Entertainment


With the economy struggling to find its footing, Americans spent less time at work last year and found more time for leisure activities such as watching television, a new government survey finds.

The average American aged 15 or older spent three hours, 32 minutes a day doing work-related activities last year, according to the American Time Use Survey released by the Labor Department on Thursday. That is down from 2011, when time spent on work jumped from three hours and 30 minutes to three hours and 34 minutes. While such changes may not seem big, average yearly changes in time spent on different activities tend to be small, and even minor changes are significant.

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The survey, which has been conducted annually since 2003 and includes both employed and unemployed persons, suggests America’s sluggish recovery continues to hamper workers. While the U.S. unemployment rate fell last year from 8.3% to 7.8%—it is now at 7.6%—other trends are likely holding down average hours spent at work. The number of part-time workers was higher in 2012 than the year before, for example

“The recovery has basically been a recovery for a tiny fraction of the population,” said Geoffrey Godbey, professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University and co-author of “Time For Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time.” “What you’re seeing is people who might want more work but aren’t getting it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the share of the population working or looking for a job dropped to 63.6% at the end of last year, compared with 64% in December 2011. That number, known as the labor force participation rate, has been falling as a result of a combination of discouraged workers dropping out of the workforce and baby boomers retiring.

The aging of America’s population means fewer people are working and more retirees are at home watching TV, Mr. Godbey said. At the same time, women have become a larger share of America’s labor force, but tend to work fewer hours than men do. And there’s a growing informal economy, he said, that might not be captured by government surveys.

With less time spent at work, Americans boosted the portion of their day going to leisure and sports activities: Time spent on leisure jumped about nine minutes to five hours and 22 minutes. Americans watched TV for two hours and 50 minutes a day, a second-straight increase from two hours and 44 minutes in 2010. Meanwhile, time spent sleeping edged up to eight hours and 44 minutes, from eight hours and 40 minutes in 2010. Time devoted to volunteering and cooking, meanwhile, fell.

Wendy Wang, a sociologist at the Pew Research Center, said the changing nature of fatherhood is also altering the way Americans use their time. In a March report based partly on the government’s survey, she found fathers were logging in fewer hours a week on job-related activities, roughly 37 hours on average in 2011, compared with 42 in 1965. Also, more American fathers are working part-time, and spending more time doing chores and with their kids. “Fathers think they need to go home earlier,” she said.

Indeed, the latest government survey shows men spent slightly more time doing housework than in 2011, while the reduction in time spent at work was more pronounced for men than women.

By Neil Shah , WSJ, June 20, 2013

Sergey Brin, a Google founder, takes issue with people who say Google has failed to gain a foothold in social networking. Google has had successes, he often says, especially with Orkut, the dominant service in Brazil and India.

Mr. Brin may soon have to revise his answer.

Facebook, the social network service that started in a Harvard dorm room just six years ago, is growing at a dizzying rate around the globe, surging to nearly 500 million users, from 200 million users just 15 months ago.


It is pulling even with Orkut in India, where only a year ago, Orkut was more than twice as large as Facebook. In the last year, Facebook has grown eightfold, to eight million users, in Brazil, where Orkut has 28 million.


In country after country, Facebook is cementing itself as the leader and often displacing other social networks, much as it outflanked MySpace in the United States. In Britain, for example, Facebook made the formerly popular Bebo all but irrelevant, forcing AOL to sell the site at a huge loss two years after it bought it for $850 million. In Germany, Facebook surpassed StudiVZ, which until February was the dominant social network there.

With his typical self-confidence, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 26-year-old chief executive, recently said it was “almost guaranteed” that the company would reach a billion users.


Though he did not say when it would reach that mark, the prediction was not greeted with the skepticism that had met his previous boasts of fast growth.
“They have been more innovative than any other social network, and they are going to continue to grow,” said Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst with the Altimeter Group. “Facebook wants to be ubiquitous, and they are being successful for now.”


The rapid ascent of Facebook has no company more worried than Google, which sees the social networking giant as a threat on multiple fronts. Much of the activity on Facebook is invisible to Google’s search engine, which makes it less useful over time. What’s more, the billions of links posted by users on Facebook have turned the social network into an important driver of users to sites across the Web. That has been Google’s role.


Google has tried time and again to break into social networking not only with Orkut, but also with user profiles, with an industrywide initiative called OpenSocial, and, most recently, with Buzz, a social network that mixes elements of Facebook and Twitter with Gmail. But none of those initiatives have made a dent in Facebook.


Google is said to be trying again with a secret project for a service called Google Me, according to several reports. Google declined to comment for this article.
Google makes its money from advertising, and even here, Facebook poses a challenge.


“There is nothing more threatening to Google than a company that has 500 million subscribers and knows a lot about them and places targeted advertisements in front of them,” said Todd Dagres, a partner at Spark Capital, a venture firm that has invested in Twitter and other social networking companies. “For every second that people are on Facebook and for every ad that Facebook puts in front of their face, it is one less second they are on Google and one less ad that Google puts in front of their face.”


With nearly two-thirds of all Internet users in the United States signed up on Facebook, the company has focused on international expansion.
Just over two years ago, Facebook was available only in English. Still, nearly half of its users were outside the United States, and its presence was particularly strong in Britain, Australia and other English-speaking countries.


The task of expanding the site overseas fell on Javier Olivan, a 33-year-old Spaniard who joined Facebook three years ago, when the site had 30 million users. Mr. Olivan led an innovative effort by Facebook to have its users translate the site into more than 80 languages. Other Web sites and technology companies, notably Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, had used volunteers to translate their sites or programs.


But with 300,000 words on Facebook’s site — not counting material posted by users — the task was immense. Facebook not only encouraged users to translate parts of the site, but also let other users fine-tune those translations or pick among multiple translations. Nearly 300,000 users participated.

“Nobody had done it at the scale that we were doing it,” Mr. Olivan said.
The effort paid off. Now about 70 percent of Facebook’s users are outside the United States. And while the number of users in the United States doubled in the last year, to 123 million, according to comScore, the number more than tripled in Mexico, to 11 million, and it more than quadrupled in Germany, to 19 million.


With every new translation, Facebook pushed into a new country or region, and its spread often mirrored the ties between nations or the movement of people across borders. After becoming popular in Italy, for example, Facebook spread to the Italian-speaking portions of Switzerland. But in German-speaking areas of Switzerland, adoption of Facebook lagged. When Facebook began to gain momentum in Brazil, the activity was most intense in southern parts of the country that border on neighboring Argentina, where Facebook was already popular.
“It’s a mapping of the real world,” Mr. Olivan said.


Facebook is not popular everywhere. The Web site is largely blocked in China. And with fewer than a million users each in Japan, South Korea and Russia, it lags far behind home-grown social networks in those major markets.


Mr. Olivan, who leads a team of just 12 people, hopes to change that. Facebook recently sent some of its best engineers to a new office in Tokyo, where they are working to fine-tune searches so they work with all three Japanese scripts. In South Korea, as well as in Japan, where users post to their social networks on mobile phones more than on PCs, the company is working with network operators to ensure distribution of its service.


Industry insiders say that, most of all, Facebook is benefiting from a cycle where success breeds more success. In particular, its growing revenue, estimated at $1 billion annually, allows the company to invest in improving its product and keep competitors at bay.


“I think that Facebook is winning for two reasons,” said Bing Gordon, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and a board member of Zynga, the maker of popular Facebook games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars. Mr. Gordon said that Facebook had hired some of the best engineers in Silicon Valley, and he said that the company’s strategy to create a platform for other software developers had played a critical role.
“They have opened up a platform, and they have the best apps on that platform,” Mr. Gordon said.


With Facebook’s social networking lead growing, it is not clear whether Google, or any other company, will succeed in derailing its march forward.
Says Danny Sullivan, the editor of Search Engine Land, an industry blog, “Google can’t even get to the first base of social networks, which is people interacting with each other, much less to second or third base, which is people interacting with each other through games and applications.”


By MIGUEL HELFT (NYT. July 7, 2010)

Tim Westergren recently sat in a Las Vegas penthouse suite, a glass of red wine in one hand and a truffle-infused Kobe beef burger in the other, courtesy of the investment bankers who were throwing a party to court him.

It was a surreal moment for Mr. Westergren, who founded Pandora, the Internet radio station. For most of its 10 years, it has been on the verge of death, struggling to find investors and battling record labels over royalties.

Had Pandora died, it would have joined myriad music start-ups in the tech company graveyard, like SpiralFrog and the original Napster. Instead, with a successful iPhone app fueling interest, Pandora is attracting attention from investment bankers who think it could go public, the pinnacle of success for a start-up.
Pandora’s 48 million users tune in an average 11.6 hours a month. That could increase as Pandora strikes deals with the makers of cars, televisions and stereos that could one day, Pandora hopes, make it as ubiquitous as AM/FM radio.
“We were in a pretty deep dark hole for a long time,” said Mr. Westergren, who is now the company’s chief strategy officer.. “But now it’s a pretty out-of-body experience.”

At the end of 2009, Pandora reported its first profitable quarter and $50 million in annual revenue — mostly from ads and the rest from subscriptions and payments from iTunes and Amazon.com when people buy music. Revenue will probably be $100 million this year, said Ralph Schackart, a digital media analyst at William Blair.
Pandora’s success can be credited to old-fashioned perseverance, its ability to harness intense loyalty from users and a willingness to shift directions — from business to consumer, from subscription to free, from computer to mobile — when its fortunes flagged.
Its library now has 700,000 songs, each categorized by an employee based on 400 musical attributes, like whether the voice is breathy, like Charlotte Gainsbourg, or gravelly like Tom Waits. Listeners pick a song or musician they like, and Pandora serves up songs with similar qualities — Charlotte Gainsbourg to Feist to Viva Voce to Belle and Sebastian. Unlike other music services like MySpace Music or Spotify, now available in parts of Europe, listeners cannot request specific songs.
Though Pandora’s executives say it is focusing on growth, not a public offering, the company is taking steps to make it possible. Last month, it hired a chief financial officer, Steve Cakebread, who had that job at Salesforce.com when it went public.

It is all a long way from January 2000, when Mr. Westergren founded the company. Trained as a jazz pianist, he spent a decade playing in rock bands before taking a job as a film composer. While analyzing the construction of music to figure out what film directors would like, he came up with an idea to create a music genome.
This being 1999, he turned the idea into a Web start-up and raised $1.5 million from angel investors. It was originally called Savage Beast Technologies and sold music recommendation services to businesses like Best Buy.

By the end of 2001, he had 50 employees and no money. Every two weeks, he held all-hands meetings to beg people to work, unpaid, for another two weeks. That went on for two years.

Meanwhile, he appealed to venture capitalists, charged up 11 credit cards and considered a company trip to Reno to gamble for more money. The dot-com bubble had burst, and shell-shocked investors were not interested in a company that relied on people, who required salaries and health insurance, instead of computers.
In March 2004, he made his 348th pitch seeking backers. Larry Marcus, a venture capitalist at Walden Venture Capital and a musician, decided to lead a $9 million investment.
“The pitch that he gave wasn’t that interesting,” Mr. Marcus said. “But what was incredibly interesting was Tim himself. We could tell he was an entrepreneur who wasn’t going to fail.”

Mr. Westergren took $2 million of it and called another all-hands meeting to pay everyone back. The next order of business: focus the service on consumers instead of businesses, change the name and replace Mr. Westergren as chief executive with Joe Kennedy, who had experience building consumer products at E-Loan and Saturn. Pandora’s listenership climbed, and in December 2005, it sold its first ad.
But in 2007, Pandora got news that threatened most of its revenue. A federal royalty board had raised the fee that online radio stations had to pay to record labels for each song. “Overnight our business was broken,” Mr. Westergren said. “We contemplated pulling the plug.”
Instead, Pandora hired a lobbyist in Washington and recruited its listeners to write to their representatives. “A lot of these users think they’re customers of the cause rather than users per se,” said Willy C. Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School who has written a case study on Pandora. “It’s a different spin on marketing.” The board agreed to negotiations and after two years settled on a lower rate.
Some music lovers dislike Pandora’s approach to choosing music based on its characteristics rather than cultural associations. Slacker Radio, a competitor with three times as many songs but less than a third of Pandora’s listeners, takes a different approach. A ’90s alternative station should be informed by Seattle grunge, said Jonathan Sasse, senior vice president for marketing at Slacker. “It’s not just that this has an 80-beat-a-minute guitar riff,” he said. “It’s that this band toured with Eddie Vedder.”

Yet in 2008, Pandora built an iPhone app that let people stream music. Almost immediately, 35,000 new users a day joined Pandora from their cellphones, doubling the number of daily signups.
For Pandora and its listeners, it was a revelation. Internet radio was not just for the computer. People could listen to their phone on the treadmill or plug it into their car or living room speakers.

In January, Pandora announced a deal with Ford to include Pandora in its voice-activated Sync system, so drivers will be able to say, “Launch my Lady Gaga station” to play their personalized station based on the music of that performer. Consumer electronics companies like Samsung, Vizio and Sonos are also integrating Pandora into their Blu-ray players, TVs and music systems.

“Think about what made AM/FM radio so accessible,” said Mr. Kennedy, Pandora’s chief. “You get into the car or buy a clock for your nightstand and push a button and radio comes out,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping to match.”

By CLAIRE CAIN MILLER-NYT (OAKLAND, California—March 7, 2010)

When the great orchestras of Europe glide through the United States on tour, they stay at elegant hotels like Le Parker Meridien near Carnegie Hall, play in grand spaces like Symphony Hall in Boston and can receive more than $100 a day in meal money.

Then there is the Moscow State Radio Symphony Orchestra.


On their nine-week tour, these Muscovites are slogging to Ashland, Ky.; Quincy, Ill.; and Zanesville, Ohio, often riding buses for up to seven hours, moving from highway to budget hotel to concert hall, and then all over again the next morning. They have a day off every two weeks, on average.
The pay? About $40 a concert in most cases, the musicians said. Per diems? Zero, making “breakfast included” the sweetest of words. The bus drivers often stop at malls to let them shop for food at a Wal-Mart. Many of them double up in hotel rooms.
“Musicians are human beings too, and they should be treated like humans,” one disgusted musician wrote in an e-mail message. Like most of the orchestra members who were contacted, this one spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing being blacklisted from future jobs.
The conditions are tough — akin to the grinding travel of low-level minor league baseball teams or striving rock bands or the barnstorming jazz orchestras of yore — and a little unexpected for a group of highly trained classical musicians. Yet they are not uncommon.
Performing arts centers and concert halls in smaller cities and towns around the country are hungry for classical music programming. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra or Berlin Symphony is well beyond their means. So lesser known, and lower priced, foreign orchestras provide a solution.
Presenters on the Moscow orchestra’s tour said it cost from $50,000 to $75,000 to engage it, compared to $100,000 and up for a well known orchestra, or twice that for one of the elite, like the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonic.
Foreign orchestras, no matter the level, provide a lure of the exotic.

“There’s a cachet there,” said Wesley O. Brustad, the president and chief executive of the State Theater in New Brunswick, N.J. “American orchestras are tough to sell,” he said. They are also more expensive because of union rules. As a bonus, presenters of foreign groups benefit from a built-in audience: ethnic groups that live in the area. Russians are especially enthusiastic concertgoers.
The State Theater played host to the Muscovites on Feb. 14, a day after they performed at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., where the musicians plowed through a preconcert buffet.

“It’s not the best orchestra in the world,” Mr. Brustad said. “The winds were a little weak.” But the musicians played with emotion, he said. (When told the Moscow players generally made $40 for the concert, Mr. Brustad said: “Oh, my goodness. No kidding. Wow. I had no idea.”)
The Moscow State Radio Symphony’s biography says it was founded in 1978 to give broadcast performances. It toured the United States once before, in 2004, and has made recent trips to China and Italy. It has made several dozen recordings, including a number for the Naxos label.
Anatoli Nemudrov, the orchestra’s artistic director, declined to discuss financial arrangements, saying they were confidential. But, he noted, touring “is hard work for all musicians, Russians and Americans.” He said the tour had been going well, adding, “We have good concerts.”
The producer of the tour, Andrew S. Grossman of Columbia Artists Management, did not respond to phone messages left at his office, on his cellphone and with his assistant, and did not respond to an e-mail query.


The Columbia Artists chairman, Ronald A. Wilford, said he was not familiar with the details of the contract. But he said that typically Columbia Artists, as a producer, receives fees from the presenters, who keep the box office receipts. Columbia Artists arranges travel inside the country and lodging, and guarantees the orchestra a set fee. “We have no idea what they’re paying their orchestra,” Mr. Wilford said of Moscow State Radio Symphony’s management.
The orchestra began its latest American tour on Jan. 13, when it arrived in Atlanta, and is due in St. Louis on Wednesday. After an original itinerary of 53 concerts in 67 days, it leaves from Los Angeles on March 22. The trip began in the deep South, worked its way north, swung through southern New England, is now in the Midwest and heads out to Arizona, Nevada and California.
On Feb. 17 the tour brought the group to Worcester, Mass. This season’s schedule of the presenter there, Music Worcester, also includes the Odessa Philharmonic, the Orquestra de São Paulo, the Shanghai Symphony and I Musici de Montréal.

“It was an all-Tchaikovsky program, which is a win-win to begin with,” Stasia Hovenesian, the executive director of Worcester Music, said of the Moscow group’s appearance. “No one but no one plays Tchaikovsky as well as the Russians do.”
And Russians they are, including conductor and soloists (except for several last-minute American substitutes). Whether they were actually members of the Moscow State Radio Symphony Orchestra is another question. A half-dozen players interviewed said they were students or freelancers hired for the tour. One musician who did allow his name to be used, Vladimir Prikhodko, a double bassist, estimated that only about 20 to 30 players in the 90-piece group were full-time members.
Mr. Nemudrov, the artistic director, said that only about a half-dozen were not regulars.
On Feb. 21 the orchestra played a concert at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx. Eva Bornstein, the center’s executive director, introduced it as “one of the finest orchestras of Europe.”

A few days before the Lehman concert a Russian mechanical engineer living in Manhattan, Sergei Levitan, contacted The New York Times to denounce what he said was mistreatment of the players. He said he knew several through mutual friends. “It’s demeaning,” he said of the conditions. “I got upset.”
After the Lehman concert a player said he grew dizzy and tumbled over a railing into a stairwell, cracking his skull. The player was interviewed by telephone at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, where he was admitted with a head injury.
The conditions are “very bad,” said another member. “I wouldn’t do this trip again. They should pay us at least twice as much,” the player said. Others lamented that they had come to see the United States but had little opportunity. Several said that a kindly bus driver had taken them into New York on a day off while they were staying in New Jersey.

Rehearsals are relentless even though they are not paid for, some musicians said, but pride in their craft pushed them to attend anyway.
Others welcomed the chance to gain concert experience, and said that the money was not bad by Russian standards. Mr. Prikhodko, 31, the double bass player, called the tour a “difficult experience, but a very useful one.” Besides, he added, “I like traveling.”
The e-mailing orchestra member, in a separate interview at Lehman, acknowledged that the performance level was not the highest. “There’s a direct relationship between how we play and how much we get paid,” he said. As for the rigors of the tour, he shrugged them off.
“I am strong man, and I am Russian,” he said. “So I can do this.”

By DANIEL J. WAKIN -NYT (March 4, 2010)

I WAS driving home listening to the radio on Thursday when I heard that Michael Jackson was dead. I turned it off and thought about my brother. It’s not that I don’t think about him — I suppose I could say that though he’s only sometimes on my mind, he’s always in it. He moves, or I move him, from an impressionistic figure in a background to a man in sharp focus.

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He is in trouble and, now that I think about it, has been for the better part of a quarter-century. Over that time we’ve become strangers. We haven’t had a substantive conversation in years — not about my marriage, my children, our father’s death, or why we’ve grown apart. It has, of course, something to do with logistics, geography, the complications of growing up and old, but it’s mostly because we don’t trust each other, and perhaps never have. I know he’s a liar, and he knows I don’t care about him, or what he thinks of me, what he thinks of anything.


I can’t remember in my adult life when I’ve thought of him fairly: He’s in jail now, far away from home, and it’s difficult to imagine that, now that he’s 46, there’s much more in his future than more of the same. And so I have, unfairly — though for me, practically — decided what remains for him so that I may rationalize, sanctimoniously, how I’ll continue to reject him.

I’ve allowed his troubles, though, to affect how I think about our pasts. Because of who I am now, my troubles as a boy, adolescent, young adult and man are things I’ve overcome: that makes me good, strong. Looking back through the lens of my current success ennobles my past — how I failed, or was failed — to the same degree my brother’s failure derides his.

And as liberal or dynamic-thinking as I’m supposed to be, my decision to reject him is informed by the inhumane notion of tough love: he had his chances, more than I, and look what he’s done with them.

What does this have to do with Michael Jackson? Grimly, I’ve been waiting for — through the hair relaxer, the surgeries, the blanching, the eccentricities and the fall into madness — that news flash. Just as I’ve been waiting for a phone call telling me my brother is dead, or at least, far beyond any possible care — our gap ever widening, irreconcilable.

The Jackson 5 — not the Jacksons, or any other iteration — were like family. My brother, sister, cousins and I grew up with them. When we were young and together, they were all we’d listen to, and really, in pop-culture terms, all we really knew about. They were a conduit — unlike the dead, white authors we were told to read and emulate, and the dead, black martyrs we were to told to mimic and revere — to a larger world. His death, as I’m sure is the case for many others, makes me scan time backward and forward in order to understand, how he, we, came to be here now. My backward trek — unlike my children’s relationship to their time capsule discovery of “Thriller” and “Beat It,” unlike my white high school friends and their adoration of “Billie Jean” — has little connection to those periods, that person.

My Michael — not M. J., or Jacko — has an Afro, a broad nose and deep brown skin. His voice, rather than clipped and formulaic, is clear, ringing and bright. His vocalizations aren’t clicks and chirps, but screeches and moans.

I never believed in anything he sang as an adult. He never seemed to understand, or be convinced himself. But now, listening to him sing as a child, even though I know he was too young to have a clue as to what he was singing about, I feel, just as I felt when I was a boy, that he knew and he felt exactly what he was singing.

Do you remember those Polaroid Instamatics? The ones with the accordion muzzle? With the hot popping one-time flash, the chemical smell of that toxic magic jelly? You had to pull the print from the side of the camera by the tab of the cellophane it was wrapped in, and wait 60 seconds before peeling it open like a Kraft single. I remember counting down, or up, the time, and then adding extra seconds, and still more by shaking the package, or wiping my fingers — “Come on! Come on!” — before looking. There’d been, even in my young life, too many blotchy prints, ghost images, lost moments.

I have a framed photograph in my bedroom. It’s of my brother, David, my sister, Tracey, my two first cousins — Lisa and Russell — and me. It’s at my aunt and uncle’s house. We’re all very young. We’re all dressed in fantastic early-’70s gear. (I’m wearing a bright red long-sleeve jersey with a blue collar, bellbottoms with wide white and blue vertical stripes and moccasins.) We are dancing. I’m doing — although some years before it was named — what can only be called the rock.

Tracey has her arms stretched high and spread wide. Russell, I think, would’ve twirled had he not looked up and seen the camera. Most people who see this photo have the same reaction — a melancholic smile — and then they guess, not the group, because everyone knows, but the song.

I tell them that we were the Cousin 5. Then they state: “You’re Michael.” I tell them no. They scan the 3×5, confused. I point to David, the oldest. He looks, from how the picture was taken, to be on the periphery, but he’s really up front, while we other four are gathered in support. “Who are you, then?”
“I’m Jermaine.”

They snicker. My brother, to most of my friends, has always seemed ridiculous. To me, David’s a combination of all the things I despise in people. I’ve always thought him to be narcissistic, self-serving and grandiose. He took the qualities that made our father charismatic, and made them petty. And although even as a boy I sensed my father was both delusional and a liar, his performances — where we’d go, what we’d do, how we’d make it — were inspirational. My brother sounded like a petty dictator, or a bad con.

After our father left, David — four years older than I — tried to fill that void. He wasn’t good at it. The space was too big and most of what he did for or to me was wrong. I knew I was smarter than him, I knew I’d be bigger than him, and I didn’t understand why I didn’t outrank him. It seemed absurd that he had authority over me in anything.

But I never, fairly, tried to understand — who he was, what he was asked to do — by our parents, by himself. And he was just a boy, how would he even know the question to ask? The accident of his birth threw him into his role — front man — and he assumed it, whether he had the talent or stomach to fit. So I can look at the Polaroid, and snort or rage. I can construct a narrative from that moment onward that conveniently depicts his demise. But I’ve never thought about, for long, why he’s dancing alone.

The photo must have been taken in Waltham, Mass., because there’s a house directly outside the window, and my aunt and uncle’s next place had more space between it and the neighbors. But we’re in that blurred time — ’73 to ’75 — before they left the duplex rental across the street from the railroad tracks, and before my father left home for good.

He never came with us. Sometimes he’d drop us off, or pick us up. When the car worked my mother drove, but usually my uncle made the round trip. Just as I never understood, because my uncle was always very kind to us, that those Saturday trips in and out of Boston — three exits east and west on the turnpike — probably were a pain for him, they were escapes for my mother. Perhaps she spent her time there confiding in her sister, perhaps it was simply that she didn’t want to cook. Whatever the case, we all knew — intellectually or viscerally — that my family was ending. There was no place else for my mother to go.

AND so while my father was off chasing who knows what, or who, wherever, we were there, at my aunt and uncle’s, or on our way there. And winding along the Charles River and approaching the left turn onto their street I’d begin to feel the awful convergence of all the reasons we were rolling up onto the crabgrass and gravel of the curb-less sidewalk in front of their house, the walk along the driveway to the side door, and then my aunt holding the screen door, or the storm door open at the top of the four-step porch. My mother’s tired, familiar greeting. My aunt’s mid-sized smile. She was one of the few people who was truly happy to share, unconditionally, what she had.

Tracey and my cousin Lisa were best friends, 19 days apart in age. Russell, 18 months younger than I, and with our affections, secrets and rivalries, was much more like a brother to me than David. Even with this, there was always an awkward moment at the threshold that could stretch through dinner and into the evening. It could’ve been as simple as that they were engaged in something before we came, and most young children are terrible with transition. It could’ve been that we outnumbered them. I see it now when a large family is at our door. My children take pause and wonder how the people on the stoop will fit.

But I also know that we must have seemed like wild children. At home our mother was outnumbered. Our neighborhood was full of kids, and we’d roam the streets, parks and yards, and she couldn’t keep up. At home I could sleep in gym shorts, or long underwear. I could sneak into the bathroom, or hide under the covers with a flashlight and read as late as I wanted. In the morning I could shuffle around barefoot. Sleeping over at my aunt and uncle’s I had to wear pajamas. Lights-out wasn’t debatable. And in the morning my uncle would make me wear a robe and slippers around the house.

And we, as families, were going in different directions. There’d always been a rift between the adults — real-world practicality versus altruistic erudition. My father read books, argued Socratically, haunted jazz bars, and never saved a cent. My uncle worked hard, and kept whatever fanciful notions he might have had to himself, and had reasonable expectations of the future. They were soon to move from a blue-collar town to a wealthy Boston suburb. We would soon lose our house and our private school scholarships, and have to use their address to attend the good public schools. They had stuff, were getting more, but something we thought we had, every day, disappeared.

Finally, though, there was music. I don’t fully remember, but I think our cousins had a portable stereo. Lisa would get it out and the party would start. The Jackson 5 was the only music we’d play. My family had 45’s, but my cousins had albums. I’d stare at them, read the tiny print, feel the wax paper sleeve to see if it was real. All of the album covers, like the days, have combined into one emblematic memory. And I’m not one to dissect the converged body of the past into pre-gestalt moments.

I don’t know if it was the “Greatest Hits,” but one cover was the color of midnight, and one was like a Creamsicle, but they all had bright photographs of the Jackson 5: Afros, bellbottoms, suede boots, tasseled nubuck vests, stripes, stars and peace signs. Then the crackle of the grooves, then my aunt from the next room: “Not too loud.” The music: piano glissando, guitar, bass — bum bum, bum bum, bum bah bump. Michael: “Uh-huh … let me tell you now…” and we were up — snapping, clapping and rocking. Trying to do twirls and splits barefoot on the thick-pile wall-to-wall. No one would feel those burns until bedtime.

“I Want You Back.” I’d lose track of where I was, whom I was with. Heat, sound and movement, until the song faded. But even then I’d be part lost. I’d construct the pop of tires on gravel, the heavy door slam, footsteps up the porch, the first door whine, the second door jingle, and see my father enter, call for my mother and sing: “I want you back! I want you back!” But my father’s voice, I knew, was coarse-grit baritone, better suited for brooding and regret, rather than epiphany and hope.

“Michael.” David would snap. I’d come back from wherever I was to find everyone staring at me. He’d shrug his shoulders, raise his eyebrows and tap on his temple with his index finger. “We need to do that again.” He’d say at the player, holding the arm, looking at us four, now, flatly. I’d hate him for doing this, for wanting to control those moments, make them his, take them from me.

“Ready?” And we’d pick up our imaginary instruments, take our places and wait. He’d drop the needle and rush to the front.
We’d rehearse until we were soaked. We always did the same routines to the same songs, and David would ignore our ideas about new choreography. Start with “ABC,” slow it down with “I’ll Be There,” blow it out with “Going Back to Indiana.”

It never failed: we’d be set to call the adults in to watch our performance, just as they were getting up to go. We’d have to plead with them to let us do it. We worked so hard: just once, maybe twice, O.K., three times. I’ve conveniently forgotten, but in those moments, and the ones to follow, I felt protected — a part. I forgot about my resentment of my brother. Rather than being alone in my individual reveries, I was with my family.

The role of front man — because of who David was, who we were, and what we, at that time, faced — was his. He was a child and I was a younger child, and in some ways he stopped being one so I wouldn’t have to. I’ve never thanked David for that. I know that the time I’ve wasted ridiculing and shunning him, watching him fall, waiting for that call rather than helping to keep it from coming, can’t be regained, or undone in the years to come by re-rationalizing, glorifying or erasing his actions, but it’s a place to start.

People will point to Michael Jackson’s discography, his surgeries, madness, all that he’s been given, earned and squandered. Many will testify about what he’s given, but I, in this moment, can only think of what he’s, we’ve, lost. The price he’s paid for where he’s been is his life. And I think about David in much the same way — the wake behind, and his narrowing future — where he is now, and how it cost him me.


*Text By MICHAEL THOMAS; NYT, June 28, 2009
Michael Thomas is the author of the novel “Man Gone Down.”

For all the talk of his sustained adolescence, no performer made a more compelling entrance into manhood than Michael Jackson did with the release of his 1979 album, “Off the Wall” just a couple of weeks before his 21st birthday.

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It was all the more stunning because we had watched his childhood and adolescence. He wasn’t an apparition rising out of obscurity, like Elvis Presley. To become who he was in “Off the Wall,” he had to annul — if not destroy — the performer he had been in the Jackson 5.

And yet the change was organic as well as deliberate. Michael Jackson grew into his body, and out of that new body emerged a wholly new idea of what pop music, and the movement it generates, might be. It can be hard to remember now, 30 years later, just how ubiquitous the hits from that album, especially “Rock With You,” really were.

In soul, in rock ’n’ roll, and in pop, there is a long tradition of men singing in high voices, the height of the voice suggesting the pitch of the singer’s fervor. Michael Jackson made the sweetness of that high voice guttural and demanding. He showed that it was rooted in his feet and hips and hands. He re-sexualized it in a way that you could never really mistake — then — as androgynous.


Very few artists — certainly very few child stars — have ever redefined themselves as thoroughly or as successfully as Michael Jackson did. His second act was better than any number of first acts put together. The uncanny thing wasn’t just his physical transformation, his hypnotic new ability to move. It was the certainty of “Off the Wall” and its sequel “Thriller” that this was the music we wanted to hear. He knew, too, that this was a music we wanted to visualize, to see formalized and set loose in dance. In a sense, he was loosing his transformation upon the rest of us, expecting us to be caught up in the excitement the music caused in him. And we were.
Michael Jackson came to be synonymous with transformation — ultimately, with an eerie stasis that comes from seeking transformation all the time. The alchemy of change worked longer and better for him — through the ’80s and into the early ’90s — than it has for almost any other artist. And yet somehow all the changes always take us back to the album in which Michael Jackson grew up.


By VERLYN KLINKENBORG , NYT, Editorial, June 27, 2009

GROWING up in Texas, I knew a lot of girls like Farrah Fawcett, and I hated them. They had everything I didn’t: blond hair, blue eyes, the power, seemingly, to get anything and everything they wanted in my small public high school — boys, head cheerleader, the ability to decide, in a twinkling, who was cool and who wasn’t.

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My mother told me not to worry — my time would come, she said — but what did she know? I was a dark, brooding teenager, and everywhere I turned there was a poster of a beaming woman with wild blond hair, her smile as wide as the Texas sky, in a low-cut scarlet bathing suit that, every man now over the age of 40 can tell you, revealed what was in 1976 the scandalous hint of a nipple.

Texas has produced a lot of beauties, but Farrah Fawcett of Corpus Christi was the one who dominated my late adolescence. Sometime after my mother tried — O.K., at my behest — to give me a Farrah feather-cut that wilted immediately in the summer heat, she came to stand for everything I wanted to escape in my home state.

The oppressiveness, the conformity, the vanity, the insincerity required of Texas women — smiling when you didn’t mean it, looking happy to see someone you really weren’t happy to see, never appearing in public without your face on (hers was a brilliantly contrived natural look) — acting, in general, as if you were always giving the best party in the world. It always seemed to me to be too much work.

Of course, I had it wrong about Farrah Fawcett. For a while she did get everything she must have wanted, or that people thought she should have wanted. She was the iconic beauty of her time and her various acting comebacks — instead of a go-for-it crime fighter she became a battered woman, a Nazi hunter and Robert Duvall’s unforgiving wife in “The Apostle” — proved that she was more than that.

But by then, no one cared. I wrote a magazine profile of her in 2000, and she spent a lot of time avoiding my softball questions by locking herself for extended periods in various bathrooms: at the Beverly Hills Hotel, at her home high atop Beverly Hills, in a movie theater restroom in Century City, where we’d gone for some premiere.

She was a tiny thing, fragile as a sparrow, disoriented. I rode with her to the doctor for some kind of much-needed injection, and took no pleasure in the trip.

Maybe, as some have suggested, this was all an act — being flighty Farrah Fawcett was her best role — but even if that were true, her choice of that act was instructive. It made you want to take care of her, to be careful in your approach, not to push or probe too much, because she might break.

Over time, I’ve made peace with the blond beauties of my childhood, and see that they have some essential qualities she lacked: an instinct for self-preservation, an ability to laugh through the worst of it, toughness and self-respect — these might have helped Farrah Fawcett get by after her beauty faded and the crowd moved on. But by then she was a creature of Hollywood, not Texas, and, unlike me, had left home for good.

By MIMI SWARTZ ; NYT,June 28, 2009
Mimi Swartz is an executive editor at Texas Monthly magazine.

Have American teenagers gone wild?

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Parents have worried for generations about changing moral values and risky behavior among young people, and the latest news seems particularly worrisome.

It came from the National Center for Health Statistics, which reported this month that births to 15- to 19-year-olds had risen for the first time in more than a decade.

And that is not the only alarm being sounded. The talk show host Tyra Banks declared a teen sex crisis last fall after her show surveyed girls about sexual behavior. A few years ago, Oprah Winfrey warned parents of a teenage oral-sex epidemic.

The news is troubling, but it’s also misleading. While some young people are clearly engaging in risky sexual behavior, a vast majority are not. The reality is that in many ways, today’s teenagers are more conservative about sex than previous generations.

Today, fewer than half of all high school students have had sex: 47.8 percent as of 2007, according to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, down from 54.1 percent in 1991.
A less recent report suggests that teenagers are also waiting longer to have sex than they did in the past. A 2002 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old girls had experienced sex, down from 38 percent in 1995. During the same period, the percentage of sexually experienced boys in that age group dropped to 31 percent from 43 percent.

The rates also went down among younger teenagers. In 1995, about 20 percent said they had had sex before age 15, but by 2002 those numbers had dropped to 13 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys.

“There’s no doubt that the public perception is that things are getting worse, and that kids are having sex younger and are much wilder than they ever were,” said Kathleen A. Bogle, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University. “But when you look at the data, that’s not the case.”

One reason people misconstrue teenage sexual behavior is that the system of dating and relationships has changed significantly. In the first half of the 20th century, dating was planned and structured — and a date might or might not lead to a physical relationship. In recent decades, that pattern has largely been replaced by casual gatherings of teenagers.
In that setting, teenagers often say they “fool around,” and in a reversal of the old pattern, such an encounter may or may not lead to regular dating. The shift began around the late 1960s, said Dr. Bogle, who explored the trend in her book “Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus” (N.Y.U. Press, 2008).

The latest rise in teenage pregnancy rates is cause for concern. But it very likely reflects changing patterns in contraceptive use rather than a major change in sexual behavior. The reality is that the rate of teenage childbearing has fallen steeply since the late 1950s. The declines aren’t explained by the increasing availability of abortions: teenage abortion rates have also dropped.

“There is a group of kids who engage in sexual behavior, but it’s not really significantly different than previous generations,” said Maria Kefalas, an associate professor of sociology at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and co-author of “Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage” (University of California Press, 2005). “This creeping up of teen pregnancy is not because so many more kids are having sex, but most likely because more kids aren’t using contraception.”

As for that supposed epidemic of oral sex, especially among younger teenagers: national statistics on the behavior have only recently been collected, and they are not as alarming as some reports would have you believe. About 16 percent of teenagers say they have had oral sex but haven’t yet had intercourse. Researchers say children’s more relaxed attitude about oral sex probably reflects a similar change among adults since the 1950s. In addition, some teenagers may view oral sex as “safer,” since unplanned pregnancy is not an issue.

Health researchers say parents who fret about teenage sex often fail to focus on the important lessons they can learn from the kids who aren’t having sex. Teenagers with more parental supervision, who come from two-parent households and who are doing well in school are more likely to delay sex until their late teens or beyond.

“For teens, sex requires time and lack of supervision,” Dr. Kefalas said. “What’s really important for us to pay attention to, as researchers and as parents, are the characteristics of the kids who become pregnant and those who get sexually transmitted diseases.

“This whole moral panic thing misses the point, because research suggests kids who don’t use contraception tend to be kids who are feeling lost and disconnected and not doing well.”

Although the data is clear, health researchers say it is often hard to convince adults that most teenagers have healthy attitudes about sex.

“I give presentations nationwide where I’m showing people that the virginity rate in college is higher than you think and the number of partners is lower than you think and hooking up more often than not does not mean intercourse,” Dr. Bogle said. “But so many people think we’re morally in trouble, in a downward spiral and teens are out of control. It’s very difficult to convince people otherwise.”

* By TARA PARKER-POPE (January 27, 2009,”The Myth of Rampant Teenage Promiscuity”)

Maybe we’re too hard on Disney. After all, they simply remake classic stories in cartoon form. What’s not to like?
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Well, as you’ll see, it all depends on just how much thought you apply to it. Here’s seven pretty terrible lessons that Disney films taught us, whether they meant to or not.

#7.The Lion King: To Be Successful, Sometimes People Got to Die
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Simba always knew that he was going to succeed his father, Mufasa, as the next Lion King. But fate liked spitting in poor little Simba’s face, and his dear old dad got trampled to death by wildebeests. Of course, Mufasa’s death was really caused by the evil Scar, Simba’s uncle.

Later, all grown up, he reclaims his thrown and Scar suffers the double whammy of falling off a cliff and getting torn apart by hyenas. So after two particularly nasty and horrendous deaths, Simba finally becomes the lion king.

The Supposed Message:

We all have responsibilities we can’t ignore. And don’t trust that creepy uncle.

The Actual Message:

In order for you to be successful, other people will have to pay. And ultimately, that’s okay, because the ends justify the means!

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First you have Scar, who knew he couldn’t be king of the pridelands until that dick Mufasa and his brat son were out of the way. So Scar did away with both of them, killing Mufasa and banishing Simba, and, as a result, he got to be king for a descent amount of time.

Then when Simba started to grow some balls, he took back his throne… but only after Scar himself took a dirt nap. It’s true that Simba didn’t intentionally kill him, but you know who did? The screenwriter. After all, the movie doesn’t end with Simba convincing Scar to renounce his evil ways, or putting Scar in lion jail.

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In fact, Lion Jail isn’t even real.

No, the message was sent loud and clear: Simba could not be the true king unless Scar was dead. And they even arranged it so that Simba wouldn’t have any of the pesky guilt that would have come with actually doing the deed himself. Everyone lived happily ever after. Except Scar of course, whose body was slowly pooped out by several hyenas the next day.

#6.Cinderella: Sort of Like “The Secret”

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Cinderella is forced by her bitchy stepmother to clean the house from stem to stern every day. The only thing that prevents her from swallowing a bottle of pain killers is her belief that someday her dreams will come true.

One day Cinderella plans to attend a ball thrown by the prince, but the fact that she has a cutthroat bitch for a stepmother completely slipped her mind. She is forbidden from going.

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Luckily, it turns out Cinderella has a fairy godmother, who uses her magic to hook Cinderella up with a ride, a beautiful outfit and a pair of what would seem like grossly impractical glass heels. At the ball Cinderella uses her innate flirting skills and rocks the prince’s world, to the point that the next day the prince whisks her away to be his princess.

The Supposed Message:

Dreams do come true!

The Actual Message:

If you wait around long enough, the universe will practically hand stuff to you.

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“Could you fix my credit score while you’re at it?”

No one is denying the fact that Cinderella’s life was one big shit stain. But in her state of mind, she actually thought that her dreams would just sort of happen if she sat around being miserable long enough. It never occurred to her that she had the ability to just tell her stepmother to go fuck herself.

Instead she kept scrubbing floors and believing that, if she continued to wish very hard and take absolutely no action, everything would fall into place. And what do you know, the bitch gets a fucking kingdom out of it.

So don’t worry, girls. Some kind of “Fairy Godmother” will sweep into your life at any moment, and find you a man to take care of everything. Just keep wishing!

#5.The Little Mermaid: A Little Deal with the Devil Never Hurt Nobody

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A little mermaid named Ariel, who is presumably little in title only since she has one impressively big rack, dreams of living her life on shore and finding her true love. Well, a clearly evil sea-witch named Ursula offers to give the naive mermaid legs in exchange for something she probably might need in the future: her voice.

When Ariel makes it to shore, she realizes the Sea-Bitch screwed her, as her legs work with the grace of a drunken paraplegic and she can’t speak. So now she must somehow make Prince Eric fall in love with her while appearing to be either mute or retarded.
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By some miracle, the prince takes the bait (again, note the rack) but then Ursula, who in the cartoon seems to be portrayed as a black drag queen, goes after the couple. The prince is forced to kill Ursula by stabbing her with a ship. As a result, Ariel gets both her legs and her voice.

The Supposed Message:

True love conquers all!

The Actual Message:

A little compromise with evil is okay, as long as everything works out okay in the end!

Ariel loved to sing, and she sang pretty damn well. But she wanted to live on shore and find love so bad that she made a “deal” with a “devil” and “sells” her beautiful voice, or “soul” so to speak.

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And guess what? It worked. Sure, the writers threw in some complications in the form of Prince Eric having to send Ursula straight to Disney Hell, but the fact of the matter remains that Ariel would never have gotten to meet Prince Eric at all had she not compromised with the evil queen in the first place. She made a figurative deal with the devil, got everything she wanted and came out completely unscathed.

So keep that in mind if you have to, say, sleep with some dude to get that acting role. None of that will matter once you achieve your dreams!

#4.Beauty and the Beast: Just Because He’s Abusive, Doesn’t Mean He’s Not a Really Good Guy
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After a spoiled prince pretty much tells an old beggar woman to fuck off, he is transformed into a beast, as it turns out the beggar is an enchantress. And she makes it very clear that until he learns to love and thus is loved in return, there will be no ladies in his life and it’s just going to be him and his hand for a very long time.

As luck would have it, there happens to be a woman out there named Belle with a heart big enough to share with unfortunate-looking people such as the Beast, and she’s not too bad to look at either. When her father is kidnapped by the Beast, Belle offers herself in exchange for his freedom.

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Against all odds, they fall in love. The townspeople snap and try and kill the Beast, but because Belle admits she loves him, the Beast turns back into a man and the two live happily ever after.

The Supposed Message:

Treat others the way you wish to be treated!

The Actual Message:

Underneath the abusive exterior of your man is a loving heart he’s just dying to share with you.

First of all, Belle was a prisoner in the Beast’s fucking castle. Nothing says “I love you” like house arrest. Secondly, he wasn’t exactly whispering sweet nothings in her ear. The Beast hurled insults at Belle at every chance, and came close to pimp slapping the shit out of her on more than one occasion.
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But she ignored all that unimportant trivia, because the Beast had a loving heart! Sure he gets angry sometimes, but that’s just how he is. And, in the end, he turned back into a sexy, romantic prince. It’s all good now.

Her patience paid off, girls, and it will for you, too! If you just stick with it and don’t judge your man too harshly. Or call the cops.

#3.The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Ugly Dude Never Gets the Girl

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Quasimodo is born with a hunched back and a face that only a mother could love. Too bad his mother gets killed by an asshole named Frollo.

Quasimodo moves into the bell tower of a cathedral and becomes the hunchback of Notre Dame. He then winds up in a love triangle with the lovely gypsy Esmeralda and the aforementioned Frollo.

When spurned by the girl, Frollo tries to burn Esmeralda at the stake. Quasimodo rescues her and, after that, the twisted, malformed freak is able to freely go out in public without people pointing and shaking their fists at the sky in reaction to God’s twisted design. Quasimodo and Esmeralda get married and… oh, wait, no. She winds up with some other dude.

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“The order goes: handsome guy, then the goat and then you, Quasimodo.”

The Supposed Message:

Don’t judge a book by its cover!

The Actual Message:

Ugly guys don’t get the girl, even if they’re devoted and awesome. That’s just how it works, sorry.

From the first moment Quasimodo laid his misshapen eyes on her, the poor dope was madly in love with Esmeralda. They seemed destined for each other. French society had given both of them the middle finger, and they both liked sticking it to Frollo.

But just as Quasimodo was starting to feel good about himself, Esmeralda meets another guy: the dashing and completely non-deformed Captain Phoebus. And who in their right mind would pass up tall, dark and handsome for short, pale and abominable?

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Quasimodo ended up alone while Phoebus and Esmeralda made some sweet, sweet gypsy magic. So for you hideous guys out there, true love and heroism is great and all, but at the end of the day, we just can’t have you infecting the gene pool.

#2.Sleeping Beauty: If a Guy Saves Your Ass, it Belongs to Him

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There’s always that one person who wasn’t invited to the party for very good reasons, but feels they are entitled to show up anyway. The party crasher in this Disney movie happens to be a very powerful, very evil fairy named Maleficent who curses the birthday girl, Princess Aurora, to prick her finger on a spindle of all things and, well, die.

Suddenly, the music stops with a needle scratch and there’s an awkward silence as the evil bitch makes her exit. However, a fellow party-going fairy counteracts the curse by blessing the princess, saying that the princess will instead merely fall asleep until a prince–and she means any prince–comes along and pretty much date rapes her.

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“Man, if any of you were princes, I’d totally be giving it away for free, straight up. You don’t even know.”

Sure enough, Aurora falls asleep. But then Prince Philip (who has been stalking the princess) kills Maleficent, then kisses the princess and probably enjoys a grope fest, which will remain the prince’s little secret and Aurora’s repressed memory as they live happily ever after.

The Supposed Message:

True love will conquer all!

The Actual Message:

That guy who comes along and saves you from a crisis? Marry him! He’s the one!

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“Let’s just skip to the vows, I’m in a hurry.”

When a rational woman wakes up to find a man practically on top of her, their first instinct would be to reach for the mace. Not our princess; she basically didn’t know his ass from Adam, but she went ahead and married the guy. One kiss at the right time, and she knew she had found Mr. Right.

You may notice that this winds up as the exact polar opposite of the Hunchback of Notre Dame lesson, taken so far in the other direction that it winds up being even more wrong. Never mind that “compatibility” stuff and the all the time it takes for most folks to find out if they have it. If you’re in a tough spot and a handsome guy saves the day, you instantly belong to him. Forever and ever!

Though we guess it only works if you’re not a hunchback.

#1.The Fox and the Hound: Sometimes People Are Different, and That’s Awful

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After his mother gets capped and is presumably turned into a tasteful wall ornament, a little fox named Tod is taken in by an old woman to be raised on a farm. Tod eventually meets a hunting dog named Copper and the two hit it off.

Tod thinks the two will be friends forever, but over the winter Copper leaves on a hunting trip, and when he returns he’s a full fledged fox-killing machine. When Tod goes to see Copper, he is attacked by Chief, Copper’s mentor. Chief gets injured, and Copper makes it his mission in life to see former friend Tod meat packaged.

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Eliminate on sight.

Copper and his owner eventually find Tod and try to take him down. When a bear jumps into the fight, Tod saves Copper and his owner. So they decide to call a truce, and the two go their separate ways.

The Supposed Message:

Even though we’re different, we can still get along.

The Actual Message:

And by “get along” we mean “don’t kill each other.” We certainly do not mean “live together.” Don’t be silly, you belong to different races!

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Our fox and hound find their long friendship thoroughly obliterated and end up trying to kill each other. Only after the member of the pursued and persecuted race does a favor for his oppressor (when the hunted saves the hunter’s life) does the hound grant the fox permission to continue living.

But not as equals; the hound returns to his home with the humans and the fox returns to the wild.

That is how we will heal our racial and socioeconomic differences: by separating ourselves. If only we could institute some kind of “segregation” where all of us could be with our own kind, none of this unpleasantness would happen.

Thanks for showing us the way, Mr. Disney!

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By Mackenzie Beverly

On Monday nights in Brooklyn, a band of Frenchmen and Americans play Peruvian music.

“I know that sounds a bit absurd,” said Olivier Conan, lead singer of the band, Chicha Libre, whose name is a tribute to the craze for a style of music called Chicha that took root in the Peruvian Amazon in the early 1970s.

“But we take the music very seriously, and we do it justice,” said Mr. Conan, 46, as he sat last Monday with a drink and several band members at a table outside Barbès, a bistro in Park Slope. Later, people flocked to the bistro to hear him play the cuatro, a South American guitar he uses to strum the perky blend of Latin rhythms, surf music and psychedelic pop he first heard three years ago while vacationing in Lima, Peru.

“All the street vendors were playing Chicha on their boomboxes,” said Mr. Conan, fiddling with his cuatro as the sun began to sink behind rows of neatly lined brownstones. “I just fell in love with it.”

Mr. Conan was then in a French band named Bébé Eiffel, and he was determined to change its cultural and ethnic tunes after returning from Peru. He sat down with Vincent Douglas, a longtime friend and member of the band — Mr. Douglas and Mr. Conan own Barbès — to discuss the possibility of putting a Spanish accent on a new act.

Mr. Douglas, an electric guitarist, said he was “immediately blown away” by the recordings that Mr. Conan had brought back from South America.

“Olivier had me listen to this music, and it was just incredible,” said Mr. Douglas, 41, who has been a friend of Mr. Conan’s since they were teenagers growing up in Paris. “It had a real Latin vibe. It was very groove- and dance-oriented, and at the same time it was very rockish and surfy. I told him we should definitely start playing it.”

Chicha, which fuses traditional music from various parts of Peru with musical styles from Colombia and Venezuela, was played and danced to mostly in Lima’s poor suburbs by people who had migrated from the Amazon and the Andes in search of a better way of life.

Mr. Conan said that the band recently released a CD called “Sonido Amazonico” (Sound of the Amazon) and would perform at the Montreal International Jazz Festival on Wednesday.

Dressed in a cowboy hat and a dark blazer he described as “vintage Salvation Army,” he said he “could not imagine anyone else in New York, or anywhere in America, playing Chicha music.”

“If we weren’t playing it here,” he claimed, “you couldn’t hear it anywhere.”

Mr. Conan then got up and opened a cellar door to fetch the instruments, amplifiers and other equipment that belong to the six-man band. The other members are Nicholas Cudahy (bass), Greg Burrows and Timothy Quigley (percussion), and Joshua Camp, who plays an Electrovox, which Mr. Olivier described as an instrument that looks like an accordion but functions as an organ.

“We start our show at 9:30, and we get more artsy types than stockbrokers in here, people from their 20s to their 40s,” Mr. Conan said. “Of course, we get a lot of Peruvians from all around the city, but not many middle- or upper-class Peruvians because Chicha is mostly associated with the ghetto slums of Lima, so some people look down upon it.”

About an hour after sunset, Chicha Libre’s first set was under way. A dozen chairs in the bistro’s back room were quickly filled, and the band began by playing a number laced with enough spaghetti western strains to create the feeling that Charles Bronson, six-gun in hand, was about to walk into the room.

“They are an amazing band,” said Morgan Stoffregen, 29, who makes the short trip from Flatbush to the bistro, at Ninth Street and Sixth Avenue, every Monday to hear Chicha Libre play.

Ms. Stoffregen fell in love with Chicha music during a recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, where she happened to hear it played in a bar.

“One night I was home about 8:30, searching the Internet for a place where I could hear Chicha,” Ms. Stoffregen said. “I came across these guys, and about an hour later that same night, I was sitting here, listening to them perform.”

Elise Marafioti, a 27-year-old waitress, was busy running drinks to the dimly lighted tables and to a few dozen people dancing along the walls. “Monday nights can get kind of crazy in here,” she said. “Especially when the place gets packed and the floors start shaking.”

By Chicha Libre’s second set, the tiny room was indeed packed, and the floors were shaking, a tribute to a Latin band with nary an ounce of Latin blood coursing through their musical veins.

“Hey, if six Latinos want to start up a French band, I think that would be a great thing,” Mr. Douglas said. “I don’t think music belongs to anyone; in fact, it belongs to everyone.”

 

By VINCENT M. MALLOZZI (NYT)

Judges and jurors who must decide whether sexually explicit material is obscene are asked to use a local yardstick: does the material violate community standards?

That is often a tricky question because there is no simple, concrete way to gauge a community’s tastes and values.

The Internet may be changing that. In a novel approach, the defense in an obscenity trial in Florida plans to use publicly accessible Google search data to try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought.
In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.”

The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.

It is not clear that the approach will succeed. The Florida state prosecutor in the case, which is scheduled for trial July 1, said the search data may not be relevant because the volume of Internet searches is not necessarily an indication of, or proxy for, a community’s values.
But the tactic is another example of the value of data collected by Internet companies like Google, both from a commercial standpoint and as a window into the thoughts, interests and desires of their users.
“Time and time again you’ll have jurors sitting on a jury panel who will condemn material that they routinely consume in private,” said Mr. Walters, the defense lawyer. Using the Internet data, “we can show how people really think and feel and act in their own homes, which, parenthetically, is where this material was intended to be viewed,” he added.
Mr. Walters last week also served Google with a subpoena seeking more specific search data, including the number of searches for certain sexual topics done by local residents. A Google spokesman said the company was reviewing the subpoena.
Mr. Walters is defending Clinton Raymond McCowen, who is facing charges that he created and distributed obscene material through a Web site based in Florida. The charges include racketeering and prostitution, but Mr. Walters said the prosecution’s case fundamentally relies on proving that the material on the site is obscene.

Such cases are a relative rarity this decade. In the last eight years, the Justice Department has brought roughly 15 obscenity cases that have not involved child pornography, compared with 75 during the Reagan and first Bush administrations, according to Jeffrey J. Douglas, chairman emeritus of the First Amendment Lawyers Association. (There have been hundreds involving child pornography.) Prosecutions at the state level have followed a similar arc.

The question of what constitutes obscenity relies on a three-part test established in a 1973 decision by the Supreme Court. Essential to the test has been whether the material in question is patently offensive or appeals to a prurient interest in sex — definitions that are based on “contemporary community standards.”

Lawyers in obscenity cases have tried to demonstrate community standards by, for example, showing the range of sexually explicit magazines and movies available locally. A better barometer, Mr. Douglas said, would be mail-order statistics, because they show what people consume in private. But that information is hard to obtain.

“All you had to go on is what was available for public consumption, and that was a very crude tool,” Mr. Douglas said. “The prospect of having measurement of Internet traffic brings a more objective component than we’ve ever seen before.”

In a federal obscenity case heard this month, Mr. Douglas defended another Florida pornographer. In the trial, Mr. Douglas set up a computer in the courtroom and did Internet searches for sexually explicit terms to show the jury that there were millions of Web pages discussing such material. He then searched for other topics, like the University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, to demonstrate that there were not nearly as many related Web sites.

The jury was evidently not swayed, as his client was convicted on all counts.
The case Mr. Walters is defending takes the tactic to another level. Rather than showing broad availability of sex-related Web sites, he is trying to show both accessibility and interest in the material within the jurisdiction of the First Circuit Court for Santa Rosa County, where the trial is taking place.

The search data he is using is available through a service called Google Trends (trends.google.com). It allows users to compare search trends in a given area, showing, for instance, that residents of Pensacola are more likely to search for sexual terms than some more wholesome ones.

Mr. Walters chose Pensacola because it is the only city in the court’s jurisdiction that is large enough to be singled out in the service’s data.
“We tried to come up with comparison search terms that would embody typical American values,” Mr. Walters said. “What is more American than apple pie?” But according to the search service, he said, “people are at least as interested in group sex and orgies as they are in apple pie.”

The Google service does, however, show the relative strength of many mainstream queries in Pensacola: “Nascar,” “surfing” and “Nintendo” all beat “orgy.”
Chris Hansen, a staff lawyer for the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the tactic clever and novel, but said it underscored the power of the Internet to reveal personal preferences — something that raises concerns about the collection of personal information.

“That’s why a lot of people are nervous about Google or Yahoo having all this data,” he said.
One question is whether the judge in the case will admit the data as evidence; it was given only in a deposition this month. Mr. Walters said he was confident the information would be allowable given that there has been a growing reliance on such data.

Russ Edgar, the Florida state prosecutor, said he was still assessing whether he would try to block the search data’s use in court. He declined to discuss the case’s specifics, but said that the popularity of sex-related Web sites had no bearing on whether Mr. Edgar was in violation of community standards.
“How many times you do something doesn’t necessarily speak to standards and values,” he said.

 

* By MATT RICHTEL, NYT, June 24, 2008

Some comments:
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The Supreme Court test has always been flawed. Community is not, and never has been, a geographic limitation- your church may draw only from a three block radius, your union from a county, and your magazine subscriptions from around the nation. The Internet just expands the meaning of community into a two-way global conversation.
The question must NOT hinge on banning behavior which violates some local moral standard, nor trying to protect people from inadvertent encounters with ideas or images they dislike- or we will devolve to protect the least common denominator of taste and intellectual freedom. Healthy societies can absorb and thrive off differences and debate.
The law should require three tests. Fist, can exposure to the pornographic material be reasonably avoided (e.g. no pornographic billboards in town, but pornographic ads on your web site are ok). Second, no profiting from illegal activity (e.g. no pornography filmed with underage models or depicting actual rape). And third, specific kinds of pornography can be banned only if it can be shown they are overwhelmingly likely to cause dangerous or illegal behavior in people who would otherwise not break the law.
And finally, “equal protection under the law” requires a fair test survive replacing the word “pornography” with “religious belief” or “political opinion” or “cultural traditions”…..
— gregb, NJ

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For the Bible Belt hypocrites, there is a better statute that can cited: “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone”. Congratulations on ridding your supposedly squeaky clean communities of these evil pornographers. When you are alone in your den by the computer later tonight, try not to feel too guilty about who you put in jail and why, hypocrites. Point of fact: if you think it is right to prosecute and jail pornographers, you have zero moral authority. What you have is merely a lack of self-awareness, because you indulge in the products they produce, and have the same thoughts. Simply because you are a human being, which has a sexual existence. There’s nothing wrong with that. Except in your eyes. Sex makes you feel dirty, huh? So lets throw people in jail, huh? Feel better now? In your zeal and your prosecution of consenting adults, you commit a greater sin in the eyes of God than anything a pornographer does.
— BR, times square
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The crux of the problem is contained in the prosecutor’s concluding comment: “How many times you do something doesn’t necessarily speak to standards and values,” he said.
Wait a minute, buster: If you do something repeatedly, continuously, frequently over time, that DOES indicate your standards and values! When people tell Arizona anthropologist Bill Rathje’s group that they always eat healthy and never waste food — but then his “Garbage Project” sees that their diet is 80% processed junk and they throw out gallons of uneaten food weekly — the gap between their public “image” and their private truth is laid bare.
This prosecutor can honestly pursue that line of reasoning only if he asks that “community” standard be redefined as “public pretense” — as opposed to private reality.
Otherwise this is simply more of the hypocrisy of Americans, many of whom consume porn at home while banning it in public, pay for sex while prosecuting prostitutes (hello, ex-gov. Spitzer), ban liquor while buying it in the next county over, denounce gambling when not going to Vegas, and crusade against obscenity while having active sex lives.
The google stats will make clear that Pensacolans spend a lot of time thinking about sex and seeking out porn. That’s as clear an expression of values as looking at what people eat and drink every day, instead of simply letting them claim what sounds good. The question here is not what the community’s standards are — thanks to the Internet records of which online interests are pursued most often, those values are pretty clear!
The question is, will the judge in this case instruct the jurors to be honest? Or encourage them to lie in order to continue perpetrating the public fraud of moral “purity”? Given the region and the U.S. pursuit of pornography as a way to avoid dealing with real problems like global deaths from our militarism, our failures in health care and education, and our leading role in destruction of the planet’s environmental support system… my bet is that this judge and jury collude in another witch hunt to avoid facing the real work that democracy requires — like being honest with others, and ideally, with ourselves.
Signed, “no interest in orgies, but like the majority, an adult who’s checked out porn at least once.”
— CH, Idaho
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I posit cutting-out the middle man; how fun would it be to directly subpeona the cookies and search results of the jurors themselves–or, better yet, the prosecutor!
Let us address the central questions that define this case: in answer to the question “What’s more American than apple pie?” one of the many answers would be “pornography.” If Americans consumed apple pies with the same feverish zeal they consume pornography the average life expectancy in this country would likely hover somewhere around 28.
In answer to the question “What’s obscene?” I hardly know where to begin. A brief laundry list: the war in Iraq; 8 years of Bush; the economy; global warming; the acquittal of corporate criminals; et. al., et. al., et. al., et. al…..
— Jonathan, Buffalo

For most non-medical people, the term “apnea” is most familiar when coupled with the word “sleep,” and refers to a dangerous condition in which people inadvertently stop breathing while asleep. But the word literally means a temporary cessation of breathing and it is practiced (on purpose) around the world by an international community of extreme athletes — a brotherhood that now includes magician and stuntman David Blaine. On the set of The Oprah Winfrey Show on April 30, Blaine broke the world record by holding his breath for 17 minutes and 4 seconds — proving that just how temporary apnea can be is a question of training, endurance and will.

An average person in good health can hold his breath for about two minutes, but with even small amounts of practice it is possible to increase that time dramatically. “The body can be trained,” explains Dr. Ralph Potkin, a pulmonary specialist who worked with Blaine in the weeks leading up to his recent feat.

When you deprive your body of oxygen, it is only a matter of time before your carbon dioxide levels build, triggering a reflex that will cause your breathing muscles — including the diaphragm and the muscles between the ribs — to spasm. The pain of these spasms is what causes most people to gulp for breath after just a couple of minutes. When holding your breath underwater, however, you have a bit of mammalian evolution on your side. When humans are submerged in cold water, our bodies instinctively prepare to conserve oxygen, much in the way that dolphins’ and whales’ bodies do when they dive. “Heart rate drops, blood pressure goes up and circulation gets redistributed,” Potkin says. The body’s focus becomes getting the oxygenated blood primarily to the vital organs — the brain and the heart — and not the extremities or abdomen.

This reflex can help us conserve the oxygen we do have, but it doesn’t do much for the painful muscle spasms. Overcoming those is a matter of concentration and meditation. “This is one of those Zen sports,” Potkin explains.

Suppressing the powerful pain impulse too successfully can prove deadly: subjects can continue holding their breath up to the point that their brains shut down from lack of oxygen. If you’re 100 feet under water — or even three feet underwater in a pool — it’s not a good time to pass out. In order to break the world record, Blaine had to hold his breath without fainting. (Had he continued until he’d depleted his brain’s oxygen, however, Potkin is convinced he could have gone for another full minute.)

That of course, is down to months of rigorous training, including practicing a technique called glossopharyngeal insufflation, or lung packing. In order to maximize the amount of air taken into the lungs before apnea, Blaine, among other divers, inhaled until his lungs were filled to their physiological capacity, and then forced additional air into the lungs by swallowing, hard. Using this technique, Blaine was able to cram another quart’s worth of air into his already full lungs, Potkin estimates. (He also fasted before before the actual record breaking act, in order to have more room for his lungs to expand without bumping up against a full stomach.) In a study of five elite free divers, who descend to scuba-diving depths without the aid of equipment, Potkin found that the lung packing was “associated with deeper dives and longer holding times.”

Of course, another factor associated with longer holding times is the consumption of pure oxygen beforehand. The world record for holding your breath after inhaling pure oxygen is now Blaine’s — 17 minutes and 4 seconds. The record without the pure oxygen, which Blaine failed to break during an attempt last year in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center, is 8 minutes and 58 seconds.

With or without pure oxygen, holding your breath is a difficult and dangerous pastime even for elite athletes. When not done carefully, it can lead to drowning, or to potential tissue damage in the heart, brains or lungs. Preliminary results from Potkin’s research into apnea’s long-term effects show some abnormal brain scans among young, extreme free divers. There’s still much to learn about the phenomenon; as a medical student, Potkin recalls, he was told that no one could hold his breath for more than five minutes without suffering brain damage. Now, he wants to see if the technique can be used for medical purposes — and he’s hoping Blaine’s latest stunt provides the impetus for a greater scientific understanding of how to hold one’s breath.

* By Tiffany Sharples (TIME)

Charlton Heston, who appeared in some 100 films in his 60-year acting career but who is remembered chiefly for his monumental, jut-jawed portrayals of Moses, Ben-Hur and Michelangelo, died Saturday night at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 84.

His death was confirmed by a spokesman for the family, Bill Powers, who did not specify a cause. In August 2002, Mr. Heston announced that he had received a diagnosis of neurological symptoms “consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.”

“I’m neither giving up nor giving in,” he said.

Every actor dreams of a breakthrough role, the part that stamps him in the public memory, and Mr. Heston’s life changed forever when he caught the eye of the director Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille, who was planning his next biblical spectacular, “The Ten Commandments,” looked at the young, physically imposing Mr. Heston and saw his Moses.

When the film was released, in 1956, more than three and a half hours long and the most expensive that De Mille had ever made, Mr. Heston became a marquee name. Whether leading the Israelites through the wilderness, parting the Red Sea or coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets from God in hand, he was a Moses to remember.

Writing in The New York Times nearly 30 years afterward, when the film was re-released for a brief run, Vincent Canby called it “a gaudy, grandiloquent Hollywood classic” and suggested there was more than a touch of “the rugged American frontiersman of myth” in Mr. Heston’s Moses.

The same quality made Mr. Heston an effective spokesman, off screen, for the causes he believed in. Late in life he became a staunch opponent of gun control. Elected president of the National Rifle Association in 1998, he proved to be a powerful campaigner against what he saw as the government’s attempt to infringe on a constitutional guarantee — the right to bear arms.

In Mr. Heston, the N.R.A. found its embodiment of pioneer values — pride, independence and valor. In a speech at the N.R.A.’s annual convention in 2000, he brought the audience to its feet with a ringing attack on gun-control advocates. Paraphrasing an N.R.A. bumper sticker (“I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands”), he waved a replica of a colonial musket above his head and shouted defiantly, “From my cold, dead hands!”

Mr. Heston’s screen presence was so commanding that he was never dominated by mammoth sets, spectacular effects or throngs of spear-waving extras. In his films, whether playing Buffalo Bill, an airline pilot, a naval captain or the commander of a spaceship, he essentially projected the same image — muscular, steely-eyed, courageous. If critics used terms like “marble-monumental” or “granitic” to describe his acting style, they just as often praised his forthright, no-nonsense characterizations.

After his success in “The Ten Commandments,” Mr. Heston tried a change of pace. Working for another legendary Hollywood director, Orson Welles, he played a Mexican narcotics investigator in the thriller “Touch of Evil,” in which Welles himself played a murderous sheriff in a border town. Also starring Janet Leigh and Marlene Dietrich, the film, a modest success when it opened in 1958, came to be accepted as a noir classic.

A Biblical Specialty

But the following year Mr. Heston stepped back into the world of the biblical epic, this time for the director William Wyler. The movie was “Ben-Hur.” Cast as a prince in ancient Judea who rebels against the rule of Rome, Mr. Heston again dominated the screen. In the film’s most spectacular sequence, he and his co-star, Stephen Boyd, as his Roman rival, fight a thrilling duel with whips as their horse-drawn chariots career wheel-to-wheel around an arena filled with roaring spectators.

“Ben-Hur” won 11 Academy Awards — a record at the time — including those for best picture, best director and, for Mr. Heston, best actor.

He went on to star opposite Sophia Loren in the 1961 film “El Cid,” battling the Moors in medieval Spain. As a Marine officer at the Forbidden City in 1900, he helped put down the Boxer Rebellion in Nicholas Ray’s 1963 epic “55 Days at Peking.” In “Khartoum” (1966), he played Gen. Charles (Chinese) Gordon, who was killed in a desert uprising, led in the film by Laurence Olivier’s Mahdi. When George Stevens produced and directed “The Greatest Story Ever Told” in 1965, there was Mr. Heston, back in ancient Judea, playing John the Baptist to Max von Sydow’s Jesus.

He portrayed Andrew Jackson twice, in “The President’s Lady” (1953) and “The Buccaneer” (1958). There were westerns (“Major Dundee,” “Will Penny,” “The Mountain Men”), costume dramas (“The Three Musketeers” and its sequel, “The Four Musketeers,” with Mr. Heston as the crafty Cardinal Richelieu in both) and action films aplenty. Whether playing a hard-bitten landowner in an adaptation of James Michener’s novel “The Hawaiians” (1970), or a daring pilot in “Airport 1975,” he could be relied on to give moviegoers their money’s worth.

In 1965 he was cast as Michelangelo in the film version of Irving Stone’s novel “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” Directed by Carol Reed, the film pitted Mr. Heston’s temperamental artist against Rex Harrison’s testy Pope Julius II, who commissioned Michelangelo to create frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Mr. Heston’s performance took a critical drubbing, but to audiences, the larger-than-life role seemed to be another perfect fit. Mr. Heston once joked: “I have played three presidents, three saints and two geniuses. If that doesn’t create an ego problem, nothing does.”

Foray Into the Future

Mr. Heston was catapulted into the distant future in the 1968 science-fiction film “Planet of the Apes,” in which he played an astronaut marooned on a desolate planet and then enslaved by its rulers, a race of anthropomorphic apes. The film was a hit. He reprised the role two years later in the sequel, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.”

It was all a long way from Evanston, Ill., where Charlton Carter was born on Oct. 4, 1923, and from the small town of St. Helen, Mich., where his family moved when he was a small boy and where his father ran a lumber mill. He attended a one-room school and learned to fish and hunt and to savor the feeling of being self-reliant in the wild, where his shyness was no handicap.

When his parents divorced in the 1930s and his mother remarried — his stepfather’s surname was Heston — the family moved back to the Chicago suburbs, this time Winnetka. He joined the theater program at his new high school and went on to enroll at Northwestern University on a scholarship. By that time, he was convinced he had found his life’s work.

Mr. Heston also found a fellow drama student, Lydia Clarke, whom he married in 1944, just before he enlisted in the Army Air Forces. He became a radio-gunner and spent three years stationed in the Aleutian Islands. After his discharge, the Hestons moved to New York, failed to find work in the theater and, somewhat disenchanted but still determined, moved to North Carolina, where they spent several seasons working at the Thomas Wolfe memorial theater in Asheville.

When they returned to New York in 1947, Mr. Heston got his first big break, landing the role of Caesar’s lieutenant in a Broadway production of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” staged by Guthrie McClintick and starring Katharine Cornell. The production ran for seven months and proved to be the high point of Mr. Heston’s New York stage career. He appeared in a handful of other plays, most of them dismal failures.

If Broadway had little to offer him, television was another matter. He made frequent appearances in dramatic series like “Robert Montgomery Presents” and “Philco Playhouse.” The door to Hollywood opened when the film producer Hal B. Wallis saw Mr. Heston’s performance as Rochester in a “Studio One” production of “Jane Eyre.” Wallis offered him a contract.

Mr. Heston made his film debut in 1950 in Wallis’s “Dark City,” a low-grade thriller in which he played a small-time gambler. Two years later, he did his first work for DeMille as a hard-driving circus boss in “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Throughout his career he studied long and hard for his roles. He prepared for the part of Moses by memorizing passages from the Old Testament. When filming began on the sun-baked slopes of Mount Sinai, he suggested to DeMille that he play the role barefoot — a decision that he felt lent an edge of truth to his performance.

Preparing for “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” he read hundreds of Michelangelo’s letters and practiced how to sculpt and paint convincingly. When filming “The Wreck of the Mary Deare” (1959), in which he played the pilot of a salvage boat, he learned deep-water diving. And he mostly rejected stunt doubles. In “Ben-Hur,” he said, he drove his own chariot for “about 80 percent of the race.”

“I worked six weeks learning how to manage the four white horses,” he said. “Nearly pulled my arms right out of their sockets.”

As the years wore on, the leading roles began to go to younger men, and by the 1980s, Mr. Heston’s appearances on screen were less frequent. He turned to stage work again, not on Broadway but in Los Angeles, at the Ahmanson Theater, where he played roles ranging from Macbeth to James Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” He also returned to television, appearing in 1983 as a paternalistic banker in the mini-series “Chiefs” and as an oil baron in the series “The Colbys.”

Mr. Heston was always able to channel some energies into the public arena. He was an active supporter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., calling him “a 20th-century Moses for his people,” and participated in the historic march on Washington in 1963.

Inspired by Reagan

He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1966 to 1971, following in the footsteps of his friend and role model Ronald Reagan. A registered Democrat for many years, he was nevertheless selective in the candidates he chose to support and often campaigned for conservatives.

In 1981, President Reagan appointed him co-chairman of the President’s Task Force on the Arts and Humanities, a group formed to devise ways to obtain financing for arts organizations. Although he had reservations about some projects supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Mr. Heston wound up defending the agency against charges of elitism.

Again and again, he proved himself a cogent and effective speaker, but he rejected suggestions that he run for office. “I’d rather play a senator than be one,” he said.

He became a Republican after Democrats in the Senate blocked the confirmation of Judge Robert Bork, a conservative, to the Supreme Court in 1987. Mr. Heston had supported the nomination and was critical of the Reagan White House for misreading the depth of the liberal opposition.

Mr. Heston frequently spoke out against what he saw as evidence of the decline and debasement of American culture. In 1992, appalled by the lyrics on “Cop Killer,” a recording by the rap artist Ice T, he blasted the album at a Time Warner stockholders meeting and was a force in having it withdrawn from the marketplace.

In the 1996 elections, he campaigned on behalf of some 50 Republican candidates and began to speak out against gun control. In 1997, he was elected vice president of the N.R.A.

In December of that year, as the keynote speaker at the 20th anniversary gala of the Free Congress Foundation, Mr. Heston described “a cultural war” raging across America, “storming our values, assaulting our freedoms, killing our self-confidence in who we are and what we believe.”

A Relentless Drive

The next year, in his 70’s, he was elected president of the N.R.A. In his speech at the association’s convention before his election, he trained his oratorical artillery on President Bill Clinton: “Mr. Clinton, sir, America didn’t trust you with our health care system. America didn’t trust you with gays in the military. America doesn’t trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don’t trust you with our guns.”

He was in the news again after the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in April 1999, when he said that the N.R.A.’s annual membership meeting, scheduled to be held the following week in Denver, would be scaled back in light of the killings but not canceled.

In a memorable scene from “Bowling for Columbine,” a 2002 documentary about violence in America, the director, Michael Moore, visited Mr. Heston at his home and asked him how he could defend his pro-gun stance. Mr. Heston ended the interview without comment.

In May 2001, he was unanimously re-elected to an unprecedented fourth term by the association’s board of directors. The association had amended its bylaws in 2000 to allow Mr. Heston to serve a third one-year term as president. Two months after his celebrated speech at the 2000 convention, it was disclosed that he had checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation program.

Mr. Heston was proud of his collection of some 30 guns at his longtime home in the Coldwater Canyon area of Los Angeles, where he and his wife raised their son, Fraser, and daughter, Holly Ann. They all survive him, along with three grandchildren.

Never much for socializing , he spent his days either working, exercising, reading (he was fond of biographies) or sketching. An active diarist, he published several accounts of his career, including “The Actor’s Life: Journals 1956-1976.”

In 2003, Mr. Heston was among the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Bush. In 1997, he was also a recipient of the annual Kennedy Center honors.

Mr. Heston continued working through the 1990s, acting more frequently on television but also in occasional films. His most recent film appearance found him playing a cameo role, in simian makeup, in Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes.”

He announced in 1999 that he was receiving radiation treatments for prostate cancer, but said he would continue his film work and go on making appearances on behalf of Republicans running for office.

He had always hated the thought of retirement and once explained his relentless drive as an actor. “You never get it right,” he said in a 1986 interview. “Never once was it the way I imagined it lying awake at 4 o’clock in the morning thinking about it the next day.” His goal remained, he said, “to get it right one time.”

* By ROBERT BERKVIST (New York Times)

Correction: April 7, 2008
A front-page obituary and a headline in some editions on Sunday about the actor Charlton Heston misstated his age and the year of his birth. He was 84, not 83, and was born in 1923, not 1924.

The presidential candidates may have star qualities — and they also have stars in their families, according to a genealogical study linking Hillary Clinton to Angelina Jolie and Barack Obama to Brad Pitt.

angelina-y-brad.jpg

The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston on Wednesday released a study in which it traced the family trees of all three presidential candidates to find they all had famous relatives, both dead and alive.

It found Illinois Senator Barack Obama, whose mother is from Kansas, can claim at least six U.S. presidents as distant cousins, including George W. Bush and his father, Gerald R. Ford, Lyndon B. Johnson, Harry S. Truman, and James Madison.

But other cousins include British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill — and Brad Pitt who is a ninth cousin linked back Edwin Hickman who died in Virginia in 1769.

“Obama’s maternal ancestry includes the mid-Atlantic States and the South,” said Christopher Child, a genealogist with NEHGC that dates back to 1845 and describes itself as the United States oldest and largest non-profit genealogical organization.

Meanwhile his Democratic rival, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, shares a common ancestor with Pitt’s partner, actress Angelina Jolie. Clinton and Jolie are ninth cousins twice removed linked by Jean Cusson of St. Sulpice, Quebec, who died in 1718.

Child said Clinton is also a cousin of a number of famous people with French Canadian ancestry, including Madonna (ninth cousins linked by Pierre Gagne of Quebec who died in 1656) Celine Dion, and Alanis Morissette, as well as author Jack Kerouac. Another cousin is Camilla Parker-Bowles, wife of Prince Charles.

“It is common to find people of French Canadian descent to be related to large numbers of other French Canadians, including these notables,” said Child in a statement.

Republican nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, is a sixth cousin of Laura Bush but it was hard track other ancestors.

“McCain’s ancestry is almost entirely southern,” said Child, adding this made notable connections harder to trace because of challenges to genealogists in that region.

Child said having famous cousins makes for interesting conversation but it “should not influence voters.”

“But at a time when the race focuses on pointing out differences, the candidates may enjoy learning about famous cousins and their varied family histories,” he said.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -Wed Mar 26, 2008

It was a night of Old Men and pregnant women at the 80th Annual Academy Awards.
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Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men, considered the frontrunner going into the ceremony, lived up to expectations, racking up a leading four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem.

In accepting the Best Director honor, Joel Coen recalled the experience of making movies alongside his brother since childhood.

“What we do now doesn’t feel that much different from what we were doing then,” Joel Coen said. “We’re very thankful to all of you out there for continuing to let us play in our corner of the sandbox.”

Taking the stage to accept his award earlier in the evening, Bardem paid tribute to the director brothers and their interesting choice of coiffure for his character.

“Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think I could do that and for putting one of the most horrible haircuts in history over my head,” Bardem said in his acceptance speech, referring to the unflattering bowl cut he sports in the film.

Bardem, a native of Spain, was just the first European actor to collect an acting honor Sunday. In the end, all four major acting prizes went to Euro-thesps, with France’s Marion Cotillard winning Best Actress for La Vie en Rose, Britain’s Daniel Day-Lewis winning Best Actor for There Will Be Blood and compatriot Tilda Swinton taking home Best Supporting Actress for Michael Clayton.

Though It girl du jour Ellen Page was passed over in the Best Actress category for her turn as a pregnant teen in Juno, screenwriter Diablo Cody won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the poignant coming-of-age tale.

“This is for the writers,” an emotional Cody said as she hoisted her statuette. “I want to thank all the writers. I especially want to thank my fellow nominees, because I worship you guys. I’m learning from you every day.”

Pregnancy—if not teen pregnancy—was certainly in the spotlight at the awards ceremony, with presenters Jessica Alba, Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman all showing off baby bumps of various sizes.

The blatant display of fertility even inspired host Jon Stewart to invent an imaginary award—creatively dubbed the Baby—which he presented to an absent Angelina Jolie.

“The Baby goes to…Angelina Jolie. Oh my god, Angelina Jolie. I’m just stunned. It goes to Angelina Jolie. That’s terrific,” Stewart joked. “Obviously Angelina couldn’t be with us tonight—it’s tough to get 17 babysitters on Oscars night. I’ll accept this Baby on her behalf.”

(Jolie has yet to officially confirm her pregnancy, but her bulging profile at Saturday’s Spirt Awards left little doubt.)

Other big winners of the night were The Bourne Ultimatum, which notched a trio of Oscars for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, and There Will Be Blood, which picked up the statuette for Best Cinematography in addition to Day-Lewis’ acting win. La Vie en Rose was also a double winner, picking up the trophy for Best Makeup, on top of Cotillard’s acting victory.

Ratatouille was named Best Animated Film, marking the second Oscar victory for director Brad Bird, who also won in 2004 for The Incredibles.

The Oscar for Best Original Song went to “Falling Slowly” from the Irish film Once, which managed to beat out three songs from Enchanted and a song from August Rush for the win. In a rare do-over, Jon Stewart invited cowinner Markéta Irglová back to give her thank-you speech after the orchestra inadvertently played her offstage.

In an onstage meeting of pregnant woman and old man, Kidman presented the honorary Oscar to 98-year-old production designer Robert Boyle, in recognition of his contributions to classic films including North by Northwest, The Birds, Marnie and Mame.

It was something of a disappointing night for both Atonement and Michael Clayton, with both films losing out in six of the seven categories in which they were nominated. At least Clayton won in a glamour category; Atonement’s lone honor of the night came in the Best Original Score category.

In his second go-round as host, Stewart had plenty of material to work with, ranging from political quips to references to the recently ended writers’ strike.

“The fight is over,” he said at the opening of the show. “So tonight, welcome to the makeup sex.”

* By Sarah Hall (Sun, 24 Feb 2008)

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