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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

News and Pop Culture Round-Up

New legislatures expected to take up gay marriage bills in 5 states:
(New York City) Bills that would legalize same-sex marriage are expected to be taken up by law makers in five states when the new sessions of the legislatures begin. In three of the states - New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire -LGBT rights groups say there is a strong indication they will be passed. READ MORE

Obama starts forming his administration: asks Rahm Emanuel, a former Clinton adviser, to be his chief-of-staff
US President-elect Obama is expected to appoint a new treasury secretary soon. He has until his inauguration on 20 January to select his senior officials. President Bush has pledged his complete co-operation during the transition. There has been speculation Mr Obama will ask Defence Secretary Robert Gates to remain in his post. Mr Gates is broadly respected by both parties and would reflect a more bipartisan administration, says the BBC's Jane O'Brien in Washington.

Rahm Emanuel (pictured left with Obama) is an Illinois congressman and tough Washington insider who has been strongly criticised by some Republicans for being too partisan, our correspondent says. If he accepts the position of chief-of-staff, he would be responsible for much of the internal management of the new administration. But critics say his appointment could accentuate party divides, rather than heal them, as Mr Obama has pledged. With the country in the throes of an economic slowdown and part of the global financial crisis, the post of treasury secretary will be another key post, our correspondent adds. Likely contenders for the post reportedly include former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, the current head of the New York Federal Reserve.

106-year-old Atlanta woman basks in Obama tribute:
(Atlanta) At age 106, Ann Nixon Cooper doesn't usually stay awake past midnight. But on Election Night she had special reason to do so: She was waiting for Barack Obama to mention her name. Cooper, one of the oldest voters for the nation's first black president, had been tipped off by the Obama campaign that she would be mentioned in his acceptance speech. Toward the end, she got her moment. "I was waiting for it," said Cooper. "I had heard that they would be calling my name at least." Obama introduced the world to a woman who "was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons — because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin." "Tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America — the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can," he said.

Election night draws 71.4 million TV viewers:
Some 71.4 million Americans watched prime-time television coverage of U.S. election night on Tuesday, a 21 percent increase from the presidential election in 2004, according to ratings released on Wednesday. In 2004, 59.1 million U.S. television viewers across 10 television networks watched prime-time coverage of the climax to the presidential race between Republican incumbent George W. Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry, the Nielsen figures showed. Audiences on Tuesday night dropped slightly to 70.6 million in the three-hour time frame that included Obama's victory speech in Chicago and Republican Sen. John McCain's concession speech in Arizona, Nielsen reported.

Sarah Palin doesn't think she's to blame for Republican election defeat:
Was it Sarah Palin's fault? She doesn't think so. She was asked this morning if her selection as John McCain's running mate might have been a factor in his defeat yesterday. She responded that nobody should give her that much credit. Instead, she says, voters were swayed by what she called a "woeful" economic situation. But she adds that if she cost McCain even one vote, she's sorry, because she believes McCain is the definitive American hero, and that she "had believed that it was his time." Just under 40 per cent of voters who were surveyed at the polls on election day said Palin would be qualified to become president if necessary. And about four in 10 independents said Palin's selection had an important impact on their decision, with a narrow majority of them supporting Obama.

HIV-positive travellers still refused entry to US:
Three months after a change in the law HIV-positive travellers to the US are still being turned back at the border. US law may now say there is no ban on people with HIV, but the regulations in place remain the same. “Until the regulations change, nothing has changed in terms of HIV-positive people visiting the US,” says Victoria Neilson, the legal director of New York-based Immigration Equality. “HIV is still on Health and Human Services’ list of communicable diseases.” But until the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rewrites its regulations, anyone with HIV who wants to visit the US must obtain a 30-day waiver from a US consulate. Neilson says the US Department of Homeland Security — which has responsibility for some border control issues — supposedly streamlined the waiver process. “Someone has to prove he doesn’t currently have any symptoms that are infectious,” she says. “They have to prove they have enough medicine or aren’t currently on medication, that they have sufficient funds to cover hospitalization. We don’t really see that as streamlining.” Ryan Peck, the executive director of the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic of Ontario, says he tells people nothing has changed at the US border. In July US president George W Bush signed into law a bill extending $50-billion in funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief through 2013. Along with it an amendment eliminated the ban on people living with HIV from visiting the United States. READ MORE

Author Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, TV's ER), dead at 66:
Michael Crichton, author of best-selling science fiction adventures including Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, died of cancer in Los Angeles, aged 66, his family said Wednesday. "Michael Crichton died unexpectedly in Los Angeles Tuesday, November 4, 2008 after a courageous and private battle against cancer," said a statement posted on the author's website. His "family and friends knew Michael Crichton as a devoted husband, loving father and generous friend who inspired each of us to strive to see the wonders of our world through new eyes," it added. Crichton wrote numerous blockbusters, some of which sold over 100 million copies, translated in 30 languages worldwide. He also created the international hit television hospital drama series E.R. , screened around the world. The Andromeda Strain, which catapulted him to Hollywood fame after it was published in 1969, told the story of American scientists battling an alien virus that lands in New Mexico from outer space and drives humans to bizarre and grisly deaths. In Jurassic Park, made into a blockbuster 1993 movie, Crichton's human characters were chased around by rampaging dinosaurs created genetically on an island run by an ambitious scientist.

Bin Laden son asylum bid rejected:
Omar Osama Bin Laden, 27, made his claim at a Madrid airport during a stopover on a flight from Egypt to Morocco with his British wife, 52. Mr Bin Laden, one of the al-Qaeda leader's 19 sons, said the petition was rejected due to "insufficient evidence of danger or threat to [his] life". The Saudi citizen, who currently lives in Egypt, said he would appeal. He and his wife remain in a transit area at Madrid's Barajas airport, where they arrived on Monday, a Spanish government official said. "The Interior Ministry has not accepted the request for asylum because this does not meet the conditions necessary for entering Spain," the Associated Press news agency quoted the unnamed official as saying. A metals trader who has urged his father to give up violence, Omar Bin Laden argues that his pacifist beliefs put his life in the Middle East at risk.

Tina Fey says she's retiring Sarah Palin impersonation:
Tina Fey’s hilarious turn as Sarah Palin put Saturday Night Live on the electoral map like nothing else in recent memory — viewership is up nearly 70 percent this season. But will Fey continue to moonlight as the gorgeous governor, who could be a parody-worthy public figure for years to come? “I have to retire just because I have to do my day job,” reveals the creator and star of NBC’s 30 Rock (which experienced a 20 percent ratings uptick for its Oct. 30 season premiere). “I think [Kristen] Wiig would do a really good job.” As for whether there’ll be an official Palin torch passing, she says, “Maybe we could get a real torch. Or I could give Wiig the Palin wig.”

Fascinating new DNA study: Differences between humans and chimps found in genomes:
Researchers have carried out the largest study of differences between human and chimpanzee genomes, identifying regions that have been duplicated or lost during evolution of the two lineages. The study, published in Genome Research, is the first to compare many human and chimpanzee genomes in the same fashion. The team show that particular types of genes - such as those involved in the inflammatory response and in control of cell proliferation - are more commonly involved in gain or loss. They also provide new evidence for a gene that has been associated with susceptibility to infection by HIV. "This is the first study of this scale, comparing directly the genomes of many humans and chimpanzees," says Dr Richard Redon, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. READ MORE

50 Cent collaborates with Bette Midler:
What could 50 Cent and Bette Midler possibly have in common? Plenty, it turns out. The two joined forces Monday to celebrate the opening of "The Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson Community Garden" in Queens, New York. "I called and nagged him," Midler said, describing how she got 50 Cent involved with the garden. "His G-Unity Foundation gives a million dollars away every year in grants to non profits all over the city ... They're just brilliant." The garden (the most recent endeavor for Midler’s New York Restoration Project) is located in Jamaica, Queens, where the rapper grew up. It will mainly serve as a living classroom for neighborhood school children to learn about how food grows. "I wish I had this to come to when I was growing up around here," he said. "The opportunity to create this garden for the youth and the community is a great one." Besides, he noted, "When Bette calls you don't say 'no.' Not if you want your reputation to stay the way it is." So, will Midler and 50 Cent work together in the future? "Absolutely!" he said, before sharing a laugh and a hug with the singer. "He's producing my next record," the Beaches star said with a wink. "I will be rapping. He's writing a song for me right now."

What Obama's victory means for the LGBT community:
In 1968, U Street in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., was on fire and a focal point of racial tension. Forty years later it was a scene of a racially diverse celebration of Barack Obama's election as president of the United States of America. I even walked the streets amid the celebration with members of a delegation from Sweden who came to witness our historic election. They were as excited as I was, though I failed to see the tears in their eyes that streamed down my face. But what does this excitement mean for our country? Will it translate into anything for the LGBT community? After all, Barack Obama is the first president-elect to mention gays in his victory speech. On the heels of major defeats on ballot initiatives in Arkansas, Florida, Arizona, and most disappointing, California, the preceding question is of even more importance than we could have previously imagined. While the ballot initiatives provide us with a heartbreaking setback, there are a few positive developments for our community in this election. In New York State, Democrats won a majority in the state senate, where the previous Republican majority refused to take up the marriage bill shepherded through the lower chamber by Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell. Conventional wisdom is that marriage will now be achieved through legislative action and signed by equality-minded governor David Paterson. READ MORE

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