Tuesday, December 23, 2014

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Too Few Good Men?

The dearth of male volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Arizona reflects a gender disparity in Valley volunteerism at large. Where are all the men?

The unmistakable sizzle of meat hitting hot oil buzzes through the room as eight pairs of big hands help eight pairs of little hands gently present the chicken breasts they’ve just gleefully pounded to the olive oil-coated pans in front of them. The chicken browns to a pale caramel and the little faces look up into the big ones with pride.

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For the Pill of It

Potluck-style teen pharma parties may or may not exist, but Arizona’s pill problem is real. And growing.

"See ya, Mom," the teenage boy says, cheerfully. Too cheerfully.

Instantaneously, it seems, the suburban Valley home is packed with frolicking youths – splashing in the pool, draining beer bongs, delighting in the lack of supervision. It all takes a dark turn when Junior calls the party to order. "Awright," he declares, with no small degree of formality. "Who's holding?"

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Fatal Distraction

Distracted driving causes thousands of accidents and hundreds of deaths in Arizona every year, yet there's no statewide law prohibiting it. Can it wait?

On a clear, still-sunny Monday evening in early May, 33-year-old Jorge Espinoza drives his empty fuel tanker on Interstate 8, about 40 miles east of Yuma. The truck's dashboard camera records two views: the interior cab of the truck, and the rolling ribbon of asphalt in front of the 18-wheeler. The song "She's So High," a one-hit wonder for singer Tal Bachman in 1999, plays on the radio. Espinoza's black leather wallet is propped in front of the cab camera, obscuring its view of him. The camera continues to capture the roaring drone of the wind through a crack in Espinoza's window as it crackles over the strains of the Bachman song.

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Stamped Out

Arizonans feel the SNAP of recent federal nutrition assistance cuts.

Connie McAfee has trained herself to eat only one meal a day. It’s usually dinner, which she eats at about 7 p.m. so she’ll still feel full when she goes to bed at 9 p.m.

“I wait a couple hours before I go to sleep. Then I know I won’t have to worry about eating again later. You shouldn’t have to ration food like that. This sandwich here would last me two days,” McAfee says, pointing to the plain breakfast sandwich – no cheese or mayo because she’s unaccustomed to their richness – she ordered during our interview at Denny’s.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, McAfee is one of roughly 1.1 million Arizonans (17 percent of the state’s population) directly affected by last fall’s cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the official name for the safety-net program still commonly known as food stamps. SNAP received a temporary funding boost from the 2009 Recovery Act, but the stimulus package ended on Nov. 1, 2013. As of press time, further cuts are being debated as Congress negotiates a final Farm Bill and reauthorizes SNAP.

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Getting Jobbed?

Four years into the economic recovery, Arizona's unemployment rate has stalled at an uncomfortably high level. Is 8 percent our "new normal"?

If everything goes according to plan, Bob Satnan won't have a free Saturday afternoon until late 2015.

Last spring, the former East Valley Tribune opinion page editor bid adieu to a 26-year career in newspapers and began working at Sedalia School District 200 in Sedalia, Mo., where he teaches high school journalism and finance classes. As part of his retraining, Satnan must complete several online graduate courses in education and classroom assessment. Ergo, the booked Saturdays.

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Fine ‘Em Cowboy

A tough new safety ordinance highlights the identity crisis pitting Scottsdale’s cowboy past against its party-mecca present.

It’s a little after midnight on a September weekend in Old Town Scottsdale’s entertainment district, and the clubs are heating up. Hordes of partiers in various states of undress swarm from bar to bar like masses of herded cattle – if cattle were a little shaky on their feet after a few too many Fireball shots, and if they were lured by the throbbing beats of hip-hop mash-ups in lieu of cowboy calls.

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Food & Reg

Valley restaurateurs and slow-food advocates want an elite food culture in Phoenix. Does regulation stand in the way?

Ted Batycki winds through a maze of grass-green walls with earthy brown bases. He passes a gaggle of chirping ladies armed with spray bottles full of vinegar, boxes of baking soda and a cardboard arsenal of Starbucks to fuel their merry cleaning on a sticky August morning in Cave Creek. Batycki expertly dodges a work crew assembling a table and maintains an effortless commentary, despite the intruding sounds and smell of the construction site. The buzz of a saw here, a puff of woodsy dust there to invade the nose and moisten the eyes – Batycki remains a polo-and-khaki-clad Sherpa unfazed by the chaos around him. He’s in his element at the site of the second location of Natural Choice Academy, the Valley’s first all-natural preschool, talking about what he loves most – education and nutrition.

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