Sleepy Colorado town comes alive during 'Frozen Dead Guy Days'

Kevin Weller poses in a cutout of the frozen corpse that inspired the annual ”Frozen Dead Guy Days” festival in Nederland, Colorado, U.S., March 11, 2017.

REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Keith Coffman| NEDERLAND, Colo.

Every March the cryogenically frozen corpse of a Norwegian man breathes fresh life into sleepy Nederland, Colorado, where throngs of fun-lovers fill the streets for “Frozen Dead Guy Days,” a festival in honor of the town’s most famous resident.

The annual three-day festival is the brainchild of a local businesswoman who came up with the whimsical idea 16 years ago as a way to attract visitors to Nederland, where the man’s body has laid in repose in a shed since 1993.

The event topped her wildest expectations: From a modest crowd of about 1,000 the first year, the festival now draws about 20,000 visitors. Many of them dress in Halloween costumes as they revel in such quirky events as a polar plunge, a frozen salmon toss, musical acts and a costume ball.

“We never imagined it would be so well-received and grow so large – you could say I created a monster,” said Teresa Crush-Warren, credited with hatching the idea when she was president of the local chamber of commerce.

This year’s festivities began with a parade of a dozen hearses, followed by a “coffin race” through the streets of the Rocky Mountain town, where temperatures hovered just above the freezing mark.

Sam Baggall, 20, a student at the University of Colorado, stood next to the makeshift coffin she and her five teammates fashioned out of cardboard.

“Our plan is to get out quick and be agile,” she said.

The annual bash honors Bredo Morstoel, who died and was cryogenically frozen in his native Norway in 1989 with the hope that low temperatures will allow him to be resuscitated sometime in the future. After a four-year stint at a California facility, his grandson moved him in 1993 to his property outside of Nederland, 17 miles (27 km) west of Boulder.

Six years ago, the chamber sold the festival to Amanda MacDonald, an event planner for the chamber.

The festival itself is a break-even endeavor, MacDonald said by telephone, but it is a boon for local businesses in the hamlet of about 1,500 full-time residents.

Morstoel’s grandson no longer lives in Nederland and the family has no connection to the celebrations other than paying for his upkeep.

Once the festival ends, 59-year-old Brad Wickham will resume his job as Morstoel’s caretaker, every two weeks hauling 1,000 pounds (454 kg) of dry ice – carbon dioxide in solid form – to the sarcophagus and packing it around the corpse.

“There are a lot of scientists studying cryogenics, but I’m just a guy with a truck and a strong back,” he said.

(Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Federal Court Rules Three Texas Congressional Districts Illegally Drawn

A federal panel ruled Friday that three of Texas’s Congressional districts, including the 35th, shown here, were illegally drawn by the state’s Republicans.

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A panel of federal judges ruled on Friday that three of Texas’s Congressional districts are illegal, violating the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The panel found that Republicans had used race as a motivating factor in gerrymandering the districts.

Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia wrote the court’s decision, which comes after a protracted and complex legal battle that began when the new districts were drawn in 2011, following the last Census.

“The political motive does not excuse or negate that use of race; rather, the use of race is ultimately problematic for precisely that reason—because of their political motive, they intentionally drew a district based on race in a location where such use of race was not justified by a compelling state interest,” says the ruling.

Politically-motivated gerrymandering is legal, but gerrymandering with an intent to reduce the influence of minority voters — either by “packing” those voters into a district, or “cracking” them among multiple districts — is not.

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which cleared the way for Texas to activate its controversial voter ID law and implement its redistricting maps without getting federal approval first. That’s when a number of groups brought challenges to Texas Republicans’ redistricting plans.

Texas will now consider whether to appeal the federal court’s decision to the Supreme Court.

If the decision holds, the three Congressional districts will likely need to be redrawn, causing a ripple effect on the state’s other districts.

The decision could have far-reaching consequences for Texas politics and elections. Nina Perales is vice president of litigation for MALDEF, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which was counsel for Latino challengers to the redistricting plan.

Perales explains that not only does the court’s decision lay the groundwork for changes to the state’s current redistricting plan, but it may also be a step toward Texas being ordered back under federal supervision of its elections, as a remedy for the intentional discrimination in its redistricting plan.

This federal court’s decision “hopefully will allow the court to put Texas back under federal supervision because it’s clear now after the warnings in Texas voter I.D. and Texas redistricting that Texas needs to be under federal supervision for its voting changes,” says Perales.

Two of the three districts found to be illegal are held by Republicans; the third, Texas’s 35th district, is held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett. As the Austin American-Statesman explains, the panel said that District 35:

“was improperly drawn with race as the predominant factor to minimize the number of Democrat districts and to attempt to unseat Doggett by boosting the Hispanic population, making it more likely that voters would choose a Latino candidate… By drawing Doggett’s district with a majority Hispanic population extending into San Antonio, the Republican-controlled Legislature was able to “create the facade of complying” with the Voting Rights Act while eliminating an existing Democratic district, the panel ruled.”

Judge Jerry Smith wrote a sharp dissent, with harsh words for the Justice Department. “The DoJ wholly failed, but not for lack of trying. There was, and is, no smoking gun in this record, nor has the United States shown that the State hid or failed to disclose one,” he wrote.

“It was obvious, from the start, that the DoJ attorneys viewed state officials and the legislative majority and their staffs as a bunch of backwoods hayseed bigots who bemoan the abolition of the poll tax and pine for the days of literacy tests and lynchings,” Smith added. “And the DoJ lawyers saw themselves as an expeditionary landing party arriving here, just in time, to rescue the state from oppression, obviously presuming that plaintiffs’ counsel were not up to the task. The Department of Justice moreover views Texas redistricting litigation as the potential grand prize and lusts for the day when it can reimpose preclearance.”

Whether or not Texas appeals to the Supreme Court, time is already running short. For candidates planning on running in 2018, deadlines to file for the Texas primaries aren’t far away.

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World Faces Largest Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945, U.N. Official Says

Acutely malnourished child Sacdiyo Mohamed, 9 months old, is treated at Banadir hospital in Somalia on Saturday. Somalia’s government has declared the drought there a national disaster.

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The world is facing its greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945, says the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, Stephen O’Brien.

O’Brien told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that more than 20 million people across four countries in Africa and the Middle East are at risk of starvation and famine.

“We stand at a critical point in our history,” he said. “Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death.”

He called the crisis the largest in the history of the U.N., which was founded in 1945, and was specific in his request to the council: “$4.4 billion by July” to combat extreme hunger in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and northeast Nigeria.

“All four countries have one thing in common. Conflict,” he said. “This means that we, you, have the possibility to prevent and end further misery and suffering… It is all preventable. It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines — to avert these looming human catastrophes.”

In Yemen alone, he said the number of people who don’t know where their next meal will come from, has increased by 3 million since January.

NPR has reported extensively on the famine problem in the region, most recently last week, when Somalia’s prime minister said 110 people died of hunger in a single region over a two-day period. He guessed that more than 6 million people in his country, or just about half the population, are faced with a food shortage because of a deepening drought.

In South Sudan, two counties are in a “phase five” famine situation, according to a determination rating system our Goats and Soda team looked into last month. That’s the worst possible rating, and it means at least two out of every 10,000 people are dying of hunger there every day. Overall, 42 percent of the population in South Sudan is estimated to be food insecure.

The country has been entrenched in civil war since December 2013.

“The situation is worse than it has ever been. The famine in South Sudan is man-made,” O’Brien said Friday. “Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine – as are those not intervening to make the violence stop.”

And in Nigeria, the fallout from fighting with extremist terror group Boko Haram has left pockets of the country decimated, as NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported last month.

“Northeastern Nigeria will probably get worse because the lean food and farming season is coming up between June and August,” she said.

“When I was in Nigeria I saw it for myself: pin-thin children being taken care of because there isn’t the food to feed them.”

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Intruder Arrested After Entering White House Grounds

A member of the Secret Service walks the perimeter of the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, last March. On Friday night, an intruder entered the White House grounds while the President was home.

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An intruder made it onto the grounds of the White House shortly before midnight Friday, while President Trump was in the building. The intruder was taken into custody without incident.

The Secret Service says the intruder scaled the outer perimeter fence of the White House grounds. The individual carried a backpack, which was found to not contain any hazardous materials.

“Secret Service did a fantastic job last night,” President Trump told reporters Saturday. “I appreciate it.” He then called the intruder “a troubled person.”

The last major security breach at the White House was in 2014, when a man with a knife got through the front doors, overpowered a guard and ran across the first floor before being tackled. That and other security breaches led to the resignation of then-Secret Service director Julia Pierson.

Last month the National Park Service and Secret Service released plans for a new fence around the White House. The current fence is about eight feet tall, with spikes that were added in 2015.

The new fence will be five feet taller, and will incorporate “pencil-point” spikes and other security measures.

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U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Says He Was Fired By Justice Department

Preet Bharara, the now former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks at the Wall Street Journal CEO council annual meeting in Washington on November 15, 2016.

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U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, one of 46 federal prosecutors asked to resign Friday, refused to step down, and says he was fired.

I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.

— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) March 11, 2017

“I did not resign,” Bharara tweeted. “I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.”

As the federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, Bharara pursued a number of high-profile cases, including criminal cases against defendants like Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and won a $1.8 billion settlement against SAC Capital Advisors for insider trading, shutting down the hedge fund.

The Justice Department asked Bharara and 45 other federal prosecutors to resign. Such requests are standard from a new administration, as it seeks to clear out political appointees from the previous president.

There has been no confirmation from the Trump administration that Bharara was fired.

Bharara had previously told reporters that Trump had asked him to stay on.

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Dutch Ban Turkish Official From Entry, Erdogan Hits Back With 'Nazi' Comment

Supporters of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan walk to the Dutch consulate in Istanbul on Saturday. Turkey and the Netherlands escalated their spat on Saturday as the Dutch withdrew landing permission for the Turkish foreign minister’s plane.

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Tensions ramped up quickly between Turkey and the Netherlands Saturday, after the Dutch government not only disallowed Turkey’s foreign minister from holding a public rally in the country, but revoked his flight permit to even land there.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fumed about the Dutch government after the news, while speaking to a crowd in Istanbul.

“They are very nervous and cowardly. They are Nazi remnants, they are fascists,” Erdogan said, according to The Daily Telegraph.

He also suggested that Turkey may bar Dutch diplomatic flights from landing in his country as retaliation.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte responded to journalists, while he campaigned on Saturday. The Netherlands will hold a national election on March 15.

“It’s a crazy remark of course,” Rutte said. “I understand they’re angry, but this of course was way out of line.”

The dust-up began because Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was planning to hold a rally for Turkish expatriates in support of Erdogan in Rotterham, a city near the coast of southern Holland.

Turkey is holding a referendum vote in April on increasing the president’s power, and many expatriates living throughout the European Union still have voting rights. As of 2015, there were about 75,000 Turkish nationals living in the Netherlands.

Officials in Rotterham wanted the Turkish foreign minister to meet with supporters in private because of potential unrest, reports Teri Schultz:

“But even before these negotiations were completed, the Dutch foreign ministry says, (Turkey) started threatening sanctions against the Netherlands, which made it impossible to find a compromise and thus landing rights for Cavusoglu’s plane were withdrawn.”

In response, Turkey’s Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya will travel to Rotterham by land, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. And Turkey has summoned the Dutch charge d’affaires to the foreign ministry in Ankara for an explanation.

Recently, a similar tension arose between Turkey and Germany as well.

The German government canceled a rally by a Turkish minister citing security reasons, as reported by NPR, and President Erdogan responded by saying the practices were “no different than the Nazi ones of the past.”

Erdogan also appeared to threaten the Germans, saying, “If you don’t let me in, or if you don’t let me speak, I will make the whole world rise up.”

In Germany, there are about 1.5 million Turkish expatriates that can vote on the April referendum.

If passed, the referendum would give the Turkish president the ability to impose a state of emergency and to intervene within the judicial system. The referendum would also set a schedule of elections that could allow Erdogan to stay in power until 2029. He first became leader of the country in 2002.

“Yes” voters argue that the new rules would modernize a Turkish constitution that was put in place after a military coup in 1982, reports NPR’s Peter Kenyon. “No” supporters say it would give other branches of government very little power to counter the president.

“It [would be] a strong presidency, nothing like any president of the United States has ever experienced,” one political scientist, Ersin Kalaycioglu, told Kenyon. “If this amendment carries, then for a while, Turkey will have a system with very little, if any, checks and balances, as far as many of the experts can see.”

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Beyond Lyme: New Tick-Borne Diseases On The Rise In U.S.

Tucker Lane and his mother, Lynn Cash, sit in the wooded backyard of his home in West Barnstable, Mass.

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It all started in the shower. Tucker Lane looked down, and there they were.

“Two ticks, on my right hip, directly next to each other,” he says.

At the time, Lane didn’t think much about it. He grew up on Cape Cod. Ticks are everywhere there in the summer. “Just another tick bite. Not a big deal,” he thought.

That was June. In September, everything changed.

“I was working outside, and I just had a pounding headache,” says Lane, 24, who works as a plumber and at a pizza restaurant.

He tried taking ibuprofen. But that night the headache got worse. “I was sweating but was cold. And I had tremors,” he says.

He started projectile vomiting. He developed a high fever and double vision.

After two trips to the doctors — and no improvement — Lane’s mother, Lynn Cash, called an ambulance.

At first, doctors wouldn’t treat him, Cash says. “They accused him of opiate abuse.” They thought Lane was going through withdrawal.

But scans of his brain showed that it was swelling. And he was quickly losing consciousness. His doctors decided to rush him to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

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“By the time they got him upstairs [into a room], within another 48 hours, he was in a coma,” Cash says.

At that point, doctors were stumped. They thought he might have some kind of infection. “His MRI was very severe,” says Jennifer Lyons, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “He had a lot of inflammation in the very deep parts of his brain.” But she didn’t know what was causing the infection.

Cash felt differently. She says she knew exactly where the problem was coming from: “I knew it was a tick thing.”

Cash’s family has been on Cape Cod for many generations; she has seen a lot of Lyme disease and even had it herself. But she had never seen anything like this. This was something new. Something even more frightening.

The more we look, the more we find

The world is in a new age of infectious diseases.

Over the past 60 years, the number of new diseases cropping up per decade has almost quadrupled. The number of disease outbreaks each year has more than tripled since 1980.

The U.S. is no exception.

The country is a hot spot for tick-borne diseases. In the past 50 years, scientists have detected at least a dozen new diseases transmitted by ticks.

Richard Ostfeld and Felicia Keesing, husband-and-wife researchers in upstate New York, are studying why Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are getting worse.

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“The more we look, in a sense, the more we find,” says Felicia Keesing, an ecologist at Bard Collage in upstate New York. “Around here, there’s anaplasmosis, babesiosis and a bacterium related to Lyme, which causes similar symptoms.”

And that’s just in the Northeast.

In the Midwest, you can find Heartland virus, a new Lyme-like disease and Bourbon virus — which is thought to be spread by ticks but hasn’t been proven yet. In the South, there’s Southern tick-associated rash illness. Out west, there’s a new type of spotted fever. And across a big swath of the country, there’s a disease called ehrlichiosis.

Most of these diseases are still rare. But one is especially worrying. “It’s a scary one,” Keesing says.

“Our local tick — this blacklegged tick — occasionally carries a deadly virus that’s called Powassan virus,” says RickOstfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.

Powassan is named after a town in Ontario, Canada, where the virus was discovered in 1958. Now it’s here in the U.S. The country records about seven cases each year on the East Coast and in the Upper Midwest.

What makes Powassan so dangerous is that it attacks the brain, making it swell up. In about 10 percent of cases, Powassan is deadly. And if you do recover, you have about a 50 percent chance of permanent neurological damage.

He was gone, just gone

Although doctors didn’t realize it at the time, it was Powassan flooding Lane’s brain.

Just a few days after he came down with his terrible headache, he was on life support in the ICU. His mother was sure she had lost him.

“If you opened his eyelids, he was just gone,” she says. “I have never been so devastated in my whole life.”

“If you opened his eyelids, he was just gone,” says Cash. “I have never been so devastated in my whole life.”

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Kayana Szymczak for NPR

Doctors told her there really wasn’t anything else they could do for her son. But she never lost hope. “I did a lot of praying. I’ll tell you that much,” she says.

Then one morning, Cash went to visit Lane. He had been in a coma for a week. When she opened the door, she recalls, “he turned his head and looked at me.”

Then he tried to speak. “The only thing that came out was a ‘Ha,’ ” she says. “But he recognized me.”

From then on, Lane started to get better, quickly. He started to breathe on his own, to recognize people. In a couple of weeks he was out of the hospital.

As he woke up, Lane says, he was never scared or worried, because he was always surrounded by his family.

“My family and I are really close,” he says. “So when I woke up, they were all around me. My cousins were just joking with me and making me laugh and stuff like that. So it was all good.”

And it was all good. Lane’s recovery stunned doctors. “His recovery was truly remarkable,” says Lyons, his doctor.

But not everyone is as lucky as Lane.

Back in 2013, Lyn Snow of Rockland, Maine, also was bitten by a tick. She was 73, a well-known watercolor artist. Less than a week later, she was in the ICU, just like Lane.

“She subsequently went downhill, so unbelievably quickly,” says her daughter, Susan Whittington. “She became incoherent and delusional. She was talking to paintings.”

Within a few weeks, she was on a ventilator and completely unresponsive. Weeks went by. Eventually, Whittington got a diagnosis: Powassan.

Jack Snow looks at a photo of his late wife, Lyn, on the wall of their home in Thomaston, Maine. Lyn Snow was bitten by a tick in late 2013 and died of Powassan, a tick-borne virus.

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Brianna Soukup for NPR

That’s when we knew it was unrecoverable,” Whittington says. “That’s when we knew that we would have to let her go. And that’s what we did.”

It was all horrific,” she adds. “Just before my mom was bitten by the tick, she would walk 3 miles every day, ride horses with her grandchildren. She was an amazing grandma.”

Fighting back

There are many ways to protect yourself from tick-borne diseases. Wear long sleeves, spray on DEET and check yourself every night in the mirror — just to name a few.

But protecting whole towns, or even just a neighborhood, has been difficult.

“So far there have been no success stories of treating people’s individual properties in reducing cases of tick-borne diseases,” says Keesing.

But she and Ostfeld, her collaborator and husband, are trying to change that. They think they’ve come up with a way that may finally cut down on the cases of Lyme, Powassan and other tick-borne illnesses in the Northeast.

Their secret weapon is an unlikely critter.

“I can already feel that it’s a pretty fat mouse,” Ostfeld says, as he pulls out a white-footed mouse from a trap that’s been set up in a forest near his laboratory.

The traps are metal boxes, about the size of wine bottles, hidden underneath leaves. “Mice love to enter them,” Ostfeld says. “They love to enter dark tunnels.”

Ostfeld has been trapping and studying these little mice for more than 25 years. And he has found something critical to understanding tick-borne diseases: The mice are covered in ticks.

For some reason, ticks flock to mice. Other animals groom the bloodsuckers off and kill them. But mice don’t. They let the critters attach and feed on their face and ears.

Ostfeld says he has seen mice with 50, 60, even 100 ticks on their face and ears. “When I first noticed this, it really grabbed my attention.”

Most of these ticks are carrying Lyme disease, Ostfeld has found. Others are carrying anaplasmosis, babesiosis or Powassan. Some ticks harbor two, three or even four pathogens at once.

Theses observations gave him an idea: Use the mice to kill the ticks. Turn the mice into a little assassins, who run around the forest executing ticks.

This idea is surprisingly simple to carry out. Remember those boxes Ostfeld uses to trap mice? What if you put a tick-killing chemical inside the boxes?

A mouse walks into the box and is swiped with a little brush that applies a drop of the insecticide on its back.

“The chemical is the same that people put on their dogs and cats,” Ostfeld says. “But it’s an even tinier drop, much tinier. So a little bit goes a long way.”

And it lasts a long time. For weeks after the mouse leaves the box, it kills ticks that land on it.

But will it work in the real world?

This spring Ostfeld and Keesing have launched an experiment with 1,200 families in upstate New York to find out. Some families will get these tick boxes in their yards. Some will get a fungus sprayed on their shrubbery, which is known to kill ticks. And some will get neither.

Over the next five years, Ostfeld and Keesing will check to see whether the boxes and fungus keep people from getting tick-borne diseases.

Keesing is hopeful.

If anything is going to work to reduce the number of tick-borne disease cases in neighborhoods, this is going to be it,” she says.

Because here’s the thing about ticks: It’s not enough for just one or two families in a neighborhood to protect their yards, Keesing says. The whole community has to come together, in a concerted effort, to fight the onslaught of tick-borne diseases.

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