Storm Watch
July 8, 2014
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The strongest Pacific storm this year — Super Typhoon Neoguri — lashed Japan's Okinawa island chain with winds of up to 150 miles per hour early Tuesday. Four people were injured and a fisherman was missing. The storm was downgraded from super typhoon status as its winds dropped to 120 mph, but it remained dangerous, stirring up waves up to 40 feet high. Neoguri — Korean for raccoon — could intensify again as it reaches the main island in the chain late Tuesday. Harold Maass

In a galaxy far, far away
4:13 p.m. ET
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That galaxy far, far away just keeps getting more crowded. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney has yet another expansion of the Star Wars universe on the horizon: a spin-off focused on the adventures of the young Han Solo.

The Han Solo spin-off will be written, directed, and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directorial team behind recent smash hits like 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie. No word on casting, but it's hard to imagine a young actor in Hollywood who wouldn't jump at the chance to step into such an iconic role.

The Han Solo movie is just one of many new movies designed to expand the depth and breadth of the Star Wars universe. In addition to J.J. Abrams' Episode VII, which arrives in December, and its two planned sequels, Godzilla director Gareth Edwards is slated to helm Rogue One, a spin-off about the team that stole the plans for the Death Star, setting the stage for the original Star Wars.

Update: Following The Hollywood Reporter's story, the Han Solo spin-off was confirmed on The movie will explain "how young Han Solo became the smuggler, thief, and scoundrel whom Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi first encountered in the cantina at Mos Eisley," says the press release. The film will hit theaters in May 2018. Scott Meslow

ride on
4:01 p.m. ET
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Bike-sharing programs are all the rage in major U.S. cities, but none have got it quite right the way Chicago has. In an announcement Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that the city's bike-sharing program, Divvy, will become available to low-income residents for $70 off — that is, it will cost only $5 total for a year of use. The city will even throw in a free helmet for the first 250 applicants.

The hope is that the usual bike-share riders — who tend to be wealthy, college-educated, white men — won't be the only ones taking advantage of eco-friendly transportation. But the new discounted price isn't all that makes Divvy's bikes more accessible. Unlike New York's program, Citi Bike, Divvy's stations aren't confined mainly to the wealthier neighborhoods. Divvy is the largest bike-sharing program in the States, with its service area stretching as far north as Chicago's Touhy Avenue, as far south as 75th Street, and as far west as Pulaski Road. Jeva Lange

This just in
3:44 p.m. ET
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America's heroin epidemic has reached new highs. Heroin use in America has increased by more than 150 percent since 2007, and the drug now has at least half a million users, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. The gender gap and the race gap in heroin use are also narrowing: Women and white Americans experienced the biggest increases in users, and young adults aged 18-25 were also particularly vulnerable — heroin use in that age group has more than doubled.

Heroin overdose deaths are also on the rise. In 2013, more than 8,200 people died from heroin in the U.S; In 2001, that count was only 1,800. CDC researchers suspect the increase in heroin overdose deaths is linked to the fact that many people using heroin are also using other substances, such as cocaine and painkillers.

More broadly, heroin's resurgence is connected to the growing problem of prescription drug abuse, particularly opioid painkiller use, Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC, told NPR. People addicted to prescription opiates are essentially "primed" for a heroin addiction and are 40 times more likely to become dependent on heroin, and since heroin is far cheaper than prescription painkillers, many users unfortunately end up making the switch. Becca Stanek

Who loves orange soda?
3:37 p.m. ET
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Some former child stars morph into big-name adult comedians. Think Kenan Thompson, a fixture on Saturday Night Live since 2003. Alas, Thompson's counterpart on their eponymous mid-'90s Nickelodeon show Kenan & Kel has had a more scattered grown-up career (think bit parts on shows such as Clifford the Big Red Dog, Veggie Tales, and Loiter Squad).

That all will change for Kel Mitchell this September, as Entertainment Weekly reports the actor will appear on Game Shakers, a new show on the network that started Mitchell's career, Nickelodeon. To explain Mitchell's part on the show would rob you of this gem of a description, so here's the actor dishing on his upcoming role:

I get to play a hip-hop mogul who is the comedic version of artists like Kanye, Diddy, Eminem and 50 Cent. Double G is a rapper/singer/dancer/entrepreneur/investor, which gives us great story lines on the show. I love playing such a wild character, because you will see some great physical comedy, but he also has heart; he is a single dad that loves his son, Triple G, played by the very talented Benjamin 'Lil P-Nut' Flores, Jr. There are so many layers to this character that it is one of those dream-come-true roles. [EW]

EW reports that the show will follow seventh-graders Babe (Cree Cicchino) and Kenzie (Madisyn Shipman) as they launch and then navigate the subsequent success of a mobile music app called Sky Whale. Mitchell's character begins the series at odds with the youngsters, before eventually teaming up with them. This may not sound like the greatest gig in the world for a grown actor, but then again Mitchell is a guy who once got 27 seconds into a Nick show during which he does nothing but wax poetic about orange soda.

The world is Kel's good burger. Sarah Eberspacher

welcome to the 21st century
3:05 p.m. ET

Baylor University, the world's largest Baptist school and Texas' oldest university, has dropped a ban on "homosexual acts" from its sexual conduct policy. A spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle that the change would more clearly reflect "Baylor's caring community."

According to the old policy:

Baylor will be guided by the understanding that human sexuality is a gift from the creator God and that the purposes of this gift included (1) the procreation of human life and (2) the uniting and strengthening of the marital bond in self-giving love. These purposes are to be achieved through heterosexual relationships within marriage. Misuses of God's gift will be understood to include, but not be limited to, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, incest, adultery, fornication, and homosexual acts. [Waco Tribune]

The new policy simply reads:

Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity. Thus, it is expected that Baylor students, faculty, and staff will engage in behaviors consistent with this understanding of human sexuality. [Waco Tribune]

Baylor still imposes bans on alcohol on campus and at university events; its ban on dancing was lifted only in the mid-1990s. Jeva Lange

The Obamas
2:50 p.m. ET

First Lady Michelle Obama was more than a tad skeptical when President Obama told her and Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett that he might sing "Amazing Grace" during his eulogy last month for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the Charleston church shooting.

The New York Times has the scene, which took place aboard Marine One on the way to the funeral.

"When I get to the second part of referring to 'Amazing Grace,' I think I might sing," he told them, by Ms. Jarrett's account.

"Hmm," Ms. Jarrett recalled responding.

Mrs. Obama was a little more pointed. "Why on earth would that fit in?” she asked.

He tried to explain. "I don't know whether I'm going to do it," he said, according to Ms. Jarrett, "but I just wanted to warn you two that I might sing." He added, "We'll see how it feels at the time." [The New York Times]

Of course, Obama did ultimately break out in song — and it was arguably the most stirring part of his eulogy. Later, he told Jarrett, "I knew I was going to sing. I was just trying to figure out which key to sing it."

Read the entire inside account at The New York TimesJeva Lange

2:10 p.m. ET
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While comedian Amy Schumer will tell you she isn't racist, a pair of university professors disagree — and have gone as far as to say she "inspired" the worldview of alleged Charleston shooter Dylann Roof in a Washington Post op-ed titled, "Don't believe her defenders. Amy Schumer's jokes are racist."

Stacey Patton, a history professor at American University, and David Leonard, a professor in the Critical, Cultural, Gender and Race Studies department at Washington State University, wrote that Schumer's racially insensitive jokes make her no different than Donald Trump, who has come under fire of late for comments calling Mexican migrants rapists and murderers. Patton and Leonard argue that Schumer could run on the same presidential ticket as Trump, citing several stand-up routines, including one in which Schumer said, "I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual."

Patton and Leonard are not the first to call Schumer out for her offensive jokes, however: The Guardian previously ran a piece arguing that Schumer has a "large blind spot around race." But the Washington Post op-ed takes this argument a step further, claiming the comedian's jokes are not merely offensive, but dangerous, and could be to blame for accused Charleston shooter Dylann Roof's "worldview."

"Invoking the 'it's just a joke" defense denies the social, historic, and cultural implications of racial humor," Patton and Leonard write, adding that Schumer's jokes spread racism of the caliber seen in the murder of nine black Americans last month:

This rhetoric isn't just ugly. It contributes to a worldview that justifies a broken immigration system, mass incarceration, divestment from inner city communities, that rationalizes inequality and buttresses persistent segregation and violence. Yet nobody wants to take responsibility for spewing rhetoric that breeds the fear that results in soaring gun purchases, that "inspires" monsters like Dylann Roof to craft a manifesto with deadly consequences. [Washington Post]

Mediaite noted that when criticized for the op-ed, Patton responded in a tweet that "black people can't be racist." Jeva Lange

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