Atlanta judge grants bond to ex-NBA player Crittenton charged with murder

ATLANTA – A judge took the rare step Tuesday of allowing former NBA player Javaris Crittenton, charged with murder in a drive-by shooting, to go free on bond after hearing friends and coaches testify that he was too focused on making a comeback to squander his future on a revenge killing.

Magistrate Judge Karen Smith Woodson took the unusual step to grant him US$230,000 bond over the objections of prosecutors, who said they feared Crittenton could threaten witnesses who implicated him in the Aug. 19 shooting death of 22-year-old Julian Jones in Atlanta.

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The judge, though, banned Crittenton from the crime scene and ordered Paul Hewitt, who was coaching Georgia Tech when Crittenton starred there, to co-sign the bond with others who spent hours testifying on his behalf Tuesday.

The former first-round draft pick for the Los Angeles Lakers, who was suspended from the NBA after a locker room dispute with ex-teammate Gilbert Arenas, was arrested Aug. 30 at a southern California airport and charged with the shooting. Police said Crittenton was retaliating for being robbed of $55,000 worth of jewelry when Jones was mistakenly hit by gunfire while standing outside her house with a man who wasn’t injured, 18-year-old Trontavious Stephens.

Atlanta Police Det. James Thorpe testified that police charged Crittenton after Stephens identified the player as the shooter in a photo lineup. Thorpe said investigators were told by Stephens that he had a “good, clear look” at the gunman because he stuck his head out of a dark SUV from the back seat. He also said a neighbour who had spotted Crittenton in the neighbourhood searching for the jewelry thieves told police that Crittenton was the gunman, according to authorities.

Defence lawyer Brian Steel said the charges were based on faulty eyewitness testimony and that no physical evidence linked the player to the shooting. Police haven’t located blood or DNA evidence. His fingerprints weren’t found in the black SUV he rented hours before the shooting took place, and tests for gunpowder residue are still pending.

Steel also disputed assertions from authorities who said Crittenton stuck his head and arms out of the back of the vehicle. He noted that the window of the black Chevrolet Tahoe he was accused of riding in only gave him about six inches of space.

“There’s no physical evidence,” Steel said. “There’s no gun. There are no confessions.”

Crittenton’s friends and family, who packed the courtroom and a nearby overflow area, said he was too busy training for his return to the league to worry about stolen jewelry.

His longtime friend Darryl Slack said Crittenton made it his mission in life to be on an NBA roster, and his agent Mark Bartelstein testified that his client had turned down offers to play overseas so he could try out for a few NBA squads when the league’s lockout ended.

“He was really focused. He had something to prove,” Bartelstein said.

Crittenton is an Atlanta native who starred at Georgia Tech before being drafted by the Lakers in 2007. He was later traded to the Washington Wizards, where he and then-teammate Gilbert Arenas had a dispute over a card game in December 2009. Two days later, Arenas brought four guns to the locker-room and set them in front of Crittenton’s locker with a sign telling him to “PICK 1.” Crittenton then took out his own gun.

Crittenton pleaded guilty in January 2010 to a misdemeanour gun charge and received a year of unsupervised probation.

He has struggled to get back into the NBA after that episode, playing overseas in China for some months before returning in January to play for the NBA developmental league’s Dakota Wizards.

The move was a wake-up call for Crittenton, said Hewitt, now head basketball coach of George Mason University.

“Being there got his attention, He said, ‘Coach, it’s so cold up here my lungs hurt,’” Hewitt said. “It helped him refocus.”

In April, Crittenton told police that he and a friend were leaving a barbershop when two teenagers surprised them. One of the men held Crittenton at gunpoint and forced him to hand over a $25,000 black diamond necklace, a $30,000 black diamond watch, an iPhone and $25 cash, according to a police report.

Stephens has told The Associated Press he had never met Crittenton and wasn’t involved in the robbery. Police have said they don’t believe Jones, a 23-year-old mother of four, was the intended target, but they haven’t said who they believe the gunman was after.

“I didn’t know him at all,” said Stephens.

The day of the shooting, Hewitt said, he spoke to Crittenton and that he sounded “very upbeat” after some good workouts. He then travelled to visit his ex-girlfriend Mia Fields on a long-planned trip to Los Angeles when he learned police had charged him in the killing, she testified Tuesday.

“He looked shocked, paralyzed and in fear,” she told the court. “He said, ‘I didn’t do this and I can’t believe they are blaming me for this.’”

Jack Barrs, a prosecutor in Atlanta’s Fulton County, didn’t address Crittenton’s journey to California before his arrest. But he urged the judge to keep Crittenton in custody so he can’t threaten the witnesses crucial to the case.

“This case is about retaliation and revenge,” he said. “And as a result of his actions a totally innocent person is dead.”

But Steel vowed his client wouldn’t violate the conditions of his release and said that doing so could sacrifice a lucrative NBA salary. And Crittenton’s pastor, Mark Allen Couch, told the court there was little doubt where the athlete would be each weekend.

“I expect to see him at church,” he said.


Gay rights group asks Simmonds to apologize, NHL finds unwanted spotlight again

Once again, the NHL has found itself trending for all the wrong reasons.

Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds, just days removed from being subjected to an apparent racial taunt in London, Ont., found himself under investigation for an alleged homophobic slur made to New York Rangers agitator Sean Avery.

While Simmonds ultimately escaped punishment, the league issued a strong warning in announcing its decision.

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“All players, coaches and officials in the National Hockey League deserve the respect of their peers, and have the absolute right to function in a work environment that is free from racially or sexually-based innuendo or derision,” Colin Campbell, the league’s senior executive vice president of hockey operations, said Tuesday in a release.

“Since there are conflicting accounts of what transpired on the ice, we have been unable to substantiate with the necessary degree of certainty what was said and by whom. …

“In light of this, we are unable at this time to take any disciplinary action with respect to last night’s events.”

The latest ugly turn in an eventful NHL pre-season not only provided more fodder for talk shows and social media sites, but also offered a reminder that truth is often stranger than fiction.

Avery is the league’s most notorious pest and was suspended six games in 2008 after making the infamous “sloppy seconds” remark about an ex-girlfriend who had started dating Dion Phaneuf. However, he’s also been a strong advocate for gay marriage in New York State.

For Simmonds, it was a second appearance at the centre of a controversial story inside a week. A fan threw a banana out of the stands at John Labatt Centre last Thursday during a shootout attempt by Simmonds, one of a handful of black players in the NHL.

There was some confusion about the incident with Avery on Monday night – Simmonds said he wasn’t sure exactly what was said in the heat of the moment – but the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) demanded an apology.

“Hate speech and anti-gay slurs have no place on the ice rink,” said Mike Thompson, the acting president of GLAAD. “The word that Simmonds used is the same word that is hurled at (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) youth on the playground and in our schools, creating a climate of intolerance and hostility.

“He should not only apologize for this anti-gay outburst, but the Philadelphia Flyers and the NHL have a responsibility to take action and educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable.”

With the NHL slated to open its regular season Oct. 6, the incident shifted the focus again away from the on-ice product.

And that is decidedly unwelcome following an off-season dominated by Sidney Crosby’s concussion problems and the tragic deaths of a trio of enforcers. A string of suspensions resulting from illegal pre-season hits have also made headlines.

The most recent incident occurred during a heated game between Atlantic Division rivals. Avery and Simmonds were at odds in the first period, and television cameras caught Simmonds arguing with Avery, appearing to utter the slur.

It immediately became a major discussion point among fans and journalists on Twitter before spreading to NHL dressing rooms on Tuesday morning.

Player opinions ranged from those questioning the source of the allegation – “With Avery, you never know what the real thing is,” said Habs forward Mathieu Darche – to those wondering whether words exchanged on the ice should be discussed in public afterwards.

“There’s a lot of things said back and forth,” said Calgary Flames defenceman Scott Hannan. “We’ve all been there. If you’ve ever played sports and been in that situation, where the anger or the emotion gets a little ahead of you, that should be taken into context somewhat.”

Added Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa: “Racial slurs are off limits. Stay away from personal issues all together, people’s families and wives. After that, I don’t think there has to be a whole lot of tattle-tailing.”

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, who’s late son Brendan came out publicly announcing his homosexuality with the support of his father, said he approved of the way the league handled the incident.

“I don’t think a player should be suspended until the league had made it clear that that was a suspendable offence,” said Burke, an ardent supporter of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender community.

“I’m really pleased with Colin’s (Campbell) statement. I do think it should be a workplace that’s free of commentary like that. I do believe a lot of this is habitual and it’s got to stop.”

Campbell gave up the NHL’s discipline job in June, but stepped in to handle Simmonds’ discipline hearing because of the long queue forming at the door of his successor Brendan Shanahan.

Shanahan continued his crackdown Tuesday by suspending Anaheim Ducks forward Jean-Francois Jacques for the remainder of the pre-season and five regular-season games after leaving the bench on a legal line change to start a fight with Vancouver’s Mike Duco over the weekend.

That brought the total discipline meted out by Shanahan to six suspensions covering 21 pre-season games, 22 regular-season games and US$636,952.83 in forfeited wages – all over an unprecedented span of just six days.

More punishment is coming.

As of Tuesday night, the league hadn’t announced any discipline against Flyers forward Tom Sestito, who was ejected from Monday’s game for hitting Rangers forward Andre Deveaux from behind – a textbook example of the kind of play the NHL is looking to eliminate.

With all of the bad press coming out of the exhibition season, some began to question whether it was dragging on too long. Perhaps that was only a matter of perception.

“It’s only two and half weeks,” said Habs defenceman Josh Gorges. “It’s hard to explain how all this happened in one pre-season but it’s definitely not too long. It’s short, it’s quick.”

With files from Bill Beacon in Montreal, Jim Morris in Vancouver and Donna Spencer in Calgary.


Twitter accounts hijacked as Venezuela’s political battle takes new online turn

CARACAS, Venezuela – Over months, Venezuelan TV soap opera writer Leonardo Padron built a Twitter following of about 250,000 people by posting more than a dozen messages a day, many of them skewering President Hugo Chavez.

On Aug. 29, Padron issued a typical shot: “Chavez knows of the immense death toll that there is in this country, so why such indifference to the subject of insecurity?”

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Three days later, however, the tweets picked a new target: Padron himself. “In no way have I contributed to combat racism, discrimination, cultural alienation,” one note read. “My soap operas feed these evils in our society.”

Padron had fallen victim to an unknown hacker or group of hackers who have hijacked the accounts of at least nine well-known Chavez critics, posting curse-filled insults, threats and slogans such as “Long live Chavez.”

One late-night post called a journalist a homosexual, and another threatened a Chavez opponent: “I’m going after you little by little, Damned Narco.” Doctored photos show opponents wearing red berets of the sort favoured by the socialist leader.

The burst of Twitter hacking has opened a new battlefield in Venezuela’s heated political wars. Some Chavez critics say their email accounts have also been compromised.

A group calling itself “N33” has claimed responsibility for the Twitter attacks, and those targeted have had “N33” appear on their Twitter profiles.

All sorts of theories have been circulating about who is behind N33, ranging from Chavez allies to opponents trying to make the government look bad. Some wonder if it could be a single young hacker trying to make a statement.

Padron heard from an acquaintance that his account was sending out insults. He had been wondering why he wasn’t able to sign in to Twitter. Suddenly, it was clear: Someone had stolen his password and shut him out.

“It’s an invasion, a humiliation. It’s as if you’re about to go into your house and the door doesn’t open with your key, and you sense there’s someone inside posing as you,” Padron told The Associated Press in an interview.

“You don’t imagine that your 2.0 life is going to be stolen, that your voice is going to be expropriated,” Padron said. “Of course, I began to have a very strong feeling of indignation.”

Other victims of the attacks this month have included an activist, a humorist, three journalists, a TV show host, an ex-diplomat and a former Chavez supporter, all of them openly critical of Chavez.

Some of the victims have complained to authorities. Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz said that two prosecutors are collecting evidence and will talk to witnesses.

Both Twitter and Google say the attacks most likely involved phishing, a form of Internet fraud in which victims are tricked into revealing passwords or other personal information through emails with links to pages that appear to be authentic. Once a victim enters a password for Twitter or an email account on a fraudulent page, hackers are able to use it to take over the real account and change the password.

About 2 million Venezuelans, or 8 per cent of the population, are Twitter users, according to figures by the local research company Tendencias Digitales. That gives Venezuela the second highest Twitter penetration in the region, after Uruguay.

Chavez’s opponents regularly use the social networking site to spread critical commentary, while the government goes on Twitter to promote its policies and attack opponents. Chavez’s Twitter account, chavezcandanga, reached the milestone of 2 million followers on Aug. 31.

That very day, the attacks by N33 began. In a Sept. 2 statement posted on the Internet, it called itself a group without links to “any government entity.”

The statement was read aloud on state television by the host of the late night talk show La Hojilla, or “The Razor,” a program that often denounces Chavez opponents.

In the statement, N33 said it had hijacked accounts to retaliate for “improper use of Twitter” and for attacking Chavez while he undergoes cancer treatment. It said Chavez’s “convalescence hasn’t been enough of a reason for these opposition characters … to diminish their load of rage and bad intentions.”

N33 has also taken over Gmail accounts, usually at night, stealing personal messages and photos and posting them on Twitter.

While the attacks on Twitter accounts died down after the first week of September, N33 continued posting items extracted from email accounts on a Twitter account, Cain_Supremo, until that account was suspended by Twitter. Another account has since appeared purporting to represent N33.

Activist Rocio San Miguel, whose Twitter account was taken over, also saw her personal photos and documents as well as insults and threats against her appear on the N33 Twitter feed.

“It’s a feeling of powerlessness,” San Miguel told the AP. “Without a doubt, they want to frighten and intimidate.”

San Miguel leads an organization focused on national security and defence issues, and she likened the attacks to a sort of terrorism, saying they seem aimed at making an example of certain government critics to inhibit others.

Padron said it took him three days to block his own account. He also had to recoup email accounts that had been seized.

One of pirate posts on Padron’s Twitter account sent greetings to the website “Table of Scorpions,” a similarly mysterious, unsigned blog that has posted recorded phone conversations of opposition politicians.

Venezuelan law imposes prison sentences for cyber-spying or accessing others’ accounts, and one 17-year-old Venezuelan was arrested four years ago for hacking into government websites. He was later released and the status of his case is unclear.

Twitter said that phishing schemes are a leading hazard.

“Most attempts to gain access to accounts target users by sending them fraudulent messages meant to trick them into sharing their passwords,” Twitter spokeswoman Kristen Hawley said in an email. “A personal email account that’s compromised is the second most likely way an intruder gains access to Twitter accounts.”

Rafael Nunez, a Venezuelan online security expert who has experience as a hacker, noted that while N33 describes itself as a group, many of its messages are written in the first person. One such message on Twitter boasted: “I’ve got you going crazy.”

“It’s a single virtual speaker, but behind that speaker there could be collaborators,” said Nunez, who heads the Venezuelan information security company Clean Perception.

Nunez was imprisoned in the United States for more than eight months in 2005 for hacking a Defence Department website and was later released. He calls himself an “ethical hacker” who saw hacking as a challenge and now uses his knowledge to improve online security.

After studying some of the latest attacks, Nunez said N33 apparently gained access to Gmail accounts by phishing for passwords or using software that enabled keystroke logging.

Nunez said he doesn’t know of other countries where Twitter accounts have been similarly taken over in such a systematic way.

As for who might be behind it, Nunez said there are only theories for now.

“The language is very immature,” Nunez said. “It’s like a kid.”

___

Associated Press writer Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.


Glenn Gould expert: Legendary Canadian pianist would have loved the Internet

TORONTO – Glenn Gould died just days after his 50th birthday, and many fans have spent the nearly three decades since pondering how the legendary Toronto pianist might have added to his legacy had he lived.

But Gould expert Tim Page believes that one specific innovation above all others would have particularly enchanted the musician.

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“If I’m going to make predictions on Glenn Gould, the one thing I can pretty much say for certain is that he would have been obsessed with the Internet,” said Page, a professor of music and journalism at the University of Southern California and the editor of “The Glenn Gould Reader.”

“He would have done his own podcasts … I think he would have controlled his own website, recorded any music that interested him, and any time he wanted to do a new version of it, he would just do it and upload it.

“I cannot think of anybody who missed the Internet who would have loved it more than Glenn would have.”

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that CBC has launched a new website in Gould’s honour with the aim of introducing new fans to the idiosyncratic genius ahead of what would have been his 80th birthday next September.

At the same time, the public broadcaster has also released the 10-DVD set “Glenn Gould on Television: The Complete CBC Broadcasts, 1954-1977.” The exhaustive set is a veritable treasure trove for fans of the iconic Canadian, bundling over 19 hours of Gould’s rare TV specials, performances and interviews.

Among the set’s impressive inclusions? Well, there’s Gould’s earliest surviving television performance, first broadcast on Dec. 16, 1954. There’s a series of enthralling discussions between Gould and the British broadcaster Humphrey Burton, in which Gould delivers astute analyses of Bach, Beethoven and Arnold Schoenberg. There’s also the 1966 interview clip with a bowtie-clad Alex Trebek, which begins with Gould’s famous declaration: “I detest audiences.”

For Gould aficionados who have diligently hunted and swapped bootlegged recordings of moments like these for years, the elegantly assembled boxed set is a blessing.

“Finally, it’s the last real piece of Glenn,” said Page, who won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1997 for his work at the Washington Post.

“I think what will be revelatory for viewers who are seeing it for the first time will just be the fact of how good he was … what a smart guy he was, and what a funny guy he was.”

“People will get a lot of his humour.”

Indeed, the set showcases elements of Gould’s unique personality, which in some ways has become as famous as his dazzling talent at the piano.

Gould’s personal eccentricities are well-documented. He wore heavy clothing year-round, had a strange proclivity for soaking his arms and hands in warm water and carried a reputation for reclusion.

Of course, he had plenty of quirks behind the piano, too: he insisted on sitting in the same worn-out chair, he was fastidious about the temperature surrounding his performances and he hummed to himself noisily as he played. And in 1964, he turned away from public performances altogether, because he simply preferred the precise control afforded by a recording studio.

Page was among the last people to interview Gould before his death of a stroke in 1982, and while he certainly saw evidence of the musician’s personal peculiarities – “He was a different kind of guy,” Page points out with some diplomacy – he also recognized Gould’s strengths.

“(He was) very kind, very shy, very guarded until he knew you and then almost profoundly unguarded,” Page recalled. “He’d just talk about anything that came to his mind. He’d be excited. He’d want to go talking all night.

“There was something very child-like about him, in a nice way, in a way which he was just like an excited kid who wanted to talk about the stuff he was excited about.”

And that included radio and television, with the latter especially providing a showcase for Gould’s very physical style behind the piano.

His fruitful partnership with the CBC, which yielded so many memorable performances, interviews and even documentaries, seemed mutually beneficial. The broadcaster allowed Gould to reach a national audience, while Gould – a true international star of classical music – allowed CBC to share in his glory.

To this day, visitors to CBC headquarters are greeted by a bronze statue of the pianist seated on a bench, bundled under a heavy coat, scarf and driving cap, his brow furrowed.

“I think (Gould and CBC) are very closely associated,” said Mark Steinmetz, CBC’s director of radio music. “He was such a massive talent … and I think producers, directors, throughout the years, realized how good he was, and he was so entertaining, whether it was on TV or radio, that it made for good programs.

“It made good sense to be involved with him in that way.”

And the Gould specials would sure seem like an anomaly nowadays, when it’s difficult to imagine a major TV network devoting a sizable chunk of primetime to a classical musician.

But of course, Gould was an anomaly too. When asked about finding evidence of the pianist’s enduring legacy, Page said it would be foolish to simply look for modern talents who share stylistic similarities with Gould.

“I think if you go out there and you say, ‘I’m going to be a Glenn Gould clone,’ you have completely misunderstood him,” he said. “In my opinion, what he’s about is looking at the world anew, looking at the world from a very personal perspective and with no attempt to try to fit his thinking into a little box.”

“I mean, he didn’t like Chopin, so he’d say he didn’t like Chopin. He didn’t like Mozart. We can disagree with him … but I’m grateful for some heresy now and then, and Glenn gave you some heresy.”

“I mean, he was sort of a fresh wind through classical music, which was and remains rather hidebound…. He was always at least interesting, and right there, that’s something special.”


Williams Lake mom says police punched her handcuffed daughter

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is calling for an independent investigation after a mother from Williams Lake alleged an RCMP officer punched her daughter in the face while she was handcuffed in the back of a police car.

On September 10 Jamie Haller, 17, was reportedly running away from what her mother called the ‘Indian Outlaws’ when someone called the police on her behalf. In a statement from Jamie’s mom, she says she found her daughter on the ground and crying, with police cars surrounding her.

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“I saw Jamie on the ground, crying and handcuffed,” said her mother, Martina Jeff. “I got out and ran towards her. She was having a panic attack. She is very small and has never been in trouble with police before.”

She was not allowed contact with her daughter, who was then reportedly placed in the back of a police car. Jamie started to kick the windows and yell for her mom, and her mom said she heard one of the officers say “keep kicking and you’ll see what happens.”

“He put his whole upper body in the car and started punching,” said Jeff in a statement…”When I looked in the car I saw my daughter. Her face started swelling really bad. There was blood coming down on each side of her mouth. She was handcuffed, with her hands behind her back.”

The BCCLA is asking for a review from a senior officer outside the Williams Lake RCMP detachment.

Jeff says she was able to pick her daughter up from the police station the morning of September 11. She was not charged, and reportedly received no medical attention. She took her to emergency right away.

Her mother says her daughter was not able to go to school for a week due to the injury to her eye, and she could not work because her boss said her face was too marked up.

“The community needs confidence that these serious allegations will be investigated fully, promptly and as impartially as possible under our current system. If wrongs were committed, the public wants to know that they will be dealt with in accordance with the law – whether those involved are employed as law enforcement officers or are members of the public,” said Robert Holmes, Q.C., president of the BCCLA. “The community needs to trust that when someone calls 911 for the police, they will be treated with respect and not end up in hospital because of injuries sustained due to police actions.”


A French onion soup that ups the onions and adds mushrooms for good measure

French onion soup is a classic well suited for fall. The dark, rich broth and cheese-encrusted top are perfect for fending off a chilly evening.

For our version, we added a few more members of the onion family (leeks and shallots), a handful of herbs, as well as the earthiness of mushrooms. If you’d like to keep it vegetarian, you can swap out the beef and chicken broths for vegetable broth.

Onion and Mushroom Soup

Start to finish: 1 hour

1 pkg (60 g/2 oz) dried porcini or similar mushrooms

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250 ml (1 cup) boiling water

75 ml (5 tbsp) butter, divided

3 large sweet onions, thinly sliced

50 ml (1/4 cup) white wine

2 leeks, white parts only, cleaned and sliced

2 shallots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh thyme

30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh rosemary

45 ml (3 tbsp) all-purpose flour

500 ml (2 cups) chicken broth

500 ml (2 cups) beef broth

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

4 slices stale crusty bread

4 slices fontina cheese

Chopped fresh chives, for garnish

Cut or break dried mushrooms into small pieces and place in a heat-safe bowl. Pour boiling water over mushroom pieces and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 45 ml (3 tbsp) of the butter. Add onions and cook slowly until well browned, stirring regularly, 15 to 20 minutes. If onions begin to get too browned, add a couple teaspoons of water. When onions are browned and caramelized, add wine and stir to deglaze pan. Add leeks, shallots, garlic, thyme, rosemary and remaining 30 ml (2 tbsp) butter.

Increase heat to medium-high and cook until leeks are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add flour and stir to coat everything. Pour in chicken and beef broths, then stir well and bring to a boil. Add steeped mushrooms (including liquid), then reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat broiler.

Ladle soup into 4 oven-safe crocks. Top each with a slice of stale bread, then a slice of the cheese. Arrange crocks on a rimmed baking sheet, then place under broiler and cook until cheese is melted and begins to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve topped with fresh chives.

Makes 4 servings.


We had to know: What sort of muffin could we bake if we spent $16 a pop?

So political kerfuffle aside, you have to wonder exactly what a $16 muffin would taste like.

Last week’s news that the government supposedly paid $16 apiece for breakfast muffins at a U.S. Justice Department conference set off critics of government spending.

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Hilton Worldwide, the hotel company that hosted the 2009 confab in Washington, disputes the accuracy of the claim in a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general. The hotel called it an accounting thing, explaining that the price included various drinks and gratuity charges, in addition to the muffins. The IG stands by the report.

Which all kind of misses the most compelling issues. If you did spend $16 on a muffin, what would it look like? How would it taste? Is it even possible?

The typical muffin baked in an institutional setting such as a hotel costs about 50 cents or less, not counting labour. If you go crazy extravagant and reach for the top-shelf organic flour, maybe some hand-harvested wild blueberries from Maine and fancy sugar, you’re still going to max out around $1 per muffin on raw ingredients.

Here in The Associated Press test kitchen, we started searching for ways to bump up the price of your basic muffin. The end result was anything but basic. We’re also pretty certain you’ll never see one of these babies served at a government conference.

Getting the price-per-muffin that high was hard. We took the obvious steps first – organic flour, sugar and milk, cultured butter, sea salt and free-range eggs. But we still weren’t even close. A rare honey imported from Zambia helped, as did a healthy amount of pricey macadamia nuts and some Tahitian vanilla beans.

But in the end, the only way to get to $16 was to reach for some old-fashioned booze and gold. That’s right, we glazed our muffins with a chocolate sauce made from organic dark chocolate cut with reduced Scotch whisky (the good stuff!) and edible gold-leaf flakes.

The result? A rather stunning and intense muffin that would cost a mere $192 per dozen (not counting labour) – or $16 each.

$16 Muffins

Start to finish: 1 hour

Muffins

625 ml (2 1/2 cups) organic all-purpose flour

15 ml (1 tbsp) baking powder

2 ml (1/2 tsp) sea salt

90 ml (6 tbsp or 3/4 stick) unsalted cultured butter

125 ml (1/2 cup) maple sugar

125 ml (1/2 cup) imported honey (the rarer the better)

Seeds scraped from 2 Tahitian vanilla beans

2 free-range organic eggs

125 ml (1/2 cup) organic milk

500 ml (2 cups) chopped dried strawberries (soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes, then drained)

250 ml (1 cup) chopped macadamia nuts, lightly toasted

Topping

500 ml (2 cups) top-shelf Scotch whisky

500 g (1 lb) high-end, organic dark chocolate, chopped, divided

30 ml (2 tbsp) unsalted cultured butter

30 ml (2 tbsp) imported honey (the bigger the carbon footprint, the better)

5 ml (1 tsp) canola or vegetable oil

12 fresh strawberries

250 ml (1 cup) chopped macadamia nuts, lightly toasted

50 ml (1/4 cup) gold leaf flakes, loosely packed

Heat oven to 190 C (375 F). Line 12 muffin tins with muffin cups.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and sea salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter, maple sugar, honey and vanilla seeds until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping bowl between additions. Add half the flour mixture, then milk, then remaining flour mixture, beating and scraping bowl between each addition.

By hand, stir in dried strawberries and macadamia nuts. Spoon mixture into lined muffin tins. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted at the centre comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

While muffins bake, prepare topping. In a skillet, heat Scotch whisky (be careful, it will flame). Bring to a gentle simmer and reduce to 125 ml (1/2 cup).

In a heat-safe bowl, place half of the chocolate, butter and honey. Pour hot reduced liquor over chocolate. Let sit for 2 minutes, then stir until completely smooth and glossy. Set aside.

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine remaining chocolate with oil. Microwave on high in 15-second bursts, stirring between, until completely melted and smooth. One at a time, dunk each strawberry into chocolate, covering about three-quarters of the berry. Set on waxed paper, then refrigerate for several minutes to harden chocolate.

Once muffins are cool, spoon chocolate glaze over top of each, spreading it to coat top surface. Sprinkle macadamia nuts around outer edge, then sprinkle gold leaf over centre surface. Top each with a chocolate-covered strawberry.

Makes 12 very over-the-top muffins.

Source: Recipe by Alison Ladman.


Woman testifies at torture case abouthorror of seeing her ex in hospital

CALGARY – Lindsay Airhart was horrified to see how her former boyfriend had deteriorated from the big, strong, carefree man she had known to the bruised, beaten and emaciated individual lying in a hospital bed looking back at her.

“He was a frail, lifeless body,” Airhart said softly from the witness stand. “He looked like he had been starved. He had burn marks inside of his legs. Every couple of inches there was a cut or a bruise. Some were infected. Some were new and some were old.”

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Airhart was the first witness Tuesday at the trial of Dustin Paxton. The Crown alleges Paxton brutalized, tortured and starved his former roommate over a period of years before dropping him off at a Regina hospital in April 2010.

The 31-year-old is charged with aggravated assault, unlawful confinement and sexual assault. The roommate, who just turned 28, can’t be named because of a court-ordered publication ban. Paxton has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Airhart, 29, testified that she and the alleged victim had had a relationship and even though they eventually split up, they remained good friends.

She described her former boyfriend as being about five-foot-eight and weighing 220 pounds – slightly overweight, but a happy and healthy individual.

Airhart told court that after the two broke up, her former boyfriend and Paxton became good friends. When Paxton moved to Calgary, she wasn’t surprised that her ex-boyfriend went with him from Winnipeg, she said.

Airhart kept in touch with the man, but that contact eventually stopped and she got worried. She said she reached out to Paxton and was told there had been an accident – her former boyfriend was in hospital after having an industrial freezer fall on him at work.

Airhart said she went to Calgary to visit him after he got out of the hospital.

She noticed Paxton’s mood had changed for the worst.

“He was grumpy. You could tell in his voice and physical attitude he just wasn’t happy,” she said.

What’s worse, she said, the two men didn’t appear to be friends any more.

“(Paxton) treated him like a piece of crap,” said Airhart. “At one point he got angry and sent him to his room.”

Her concerns magnified when she caught up with her former boyfriend again on another visit to Calgary.

“He looked sick,” she said. “He was tiny. His skin was yellow. He said everything was OK and it was his job that was taking its toll.

“The next time I saw him was when he was dropped off at the hospital in Regina.”

The man was down to less than 90 pounds when he was admitted. Crown prosecutor Joe Mercier said the victim was a mere shadow of his former self.

“He was dropped off at the Regina General Hospital in critical condition,” the prosecutor said. “He was severely malnourished, he had wounds over his entire body and his lips were severely damaged.”

Mercier said he intends to call 50 witnesses during the trial, which is scheduled to run five weeks, who will testify that Paxton dominated his roommate. Mercier said he will be calling an expert witness who deals with human captivity and who will explain the extent of the containment and domination suffered by the victim.

“I expect the evidence to show that Mr. Paxton began to mentally and then physically dominate,” said Mercier.

“They will also testify to the steady degradation of his mental and physical state. He began to lose weight and constantly had injuries to his face and ears and was totally submissive to Mr. Paxton.

” Mr. Paxton controlled his movements.”


Container-grown perennials can quickly go to pot if not overwintered properly

Perennials and containers make a great gardening combination, but they will quickly go to pot if overlooked in the winter.

Plant roots are vulnerable to freezing in containers, where the soil hardens more than it would in the ground. Stems and branches – particularly those on small trees and shrubs – need protection from the deep chill as well as from snow and icy buildups. Containers should be cared for to prevent splintering and crumbling.

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“The most important thing you can do when overwintering container plants is ensure that they’re vigorous and established,” said Leonard Perry, an extension horticulturist with the University of Vermont.

“Young plants that you just pop into a pot and haven’t rooted yet may not do so well,” Perry said. “The healthier they are going in, the better their chances.”

Perennials should survive long periods of extreme cold if given pre-season care. That includes:

– Feeding. Slow-release fertilizers applied before the first killing frosts arrive boost plant hardiness. Feeding should end once the plants go dormant. “With good fertility, you don’t have as many overwintering problems,” Perry said.

– Watering. Soils must be moist when the perennials are stored to help protect the roots.

– Pruning. Trim and dispose of all foliage after the plants go completely dormant. That keeps slugs and other insects from laying eggs in the residue, according to a “Simple Sensible Solutions” brochure from Walters Gardens Inc. at Zeeland, Mich., North America’s largest grower of wholesale perennials.

– Trenching. Bury pots – plants and all – for improved insulation. Add a layer of mulch. Unearth and return them to their usual sites the following spring.

– Covering. Anything from evergreen boughs to blankets, straw to shredded bark can be used to safeguard pots and their contents. Securing a piece of bubble wrap or burlap around the pots also helps. Be quick to remove them once the weather warms.

– Storing indoors. Move potted plants into an unheated garage, basement, greenhouse, cold frame or similar site that matches their hardiness zone. Make sure it’s a place where the temperature stays above freezing.

Protecting the containers can pay off with additional seasons of service. “I raise my container plants off the ground in winter so they don’t freeze to the surface,” said Peter Cilio, creative director for Campania International, a designer and manufacturer of cast-stone garden accessories in Pennsburg, Pa.

“Some of the containers have feet for that purpose, or you can use pieces of wood,” he said. “A little height lets water escape through the drain holes and keeps the containers from splitting or cracking in freeze-thaw cycles.”

Large pots seem to last longer, Cilio said. More soil means better insulation. “Smaller pots constrict plant roots, hindering drainage.”

Choose your perennials well, especially for proven longevity in northerly climates. Potted perennials that are tough enough to endure at least a couple of hardiness zones colder than where you live are likely to survive extended exposure. That would mean using, say, Zone 4 plants in Zone 6.

And don’t forget rodent control. Mice like to cosy up to container plants in cold weather, especially those that include grasses.

“Begin baiting for mice about a month before covering your perennials,” the Walters Gardens horticulturists write. “This will help reduce their populations going into winter.”

Online:

For more about overwintering containerized perennials, see this University of Massachusetts Amherst factsheet:

杭州桑拿按摩论坛extension.umass.edu/floriculture/fact-sheets/overwintering-containerized-perennials

You can contact Dean Fosdick at deanfosdick(at)netscape杭州夜网


30 dogs rescued from Paws ‘R’ Us kennel expecting puppies

MONTREAL – Thirty of the 527 dogs rescued 10 days ago in western Quebec are pregnant and will likely add 100 or more dogs to the mix within days.

Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International Canada, which along with Quebec government officials removed the dogs Sept. 16-17 from the Paws “R” Us kennel, about 80 kilometres northwest of Ottawa, said the unborn puppies’ ownership is uncertain since a judge has yet to rule on whether the seized dogs will go back to their owner.

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It took animal rights workers about 24 hours to remove the dogs from the site, in what has been described as the largest puppy-mill bust in Canadian history.

The operator of the kennel, on a former pig farm in Quebec’s Clarendon Township, has denied abusing the dogs and wants them back. A judge is to render a decision in three to six weeks.

“Anybody who cares about how dogs are treated should realize these puppies should not go back there,” Aldworth said on Monday.

The dogs are in the late stages of pregnancy and “are about to give birth any day now. I saw two being born yesterday.”

The seized dogs are of all sizes and shapes, about 30 breeds in total. About one-third are under daily treatment by veterinarians. They are being cared for in new cages in what was a vacant government building in Lachute.

Aldworth said a network of animal shelters and pet-rescue groups in Quebec and Ontario is expected to help if and when the dogs’ ownership is permanently taken away from the kennel operator.

To volunteer or offer to adopt a dog, contact Humane Society International Canada at [email protected] or 514-395-2914.

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