
“Ultimately we worry about Winston or Marlboro getting some land and doing their thing,” said Lawrence Ringo, a 55-year-old grower and seed breeder deep in the wilds of Sohum. “We see it time after time in America — big corporations come in and take over.”
Ringo saw the 2010 marijuana initiative, Proposition 19, as a ploy by Bay Area activists to dominate the market with giant warehouse grows in Oakland.
He suspects plenty of people will still want high-quality, organically grown cannabis but fears the big business interests will dictate how marijuana gets regulated. Ringo points out that Colorado, the one state that fully regulates marijuana, helped push most growing indoors and place cultivation under the control of large dispensaries.
“We’re afraid of losing what we’ve been doing for 40 years,” he said.
As competition drives prices down, even chamber of commerce types acknowledge that the North Coast economy is at risk. Pot kept things afloat as the logging and fishing industries declined. Restaurants, car dealerships, banks, hotels and dental clinics all depend on marijuana money.
“There’s probably not one business that doesn’t benefit,” said Julie Fulkerson, who founded a home furnishings store and comes from a prominent third-generation Humboldt family.
Walk into the upscale Cecil’s New Orleans Bistro in small-town Garberville and you’ll find growers in dirty T-shirts unpeeling rolls of $ 20 bills to pay for martinis and $ 38 steaks. More soil supply and hydroponics shops line stretches of Highway 101 than gas stations, and trucks laden with bags of soil and fertilizer kick up dust as they make deliveries on the most isolated roads.
During harvest, hardware stores put out huge bins of Fiskars pruning scissors, the preferred tool for marijuana trimmers. Safeway stocks so many turkey bags that an outsider might wonder how such small locales could consume so many birds. The sealable, smell-proof bags are used for storing and transporting weed.
“I wouldn’t survive … if it wasn’t for growing,” said Tom Ochner, 54, who runs a country store and rental cabins outside of Covelo — a business called the Black Butte River Ranch. “Owners realize this is what makes their business go.”
Concerned about the economics of legalization, Humboldt banker Jennifer Budwig studied the amount of pot money entering the local economy.
Using an extremely high estimate that law enforcement seized 25% of the total amount of pot grown in Humboldt, she found that the crop generated at least $ 1 billion a year — of which $ 415 million was spent in the county. She said the actual figure could be several times higher.
Legalization “has the potential to be devastating,” she said.
Some small growers, like Anna and Andrew, still hold out hope that they can beat back the deluge of industrial marijuana.
There’s a market, they say, for sun-grown weed among discerning users who appreciate the nuances of regional variety.
A grower just down the road said he hoped to start promoting “Mendocino terroir.”
“How can sun-grown not be better medicine?” Anna asked. “If you’re sick, you want something that has chemicals in it? You can’t grow indoor organically. Not to mention the fossil fuels it burns up.”
But even if boutique weed has some potential, the couple still sense that their life in the mountains is changing for good. The next-door neighbor recently had a home-invasion robbery, and a young man down the road was shot in the face during a deal.
Andrew goes back to planting the new crop. He used to have the radio on all day — something to engage his mind during the tedious work.
He doesn’t anymore.
He keeps it quiet, listening for intruders.
Nick launches a brand new CG take on an ‘80s classic with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
This month, fans of the classic ‘80s comic and toon property (and a whole new generation of would-be fans) will be introduced to the shiny, new CG-animated faces of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thanks to a new series from Nickelodeon based on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s much loved characters.
Set in modern-day New York, the show follows the once human six-foot-tall rat Master Splinter and his four reptilian “sons”—pet turtles who like himself were transformed into humanoid mutants by a mysterious green ooze. Having been raised and trained in the ninja arts in their hidden sewer HQ, the now teenage turtles long to explore the surface world.
The hour-long premiere episode finds the turtles visiting the surface for the first time, where they rescue a teenaged April O’Neil and her father from a group of thugs—and find themselves in the middle of one doozy of a conspiracy involving aliens, robots, missing scientists and that crazy green gunk. The impressive cast features Jason Biggs as Leonardo, Sean Astin as Raphael, Rob Paulsen as Donatello, Greg Cipes as Michelangelo, Mae Whitman as April, Hoon Lee as Splinter and Kevin Michael Richardson as the villainous Shredder.
For Ciro Nieli, who executive produces the show with Joshua Sternin, Jeff Ventimilia and Peter Hastings, the chance to tackle his own take on the popular franchise was a dream come true.
“I thought I’d get some Turtle action!” he jokes during a recent phone interview, adding that he was a big TMNT comics fan as a kid.
A graduate of Philadelphia’s University of the Arts animation program, Nieli created Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! in 2004 and has directed and designed cool action toons like Transformers, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Super Friends. He also worked in his dad’s pizza shop as a kid, which is all too appropriate for a TMNT show runner!
Coming Out of His Shell
One thing the enthusiastic producer had never done before was work on a CG-animated series. Nieli explains that having heard Nickelodeon acquired the rights to the property he scheduled a meeting with the studio’s development department back in 2009.
“All the artwork I presented were drawings—it was my very first meeting with them—and they said, OK, this is Nick. We want to try to do this in CG,” he recalls. “The idea was, if we’re going to do this, let’s bring something to it that’s original. Well, regardless of the 2007 film being CG!”
Throughout the roughly 14-month development period, Nieli and his crew focused on fine-tuning the storytelling and character dynamics using 2D methods. The producer and two other artists also crafted a 2D “proxy pilot” which lead to the series’ greenlight. Nieli shares that although the subsequent CG production has been “a constant learning curve,” he’s found the new medium rewarding.
“A lot of people have asked me, how are you going to do it? My answer is always: With extreme patience and good taste!” he adds.
In developing the look of the show, Nieli says he dove in to looking at as many examples of CG animation as possible—including student films—to figure out what he wanted and how to communicate that to the artists. One of his goals was to be as true to the graphic nature of the original comics.
“To me, Ninja Turtles isn’t just an American comic book, it’s specific to an ‘80s comic trend, which was the explosion of the indie comic,” he explains.
The show is touted as blending American and Japanese animation influences, but Nieli says it’s more the Japanese elements in the Turtles’ lives that matter—after all, Master Splinter is Japanese, and this is reflected in their fighting skills and even in the details of their sewer home, which looks like a traditional Japanese house.
As far as updating the show for a new generation of fans, Nieli recalls seeing other pitches for the show after his version had been picked that had fallen into the trap of being too current.
“When I looked at what [the show] was all about, it was about camaraderie and the relationships between these four brothers … I want it to play as well today as it can in 20 years,” he insists. “I saw a bunch of other pitches; I kind of saw some weird takes—trying to be more timely than just austere and reverential. I just don’t think that kind of approach is sustainable.”
We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Terrarium
The key challenge in crafting a new, three-dimensional world for the Turtles to play in proved to be the sheer scale and amount of sets needed to create a believable CG New York. So far, the team has built about 52 sets for the first season of 26 half-hour episodes. Nieli notes that the team is allotted two sets per episode to keep on budget, but because of the type of show they want to create (and blessed technology advancements) the producer says each set is roughly six times bigger than those on his previous projects.
There is also a lot more diversity in the 21st century Turtles world. TMNT’s New York has its own China Town as well as local bodega, Korean markets and mix of languages.
“New York City is what a melting pot is. We tried to show as many ethnicities as we could,” Nieli explains. “We wanted New York to feel kind of … New York-y.”
The artists devoted a lot of creative energy to giving a sense of the diversity and immensity of the city within realistic limits, achieving this by offering at-a-glance tastes of distinctive neighborhoods.
“So many times, I’ve seen shows where it’s just ‘a city’ with this generic sense of skyscrapers. Are they made of glass? Brick? Is that Midtown? Downtown? Nobody knows, because they’ve only lived in Burbank,” Nieli deadpans. “To be able to go, this is the manhole the Turtles come out of and they only stray seven or eight blocks from it—to talk about what the span was and what our own truncated, affordable New York looked like—it gives the city a lot more charm and personality. The city is an important character in the show.”
Adding to the scale of the sets is that fact that much of the action takes place at night or underground in the sewer. Keeping the lighting flattering and realistic whether in wide shots of the large sets or character close-ups has been tricky, Nieli admits. He adds that he did not want to go too dark with the show, preferring to maintain a poppy, cartoony look.
“But the darkness, believe it or not, has been helping me,” he notes. “In CG, the brighter things are the more fake they look … But I didn’t want it to look like a David Fincher film.”
Altogether it takes the Nickelodeon crew of 86 about 15 months to see an episode from script to final animation, and Nieli says they are often working on at least one aspect of nearly every episode at any given time. All the sets, characters, planning and some animation is handled at Nick’s Burbank studio, and the rest is tackled by partner studios Technicolor in India and Bardel in Canada. The animation is done in Maya, with Nuke for compositing.
Nieli is most impressed with the way every department at Nickelodeon has come together to make the process run smoothly, noting this is perhaps the largest production of his career so far.
“The show’s gorgeous,” he adds, “The guys and gals I have working on the show are such a talented bunch that the design is not so standard. We’re all taking some strange twists, visually. And that goes hand in hand with how we want the storytelling to come off. It has a lot of color in terms of story—kind of an odder, offbeat sensibility that’s intrinsic to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Welcome to the Sewer, Dudes
While Nieli says the fan reactions he caught wind of early in the development and production process were startling, he is confident that once the show is on the airwaves every Turtles fandom faction will learn to enjoy it for what it is, rather than what they expected it to be. Fans may be assured by the knowledge that co-creator of the franchise Kevin Eastman is a regular visitor to the show offices and has given his stamp of approval.
“[Kevin] comes by once in a while in a non-intrusive, blessed kind of way. He really inspires the crew,” says Nieli. “He’s kind of psyched, and I’m psyched that he’s psyched, and it kind of becomes a big love-fest.”
As to what sets the new TMNT apart from other action-adventure toon fare, Nieli believes it’s the pure turtle power of the heroic bros:
“The Turtles add a uniqueness to what could be a mundane story. It’s like having the Beatles—we got the Turtles! It’s a special, weird brand only the Ninja Turtles can do … It’s a real world with dangerous stakes, full of weird characters having fun.”
Of course, we had to ask the fan-turned-showrunner which Ninja Turtle he most identifies with—and after a moment’s thought, he simply lists all of them.
“All my life I’ve been going through which Turtle I like best,” he summarizes. “It’s not really that there are four different characters, it’s more like four different shades—depending on where we are in our lives, there’s a little of each Turtle in all of us.”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles launches on Nickelodeon with a one-hour premiere Saturday, September 29 at 11 a.m. and will air regularly in the same timeslot.
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Nick Sets Premiere Date for ‘Ninja Turtles’
KENT, Ohio |
KENT, Ohio (Reuters) – The presidential jet Air Force One was forced Wednesday to abort an initial landing in Toledo, Ohio, due to fog and rain, and passengers including the president had a bumpy ride.
The plane ferrying President Barack Obama to election campaign events in Ohio took two attempts to land while those aboard were shaken by turbulence.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, after consulting with the plane’s crew, told journalists traveling with the president that weather was the cause.
The plane landed safely on the second attempt and there were no injuries.
(Reporting By Lisa Lambert; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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