Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Shonda Rhimes Doesn’t Want to Talk About Her Race

Shonda Rhimes Doesn’t Want to Talk About Her Race

Shonda Rhimes Doesn’t Want to Talk About Her Race

Posted: 08 Oct 2014 10:42 AM PDT

Shonda Rhimes is sick of talking about her race and her gender.

In a new Hollywood Reporter profile of the Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal mastermind, Rhimes said that when she was sent draft text indicating she would be introduced at an event as “the most powerful black female showrunner in Hollywood,” she crossed out “black” and “female” before sending it back.

“I find race and gender to be terribly important; they’re terribly important to who I am,” Rhimes said. “But there’s something about the need for everybody else to spend time talking about it… that pisses me off.”

Rhimes found herself at the center of a conversation about race and gender last month when the New York Times began a review of a show she’s producing called How to Get Away With Murder like this: “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.'”

Despite friends calling for the piece to be retracted, Rhimes said she wants the Times to keep it on its site: “In this world in which we all feel we’re so full of gender equality and we’re a postracial [society] and Obama is president, it’s a very good reminder to see the casual racial bias and odd misogyny from a woman written in a paper that we all think of as being so liberal.”



Ebola Should Change How We Fund Drugs for Emerging Disease

Posted: 08 Oct 2014 10:25 AM PDT

Emerging and infectious diseases are having a moment for all the worst reasons, with credit due to the Ebola outbreak. But scientists studying other emerging diseases beyond Ebola are hopeful that the attention on the disease—and what can happen without available therapeutics—is here to stay.

The fact that there are no drugs or vaccines approved for Ebola isn’t for a dearth of research, but rather because there’s scant financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies to take on the treatments. “We’ve been studying Ebola for almost a decade and we’ve always been interested in Ebola. It’s like the rockstar of viruses,” says Michael Katze, a professor of microbiology at the University of Washington. His team studies the responses of hosts (like animals) to viruses from Ebola to SARS to hepatitis C. “All the major players in Ebola have had vaccines tested in non-human primates”—and they work, he says.

But we lack vaccines or cures for many other emerging and infectious diseases, including bird flu and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Two people brought the disease to the United States in May 2014.

Viruses, though lumped together as infectious agents, are very different. A bird flu virus is quite different from an Ebola virus in a variety of ways, from how they attack their hosts to how they are transmitted to how virulent they are. The science behind the viruses isn’t uniformly advanced, either. But the outbreak of widespread infection from diseases like Ebola, bird flu, SARS and MERS can look quite alike.

Dr. Robert Belshe is a professor of infectious diseases, allergy and immunology at Saint Louis University and published a study in JAMA on Oct. 7 on his most up-to-date work on bird flu. “Ebola is a very different virus [from bird flu], but if you take a step back and ask ‘what are the public health consequences of these two viruses,’ they are sort of similar,” says Belshe. “If bird flu develops the ability to transfer person to person, it would be a disaster much greater than the Ebola disaster happening right now. It’s a very different virus, but has similar lessons for us. We need tools to protect against contagions—vaccines and antivirals.”

Matthew Frieman of the University of Maryland School of Medicine has been looking at repurposing FDA-approved drugs for diseases like SARS and MERS. He says that MERS researchers have been building their knowledge about how to treat and prevent the disease by using their history with SARS. That doesn’t mean that MERS has an economic backing beyond funding for research, however.

“I don’t think anyone thinks they are going to make a billion dollars off of a MERS drug,” says Frieman. “If you’re a company, that matters. As a researcher, I don’t care. I think the current Ebola outbreak may give a bump to the idea that having things stockpiled or at least the knowledge base there is important.”

Katze agrees. “The big pharma companies are not in the business of charity, so unless they have the money, they aren’t going to bother with a vaccine that isn’t important in this country,” he says. “The inadequacy of international response had nothing to do with research.”

Funding for diseases that largely affect low-income countries will depend mainly on funding from the government sector, according to IBISWorld healthcare analyst Sarah Turk. “The limited number of individuals that have Ebola, which is a significantly smaller market than many common illnesses like high blood pressure, has limited the number of pharmaceutical companies that are willing to invest in Ebola drugs,” she says in an email to TIME. “Once individuals take Ebola drugs, they will no longer make repeat purchases of Ebola medications, thus demonstrating the limited revenue potential for Ebola drugs.”

Turk says there’s a chance that the Ebola epidemic will lead to more organizations awarding prizes to drug manufacturers that can develop innovative drugs, and that the global nature of epidemics could incite international governments to share research and development subsidy costs. Those are hopeful scenarios for scientists working on treatments for the next big outbreaks of diseases.

“It’s a different world now. All these people who don’t want vaccines and don’t believe in global warming are going to be very surprised,” says Katze citing the rise of dengue fever, West Nile and chikungunya in southern U.S. states. “You can’t stop people or mosquitos from traveling, so you have to come up with a better response and be better prepared.”

Vikings’ Adrian Peterson Disputes Claims About His Charity

Posted: 08 Oct 2014 10:22 AM PDT

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson went on Twitter late Tuesday night to defend himself after an article was published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sunday detailing some improprieties with his charity and claims of a wild sex party that was paid for with the charity’s credit card.

Peterson says his charity, the All Day Foundation, sent donations to two different charities, despite what the newspaper reported and that the foundation fired an accounting firm that listed recipients on the charity’s 2009 tax returns.

As for the sex party claims, Peterson says his foundation never owner a credit card. Prosecutors looked into an alleged sexual assault from that night but did not pursue charges against anyone.

Peterson also mentioned a story from in August, saying he had changed his way after being promiscuous in the past. The Star-Tribune said Peterson, who got married earlier this year, has fathered at least six children out of wedlock.

“Do not repost the ESPN story from August when I admit I was promiscuous, made mistakes and had to change my ways,” Peterson said in the Twitter post. “Instead repost the story about fathering children out of wedlock…create more buzz and retweets.”

Peterson is expected to plead not guilty on Wednesday to charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child after authorities said he hit his 4-year-old son with a switch. He faces up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted on the charges.

Peterson is currently on the exempt/commissioner’s permission list until his court case is resolved. He will continue to collect his $11.75 million salary this season while he is inactive.

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U.S. to Screen Passengers From West Africa for Ebola at 5 Airports

Posted: 08 Oct 2014 10:20 AM PDT

Border control agents at five airports will screen the temperatures of airline passengers trying to enter the United States from three West African countries heavily hit by the Ebola epidemic, the White House confirmed Wednesday.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the extra layer of screening will apply to travelers at John F Kennedy Airport in New York, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Tests would be conducted by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard, Earnest said, while “[Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] officials will also be on hand if a response is necessary.”

“We think that the risk of an outbreak here in the United States is incredibly low,” Earnest said, just hours after the first patient to be diagnosed with the deadly disease in the U.S. died.

Earnest said about 150 people fly through those airports from affected West African countries every day, accounting for “94% of individuals who travel to the U.S. from the three countries currently affected by Ebola right now.” Earnest said existing screening procedures on the ground in West Africa had prevented “dozens” of would-be travelers who displayed Ebola-like symptoms.

360,000 Sign Petition to Spare Ebola Patient’s Dog

Posted: 08 Oct 2014 10:18 AM PDT

Animal lovers have protested, tweeted and petitioned by the tens of thousands to stop Spanish officials from euthanizing an Ebola patient’s dog.

The outcry began shortly after the patient’s husband, Javier Limon, posted a YouTube plea to animal lovers to help spare the life of “Excalibur”. NBC News reports that Limon has been placed in isolation in a Madrid hospital ever since his wife, nurse-aide Teresa Romero Ramos, became the first person to contract the virus outside of west Africa while caring for a Spanish priest who had returned from the region.

Limon said in the recorded appeal, “I’m in the hospital and I’m sending a call to all the population for them to help me save my dog, Excalibur, who they just want to kill just like that without following any proper procedures.”

There have been no documented cases of dogs spreading Ebola to humans, or vice-versa, though other animals may become carriers.

Animal lovers protested outside the couple’s apartment in a southern suburb of Madrid on Wednesday, where Excalibur had been holed up alone with a bathtub full of drinking water and 33 pounds of dog food, Limon told Spanish daily El Mundo. “Murderer,” several shouted at health workers who had arrived to disinfect the apartment.

Protesters also launched a petition to spare Excalibur which has gathered more than 360,000 signatures to date and flooded Twitter with pictures of their own pet dogs signs reading, “#SalvemosaExcalibur.”

The campaign has intensified amid conflicting reports of the dog’s fate in local media, best summed up by the El Mundo headline “¿Dónde está Excalibur?” The most recent update posted by Limon on Facebook says the dog has not yet been taken away by authorities.


Don’t Bother Betting on the Nobel Prize for Literature

Posted: 08 Oct 2014 10:10 AM PDT

Maybe it’s because there are way more people who read books than there are people who follow developments in chemistry. Maybe it’s that people like betting, and betting on literature feels more edifying than going to the racetrack. Either way, this week brings the culmination of the speculation around the Nobel Prize in Literature, to be awarded tomorrow. As ever, the chatter is focused around betting on British site Ladbrokes, where, as of this writing, Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is the odds-on favorite, with Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami pulling a close second. This despite the fact that, speculation aside, the winner is a closely held secret — and the fact that, in recent years, the winner has been someone entirely unexpected.

This speculation is nothing new for Murakami, in fact; he was a favorite among bettors last year, followed by Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro and American scribe Joyce Carol Oates. Munro ended up beating odds only slightly stacked against her and picking up the prize, as did Chinese writer Mo Yan in 2012, when Murakami was, again, the frontrunner. This compilation of bettors’ favorites compared to actual winners by The New Republic indicates just how rare it is for the odds to favor actual winners. The predicted winner is, with some consistency, more famous and more traditionally “awardable” (less experimental, say) than the actual winner. The widely-honored Syrian poet Adonis is often the predicted winner, but Nobels often go to writers that thrive on controversy, like Harold Pinter, or write shockingly explicit books, like Elfreide Jelinek, or work in obscurity, like Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio.

There are names that consistently appear, year after year, in Nobel speculation — Murakami, Adonis, Oates, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Bob Dylan. And their recurrence, as well as the very act of Nobel Prize betting, demeans both the winners and the losers. The Nobel Prize for Literature has for decades now been peculiar and idiosyncratic, as likely to go to a radical playwright or little-read poet as to a more renowned writer. But bettors engage, year after year, in magical thinking, that this will be the year that Murakami or Adonis, about as successful and respected as a novelist and a poet can be, will get an award. When they lose, it becomes a disappointment, and the winner, whoever that is, looks like an interloper.

The Literature Nobel is more fun to speculate upon because literature itself is so subjective; unless prizes for chemistry or physics, with their empirical evidence, one person’s great leap forward for writing is another’s failed experiment. But excitable coverage of the Ladbrokes betting should be taken both with a grain of salt, as it’s usually wrong, and a sense that the real fun of the Nobel is its serendipity. The real frontrunner for the prize, if history is guide, is someone we’re not thinking of — an exciting twist ending.

30-Second Tech Trick: Download All Your Tweets at Once

Posted: 08 Oct 2014 10:10 AM PDT

Pentagon to Brief Obama on Grim Battle Against Jihadists

Posted: 08 Oct 2014 10:05 AM PDT

President Barack Obama is heading to the Pentagon Wednesday afternoon for an update on the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and he’s not going to like what he hears. The key Syrian town of Kobani is likely to fall to ISIS fighters in coming days, senior U.S. military officials will tell Obama—and there’s not a whole lot the U.S. and its allies can do to halt the ISIS victory or the expected bloodbath following its collapse.

“We’re not expecting any change to our strategy as a result of today’s meeting,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Wednesday afternoon shortly before the 3 p.m. ET session. “This is going to be a long, difficult struggle.”

An air offensive to protect Kobani from being overrun by ISIS totters on the verge of failure. Stepped-up allied air strikes and Kurdish defenders, armed with only small arms, are fighting up to 9,000 jihadists outfitted with tanks and rockets. But it seems to be too little, too late as ISIS’s black flags rose above an eastern neighborhood Monday and remained flying Wednesday. Kurdish officials have warned that ISIS militants would kill thousands if they prevail.

The fight for Kobani is a key test of a U.S. military strategy limited to air strikes, while its local allies on the ground in Iraq and Syria are proving ineffective or non-existent. Turkish troops with tanks are simply watching from across the border as the battle for nearby Kobani rages. Nearly half of the area’s 400,000 residents have fled to Turkey. U.S. officials are angry that Turkey, a NATO ally, has refused to do more to avert a slaughter, they say largely because of its bloody history with the Kurds. American officials are heading to Ankara to urge Turkish officials to do more.

The second piece of the U.S. strategy is training up to 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels a year to fight ISIS on the ground. But that’s a long-term gambit with no guarantee of success, because many of the rebels are more interested in fighting their three-year old civil war against Syrian strongman Bashar Assad than ISIS.

For now, the jihadists are doing their best to frustrate air strikes by abandoning key outposts and breaking into smaller units. They have given up little ground. The terrorist fighters are moving into civilian areas where they know the U.S. and its allies will not bomb—especially without hard intelligence from on-the-ground scouts they trust. Obama has refused to dispatch such spotters as part of his ban on U.S. ground troops in the conflict.

Obama will be meeting with Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has told Congress he will ask Obama to dispatch U.S. ground troops—especially forward air controllers to call in air strikes—if Dempsey thinks it’s required. Kirby said the Pentagon would not be making such a request of Obama during Wednesday’s meeting.

The growing U.S. frustration has been evident as the U.S. ordered AH-64 Apache helicopters into action beginning Oct. 5 against militant targets in western Iraq. The low-and-slow gunship is better than a jet bomber for attacking moving targets. But that capability also makes its two crewmembers more vulnerable to ground fire. ISIS has shot down a pair of Iraqi choppers in recent days, killing all four pilots aboard.

Report: Federal Budget Deficit Falls to $486B

Posted: 08 Oct 2014 10:01 AM PDT

(WASHINGTON) — The federal government’s budget deficit has fallen to $486 billion, the smallest pool of red ink of President Barack Obama’s six-year span in office, a new report said Wednesday.

The Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimate shows better results than earlier projections by both CBO and the White House budget office.

It comes as Congress has mostly paused in its wrangling over the deficit in the run-up to the midterm elections next month.

Obama inherited a trillion-dollar-plus deficit after the 2008 financial crisis but that red-ink figure has improved in recent years as the economy has recovered. Last year’s deficit registered at $680 billion.

The government registered deficits exceeding $1 trillion during Obama’s first term, but the recovering economy has boosted revenues while Republican-imposed curbs on agency operating budgets have combined to shrink the deficit.

The Treasury Department and the White House budget office will issue an official report on the budget in the next week or so, but their findings are likely to mirror CBO’s data, which is based on the daily cash flow that Treasury reports.

The good news may be temporary. CBO and budget hawks warn that the retirement of the Baby Boom generation will balloon deficits in coming years unless Washington can bridge its divides and curb the growth of expensive programs like Medicare.

The deficit hit a record $1.4 trillion in 2009 but fell to $680 billion last year. The government’s budget year ended Sept. 30.

While the numbers are large, economists agree that the truest measure of the deficit is to compare it to the size of the economy. By that measure, the 2014 deficit was less than 3 percent of gross domestic product, which economists say is sustainable.

But CBO and other budget officials warn that long-term projections are unsustainable as more and more people claim Social Security and Medicare benefits. The growth in health care spending, however, is down and long-term estimates have proven unreliable.

Obama and his GOP rivals combined to curb agency budgets in 2011 and the president won a tax increase on upper-rate taxpayers last year, but any future action on the government’s budget woes will likely have to wait until after this year’s mid-term elections or beyond.

Watch Sarah Silverman’s Risqué Equal Pay Ad

Posted: 08 Oct 2014 09:58 AM PDT

Sarah Silverman wants to fix the wage gap and pay back every woman for the money she has lost simply because of the genitalia she happens to have. But until that happens, she figures it’s easier to just get a penis.

In a new ad for the Equal Payback Project, Silverman says women are paid only 78 cents to ever dollar a man earns. She has set the impossible goal of raising $30 trillion to make up that gap. The money she and the Equal Payback Project do raise on Tilt, a crowd-funding platform, will go to the nonprofit the National Women’s Law Center to fight for equal pay legislation. See the ad below.

The ad comes shortly before the midterm elections, in which Democrats have sought to make pay equity a key issue.


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