794 stories
·
3 followers

New details deepen mystery of US diplomats' illness in Cuba

1 Share

In fact, almost nothing about what went down in Havana is clear. Investigators have tested several theories about an intentional attack — by Cuba’s government, a rogue faction of its security forces, a third country like Russia, or some combination thereof. Yet they’ve left open the possibility an advanced espionage operation went horribly awry, or that some other, less nefarious explanation is to blame.

Read the whole story
birdbone
4 days ago
reply
Alexandria, VA
Share this story
Delete

The Check In: HUD, Ben Carson and Hurricanes

1 Share

Signed in as birdbone

Share this story on NewsBlur

Share this story

Subscribe to this site

Shared stories are on their way...

Read the whole story
birdbone
5 days ago
reply
Alexandria, VA
Share this story
Delete

Furious Foodies Call Brooklyn Pizza Festival The 'Fyre Festival' Of NYC Food Events: Gothamist

1 Share
fullscreen

(Facebook)

Hungry pizza lovers, some of whom spent $75 each to attend the New York City Pizza Festival, are demanding refunds for what they're calling a "total scam" that had them waiting over an hour to enter a "shady parking lot" for empty tents and barely any food. And there's a familiar name attached to Saturday's widely panned event: the organizer is allegedly one Ishmael Osekre, the man behind last summer's "EPIC DISASTER" African Food Festival.

"It was like the people from Fyre Festival decided to throw a pizza party," quipped Connell Burke about the Pizza Festival, referencing the infamous luxury festival that promised supermodels and Ja Rule and instead delivered disaster relief tents and slices of cheese, and an indefinite stay on a Bahamian island.

"It was my girlfriend's birthday so I got the VIP tickets, so I spent $150 total for the two tickets," Burke told Gothamist. "There's three pop-up tents to my left, one where they're taking cold pizzas out of delivery boxes and cutting them. Those pictures don't do it justice, because they look like they're normal-sized plates but they're actually cake-sized, like what you'd use for cake at a children's birthday party. They're small, tiny little slivers of pizza."

The event, which took place in a parking lot on Flushing Avenue in Bushwick, was promoted as a "day long celebration of the dough, cheese, tasty sauces and delicious toppings." But attendees report they were greeted with "pizza...smaller than a sample size," according to one person on Facebook. "Cold and tasted awful."

"Total shit don't spend your money if you haven't yet, and if you have get a refund," festival guest Oscar Mendoza posted to Facebook. "Three small tents are here, paid $75 for a slice of pizza smaller then my palm."

"We came up all the way from DC and all we got was this slice," attendee Chip Shannon said of the above photo.

"This is bullshit! The fact that my friend and I spent 55 dollars each for such a shitty event like this unbelievable!" another said on Facebook. "All we got was warm red wine that tasted like ass!"

"Was supposed to start at 3, finally got in after 4 and this is what we found... a shot of all the great pizzas we sampled!" attendee Michael Redmond grumbled, describing the photo above.

"I imagined it would be like, Roberta's has a brick oven pizza that they tow, there'd be all these different vendors, all this different kind of pizza. And there was none of that. There was cheese and onion pizza," Burke continued. "We were only there for 10 minutes. I paid $150 bucks for this. I ate what was probably the equivalent of one piece of pizza, which was actually seven little slivers. And then we were just like, 'F*ck this.'"

This makes that African Food Festival look like utopia.

The Pizza Festival was billed to take place in two sessions on September 9th, including two sold out VIP sessions beginning at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. The Eventbrite description of the festival doesn't mention any pizzerias or pizza-makers by name, an atypical exclusion from other walk-around tasting events of this nature.

To make matters worse, the event organizers also appeared to have sold tickets to a "Hamburger Festival," that was scheduled for the same exact time and place as the Pizza Festival. That event promised "mountains of french fries, oceans of ketchup and waterfalls of beer," with admission prices ranging between $35 and $69.

"This was a rotten scam, they promoted this as a pizza festival and a hamburger festival. People who arrived early said there were about 5 pies cut into micro slices of really bad pizza. There were no hamburgers!" reads a Facebook group called Pizza Festival Scam Victims started to organize attendees looking for their money back. "Clearly this is a scam and the organizers should be held accountable."

"Those people were sitting, waiting in line to get the burgers that were not there," Burke recalled. "And when they tried to eat pizza, the people were like, 'No, no, that's for the pizza people.'"

Some attendees were able to connect with festival organizers, who first blamed Hangry Garden—a company that in part provides rentals and event curation for pop-up events—for delaying the start of the event.

Jeremy Asgari, Hangry Garden's co-founder, denies that claim, saying his company was hired by Osekre to source a space and provide furniture and other amenities, and that he, too, was misled.

"We'd never worked with these guys before but we saw the response they got on Facebook, which was tremendous, 30,000 interested people. We didn't think this was going to be a subpar event," Asgari told Gothamist. "As we got closer to the event, things just didn't add up right. They didn't pay us the fee that we were supposed to get, they weren't honoring their deal with us."

Asgari said that on the Friday before the event, festival management didn't have money to pay Hangry Garden, but Asgari "gave them the benefit of the doubt" and decided to move forward in bringing trucks and furniture over to the lot. On Saturday, festival management still did not have the money to pay Hangry Garden, Asgari said.

"We couldn't be part of it, of course, because we're not going to do an event for free. We started getting the feeling that this wasn't the type of event they promised," Asgari said. "We showed up and they didn't have the food vendors, they didn't have anything. I asked them where the vendors were and he said, 'We had trouble finding them so we're ordering pizza to the venue.' I was like are you kidding me? They were supposed to have 30 plus vendors, this is a nightmare."

Aputumpu—described on Facebook as an "an archive of bands" that "throw[s] parties, concerts and festivals in Brooklyn" and listed as the event's organizer—later told the same attendee seen in the Facebook screenshot above that the "deliveries were just late mane [sic]."

"Timely delivery of food delayed the fun experience we all looked forward to," Aputumpu told a different attendee. "A make-up tasting will be announced shortly. We appreciate your patience."

Some guests weren't satisfied with assurances of a rescheduled event and have joined forces with those who bought tickets to the Hamburger Festival and begun organizing as a group to secure a refund.

Last August, Osekre organized the African Food Festival, which attendees also called a scam, saying there were only a handful of the promised "24+" chefs and vendors. To make matters worse, the Festival was staged inside the Duggal Greenhouse in the middle of a heatwave, with no air conditioning and prices for a bottle of water running between $3 - $5.

"Organizers should be charged with fraud," one attendee wrote at the time. "There is no way they did not know they were going to come up criminally short of what was promised several days before the event."

Neither Osekre nor Aputumpu replied to multiple requests for comment; the voicemail box of the alleged event producer was full. We'll update if we hear back.

Update: Eric Schneiderman, New York Attorney General, has opened an inquiry into the New York Pizza Festival and alleged organizer Ishmael Osekre.

Read the whole story
birdbone
5 days ago
reply
Alexandria, VA
Share this story
Delete

Allergan Pulls A Fast One

1 Share

Friday brought news of a drug-company maneuver that I had never heard of, and didn’t even realize was possible. First, a bit of background; the stage needs to be set properly.

One of Allergan’s products is Restasis, used for dry eyes, which is an opthalmic formulation of cyclosporine. It’s a valuable part of their portfolio (net revenues of more than a billion dollars per year), but it’s under threat from a patent challenge. Mylan and Teva are both trying to force the drug off patent before its appointed time (which is about 2024). Last December, the US Patent Office granted an inter partes review of the relevant patents, a decision that did not go down well with Allergan or its investors. That form of patent review has been around since 2011 and the America Invents Act, and its purpose is specifically for prior art objections to a granted patent. I’m going to pass on offering an opinion on whether Mylan’s challenge is justified or its chances for success, noting only that getting to the IPR stage does mean that it’s a serious one.

There things stood, as of Friday. Generic challenges to lucrative patented drugs are a regular feature of life in the business, but what happened next wasn’t (or not yet). Allergan announced that they had transferred the patent rights for Restasis to the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Nation, for an up-front payment and continuing annual payments to the tribe. Why would one do such a thing? Well, it turns out that whatever patented IP owned by the tribe is protected from inter partes review challenges by their sovereign immunity. The Mohawks are, then, immediately moving to dismiss the PTO’s actions. Let me tell you, on Friday afternoon the sound of people all over the biopharma world slapping their foreheads was echoing through the boardrooms, office suites, and hallways.

Is this going to hold up? I Am Not A Patent Lawyer, in this question even more than usual, but the opinions I’ve seen so far are that yes, it very likely is. There are apparently several relevant legal precedents, and clearly both Allergan and the St. Regis Mohawk Nation have received expensive legal counsel that it’s a worthwhile effort. I’m going to assume, for the sake of argument, that they’re going to get away with this one as the law stands. So the next question is, should they? Is this a good thing or a bad one?

Awful, as far as I’m concerned. Awful on several levels. For one, this is not how the patent system (for all its flaws) is supposed to work. “The validity of your patents is subject to review, unless you pay off some Indian tribe” does not seem like a good way to run an intellectual property system. This has changed the balance of the system towards whoever has the cash to cut such a deal. At the very least, the whole Hatch-Waxman framework has probably taken a hit. Second, this absolutely cannot help but look like a slimy legal trick, an association the drug industry absolutely does not need any more of. You don’t have to go into the nuances of prior art or the inter partes review system for people to think this deal smells. That fragrance, needless to say, will not stick just to Allergan; the whole industry gets to wear it, as far as the public’s concerned. And third, God help us, this sets a precedent. When CNBC asked the tribe’s lawyer if they were open to doing more deals like this, he asked them to be sure to print his phone number. And this will no doubt engage the attention of other tribes and other lawyers, compounding the damage done in reference to those first two points.

Is there anything that can be done about this? From what I understand, the answer is “Yes, but it’s a matter for Congress”. The law can be changed, and Congress has every right to do so. But think about what Allergan has done for us: now the drug industry is in a situation where it looks bad, once again, and only thing that can be done about it is to bring Congress’ attention to drug patent law and pricing. Probably just in time for the 2018 midterm election. What a clever idea! Thanks so much.

Update: I should note that Allergan is also in Federal court in Texas, arguing that generic companies are infringing its Restasis patents. Casting the Sovereign Immunity Spell doesn’t (as I understand it) affect this, but I await clarification.

Read the whole story
birdbone
8 days ago
reply
Alexandria, VA
Share this story
Delete

Snake People are filling their homes — and the void in their hearts — with houseplants

1 Comment

Read the whole story
birdbone
11 days ago
reply
We totally have room for more plants
Alexandria, VA
Share this story
Delete

The Scientific Reason Why We Drink Tomato Juice on Planes

1 Share

At 30,000 feet, tomato juice simply tastes different than at sea level.

Ever get the urge to drink a glass of tomato juice on a flight? You aren't alone, and there's a scientific explanation why.

Every day, about eight million people travel by plane. Up in the stratosphere, hurtling along in a metal tube, those people will do some pretty strange things. Like spend 10 bucks on a can of Budweiser, watch back-to-back episodes of "The Golden Girls," or buy something... anything... from SkyMall.

But few high-altitude behaviors are as strange as our sudden thirst for tomato juice. The thick savory drink isn't so popular at sea level, but for many airplane passengers, it's their first choice.

Guillaume De Syon is a professor at Albright College and an aviation historian. He says tomato juice on planes is a long-standing tradition, and it all started in the early days of commercial air travel. Back then, flying could be pretty terrifying.

Pumpkin Spice Madness: Craziest Treats

[NATL] Pumpkin Spice Madness: Craziest Seasonal Treats

"The flights were very noisy, there was a lot of vibration, you could hear the engine much more than you do nowadays, so drinking actually was a nice way of calming the nerves," says De Syon.

"Once you got bored of course you would drink some more, and before in-flight entertainment, such as movies, this is what people did, to the extent that by the time they landed, say from a trans-Atlantic flight, it was not uncommon to see passengers completely drunk, trying to get through customs."

But as jets got bigger and passenger loads increased, airlines couldn't afford to serve free booze on every flight. Plus, charging for drinks was a great way to keep passengers from getting belligerent. When the industry was de-regulated in the late 70s, competition got stiff and airlines began charging for more of their services, including food and beverages. Free drinks started to fade away, but mixers — like tomato juice — stayed firmly on the menu.

But that doesn't explain why people drink so much of it today.

"It's actually a question airlines have been asking," says De Syon. "How is it that they have to carry tomato juice?"

A few years ago, the German airline Lufthansa realized they served about 53,000 gallons of tomato juice annually. That's just shy of the 59,000 gallons of beer they serve each year. Which is really significant, says Lufthansa catering executive Ernst Derenthal.

Craziest Food Heists: Nabisco Cookies, Crackers

[NATL] The Craziest Food Heists

"I mean, Germans are known as a beer drinking nation, and that's one of our favorite things and we are proud about it."

Lufthansa wanted to know why passengers drank so much tomato juice, so they hired the Fraunhofer Society, a German research institute, to study it. Researchers put people in a flight simulator -- the fuselage of an old Airbus A310. It perfectly mimicked the environment at altitude, complete with cabin pressure, turbulence, engine noise – even pictures of a blue sky and clouds taped to the windows. Then they served the participants food and beverages and had them report on how it tasted.

People consistently rated tomato juice as tasting better in the fake airplane than in a normal environment.

"We learned that tomato juice being on ground level is rather -- I'm not saying moldy, but it tastes earthy, it tastes not overly fresh," says Derenthal. "However, as soon as you have it at 30,000 feet, tomato juice shows, let's say, its better side. It shows more acidity, it has some mineralic taste with it, and it's very refreshing."

Here's why: When you're cruising at altitude, cabin pressure is low -- similar to the atmosphere one mile above sea level. That low pressure does several things. Your blood gets less oxygen, which makes your odor and taste receptors less sensitive. Mucus in your nasal cavities also expands in the low pressure environment, which makes it even harder to taste.

On top of that, most airlines keep the cabin at about 10 to 15 percent humidity. This dries out your nose and mouth, cutting down your sense of taste even more. Congestion, dehydration -- it feels kind of like having a bad cold. Sweets are less sweet, salty food is less salty, and it's harder to taste certain herbs and spices (curry retains its flavor at altitude, but that's another story). As a result, most airplane food tastes bland, but tomato juice actually tastes better up in the air.

But Derenthal and his colleagues weren't satisfied. After all, most passengers don't know that tomato juice tastes any different at altitude, but they order it anyway. There must be something else going on.

"So we started observing passenger behavior, and then, of course, talking to flight attendants often," says Derenthal.

They soon realized that everyone has a different reason for drinking tomato juice. Some drink it because it's filling. Others say it settles the stomach and helps with air sickness. And most people just drink it because it's there.

"Many people, they have not made their mind up, and just wonder 'What should I drink? In two minutes I will be asked by the flight attendants,'" says Derenthal. "And then you see someone in front of you having a tomato juice and you think, 'Why not? That's a good idea. Oh, I'll have the same as the gentleman in the other row.'"

Most likely, it's a combination of all these things. A lot of biology, a little history, and a dash of the unknown (maybe some Tabasco in there, too).

Published at 11:57 AM EDT on Oct 5, 2014 | Updated at 7:34 AM EDT on Oct 6, 2014

Read the whole story
birdbone
12 days ago
reply
Alexandria, VA
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories