Comic-Con Has Become Poké-Con

Malcolm Young and Chloe Dunbar are among the many people absorbed in Pokemon Go at this year's San Diego Comic-Con.

Malcolm Young and Chloe Dunbar are among the many people absorbed in Pokemon Go at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Harrison Hill/LA Times via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Harrison Hill/LA Times via Getty Images

This year at San Diego Comic-Con, one of the biggest phenomena isn’t just inside the convention center, it’s all around. Yes, there are billboards and installations trumpeting things like Doctor Strange and Fear the Walking Dead. But the crowds of people here aren’t looking up; they’re mostly staring down at their phones, playing Pokémon Go.

In fact, the overwhelmingly popular game has pretty much taken over the informal economy of Comic-Con. There are always people outside the convention grounds selling glow sticks or jewelry or their own homemade paintings of Batman. This year, if you join the slow-moving crowds heading across the tram tracks from the convention center to San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, what you’ll see is hawker after hawker with Pokémon merchandise — and, in a wise marketing move, portable phone chargers for everyone who’s drained their batteries hunting Growlithes and Bulbasaurs.

Head further into the Gaslamp Quarter, where bars and restaurants cater to the tens of thousands of convention goers, and you’ll see more ways people are capitalizing on the catch-em-all fad. Outside a bar on Fourth Street, a sign lists of all the rare Pokémon that have been caught inside. A few blocks over, another bar has surrounded its outdoor seating with a massive temporary mural of Superman surrounded by cute cartoon monsters.

There’s a sweet spot for Pokémon Go players along a pedestrian path across from the convention center; a series of plaques with quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., have been marked by PokéStops, the virtual landmarks where players can get in-game resources (whether they read the quotes is another matter). In the evening when the fierce heat fades, crowds of players — some in costume — line the path.

Sisters Gretchen and Samantha Cash and their home-made PokéStop.

Sisters Gretchen and Samantha Cash and their home-made PokéStop. Petra Mayer hide caption

toggle caption Petra Mayer

Sisters Gretchen and Samantha Cash decided to make the virtual landmarks a reality. “PokéStop, PokéStop, real life PokéStop!,” they call out to the crowd. “We got berries, free berries! Come get your berries! Yaaay!” (Berries are an in-game resource that make the little monsters easier to catch.)

The sisters are from San Diego, and they’re avid Pokémon Go fans.
“We constructed an actual physical PokéStop … out of paper,” Gretchen says. “And then we let people spin it and we give them berries,” although instead of digital berries, they’re handing out Starburst candies.

They cheer every time one of the surrounding players comes up and gives their homemade PokéStop a spin. Samantha says they’ve been playing nonstop themselves — and they could use a portable phone charger. “We’re running a little low, and it’s sad.”

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Miami Steps Up Mosquito Control Efforts After Suspected Zika Cases

Larry Smart, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, uses a fogger to spray pesticide to kill mosquitos in an effort to stop a possible zika outbreak in Miami.

Larry Smart, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, uses a fogger to spray pesticide to kill mosquitos in an effort to stop a possible zika outbreak in Miami. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In a well-kept neighborhood in Miami with lush gardens, Larry Smart, a county mosquito control inspector, holds a turkey baster up to the light. “If you look closely, you’ll see some moving fast. They’re wriggling around,” he says. “That’s actually mosquito larvae.” Smart uses the turkey baster to sample standing water in hard-to-reach places.

Florida is home to dozens of mosquito species, but the one officials are most concerned about now is Aedes aegypti, the main species that carries the Zika virus. These mosquitoes typically live near people and can breed in as little as a teaspoonful of stagnant water.

Health officials are worried that Zika may have a foothold in South Florida. They’re investigating two cases of Zika that may have been contracted from mosquitoes in Florida, not by people traveling abroad.

At this Miami home, Smart found mosquito larvae in water held in the leaves of a bromeliad, a flowering plant common in South Florida yards.

Mosquitoes like to breed in the pooled water in plants like this bromeliad.

Mosquitoes like to breed in the pooled water in plants like this bromeliad. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“They’ll breed in there and become adults,” he says. “A lot of people don’t realize that a plant like that is renowned for mosquitoes.”

With a hand-held fogging machine, Smart mists the foliage with permethrin, an insecticide. He also drops pellets that kill mosquito larvae into the plant. Officials say going door-to-door and spraying by hand is the most efficient way to stop the Aedes aegypti mosquito and the spread of Zika.

Over the last week, Miami’s mosquito control activity has been focused on one particular neighborhood. It’s near the home of a person health officials say may have contracted Zika locally from a Florida mosquito. There are actually two cases of suspected local transmission now, one in Miami and one just north in Florida’s Broward County. But Lilian Rivera, the head of Miami-Dade County’s Health Department says there are few details she can share.

“We are in an active investigation stage, not only in Miami but also in Broward,” she says. Her message for the media and the public? “Just to have patience.”

Florida’s Department of Health is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to rule out other ways the two individuals could have contracted Zika, such as through travel or sexual transmission. The department is also trapping mosquitoes and testing them for the Zika virus. So far, none have come back positive. Miami took similar measures in 2010 when the city saw a number of dengue cases. Because it can cause birth defects including microcephaly. Zika is even more worrying.

Miami ‘s head of mosquito control Chalmers Vasquez says he really wasn’t surprised when health officials began investigating a possible locally-acquired Zika case, because of the city’s close contacts with the Caribbean and Latin America. He says, “The virus is flowing through Miami International airport every day. There are thousands and thousands of people coming back into our area from those countries that may be affected, they may not be.” Vasquez says, “We’re trying to be as aggressive as possible.”

Officials in Florida are concerned about how much the Zika response will cost. This week, the White House announced it was sending $60 million in Zika funding to the states, including $5.6 million for Florida.

Much more will be needed says Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor University. He’s concerned Zika may already be established in mosquitoes in Florida, Texas and other states along the Gulf Coast. But so far, funds haven’t been made available for intensive testing and surveillance. He says, “You have to have teams of people going into affected communities, community health centers, asking about fever and rash, and then taking a blood sample and testing it. That requires some resources and it’s not being done.” Hotez says, “I’m worried that we could be seeing quite a bit of Zika happening now. It’s just that no one’s looking.”

The Obama administration is asking Congress for $1.9 billion to fund the fight against Zika, so far without success. And, at the height of mosquito season on the Gulf Coast, Congress has adjourned until after Labor Day.

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Rape Survivor Sues After Texas Authorities Jailed Her For A Month

Guards watch over a single cell area in an acute unit of the mental heath unit at the Harris County jail in Houston in 2014.

Guards watch over a single cell area in an acute unit of the mental heath unit at the Harris County jail in Houston in 2014. Eric Gay/AP hide caption

toggle caption Eric Gay/AP

A rape survivor is suing Texas’s Harris County after she was jailed for more than a month and subjected to beatings and “psychological torture.”

According to court documents, she had suffered a mental breakdown while testifying against her rapist, and authorities checked her into general population at Houston’s Harris County Jail because they feared she would flee before finishing her testimony.

“Jane Doe found herself hopelessly trapped in a bizarre plot pulled from a Kafka novel,” the court documents read. She “was imprisoned in the hellhole of the Harris County Jail for no reason other than being a rape victim who struggles with a mental disability.”

The anonymous woman was raped in Houston in 2013, according to court documents, and was cooperating with prosecutors when she suffered a breakdown while testifying in December 2015.

She suffers from bipolar disorder and was admitted to a local hospital for mental health treatment when the judge ordered a recess for the holiday break until January 2016.

According to the documents, authorities were scheduled to be on vacation and “did not want the responsibility of having to monitor Jane Doe’s well being or provide victim services to her during the holiday recess.”

The complaint alleges that the distant attorney’s office obtained an order from the Harris County Sheriff to take the woman into custody so that she would not flee before completing her testimony.

The employee booking her into Harris County Jail identified her as a “defendant in a sexual assault case, rather than the victim.” That impacted her treatment from jail staff, as the complaint reads:

“The Harris County Jail psychiatric staff tormented Jane Doe and caused her extreme emotional distress and mental anguish by further defaming her, falsely insisting to her that she was being charged with sexual assault, and refusing to acknowledge her status as an innocent rape victim.”

Doe also suffered beatings from other inmates and from a guard, who then requested assault charges to be filed against her “in an attempt to cover up the brutal abuse,” according to the complaint.

The complaint also alleges that the jail failed “to provide Jane Doe’s prescribed medications.”

She eventually testified against her rapist, and a month after she was imprisoned, the district attorney’s office dismissed the felony assault case against her and ordered she be released as a material witness.

The Harris County District Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for comment. The Harris County Sherriff’s office defended its actions in a statement to The Two-Way. “The request for detainment was made by prosecutors at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office,” it said. “When so ordered by the court, the Sheriff’s Office had no authority but to follow the court’s order to detain Jane Doe.”

The complaint notes that her “rapist was also an inmate in the same facility” and treated more humanely. “Her rapist was not denied medical care, psychologically tortured, brutalized by other inmates, or beaten by jail guards,” it reads.

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To Rebrand Itself, Greece Digs Deep Into Its Cultural DNA

A gold flower-and-myrtle-leaf wreath, thought to have belonged to one of Alexander the Great's stepmothers, is now on display at the National Geographic Museum.

A gold flower-and-myrtle-leaf wreath, thought to have belonged to one of Alexander the Great’s stepmothers, is now on display at the National Geographic Museum. National Geographic Museum hide caption

toggle caption National Geographic Museum

The news out of Greece in the past several years has been pretty bad. An ongoing economic crisis has resulted in an unemployment rate that’s hovering around 25 percent — currently, there’s a major exodus of young, educated Greeks. And more than a million refugees and migrants have poured into the country in the past year and a half. So what is the Greek government doing in response? For one thing, it’s sent a big art exhibition to Washington, D.C.

The show, which opened in June and runs through early October, is called “The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great.” It’s a survey of 5,000 years of Greek art and artifacts. Most of the items have never left their homeland before. This stop in Washington is the last on a tour that also included the Field Museum and two stops in Canada: at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, near Ottowa, and the Pointe-à-Callière Montréal Archeology and History Complex in Montreal.

“We wanted, in the beginning of the economic crisis in Greece, to show really what Greece is, and really what Greeks are,” says Maria Vlazaki. Vlazaki is the secretary general of Greece’s Ministry of Culture and Sports. She’s also an archaeologist, and she is one of the curators of this show; some of her finds are on display in “The Greeks.”

Vlazaki has been planning this exhibition since 2010 — not long after the global financial meltdown began.

National Geographic Education YouTube

She points out the Greek government lends items all the time, and the National Geographic Museum originally suggested that they work together on an exhibition of ancient Greek artifacts. But she is also very straightforward about one of the reasons that this show of more than 500 objects is touring the U.S. right now: She wants to inspire tourists.

Three figurines from the Cycladic islands, which are roughly 5,000 years old, are on display at the National Geographic Museum.

Three figurines from the Cycladic islands, which are roughly 5,000 years old, are on display at the National Geographic Museum. Mark Thiessen/National Geographic Museum hide caption

toggle caption Mark Thiessen/National Geographic Museum

“They see so many masterpieces and also things of daily life, that I think they will be very interested to visit Greece, because they will see how Western civilization has been inspired by Greece,” says Vlazaki.

Among the oldest items on display are mysterious, angular little figurines from roughly five thousand years ago, from the Cycladic islands.

“It looks like modern art,” says archaeologist and National Geographic Fellow Fred Hiebert. Hiebert is the co-curator of “The Greeks,” and he says that he is still stunned by how willing the Greek museums and archaeological sites were to lend out some of their most valuable treasures.

Hiebert and Vlazaki lead me through the show. “We’re coming to a section here which is from a site museum that I never, ever thought we would ever borrow from,” he explains, “because it’s the royal burials of the kings of northern Greece at the time of Philip the Great and Alexander the Great.”

We’re standing by a case that contains a finely wrought wreath made of dozens of tiny, very delicate and detailed flowers and myrtle leaves, cut from thin sheets of gold. It was thought to be made for Queen Meda, one of Alexander the Great’s stepmothers.

“When we were putting this in the case,” he says, “it glimmered and jiggled with every slight breeze. It’s absolutely the most amazing piece of work I’ve ever seen.”

But will visitors who see these treasures then want to go to Greece on vacation? Could the show even help foreigners reframe their perceptions about this struggling country? Peter Economides thinks so.

“You know,” says Economides, “Americans are bombarded with all the news about Greece’s bad news. I think it’s a reminder, a very palpable, tangible reminder, up close. It’s at the core of what Greece is all about, and it creates very, very positive impressions.”

Economides is from South Africa, but his family background is Greek. These days, he’s a brand strategist based in Athens. He was part of one of the most high-profile rebrandings of all time: Apple’s reboot, and its famous “Here’s to the crazy ones” campaign.

So Economides knows a thing or two about how companies — and even countries — put themselves out into the world. And he says that looking to ancient Greece may not just coax Americans to reframe what they know about the country today.

“Greeks need to re-understand who they are, so they can get their act together,” he says. “Branding starts inside. It’s not something you talk. It’s something that you do. It’s something that you are. It’s something that drives behavior, cultural behavior.”

Tourism to Greece is actually up — in fact, the 2016 statistics are set to break records. But Economides says the country needs to reimagine itself as something more than a vacation paradise of cheap villas, abundant sun and sea, and some interesting archaeology. It’s about Greeks themselves being inspired by that ancient history do more — to create a 21st-century country that’s as innovative as it was thousands of years ago.

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Zimbabwe's Powerful Veterans Withdraw Support For President Mugabe

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe delivers the keynote address during Zimbabwe's 36th Independence Day celebrations in February in Harare.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe delivers the keynote address during Zimbabwe’s 36th Independence Day celebrations in February in Harare. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP hide caption

toggle caption Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

In a surprise reversal, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has lost the support of some of his staunchest allies – the war veterans. This comes amid escalating protests, an economic crisis and a crippling drought in the country.

The letter withdrawing their support, which was released in full through The Associated Press, doesn’t mince words. “This rot needs to be uprooted, and right now,” it says. “[Mugabe’s] leadership has presided over unbridled corruption and downright mismanagement of the economy, leading to national economic ruin for which the effects are now felt throughout the land.”

The group, composed of aging veterans who fought in Zimbabwe’s war of liberation, has “for decades, done [Mugabe’s] bidding and been quick to defend the veteran leader,” as NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton tells our Newscast unit.

Mugabe was the “political brains behind Zimbabwe’s war of liberation,” Ofeibea explains, and the veterans have “played a pivotal, and often violent role” keeping him in power. She adds: “It’s not clear whether all Zimbabwe’s war veterans agree with the statement, though it’s an indication of mounting frustration, division and mistrust.”

Here’s more from the veterans’ letter:

“[W]e the veterans of Zimbabwe’s war of liberation, together with our toiling masses, hereby declare that henceforth, in any forthcoming elections, [we] will not support such a leader who has presided over untold suffering of the general population for his own personal aggrandizement and that of his cronies.”

This shift also underlines the uncertainty surrounding succession plans for the 92-old-leader, who is the “world’s oldest head of state,” the AP reports. Two camps are emerging: supporters of the leader’s wife, Grace, and supporters of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, as Reuters reported.

“Veterans want Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe, saying this would be in line with party tradition,” the wire service writes. “Mugabe last month warned veterans against trying to influence the choice of who will succeed him.”

A recent New York Times piece suggested the country was bracing for a shift:

“To many Zimbabweans, the president’s decline has been obvious. The same man who unyieldingly defied the West, who outwitted or ruthlessly crushed his opponents for decades while leaders in other countries were felled in coups, has been caught on video stumbling or dozing off during public events.”

As we have reported, Zimbabwe recently freed thousands of prisoners amid food shortages, and plans to put wild animals up for sale because of the severe drought.

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True Believers, Protesters And Trump: Scenes From Cleveland

(Left) Pro-Donald Trump buttons for sale on the street in Cleveland. (Center) A large screen truck with a photo of President Ronald Reagan can be seen through a crowd as it is stopped at a light. (Right) Supporters listen to speakers at a pro-Trump rally on Tuesday.

(Left) Pro-Donald Trump buttons for sale on the street in Cleveland. (Center) A large screen truck with a photo of President Ronald Reagan can be seen through a crowd as it is stopped at a light. (Right) Supporters listen to speakers at a pro-Trump rally on Tuesday. Gabriella Demczuk for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Gabriella Demczuk for NPR

A national convention aims to offer a space for a political party to unify — to hone its message, set aside internal divisions and move forward toward a shared adversary. As Republicans sweep up confetti and try to forget the Ted Cruz-Donald Trump flame war, Democrats pack their bags for Philadelphia, hoping to unite their own badly split party.

It’s easy to say the divisions that surface in a major election year are somehow worse than the one before, anger and divisiveness compounding but with little change. The political rhetoric stays the same, year after year: “… We are going to fix the system.”

During her week in Cleveland, photographer Gabriella Demczuk explored the ways that people are embracing and challenging the Republican Party’s mission in this election — both from inside and outside the party. Here is a selection of what she saw.

Light falls on the American flag at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Light falls on the American flag at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Gabriella Demczuk for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Gabriella Demczuk for NPR

The day before the convention officially started, police monitor protesters — including those marching with the Black Lives Matter movement — as they work their way through the streets of Cleveland. Meanwhile, delegates line up for an official convention party (right).

The day before the convention officially started, police monitor protesters — including those marching with the Black Lives Matter movement — as they work their way through the streets of Cleveland. Meanwhile, delegates line up for an official convention party (right). Gabriella Demczuk for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Gabriella Demczuk for NPR

A woman listens to a speaker at the People's Justice and Peace Conference at the Ohio City Masonic Arts Center.

A woman listens to a speaker at the People’s Justice and Peace Conference at the Ohio City Masonic Arts Center. Gabriella Demczuk for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Gabriella Demczuk for NPR

Attendees take in Wednesday evening's program at the convention hall through different screens.

Attendees take in Wednesday evening’s program at the convention hall through different screens. Gabriella Demczuk for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Gabriella Demczuk for NPR

An anti-Hillary Clinton sticker lies discarded on the floor at the close of the convention.

An anti-Hillary Clinton sticker lies discarded on the floor at the close of the convention. Gabriella Demczuk for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Gabriella Demczuk for NPR

(Left) A woman with the California delegation cheers for Trump during the convention. (Right) A protester with Code Pink demonstrates during the convention on Tuesday and is later escorted outside the hall.

(Left) A woman with the California delegation cheers for Trump during the convention. (Right) A protester with Code Pink demonstrates during the convention on Tuesday and is later escorted outside the hall. Gabriella Demczuk for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Gabriella Demczuk for NPR

Accepting the Republican nomination for president, Trump speaks at the close of the convention.

Accepting the Republican nomination for president, Trump speaks at the close of the convention. Gabriella Demczuk for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Gabriella Demczuk for NPR

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