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Mega Millions fever: an update and some inventive coverage from around the nation

Everybody's talking about it, and everybody's writing about it.  Here's some of the ways that the nation's press took on the water-cooler topic of the week.

The latest: USA Today reported on where winning tickets were bought -- in Kansas, Illinois and Maryland.  The numbers, of course, are 2-4-23-38-46, MB 23, but you knew that.

The odds: The Washington Post offers an entertaining slideshow, noting among other things that you have a better chance of giving birth to identical quadruplets than winning the jackpot. 

The rewards: The Atlantic magazine takes a business approach, noting that if the winner decides on a lump sum payout and doesn't have to share, he or she would be richer than Mitt Romney.  

The big question:  The Wall Street Journal's marketplace editor Dennis Berman, in a video, confesses to buying a ticket but also discusses the possibility that the whole fuss is mostly a ripoff.

The aftermath:  Bloomberg News can say "I told you so," given their inventive "Sucker Index," which ranks the states on their lotteries, determing which residents spent the most for the least.  New York comes in a regrettable third, after Georgia and Massachusetts.

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Buffalo's must-see art exhibit, a trip back to the '70s, now playing at the Albright-Knox

Not many art openings in Buffalo attract more than 600 people, but that's what happened Thursday night at "Wish You Were Here," the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's fascinating look back at Buffalo's avant-garde art scene in the 1970s.  The place was buzzing, the art was ever so retro-cool, and a little girl was dancing like a mini-Madonna as The Vores rocked a Clifton Hall reception. (Vores frontman Biff Henrich also had a photograph in the CEPA section of the show.)

It felt like a reunion, everyone was saying, and, to use the lingo of the era, a happening.  0Artists Robert Longo and Linda Neaman chatted and reminisced, along with much of Buffalo's art world  -- past and present -- and you half-expected Cindy Sherman to walk in at any moment.  The New York Times sent a writer and photographer.  The exhibit's curator, Heather Pesanti, at right, was taking a few well deserved bows.

Buffalo News Critic Colin Dabkowski explains the origins of the show (and provides ticket information) in this cover story from today's Gusto.

And in the video below, gallery director Louis Grachos talks about the exhibit's centerpiece: Cindy Sherman's "A Play of Selves" -- her first solo installation, from Hallwalls in 1976 -- which set the tone for much of the groundbreaking work she would do over the next four decades.

  

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Farewell to poet Adrienne Rich, whose devotion to her truth burned bright

Her vision -- searingly honest -- was hers alone, and although she said that poetry couldn't change the world directly, hers certainly had an influence on hearts and minds.

The feminist and anti-war poet Adrienne Rich has died.  Here's her obituary from the New York Times. As the Washington Post reported, her poetry and her persona were marked by a strong social consciousness:

When then-President Clinton awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1997, Rich refused to accept it, citing the administration’s “cynical politics.”

“The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate,” she wrote to the administration. “A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”

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USA Today's obituary gives a sense of the woman through her friend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin:

"She was very courageous and very outspoken and very clear...She was a real original, and whatever she said came straight out of herself."

As Merwin noted, Rich was a hard poet to define because she went through so many phases. Or, as Rich wrote in "Delta," "If you think you can grasp me, think again
."

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Many of her poems were political, and they are the most celebrated.  But here's one, more personal and introspective, that I like very much.  It is titled "Burning Oneself Out":

We can look into the stove tonight
as into a mirror, yes,

the serrated log, the yellow-blue gaseous core

the crimson-flittered grey ash, yes.
I know inside my eyelids
and underneath my skin

Time takes hold of us like a draft
upward, drawing at the heats
in the belly, in the brain

You told me of setting your hand
into the print of a long-dead Indian
and for a moment, I knew that hand,

that print, that rock,
the sun producing powerful dreams
A word can do this

or, as tonight, the mirror of the fire
of my mind, burning as if it could go on
burning itself, burning down

feeding on everything
till there is nothing in life
that has not fed that fire

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VIDEO: Books save lives -- sometimes literally -- says Books for Kids founder

They're known as "the doctors" -- and they are one of the main reasons the annual Books for Kids drive exists and succeeds.  Dr. Elizabeth Cappella and Dr. Geraldine Bard of Project Flight, along with many partners, including The Buffalo News, have spent 17 years putting books in the hands of needy children in the Buffalo area.  So far, the drive has collected two million books and (often through agencies or efforts such as the mayor's summer reading program) given them to Buffalo's children to own.

Do those books do any good in this digital age?  At this morning's kickoff ceremony in the downtown public library, Betty Cappella made a strong case that they do.  Sometimes, they even save a life.  Here's what she had to say about four-year-old Shanya Williams who last August used the lessons of a book to save her 84-year-old great-grandmother's life. 

 

Governor Cuomo's girlfriend, Sandra Lee, can dish it out -- and she can take it

110103_andrew_cuomo_sandra_lee_ap_283_regular[1]Most celebrity interviews are a little boring, a shade predictable.  The questions are safe and the answers are pre-packaged. 

An entertaining exception to that rule appeared in last Sunday's New York Times magazine when Andrew Goldman quizzed Sandra Lee.  She is a  cooking-and-home personality, known best for her role on the Food Network, and the domestic partner of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.  (The two are shown here in an AP photo from January of last year.)

 The whole interview is well worth a read -- Lee is feisty, to say the least, and the discussion of her infamous Kwanzaa cake is priceless.  Here's the link.

One of the highlights of the Q&A went like this:

Goldman: "People without spouses don't get elected president anymore. When are you two getting married?"

Lee: "That's a loaded question.  Andrew is focused on being governor.  He's not running for president.  We're happy in the relationship the way it is.  Still, I can tell you that Andrew's kids want us to get married.  It's very sweet."

The exchange reminded me of Cuomo's visit to The Buffalo News editorial board in the fall of 2010, as he ran for governor and was seeking The News' endorsement.  (The News did endorse Democrat Cuomo over Republican candidate and Buffalo developer Carl Paladino.)

After the formal interview with The News was over, the head of our investigative reporting team, Susan Schulman, popped one more question.

  "I'm just wondering," she recalls saying, "when are you two planning to get married?"  She couched it as a question asked, in part, as the mother of teenage daughters who was concerned about political figures as role models.

Cuomo appeared startled by the question, called it frivolous, and refused to answer it. 

"He definitely seemed offended," Schulman recalled today when I reminded her about it.  "But I still think it was a legitimate and important question, and I'm glad I asked.  What kind of message does it send to kids? I still want to know."
 
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Jerry Zremski (and his Buffalo News readers) have a front-row seat for the health care showdown in Washington

The stakes are high and so is the drama in Washington this week as the Supreme Court hears arguments on the 2010 health care law on which President Obama has staked so much of his political capital.  It's one of the most divisive issues in the nation today -- and that's saying a lot.

Buffalo News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski wrote a strong piece for today's paper outlining the issues. (Brian Meyer's video interview with Independent Health CEO Dr. Michael Cropp accompanies that story on our website.)

Zremski was also lucky enough to get a front-row seat in the court, which means that the reports from each day's paper will include Zremski's byline, not just those from our wire services.  There are about 90 press seats, he said.  Other members of the press are relying largely on the audio of the arguments, which is being released publicly each day. 

I chatted with Zremski by phone today after the arguments had concluded for the day.  He described the atmosphere at the Supreme Court as "strangely bifurcated." 

"Inside, it's extremely formal," he said, with a somber and quiet tone, and a strict prohibition against electronic devices of any kind.

Outside the court building is another story.

"It's definitely loud and raucous," he said, with demonstrators on both sides of the controversy in about equal evidence. At one point, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, attempting to speak against the act, was drowned out by shouting partisans in favor of the law, Zremski said.

Zremski -- who has reported for The News in Washington since 1989 -- thinks his Buffalo readers will benefit from his presence.

 "The case has such extraordinary ramifications, going well beyond health care," he said.  "There's nothing like being there to truly understand it."

And exactly how did he get the seat?  The answer is simple enough: "I asked early."

Suddenly, the hoodie as a symbol of protest for Trayvon Martin

Miami heat hoodies
The furor over the Florida shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has created a new symbol of solidarity: the humble hooded sweatshirt known as the hoodie.

NBA star LeBron James tweeted the above photo of his teammates on the Miami Heat, heads bowed, all in hoodies.

Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund posed in one, too.

At one point today, NPR was leading its website with a comprehensive trend story. Twitter is alive with hashtags and tweets on the subject, many of them defiant in tone.

And in major cities, thousands are turning out for Million Hoodie Marches.

The use of the symbol took on new momentum Friday following Geraldo Rivera's warning on "Fox & Friends" to teens and parents that wearing a hoodie, as Martin did when he was shot, was dangerous and sent a negative message.

"You cannot rehabilitate the hoodie," Rivera said. "Stop wearing it."

Some may have heeded that advice; many others found it appalling, only adding to the problem of racial stereotyping.

Powerful feelings of anger and injustice have found a powerful, if unpredictable, visual symbol.

NPR's Linton Weeks quoted former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who summed up well what's happening: "The hoodie is a way of expressing support for the Martin family," she said,"and for all the sons of African-American families who bear the heavy burden of other people's negative assumptions."

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What do Lady Gaga and author Margaret Atwood have in common? Twitter, of course!

Being new to Twitter, I'm inordinately fascinated by it -- its pace, its power, its (sometime) silliness, its (sometime) nastiness, its (frequent) usefulness.  Like its older cousin, Facebook, it truly is a world unto itself.

And, with my grand total of 195 Twitter followers, I'm astonished by Lady Gaga's 21 million followers --more than anyone in the world, according to this piece from the website Pop Crush.  (Here's a list of the Top 100 tweeters worldwide; Justin Bieber comes in second.)

That kind of following gives Gaga one heck of a bully pulpit and she is not at all hesitant to use it, as the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof noted in his recent blog about Gaga's Born This Way Foundation.

Numbers are one thing.  But the most entertaining piece I've read on or about Twitter in recent days is this one, titled "Deeper into the Twungle," from the New York Review of Books by acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who wrote "The Handmaid's Tale," among many other novels, stories and essays.   Atwood has serious literary cred -- nominated five times for the prestigious Booker Prize, and winning it once. 

Atwood, too, is fascinated with Twitter and the essay details her amusing Twitter conversation with a rotating skull, but also takes on the deeper and more serious questions of regulating online privacy.  It's well worth a read because it will make you laugh, and think, and laugh again.

And then you can get back to reading what Lady Gaga has to say -- in 140 characters or less.

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A hit at Babel, author Zadie Smith asks, and answers, 'Why write?'

0-1Lectures on writing, says "White Teeth" author Zadie Smith, tend to be magnets for high-flown literary self-importance.

"They attract humbug," she told a nearly full house Wednesday night at Kleinhans Music Hall in the latest installment of the Just Buffalo Literary Center's Babel series.

 Her talk, though, was anything but.  The 36-year-old British novelist was funny, wry, self-deprecating and utterly charming as she took on the topic of why writers write. 

She skipped across the Western canon and through the centuries -- from Henry James to Philip Roth, from John Keats to Zora Neale Hurston, from George Orwell to Don DeLillo -- in a wide-ranging talk that entertained and enlightened.  She managed to be both erudite and down-to-earth.  And she concluded that Alexander Pope answered the "Why write?" question as well as any in what she called an Olympian tautology: "Because I am a writer."

 She chatted with Michael Kelleher, the series host, in a question-and-answer period that covered everything from her next novel (titled "NW" and due out later this year, it's an exploration of the author's consciousness without "the traditional furniture of the novel") to a high school student's question about the five essential British novels.  (She took a stab at it -- offering, with some hesitation, "Clarissa," "Pride and Prejudice," "Jane Eyre," "The Quiet American," and "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" -- before laughingly suggesting that the student just google it. "Give me a break!")

 And finally, Smith sat at a table in the Kleinhans lobby, signing books for a line that stretched from one end of the hall to another.  (Many of those present had read "White Teeth" as a community reading project before tonight's talk.  When Kelleher asked her how she feels now about the 12-year-old novel, she confessed, with a laugh, that she hasn't read it since it was published.  "I have no idea what's in it.")

Just another night of literature in Buffalo.  What made it unusual is that Smith -- as tall and slim as a fashion model in a bright yellow dress, a red turban and cobalt high-heeled Mary Janes --  is an extraordinary talent. 

In addition to "White Teeth," the debut novel that was her breakout success, Smith has also written "Autograph Man" and a third novel, "On Beauty," which was shortlisted for Britain's prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2006.  She teaches creative writing at New York University.

Giving the evening a poignant tone was the knowledge that it was Kelleher's last Babel.  The Just Buffalo artistic director is about to leave Buffalo for a post at Yale University.

"Buffalo," he said, "is one of the most engaged literary cities I've ever been to."  

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(The photo above shows Smith signing books at Kleinhans after her talk, with Talking Leaves bookstore owner Jonathon Welch assisting.)

  

Gillibrand's pick for president in 2016? She says she'll push Hillary Clinton to run

Kirsten Gillibrand says she plans to push her occasional mentor and her predecessor as New York senator  -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- to run for president in 2016.

"I think she would be incredibly well-poised to be our next Democratic president," Gillibrand said in an interview today with the website BuzzFeed.  "I think she's extremely well prepared. I think her experience as Secretary of State has not only elevated her stature and experience, but she's proven she's someone who can get things done and I think she'd be an outstanding candidate."

Her comments quickly sped around the web from political blog to political blog, some less wide-eyed than others. Clinton has said repeatedly that she's not interested in such a run.

Chris Cillizza, who writes The Fix, a political blog for the Washington Post, offers this skeptical take on Gillibrand's statement, including how the senator figures into the political bracketology ("Sweet 2016") of the moment. 

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