GOING HOG MILD? Experts are "cautiously optimistic" that the H1N1 flu virus might not be as ferocious as previously feared. It's now in at least 30 U.S. states and will likely still claim more American victims, but probably isn't as virulent as dozens of deaths in Mexico initially seemed to indicate. It's missing the factors that made 1918's "Spanish flu" outbreak so catastrophic, the CDC's acting director said on several Sunday morning news shows yesterday, and shows some "encouraging signs." At the same time, however, he and other health officials are warning that we're "not out of the woods yet." Past pandemics have come in waves, and it's too early to say this one won't do the same. There are 898 confirmed cases of the virus worldwide, spanning 18 countries, although nearly all the deaths so far have been in Mexico, where the outbreak presumably began. Officials in that country have also softened the alarm, announcing they believe the epidemic has peaked. (Sources: Tribune Newspapers, Seattle Times, Associated Press, BBC News)

CORN IN THE USA: President Obama faces a test of his greenness in how his administration handles the ethanol issue, the AP reports. Supporting the normally corn-based fuel no doubt helped the Illinois senator win several Corn Belt states in the 2008 election, including Iowa, where his presidential campaign really took off. But as the EPA draws closer to proposing national ethanol standards, many observers are wondering whether the agency will factor in the whole picture — ethanol's direct carbon emissions are lower than gasoline's, but its indirect emissions and other effects from clearing land to grow fuel crops, namely corn, make it seem much less enticing. Officials from several corn states are pushing the EPA to only consider direct emissions in its proposal. (Source: AP)

SUN RISING: Only about 5 percent of solar panels worldwide are American-made, and less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity is derived from solar power. But with federal funding and incentives on the way, the United States is becoming fertile ground for startup solar-power companies that can summon the capital, the NY Times' Kate Galbraith reports, and many of them are foreign. One, the German company SolarWorld AG, got in before the stimulus boom and is now thriving, having recently invested $500 million in a new Oregon facility, despite the recession's tight grip on that state. (Source: New York Times)

SEA SPACE: With people and people's infrastructure quickly filling up the land, more than a few nervous eyes are cutting glances out to sea. "It's really an idea whose time has come, and it's one of my top priorities," says Jane Lubchenco, the new chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The idea is basically to start zoning the ocean, determining what types of development and activities are allowed where. Several states have already begun ocean-use planning, and Uncle Sam doesn't seem far behind — except he has to negotiate among 20 federal agencies that administer about 140 sea-specific laws. (Source: Washington Post)

INCONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION: Americans are becoming more like Europeans when it comes to buying cars, the LA Times reports today. That means buying cheaper, more economical ones, and buying fewer of them. After U.S. consumers bought an average of 16.9 million new vehicles a year from 1999 to 2006, they'll struggle to reach 10 million this year, one analyst predicts. Once seen as status symbols, cars are increasingly seen for what they are — cars. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

WOLF BLITZER: Gray wolves are being removed from the endangered species list today in parts of the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes region, freeing hunters in some states to openly hunt the animals for the first time in decades. The wolves were listed as endangered in 1974, after being eliminated from the lower 48 states, but have clawed back to more than 5,000. Still, some conservationists worry that populations aren't healthy enough yet to sustain a return to public hunting. (Source: AP)

THEY GROW UP SO FAST: Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus may not be entirely to blame for making young girls mature faster — it may also be pollution. A 15-year study of girls ranging from 5 to 20 years old in Denmark has found that the average age of breast development dropped by a full year compared with girls studied in the early 1990s. It's the latest of many studies to suggest the timing of puberty in humans is changing, possibly due to endocrine-disrupting chemicals released into the environment or found in household products, such as those that contain bisphenol-A. (Source: NY Times)

NOT SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES: Dolphins have developed an amazing ability to catch shut-eye, without literally shutting their eyes. The big-brained marine mammals can send half of their brains to sleep while the other half maintains a watchful vigilance, and scientists have now discovered that doing so doesn't tax their brainpower — even though they can stay attune to subtle sounds for days on end. After testing dolphins' mental abilities over a five-day period in which the animals never fully went to sleep, researchers found no signs of sleep deprivation. (Source: ScienceDaily)

Russell McLendon

(Photo: ZUMA Press)

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