Flu Outbreak: General Overview, and How UTC Has Fared

By: Nick Porter 

CHATTANOOGA, TN (UTC/ The Loop) – Tennessee joins 11 other states who are experiencing a flu outbreak. Tennessee’s outbreak is considered in the most severe category listed by the Centers for Disease Control.

The Entire Country's Status of The Flu Outbreak

The Flu Outbreak Across the Nation

North Georgia has experienced similar issues including two flu related deaths on Monday according to the Times Free Press.

The epidemic has not affected UTC as much as the rest of the area, according to Timothy Jones, the director of Student Health Services at UTC. The university has had around 20 cases this outbreak, which is a relatively low number Jones says. He states that none of the cases have been too severe, and that compared to the rest of the area UTC has been blessed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RKv1Tj_jJ0

Kelli Findlay, a senior in the communication department,  told me what she does to stay healthy during the flu season. She said, “I don’t get a flu shot because my friend got it and had a much harder time with getting sick. I would rather just carry around hand sanitizer and take vitamins.”

For students who did not get the vaccine like Kelli, here are a few pointers from Dr. Jones.

  • First and foremost wash your hands often, and avoid touching your face.
  • If someone you know is affected by the flu try to avoid contact or being close to the person.
  • Also use paper towels instead of cloths to dry hands and clean surfaces.

 

If you feel like you may have the flu Dr. Jones says there are a few symptoms associated with the virus.

  • Dry hacking coughs and a sore throat are some immediate signs.
  • After that fever or chills can occur along with muscle or body aches.
  • Dr. Jones also says that the only way to truly know if you have the flu is to visit a healthcare provider.

Appointments can be made with Student Health Services by going to their website or by calling the clinic at 423-425-2266.

If any students are looking for more tips to lead a healthy lifestyle, the university offers campus wide health promotions including activities and presentations. For more information visit their UTC webpage.

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Leave the Biebs Alone, that’s somebody’s daughter.

 

By: Alex Givens
Miami, Florida (AP/Theloop) – MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Justin Bieber’s mug shot hints at the boy-next-door image he’s carefully crafted over the past several years, with a glistening smile and professionally upswept hair.
But the red jail jumpsuit also visible in the photo tells a different story, one about the singer’s recent troubles and emergence as a bad boy. The 19-year-old pop star is facing possible jail time after his arrest in Florida on charges of driving under the influence, resisting arrest and driving with an expired license.

Still, as he has been so many times since achieving stardom at age 15, Bieber was swarmed by crowds of news media and screaming young girls as he left jail Thursday afternoon. He popped through a window of his black SUV in a black hoodie and sunglasses to wave back.

Police said they arrested a bleary-eyed Bieber — smelling of alcohol — after officers saw him drag-racing before dawn Thursday on a palm-lined residential street in Miami Beach, his yellow Lamborghini traveling at nearly twice the speed limit.

He was arrested early Thursday with R&B singer Khalil Amir Sharieff, after police saw them racing two luxury vehicles down the street at 4:09 a.m., with two other vehicles apparently being used to block off the area.

The 19-year-old singer later admitted smoking marijuana, drinking and taking a prescription medication, police said.

Police Chief Ray Martinez said the singer was initially not cooperative when the officer pulled him over. Martinez said the singer also had an expired Georgia driver’s license.

Police said Bieber was driving the Lamborghini and Sharieff was driving a Ferrari. Both cars were towed. Police say Bieber was clocked at nearly double the area’s 30-mph speed limit near a high school, youth center, golf course, city firehouse and small apartment buildings.

According to the arrest report, Bieber “had slow deliberate movements” and appeared to be in a stupor when the officer ordered him to exit his vehicle. Bieber was arrested after repeatedly refusing to put his hands on his vehicle so the officer could pat him down to look for weapons, the report said. It says he cursed several times at the officer and demanded to know why he was being arrested. At one point, Bieber said to an officer: “What the f— did I do, why did you stop me?”

The Biebs resisting arrest.

The Biebs resisting arrest.

Bieber failed a field sobriety test and was taken to the Miami Beach police station for a Breathalyzer, police said. Results haven’t been released.

“I think this case will proceed hopefully as any other case would proceed,” said Bieber’s attorney, Roy Black, whose other celebrity clients have included Rush Limbaugh and William Kennedy Smith.

Under Florida law, people under the age of 21 are considered to be driving under the influence if they have a blood-alcohol content of 0.02 percent or more — a level the 5-foot-9, 140-pound star could reach with one drink.

For a first DUI offense, there is no minimum jail sentence and a maximum of six months, a fine of $250 to $500, and 50 hours of community service. For anyone under 21, there is an automatic six-month license suspension.

A Miami-Dade County judge set Bieber’s bond at $2,500 Thursday afternoon. Sharieff’s bond was set at $1,000 for a DUI charge.

Bieber reportedly spent far more money at a Miami strip club Monday night, when the King of Diamonds club tweeted that Bieber ordered $75,000 in dollar bills. The club’s operator later acknowledged that was an exaggeration and that the singer only stayed about an hour.

Bieber and his large entourage were escorted to a closed-off section of the club. They enjoyed the dancers and ordered a large amount of bottled water, but no alcoholic beverages were sold to them, said Ricky “Disco Rick” Taylor in a statement.

“He had a lot of fun,” Taylor said. “We hope he returns again.”

The Canadian-born Bieber was only 15 when his platinum-selling debut “My World” was released. His brand was clean-cut and charming, earning him an invitation to sing for President Barack Obama and his family at Christmas. But his image tarnished as he got older.

Bieber has been accused of wrongdoing in California but has never been arrested or charged. He is currently under investigation in a felony vandalism case after a neighbor reported the pop star threw eggs at his house and caused thousands of dollars of damage.

A neighbor had previously accused Bieber of spitting in his face, and a paparazzo called deputies after he said Bieber kicked him, but prosecutors declined to file charges in either instance. He was also accused of reckless driving in his neighborhood, but in October prosecutors refused to seek charges because it was unclear whether Bieber was driving.

His arrest in Miami is unlikely to affect the egg-throwing investigation, which included nearly a dozen detectives searching Bieber’s home last week searching for video surveillance and other evidence that could be used to pursue a vandalism charge.

Bieber is also being sued by a former bodyguard who says the singer repeatedly berated him, hit him in the chest and owes him more than $420,000 in overtime and other wages. The case is scheduled to go to trial in Los Angeles next month.

Bieber’s arrival in Florida earlier this week also is under investigation. Authorities in the suburban Miami city of Opa-locka are investigating whether the singer was given a police escort when he landed Monday at the Opa-locka Executive Airport.

Police escorts from the airport are not uncommon, but they must follow procedure because they involve city vehicles, Assistant City Manager David Chiverton said. Administrators had not authorized any escort for Bieber in this case.

Despite all his legal troubles, the charges against Bieber likely won’t put him at risk of being deported or denied entry into the U.S. According to U.S. immigration law, authorities generally do not revoke an individual’s visa unless the person has been convicted of a violent crime or has been sentenced to more than one year imprisonment.

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Kay reported from Miami. Associated Press writers Suzette Laboy and Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami, Tony Winton in Miami Beach, Fla., and Anthony McCartney in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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White House Can’t Force Kimmel Off Air

By Robresha Jackson

WASHINGTON (AP/UTC The Loop) — The White House has responded to a petition calling for an apology and the removal of Jimmy Kimmel’s television show by saying the comedian can’t be forced off the air.

More than 105,000 people signed the petition on the White House website. It followed an October broadcast of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” featuring a segment in which Kimmel spoke to young children about U.S. government debt owed to China.

One boy said “kill everyone in China” when Kimmel asked how the U.S. should repay China.

In its response, the White House noted that ABC and Kimmel have apologized, and that the network has removed the segment from future broadcasts and its online platforms.

The White House also noted that the Constitution protects free speech, even when it’s offensive.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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“12 Years A Slave” Wins Finally

By: Charnele Box

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP/UTC The LOOP) — The Golden Globes are typically Hollywood’s bawdiest awards show — “a wonderful mess,” said co-host Tina Fey of this year’s bash. But in the end, after all the boozy banter — some of it bleeped for broadcast — the 1970s corruption tale “American Hustle” got a very serious push toward Oscar glory, picking up three major awards.

Benefiting the most from Sunday night’s Globes as focus shifts to the Academy Awards, David O. Russell’s con caper locked in best comedy, best actress (Amy Adams) and best supporting actress (Jennifer Lawrence).

Not that early-season favorite “12 Years a Slave” isn’t still in the running. Though it earned only one award, Steve McQueen’s historical epic took home the night’s top honor: best film drama. But “American Hustle” seems to have emerged from the 71st annual Golden Globes as the film to beat.

Oscar doesn’t usually care much for comedies, but “American Hustle” offers a rich blend of scandal, style and superb acting that is bound to get Academy voters’ attention.

The Globes have flipped awards season momentum before. Though Ben Affleck was denied an Oscar nomination last year for directing “Argo,” he did win best director at the Globes and his film went on to win best picture at the Oscars. In 2009, Katherine Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” lost in the best film category to James Cameron’s “Avatar” at the Globes. The defeat seemed to sway Oscar voters in Bigelow’s favor and she snagged the best picture award.

With the Oscar nominations coming Thursday, lost-in-space saga “Gravity,” which earned Alfonso Cuaron the best director Globe, could pick up some additional pull with likely nominations in the craft categories, which the Globes don’t recognize. There’s also a lot of built-in affection for its leading lady, Sandra Bullock, not to mention the film’s impressive worldwide box office performance.

Hosting Sunday night’s Globes for the second year in a row, Fey and Amy Poehler drew big laughs as they targeted such A-listers as Matt Damon, Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio.

One of the evening’s well-received jokes was delivered in the “SNL” alums’ opening bit in a reference Fey made to “Gravity”: “It’s a story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”

Last year, the duo led a six-year ratings high with 19.7 million viewers. They’ll return as hosts next year.

Besides “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave,” the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the Globes, also favored other fact-based films from America’s past: the ’80s-era AIDS drama “Dallas Buyers Club” and the high-finance extravaganza “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which both won top awards.

“Dallas Buyers Club” stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, who both lost noticeable weight for their roles — “or as actresses call it, ‘being in a movie,'” joked Fey — won their first Globes for best dramatic actor and best supporting actor. DiCaprio, a nine-time nominee, picked up his second Globe for best comedy actor for his turn as a provocative stockbroker in Martin Scorsese’s nearly three-hour “Wall Street.”

“I am thankful that Martin Scorsese is still this punk rock,” said DiCaprio backstage.

Famously absent from awards shows for years, Woody Allen received the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement honor, which was accepted by the director’s “Anne Hall” star Diane Keaton.

“Did you see Diane Keaton tonight?” best comedy actress winner Cate Blanchett asked reporters backstage. “She is my style icon, my acting icon — the works.” Blanchett took home the award for her portrayal of a fallen socialite in Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”

Elegant in an Armani gown, Blanchett joked, “A lot of effort goes into this effortlessness. It’s a wonderful mirage to be here tonight, but it’s not entirely who I am.”

___

Follow AP Film Writer Jessica Herndon on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/SomeKind

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Kardashian and West Expecting a little Kimye

Atlantic City. N.J. – (AP/The Loop)- Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are feeling lucky about their first child together.

“It’s true,” the 32-year-old reality TV star said in a statement on her site Monday. “Kanye and I are expecting a baby. We feel so blessed and lucky and wish that in addition to both of our families, his mom and my dad could be here to celebrate this special time with us.”

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West pose at an event

Kardashian’s father, Robert Kardashian, died in 2003. West’s mother, Donda West, died in 2007.

Kardashian added in the blog post that she was “looking forward to great new beginnings in 2013 and to starting a family.”

The 35-year-old rapper revealed to a crowd of more than 5,000 in song form at a concert Sunday that his girlfriend is pregnant. Kardashian was in the crowd at Revel Resort’s Ovation Hall with her mother, Kris Jenner, and West’s mentor and best friend, Jay-Z.

The news instantly went viral online, with thousands posting and commenting on the expecting couple.

Most of the Kardashian clan tweeted about the news, including Kim’s sisters. Kourtney Kardashian wrote: “Another angel to welcome to our family. Overwhelmed with excitement!”

West told concertgoers to congratulate his “baby mom” and that this was the “most amazing thing.”

Representatives for West and Kardashian didn’t immediately respond to emails about the pregnancy.

The rapper and reality TV star went public with their relationship in March.

Kardashian married NBA player Kris Humphries in August 2011 and their divorce is not finalized.

West’s Sunday-night show was his third consecutive performance at Revel. He took the stage for nearly two hours, performing hits like “Good Life,” ”Jesus Walks” and “Clique” in an all-white ensemble with two bandmates.

Kardashian is expected to spend New Year’s Eve at public appearance at a Las Vegas nightclub.

___

AP Writer Bianca Roach contributed to this report.

___

Follow Mesfin Fekadu on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MusicMesfin . Follow Bianca Roach at http://twitter.com/B__Roach

 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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Idol Favorite Is Eliminated

By Grahm Long

xpf623@mocs.utc.edu

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Songbird Pia Toscano was eliminated from “American Idol” on Thursday, leaving the judges who had lavished praise on her in despair over the audience’s decision.

Randy Jackson covered his head and mouthed a repeated “No” after host Ryan Seacrest announced that Toscano received the lowest number of viewer votes after her performance Wednesday of “River Deep — Mountain High.”

Toscano, 22, a dark-haired beauty from the Queens borough of New York City managed to remain composed on stage as the judges decried the results.

“I have no idea what happened her. I’m shocked. I’m angry,” said judge Jennifer Lopez.

Steven Tyler said viewers were wrong, adding, “She’s beautiful. When she sings, she’s a bird.”

Jackson called her one of the best singers in the show’s 10th-season field and warned that “no one is safe” if votes aren’t cast for them.

“I’m never upset on this show, and I’m never really mad, but this, like, this makes me mad,” Jackson said. “What is going on?”

After choosing “I’ll Stand by You” for her swan song, Toscano was embraced by Jacob Lusk, 23, of Compton, Calif., who had landed in the bottom three vote-getters with her and Stefano Langone, 21, of Kent, Wash.

Lusk had held to his gospel roots, replacing his planned version of Marvin Gaye’s sexually charged “Let’s Get It On” with Michael Jackson’s inspirational “Man in the Mirror.” Langone sang Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.”

Also left to sing another day were Paul McDonald, 26, of Nashville, Tenn.; Casey Abrams, 20, of Idyllwild, Calif.; Haley Reinhart, 20, of Wheeling, Ill.; Lauren Alaina, 16, of Rossville, Ga.; Scotty McCreery, 17, of Garner, N.C., and James Durbin, 22, of Santa Cruz, Calif.

The show Thursday also included a performance of “Real Wild Child” by a shirtless Iggy Pop, with either technical or language glitches causing a loss of sound on occasion.

 

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

 

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Cold Welcoming for New Coaches

By Bryson Simpson

Bryson-Simpson@mocs.utc.edu

ORLEANS (AP) — Welcome to the NFL head coaching fraternity, gentlemen. By the way, you can’t talk to your players, install new schemes or go after free agents right now.

That’s not exactly what the rookie coaches bargained for. With the lockout, it’s what they’ve got.

It’s a most damaging dynamic to teams starting anew such as the 49ers, Browns, Panthers and Broncos who went completely outside their organization to hire a new head man. At least Denver grabbed a grizzled veteran in John Fox, who won a conference title during his nine seasons in charge in Carolina. Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco, Pat Shurmur in Cleveland and Ron Rivera in Carolina are newbies.

The new coaches in Tennessee (Mike Munchak), Oakland (Hue Jackson), Minnesota (Leslie Frazier) and Dallas (Jason Garrett) either were with those organizations last year or, in Frazier’s and Garrett’s cases, actually took over as interim coaches in 2010. So their handicap isn’t quite as severe.

Still, the lockout is a hindrance as all eight of them try to rebuild struggling teams.

“It’s given us a little disadvantage,” Rivera said. “You want to have the team around and your veteran guys so you get a sense or a feel for what they do. There will always be a learning curve and now it’s steeper.”

More like a slippery slope. Rivera couldn’t put in place his offensive and defensive systems. He can’t identify who the key players will be on his roster because of all the turnover required in Carolina. He can’t chase free agents to fill some of the massive holes on both lines.

Teams aren’t exactly dead in the water because all 32 of them are preparing for the draft, which was protected under the collective bargaining agreement that expired on March 11. But it’s hardly business as usual.

“We have to be fluid, be ready as time goes on,” Rivera said. “The bottom line that we talk about is we have to be ready to play and adjust to whatever the situation winds up being.”

The longer the work stoppage, though, the more difficult it will be for the new guys. Except in Dallas and Cleveland, the quarterback scenario is in flux. It’s possible the starter whenever the season begins — if there is a 2011 season — isn’t even on the roster in San Francisco, Minnesota, Tennessee or Carolina.

New coordinators in most of those cities have little familiarity with their players. No matter how quick a study they might be, an assistant coach’s film work doesn’t replace hands-on teaching.

“The coaches are getting plenty of time to get ready for that,” Munchak said with a chuckle. “You have to be smart about it. Let your staff do what it does best, let your coordinators do what they are comfortable with, nothing drastic. You don’t want to be switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.”

Oops. That’s almost what Fox is doing as he moves from Carolina to Denver; the Broncos are switching to the 4-3.

But Fox also knows his way around the league, going 73-71 with the Panthers and losing the 2004 Super Bowl to New England.

“Retread,” he said with a loud laugh.

“I had a chance to meet our players early on. I’ve watched plenty of tape. I think system-wise offensively we’re not much different since our offensive coordinator from a year ago will be back again. Defensively we’ve got some (coaches) back, but there’s no doubt we’ve got an adjustment as we go 4-3.

“But again, these things are not rocket science.”

They can be complex, though, when someone is coming from the college ranks and has been out of the NFL since 2003. Harbaugh, who spent 14 years as a pro quarterback for five teams, comes from coaching bloodlines. His father Jack has spent more than four decades on the sideline, and brother John has led the Ravens to the playoffs in all three seasons in charge in Baltimore.

For the new 49ers coach, who chose San Francisco over Miami — or remaining at Stanford or going back to his alma mater, Michigan — the biggest challenge is to stay positive.

“It doesn’t do any good to get frustrated and I wish I could be with the players right now,” said Harbaugh, who is finishing up his playbook and preparing for the draft. “The thing I was most looking forward to coaching in the National Football League was being back with those guys. The pros.

“It’ll happen. But they’ll be back. We’ll be back with them.”

When that occurs, the Niners in many ways will be starting from scratch. The other three teams in the division — Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona — are far deeper into their systems, their staffs far more familiar with the players.

“Everybody seems to agree that it’s a disadvantage for first-year coaches,” Harbaugh said. “It probably is. But we’ll find a way to overcome it.

“I just love being in uncharted waters. There is something about it. There’s more of a challenge to it. Maybe it’s because I grew up in 12 different towns before I graduated from high school, I don’t know. Something about it, I just feel more comfortable when it’s the uncharted waters.”

 

Copyright 2011

 

 

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Keith Urban to perform on Super Bowl pregame show

By Sarah Wagner

Sarah-Wagner@mocs.utc.edu

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Country music star Keith Urban is set to perform live from Cowboys Stadium as part of the Super Bowl pre-game festivities next month.

The Fox Super Bowl Sunday pre-game show begins at 2 p.m. EST and will be broadcast worldwide.

The three-time Grammy winner plans to include songs from his newly released album, “Get Closer.”

Urban has sold nearly 20 million CDs and earned numerous awards. He has charted 11 No. 1 hits, including “Only You Can Love Me This Way,” ”Sweet Thing,” ”Better Life” and “Days Go By.”

The Super Bowl will be held on Sunday of Feb. 6 and will air on Fox. More than 153 million viewers in the United States viewed last year’s Super Bowl, the most-watched television program in history.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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Anime Comes to life in DC

Fans gathered in Washington DC to share their love for Anime!

By: Corey Honeycutt

evenstar1@bellsouth.net

CHATTANOOGA/Tenn.(UTC/LOOP)–  The Hyatt Regency in Crystal City Alrington, VA. played host to one of many Japanese animation conventions on the weekend of November 12-14th.

Hyatt Regency Crystal City

Hyatt Regency Crystal City, photographer unknown

Anime USA was started by fans in 1999 and became a non profit educational organization in 2004. It’s slogan “Of Otaku, By Otaku and For Otaku has held true throughout its years.

It started off as most conventions with a few hundred people. It now brings in around 5,000 fans a year to the Crystal City Hyatt Regency.

Fans ranging in all ages show up dressed as their favorite characters, from animes and games ranging from Pokemon and Final Fantasy to more obscure titles such as 07 Ghost.

This form of dressing up is called cosplay or “costume play.” It originated in Japan, but has been gaining more and more popularity here in the U.S.

Kuroshitsuji Photoshoot

Kuroshitsuji Photoshoot, photo by Corey Honeycutt

Fans can also put together skits and compete against each other for the title of Best in Show in the masquerade which is the highlight of most conventions and draws the biggest crowds.

Shanna Labriola potrayed the character Van from the series Escaflowne. Her costume consisted of hand made wings from chicken wire, felt and feathers. Overall her outfit took her 25 hours to make.

Van from Escaflowne, Photo by Refractor Productions

“My cousin took me to a convention and that’s how I got started into cosplaying.”

The convention played host to not only the fans to but to many guests who work in the industry such as voice actors, artists, directors and professional costumers.

This year’s guests were voice actors Brina Palencia, Cristina Vee, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Patrick Seitz and Christopher Sabat. Megan Murphy, Heidi Arnold and Monica Gallagher are a few of the artists guest and Clockwork Dolls, Promise Sisters and Echostream were the bands.

Brina Palencia recently landed the main role of Ciel Phantomhive in the anime Black Butler(Kuroshitsuji).  Black Butler is an anime gaining popularity over here in the US and already has a big fan base. She has voiced small and large roles in such popular animes as Fullmetal Alchemist, Nabari no Ou, Darker Than Black and XXXholic.

“My favorite role has to be Natsuki in Summer Wars, because she is raised by her grandmother and I was raised by my grandmother. It is probably the most genuine acting I’ve ever done.”

Even though she has voiced main characters in the past when asked how she felt about the part of Ciel she said she was terrified.

Brina Palencia, photo by Corey Honeycutt

“It’s really exciting, but I’m so terrified about it. I feel I worked very hard on the part and researched the accent. I’m proud of the work I did, I’m just hoping the fans like it. ”

Brina Palencia just finished a web series called Throwingstones on top of her other voice acting roles.

“It’s sort of a Breakfast Club meets horror movie.”

AUSA is just one of many conventions dedicated to anime, games and manga. There are enough conventions to go to one every weekend. They range from smaller ones with only to a few hundred people, to over 50,000 people.

So if you feel that Halloween is to short a time to dress up, or have a knack for creating costumes and are an anime or gaming fan, there are plenty of conventions to choose from.

Other conventions are listed below that can be attended throughout the year in many different states.

Otakon

Katsucon

Connooga

Chattacon

Anime Weekend Atlanta

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‘Sesame Street’ gets Yammed

By: Molly Farrell

LAGOS, Nigeria (UTC/AP) — It looks a lot like “Sesame Street,” only that’s no Cookie Monster.

“What is so exciting about yams? Everything!” Zobi, a taxi-driving muppet, shouts in a Nigerian lilt to anyone who will listen. “I can fry the yam. I can toast it. I can boil it. I love yams!”

“Sesame Street,” once a mainstay for a generation of Nigerian children who grew up with the U.S. show on the state-run TV network, will return to screens in Africa’s most populous nation this fall, funded by American taxpayers but distinctively Nigerian.

Produced and voiced by Nigerians in formal — if squeaky — English, the show aims to educate a country nearly half of whose 150 million people are 14 or younger. Its issues focus on the same challenges faced by children in a country where many have to work instead of going to school: AIDS, malaria nets, gender equality — and yams, a staple of Nigerian meals.

“Nigeria is diverse; we have 250 different ethnic groups, so many different languages. We don’t have the same customs; we do think differently,” executive producer Yemisi Ilo said. But “children are children. All children love songs and all children love furry, muppety animal-type things.”

Renamed “Sesame Square,” the show will air 26 episodes in the first of its scheduled three seasons, with one show for each letter of the alphabet.

The lead muppets are Kami, whose yellow fur matches the dandelion on her vest, and Zobi, who resembles a mint-green shag carpet. Kami is an orphan with HIV who explains blood safety to children through her own story. Zobi, whose yellow cab lacks an engine, teaches by ineptness, getting entangled in a mosquito net while explaining malaria prevention.

They live not on a fictional U.S. city street but in “Sesame Square,” whose concrete homes and slatted windows mirror those found in Nigerian villages.

“A village square is somewhere where people gather around, it’s the news and information,” Ilo said. “It’s all across Nigeria.”

The muppets’ adventures take place between original recorded “Sesame Street” segments, re-dubbed with Nigerians voicing the parts of familiar characters like Bert and Ernie. One live-action scene shows hijab-wearing girls in the Muslim-majority north kicking a soccer ball and proudly saying they can do anything a boy can do.

The Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that oversees “Sesame Street,” received a five-year, $3 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development. That comes after the government agency funded a 2007 pilot project featuring Kami and Big Bird discussing HIV infections and AIDS.

The new series underscores the ever-broadening reach of “Sesame Street” since it debuted in the U.S. in 1969. The Sesame Workshop has overseen short- and long-term productions of country-specific shows in more than 140 nations, ranging from “Rechov Sumsum” in Israel to South Africa’s “Takalani Sesame,” where Kami first appeared.

But Nigeria represents the first effort to bring a long-term “Sesame Street”-styled program to West Africa, said Naila Farouky, an international program director for the workshop. Discussions continue about potentially expanding into Ghana and Southern Africa, she said.

Nigerian grown-ups like producer Jadesola Oladapo can still hum “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?” The show marked the start of the broadcast day on state-run television into the 1980s and whenever the theme song came on, “I would run to make sure my chores were done,” she said.

“Sesame Square” still faces the challenge of winning a mass audience in a country where most people earn under a dollar a day. TV sets and DVD players aren’t enough; organizers bring generators to power them, in an oil-rich country whose national power grid is in shambles.

Still, for children gathered on the worn floors of community centers and rundown schools, “Sesame Square” offers a glimpse of something beyond crushing poverty.

“We had comments from children asking if these muppets are from heaven,” said Ayobisi Osuntusa, who oversees outreach for the program.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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