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Spider-Man director Julie Taymor may be replaced

NEW YORK — The producers of Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark were negotiating on Monday with their director, Julie Taymor, for her to work with a newly expanded creative team to fix the critically derided, $65 million musical or possibly leave the show, according to people who work on Spider-Man or have been briefed on the negotiations.

The artistic direction under consideration for Spider-Man — twice as expensive as any show in Broadway history — involves more decisions than just Taymor’s future, according to these people, who spoke anonymously because the producers have insisted that no information be disclosed about the talks.

The opening night for Spider-Man has already been delayed five times; the current opening date, March 15, seems all but certain to fall, since as of Monday night theater critics had not been invited to review it (normally invitations are sent the week before). The people who spoke about the negotiations all said that the producers now viewed a March 15 opening as unlikely. For all the decisions to be made, the role of Taymor is the most freighted one. A Tony Award winner for the musical blockbuster The Lion King and regarded in some quarters as a visually creative genius, Taymor was recruited in 2002 as director by Bono and the Edge.

The people who spoke about the negotiations said that, throughout Monday, they were not sure if Taymor would stay or go as director.

—Patrick Healy and Kevin Flynn, The New York Times

Protest organizers are told to shut offices in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — Two political parties that led demonstrations in Baghdad over the past two weeks said on Monday that security forces controlled by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had ordered them to close their offices.

The actions, which the government said were merely evictions, came amid growing concerns that al-Maliki’s American-backed government is using force and other measures to stifle dissent in this fragile democracy.

Officials for the Iraqi Nation Party and the Iraqi Communist Party said in interviews that dozens of armed security forces had come to their offices here Sunday, two days after another round of demonstrations.

Though the parties do not have any seats in Parliament, they are outspoken critics of al-Maliki’s government. They called the evictions illegal efforts to weaken them.

“He is breaking the Constitution; he is breaking the law,” said Mithal al-Alusi, the leader of the Iraqi Nation Party and a former member of Parliament, referring to al-Maliki.

Al-Maliki’s cabinet said there was no political motive behind the evictions, which it called part of a longstanding plan to return publicly-owned buildings to government use.

“The Constitution guarantees the activity of all political parties, and what was said about banning the Iraqi Communist Party is untrue,” the cabinet said in a statement.

—Michael S. Schmidt and Jack Healy, The New York Times

Claims of weight-loss nirvana with hormone called hCG

Women are streaming into doctors’ offices and weight-loss clinics all over the country, paying upward of $1,000 a month for a consultation, a supply of the hormone, and the syringes needed to deliver it. More than 50 years after a doctor at a Roman clinic began promoting hCG as a dieting aid, it is as popular as ever, even though there is scant evidence that it makes any difference.

The regimen combines daily injections with a near-starvation diet, and patients, mostly women, are often enticed by promises that they can lose about a pound a day without feeling hungry. Perhaps even more seductively, they are frequently told that the hCG will prompt their bodies to carry away and metabolize fat that has been stored where they least want it — in their upper arms, bellies and thighs.

In response to inquiries stirred up by the diet’s popularity, the Food and Drug Administration warned in January that “homeopathic” forms of hCG, like lozenges and sprays, sold over the Internet and in some health food stores, are fraudulent and illegal if they claim weight-loss powers.

A New York doctor, Scott M. Blyer, offers the hCG diet as an adjunct to his cosmetic surgery practice.

The hCG, Blyer said, “tricks your body into a state of pregnancy; it burns off fat so the fetus can get enough calories, but it protects muscle.”

—Anemona Hartocollis, The New York Times

Volcano erupts, producing fiery images but no damage

New cracks in Hawaii’s surface continued to spew lava on Monday in the latest punctuation of Kilauea Volcano, the mythical home of the Hawaiian fire goddess Pele.

Beginning on Saturday afternoon, the fissures along the chain of craters that make up Kilauea’s East Rift Zone, on the southern end of Hawaii’s Big Island, created what resembled rivers of fire through the forest. Splatters of molten lava reached peaks of more than 80 feet on Sunday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian volcano observatory, reaching over the trees. In aerial photographs, incandescent flows of red and orange — colors produced by temperatures as hot as about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit — left veins of ash grey as they churned through the green forest, before cascading into another deep crack in the earth.

The eruption also caused more than 150 detectable earthquakes in the area, which continued through Monday morning, though with decreasing frequency.

The fissures prompted the closing of parts of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, including Chain of Craters Road and other trails and a campground in the area.

—Sarah Wheaton, The New York Times