At harvest time in the highland village of Paucho, the first crop of potatoes are baked in a hole in the ground covered with hot rocks, in a ceremony called Watia – a homage to Pacha Mama, or Mother Earth.
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Peruvians are very proud of their potatoes

For thousands of years, the potato has been the staple diet of the people of the Andes.

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It was first cultivated on the

Altiplano of modern-day Peru and Bolivia, and Peru still has some 2,800 varieties of potato, more than any other country.

Like many people, I took the humble spud for granted, but after the launch of the UN Year of the Potato in Ayacucho in the Peruvian Andes, I am repentant at my lack of reverence for the third biggest food staple in the world.

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Boost consumption

I have never seen a vegetable invoke such high passions and poetry.

It was the theme for a seamless succession of carnival floats, colourful costumes, and traditional dance and music. All this was punctuated by cries of “la papa es Peruana” – “the potato is Peruvian”, just in case anyone forgot.

Despite this, consumption of the potato in Peru has dropped to half that of many European countries, with many Peruvians turning to rice or bread.

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Many potato-producing communities are very poor

But internationally high food prices, especially wheat – 80% of which is imported in Peru – are causing hardship for the country’s poor, who make up almost half the population.

Peru’s agriculture minister, Ismael Benavides, says the native potato is the answer.

The government is trying to boost its consumption by encouraging more people to eat bread baked with potato flour, starting with schoolchildren and prisoners.

“When I went to the UN in October to launch the International Year of the Potato somebody from an Eastern European country, Ukraine I think, said to me ‘I didn’t realise that potatoes came from Peru’. That showed me that we had to claim our place,” Mr Benavides said at the festival.

“The potato is very important in the diet worldwide and in this age of rising commodity prices… a number of countries, such as China and India, are looking to double or triple their production.”

Marketing tactics

Can Peru benefit from this projected surge in consumption?

“The paradox that we find today is that it is precisely those communities which have developed and given the world the potato are some of the poorest communities in the Andean chain,” says Pamela Anderson, director of the International Potato Centre, based in Lima.

“So part of what we do at the International Potato Centre is to take the native potato and really begin seriously and systematically marketing it, so that these small, poor farmers can use the native potato as a pathway out of poverty.”

The International Potato Centre is working with the government to drive the internal consumption of native potatoes, which come in a rich variety of colours, shapes and flavours.

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The idea is not only to help poor rural communities, but also the 70% of Peru’s population that lives in urban centres.

“The price of bread has gone up and I just don’t have the money to buy it as I used to,” says Hermelinda Azurin, who supports her two daughters working as a maid in Lima.

“A kilo of potato bread is 3.4 soles ($1.16) whereas normal bread has gone up to 5.40 soles ($1.84) in my neighbourhood. A kilo of potatoes is just 70 centimos ($0.23). Nowadays we eat potatoes every day in my family.”

The Peruvian government is also looking at exporting native potatoes. They are exotic-looking, organic and have vitamins and amino acids that regular white potatoes do not have.

“We feel the quality of this product should have a market abroad, especially as we are opening markets with the US, Canada and we hope soon with the European Union,” says Mr Benavides.

“These would fall under what is called fair trade, so we feel there’s great opportunities for these potatoes, native in particular.”

‘Infinite variety’

But it is precisely those new markets and free trade deals which many Peruvian farmers believe will mean they will have to compete unfairly with agricultural imports.

Mario Tapia, an agronomist who specialises in Andean crops, says a lack of investment in infrastructure is one part of the problem.

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Colourful potatoes are seen as a gastronomic treat abroad

“The potato yields are not so high because there is not high investment in the production, so to compete with farmers who have subsidies in their own countries will not be fair for those farmers in the highlands,” he says.

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With or without an export market, the government plans to boost the internal potato market and give technical assistance to the 1.8m potato growers in Peru.

In the gastronomic world, the native potato has enthusiastic advocates.

Peruvian restaurateur Isabel Alvarez says its “infinite variety of colours, textures, shapes and flavours” has prompted positive reactions in Europe.

“The potato is a world in itself, and it is a gastronomic world which we’ve only begun to explore,” she says.

With gastronomic plaudits and its spiritual place in Andean culture assured, the question remains: can Peru’s gift to the world now be used to help those who gave it to us in the first place?

* By Dan Collyns (BBC News, Ayacucho, Peru)

Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton exchanged sharps words over trade as they campaigned before Ohio’s crucial primary.

Sen. Hillary Clinton says Barack Obama’s camp is spreading false information about her positions.

1 of 2 The economy and jobs are top issues for Ohio voters, and the rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination have blamed trade agreements for the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Since 2000, the state’s seen nearly a 25 percent decline in manufacturing employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.

Ohio, along with Texas, votes on March 4. The two states have a total of 334 delegates at stake.

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Clinton’s supporters have said she must win both states if she is to close the gap with Obama and stop the momentum he has built up with 11 straight wins.

She trails Obama by 69 delegates, according to CNN calculations.

Recent polls, however, show Clinton leading in Ohio.

Over the weekend, Clinton accused Obama of misrepresenting her record on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Taking a mocking swipe at the Illinois senator’s campaign style, Clinton said people want actions and not words. Watch Clinton mock Obama »

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“I could stand up here and say ‘Let’s just get everybody together, let’s get unified, the sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect,’ ” she said Sunday while campaigning in Providence, Rhode Island. Rhode Island and Vermont also hold contests next Tuesday, but only have 36 delegates up for grabs.

Clinton struck a populist tone, saying she has made it clear that she is ambivalent about NAFTA, blasting companies for “turning their backs on Americans” while shipping jobs overseas.

Meanwhile, Obama railed on Clinton for supporting NAFTA when her husband was president. Watch the latest on the back-and-forth »

“Sen. Clinton has been going to great lengths on the campaign trail to distance herself from NAFTA,” Obama said Sunday in Lorain, Ohio. “In her own book, Sen. Clinton called NAFTA one of ‘Bill’s successes’ and ‘legislative victories.’ “

“One million jobs have been lost because of NAFTA, including nearly 50,000 jobs here in Ohio. And yet, 10 years after NAFTA passed, Sen. Clinton said it was good for America. Well, I don’t think NAFTA has been good for America — and I never have,” he said.

The weekend feud kicked off when Clinton blasted recent mailings from the Obama camp, telling a crowd in Cincinnati, Ohio, an Obama mailing spread lies about her positions NAFTA.

The mailer says Clinton was a “champion” for NAFTA while first lady, but now opposes it. NAFTA was negotiated by the first President Bush and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Citing a 2006 issue of New York Newsday, the mailer says Clinton thought NAFTA was a “boon” to the economy. The term “boon” was actually the paper’s characterization of Clinton’s stance, and not a quote from her.

“Bad trade deals like NAFTA hit Ohio harder than other states. Only Barack Obama consistently opposed NAFTA,” the mailer says.

A visibly angry Clinton lashed out Saturday at Obama over the campaign literature that she said he knows is “blatantly false.”

“Shame on you, Barack Obama,” she said, adding that she is fighting to change NAFTA. Watch Clinton demand a ‘real campaign’ »

Obama “is continuing to send false and discredited mailings with information that is not true to the voters of Ohio,” she said.

With Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland nodding in agreement behind her, Clinton accused Obama of emulating the tactics of Karl Rove, President Bush’s former political director who is reviled by Democrats.

Obama described Clinton’s anger as “tactical” and defended his campaign.

“We have been subject to constant attack from the Clinton campaign, except for when we were down 20 points. And that was true in Iowa. It was true in South Carolina. It was true in Wisconsin, and it is true now,” Obama said.

The spat over the literature is nothing new; the two campaigns sparred over similar mailings before Super Tuesday. Obama defended the mailings, calling them accurate and accusing Clinton of deliberately changing her position on NAFTA for political expediency. He told a crowd in a Lorain, Ohio, factory, “The fact is, she was saying great things about NAFTA until she started running for president.”

Clinton challenged Obama to “meet me in Ohio, and let’s have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign.”

The two are set to debate Tuesday night in Ohio.

Bill Clinton has said that if his wife wins in Ohio and Texas, she will win her party’s nomination, but, he told voters, “if you don’t deliver for her, then I don’t think she can be. It’s all on you.”

According to an average of three recent polls, Clinton leads Obama in Ohio 49 percent to 39 percent. An additional 12 percent of the state’s likely Democratic primary voters said they were undecided.

The Ohio Democratic poll of polls consists of three surveys: American Research Group (February 23-24), the Ohio Poll (February 21-24), and Quinnipiac (February 18-23).

Recent polls show a close race in Texas.

The Democratic contenders split the Super Tuesday contests on February 5, but since then, Obama has taken every contest.

* Source: CNN

US Democratic front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have traded accusations over a photo of Mr Obama circulating on the internet.
The picture, sent to the Drudge Report website, shows Mr Obama wearing traditional African dress during a visit to Kenya in 2006.

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The Obama camp says it was circulated by Mrs Clinton’s staff as a smear. Mrs Clinton’s team strongly denies this.

The row comes as the rivals campaign for two crucial primaries next week.

Analysts say Mrs Clinton needs to win the contests, in Texas and Ohio, to remain in the race to choose the Democratic candidate for November’s presidential election.

‘Fear-mongering’

The photograph shows Mr Obama – whose father came from Kenya – wearing a white turban and a white robe presented to him by elders in the north-east of the country.

Her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election
David Plouffe, Obama campaign chief, accusing the Clinton camp

According to the Drudge Report, which published the photograph on Monday, it was circulated by “Clinton staffers”.
Some Clinton aides have tried in the past to suggest to Democrats that Barak Obama’s background might be off-putting to mainstream voters.

A campaign volunteer was sacked last year after circulating an email suggesting, falsely, that Mr Obama was a Muslim.

But the BBC Justin Webb in Ohio says the photograph – coming at this pivotal moment in the campaign – is being seen by the Obama team as particularly offensive.

His campaign manager, David Plouffe, accused Mrs Clinton’s aides of “the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election”.

The accusation was dismissed by Mrs Clinton’s campaign manager Maggie Williams.

“If Barack Obama’s campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed,” she said.

“Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.”

Mrs Williams did not address the question of whether staffers circulated the photo.

* Story from BBC NEWS:

OHSWEKEN, Ontario (Reuters) – In a grey, shed-like building on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve in southern Ontario, Esenogwas Jacobs is getting her kindergarten students ready to head home for the day.

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“Gao dehswe,” Jacobs says, calling her students to the door.

“Gyahde:dih,” she adds, it’s time to go.

Her students answer with assertive “ehes.”

No one speaks a word of English.

“I just use Cayuga with them,” Jacobs said. “Mostly they can respond back in Cayuga, so it’s pretty cool.”

The eight children of this kindergarten class carry on their shoulders the hopes for preserving the language of the Cayugas, one of the six nations that make up the Iroquois Confederacy of southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States.

Since the 19th Century and until recently, Canada has pushed for the assimilation of its native population, sending aboriginal children to boarding schools where they were taught the language, culture and spirituality of Canadian society.

While the effort to assimilate aboriginal people into Canadian culture failed, the schools, the last of which closed in 1996, were effective at stunting aboriginal languages.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised to set up a commission to look into the schools, which could lead to a statement of apology similar to one issued by Australia to its aboriginal people this week.

Less than a quarter of aboriginal people in Canada use their ancestral tongue, the government says. The number of fluent Cayuga speakers has dropped from 376 in the 1970s to only 79 today.

“The number of speakers, they’re dying off all the time, like every year,” said Elva Jamieson, who learned the language as a child from her family, but wasn’t allowed to speak it at school. “It gets lonely when you don’t have someone to talk to.”

Jamieson is a teacher at the Gaweni:yo High School, part of the same Cayuga language immersion program that also includes Jacobs’ kindergarten class, as well as a parallel Mohawk language program.

“I think the language speaks to their spirit,” Jamieson said of the 35 pupils at the high school, located about 70 miles southwest of the Ontario capital Toronto. “They’re able to grasp it and go with it.”

While the linguistic knowledge of native speakers like Jamieson is irreplaceable, Gaweni:yo — which means “nice-sounding words” — is helping to slow the erosion of the Cayuga language, and young people are becoming a viable population of fluent speakers.

The most dedicated meet up regularly to chat in Cayuga and practice new words and some even use Cayuga as the primary language at home.

Jacobs, 24, herself a graduate of Gaweni:yo, tries to speak only Cayuga with her boyfriend, another graduate, and she spends evenings visiting with elders to learn new words.

The program has been running since 1986, but this is the first year that it has included a kindergarten class. Many of her young students are the children of fellow Gaweni:yo graduates and Jacobs encourages them to use Cayuga at home, too.

While the dominant language on the reserve is still English, Jacobs is happy with the progress. The language is going through a rebirth, she said. “It feels good knowing these kids are coming up.”

LANGUAGE LOST

Not far from Jacobs’ kindergarten, a group of adults are also studying Cayuga in a crowded community centre classroom. One of them is Oklahoman Sally White, a descendant of the Seneca-Cayuga – a tribe that separated from the Cayuga of Six Nations in the 18th century.

The Seneca-Cayuga spoke a similar dialect, but their language has now been declared extinct, which means a man from Six Nations must go to Oklahoma each year to perform their traditional ceremonies.

“Without him, I don’t think we would have (our ceremonies),” said White, who hopes to learn enough Cayuga to teach the basics to her husband and other members of their community. “It’s just about gone. We’re losing a lot.”

But saving dying languages costs money and for many Canadians the price of immersion programs such as the one at Six Nations may be too steep.

Canada’s Conservative government, elected two years ago, has cut a 10-year, C$173 million ($173 million) language revitalization program, leaving the immersion programs at Six Nations dangling by a thread. School officials do not know if there will be funding to continue past the current year.

The death of the language would be a tragedy, according to linguist Marianne Mithun, who spent 10 years studying the decline of the Cayuga language at Six Nations.

“The loss of language is a devastating loss of identity,” said Mithun, a University of California Santa Barbara linguist who specializes in aboriginal languages in North America. “It is the disappearance of their heritage, a blacking out of their intellectual and cultural history.”

While Cayuga still has enough mother-tongue speakers to document how the language should be spoken, a process that is taking place on Six Nations through video and audio archives, Mithun worries that once all the elders die, the living language will only be a pale shadow of what it once was.

“When you get to see a language like Cayuga, you just see other ways of looking at the world,” said Mithun, commenting on the language’s literal nature. “If we care about understanding the human mind, then we’re really missing the boat if we let these languages slip.”

* By Julie Gordon (15 Feb 2008)

RIBNOVO, Bulgaria (Reuters) – Fikrie Sabrieva, 17, will marry with her eyes closed and her face painted white, dotted with bright sequins. She lives ‘at the end of the world’, tending a hardy Muslim culture in largely Christian Bulgaria.

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The remote village of Ribnovo, set on a snowy mountainside in southwest Bulgaria, has kept its traditional winter marriage ceremony alive despite decades of Communist persecution, followed by poverty that forced many men to seek work abroad.

“Other nearby villages tried the traditional marriage after the ban was lifted, but then the custom somehow died away — women wanted to be modern,” said Ali Mustafa Bushnak, 61, whose daughter came to watch Fikrie’s wedding.

“Maybe we are at the end of the world. Or people in Ribnovo are very religious and proud of their traditions.”

Some experts say clinging to the traditional wedding ceremony is Ribnovo’s answer to the persecutions of the past.

Bulgaria is the only European Union nation where Muslims’ share is as high as 12 percent. The communist regime, which did not tolerate any religious rituals, tried to forcibly integrate Muslims into Bulgaria’s largely Christian Orthodox population, pressing them to abandon wearing their traditional outfits and adopt Slavonic names.

The wedding ritual was resurrected with vigor among the Pomaks — Slavs who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule and now make up 2.5 percent of Bulgaria’s 7.8 million population — after communism collapsed in 1989.

But today it is still performed only in the closed society of Ribnovo and one other village in the Balkan country. Young men return from abroad to the crisp mountain snows, just for the winter weddings.

People in Ribnovo identify themselves more by their religion, as Muslims, than by their ethnicity or nationality, and the wedding ceremony is an expression of their piety. The village has 10 clerics and two mosques for 3,500 inhabitants.

DOWRY ON DISPLAY

Fikrie’s family have been laboriously piling up her dowry since she was born — mostly handmade knit-work, quilts, coverlets, sheets, aprons, socks, carpets and rugs.

On a sunny Saturday winter morning they hang the items on a wooden scaffolding, 50 meters long and three meters high, erected specially for the occasion on the steep, muddy road of scruffy two-story houses that leads to her home.

Nearly everyone in the village comes to inspect the offerings: Fikrie’s tiny homeyard has been turned into a showroom for the furniture and household appliances the bride has to provide for her new household.

The girl and her husband-to-be, Moussa, 20, then lead a traditional horo dance on the central square, joined by most of the village’s youth.

But the highlight of the ceremony, the painting of the bride’s face, comes at the end of the second day.

In a private rite open only to female in-laws, Fikrie’s face is covered in thick, chalky white paint and decorated with colorful sequins. A long red veil covers her hair, her head is framed with tinsel, her painted face veiled with and silvery filaments.

Clad in baggy pants and bodice shimmering in all the colors of the rainbow, the bride is presented by her future husband, her mother and her grandmother to the waiting crowd.

Fikrie is not permitted to open her eyes wide until a Muslim priest blesses the young couple. Alcohol is forbidden at the wedding receptions and sex before marriage is taboo.

BANNED RITUALS

Ethnographers say it is hard to date the bridal painting ritual, as the communist regime did not encourage studies into minority ethnic and religious groups.

“It is very likely that it is an invented tradition. It’s their way to express who they are,” said Margarita Karamihova, an associate professor at the Ethnography Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Science.

Experts say Pomaks had identity problems and faced more challenges than the majority of Muslims in Bulgaria, who are ethnic Turks.

“In the 1960s they would ban Islamic music at weddings, then they would not allow traditional clothes, and in the 1980s, the whole traditional Pomak wedding was banned,” said municipality mayor, Ahmed Bashev, born in Ribnovo.

Ribnovo’s inhabitants used to make a living from tobacco and agriculture, but low incomes in the poorest EU country forced men to start seeking jobs in cities in Bulgaria or in western Europe — not least to raise money for a wedding.

Outside influences have been slow to reach Ribnovo and young people rarely marry an outsider. Another Fikrie, 19-year-old Fikrie Inuzova, suggested the women, for whom the acceptable bridal age is up to 22, are not in a rush to modernize.

“My brother wants to travel, see the world… It’s different for men. They can do whatever. I want to stay here and marry.”

* By Tsvetelia Ilieva

George Clooney wasn’t supposed to say yes. A reporter interviews a movie star at a restaurant or a hotel lobby or an office, with his publicist lurking in the corner, ready to cut off any vaguely interesting questions. But to come over to my house for dinner? That’s a trap no sucker has ever shoved a famous foot into.

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Partly because there are so many unknowns—you’re stuck alone chatting up the family while the reporter cooks, you accidentally let slip a cruel joke about a wedding photo, you somehow use the bathroom wrong—and partly because who the hell wants to spend Saturday night stuck at some dork’s house eating undercooked lamb? Would Gwyneth Paltrow come over? Johnny Depp? But George Clooney said yes, of course, why not, sounds fun.

Clooney was the only star who could have said yes, because no other star wears his celebrity so easily. Nominated for another Oscar for Michael Clayton, Clooney has managed to become this era’s leading man without ever conveying the sense that he takes the role seriously. “He’s a throwback to what movie stars used to be,” says Grant Heslov, who has been friends with Clooney since they met in an acting class in 1983 and is now his partner at their new film and TV production company, Smoke House. “You see him and you think, Wouldn’t that be a great life? He seems like a man’s man. He seems like you could meet him at a bar and have a chat with him and it would be easy. And all of that is true.” Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, says no one works an Oscars event or the red carpet like him. “Clooney is a kind of exception to the rule of celebrity aloofness. Gregory Peck was that way. Totally open. Unabashed. You’ve got to be not afraid,” he says. No other stars are as unfreaked out by their own celebrity, since, like most politicians, they want it either too much or too little. And it’s that ability to be constantly not afraid that makes women love him. “As they say in England, he is up for it,” says Michael Clayton co-star Tilda Swinton. “That means up for pretty much any fun you can think of. He has a way of daring you—which, for those of us who cannot resist a bit of a laugh, can be irresistible.”

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Still, this was going to be uncomfortable, this reversal of the natural guest-host order. Three years ago, Clooney invited me to his huge Los Angeles house to interview him, and he was exactly the host you’d expect: relaxed, honest, easy. Four years ago, when I left a message with his publicist to set up a time to talk to him, he simply called my voice mail and left his home number. In the summer, at his six-house compound in Lake Como, Italy, he throws nightly Algonquin-style dinners featuring such guests as Al Gore, Walter Cronkite and Quincy Jones. “He’s an excellent host,” says Tony Gilroy, director of Michael Clayton. “He’s really smart about figuring out what people need and want. Are they hot? Happy? Cold? Thirsty? He has that ability to bend himself to the space he’s in and instantly adjust to the group he’s with.” So I wondered, Can George Clooney possibly be a guest? Or is that just against the natural order of things? And what would I even cook? All his assistant would say was, “He’ll eat whatever is cooking.”

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It’s 6:45 on Saturday night when the doorbell rings, a little late. Clooney hit traffic, his assistant called to say, on his way back from visiting his girlfriend in Las Vegas. He’s wearing faded jeans, black laced boots and a zip-up sweater, and he looks less like a movie star than a normal, un-Botoxed 46-year-old unmarried guy coming over for dinner, but he also looks like he’s excited to be here because wherever he is, George Clooney’s also there. He hasn’t brought any wine, and I worry that this guesting thing is just not going to work out. I offer him a glass of red, and he suggests that we sit on the couch, and soon we’re talking about real estate, and it’s fine, and next thing I know, he’s getting a tour of the house. A tour of the house? The man owns a mansion in L.A. and a 15-bedroom villa in Italy! Why don’t I just show the Oscar-winning actor the tape of me in my high school production of Bye Bye Birdie? But he’s nailing this guest role: “I love old houses like this.” “You kept the original stuff.” “It’s nice to have a guest room.” “I love the arches on the shower.” I’m convinced that this is just a normal Clooney Saturday, that he spends his nights Charles Kuralting around L.A., knocking on doors, eating whatever’s cooking and chatting about politics. Within 15 minutes he made me feel comfortable in my own house. Which isn’t so easy when a giant celebrity is over for dinner.

It’s becoming clear to me already that somehow this guy, even in my house, really is a movie star. Maybe the only one we have now. There are plenty of huge box-office draws (Will Smith, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Johnny Depp) and even more famous celebrities (Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, Lindsay Lohan), but no one besides Clooney is so gracefully both. After an actor achieves media saturation, there’s actually an inverse relation between fame and box-office receipts: people aren’t going to pay for what they can get for free. “There are so many media outlets and this enormous suck on information about you, it’s hard to maintain any kind of aura of specialness and mystery about the work itself, which is trying to be other people,” says director Tony Gilroy. “It was a lot easier to be Bill Holden than it is to be George Clooney.” Or as Clooney says, “Clark Gable wouldn’t have been Clark Gable if there was Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight.”

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His strategy for being a movie star is pretty simple, if counterintuitive: he makes fun of himself. It’s the by-product of every successful person’s strategy, which is to figure out what the other person is thinking. “Before they could kill me on Batman & Robin, I said, ‘It’s a bad film, and I’m the worst thing in it.’ You try to defend an indefensible position, you’ll look like a schmuck. The guys I dig don’t do that. Look at Winston Churchill. He said, ‘These are our shortcomings. Now let’s get past it,'” Clooney says. He thinks that’s all Cruise needs to do. “I talked to him the other day, and he’s a good egg. There’s nothing self-serving about what he’s saying. He has to turn it into a way to make fun of himself.”

Clooney also preempts situations that might earn him ridicule later. So he has either turned down every gift bag he’s been offered or has put them up on eBay for charity. “I’ve been smart about that. Rich famous people getting free s___ looks bad. You look greedy. And I don’t need a cell phone with sparkles on it,” he says. He sends handwritten apology letters to the directors whose scenes he ripped off in the movies he directed—Mike Nichols, Sidney Lumet, Sydney Pollack. He drives an electric car and a Lexus hybrid but won’t be a spokesman for the environment because he flies a private jet. He feels passionately about Barack Obama but refuses his pleas to campaign for him—other than an introduction in late February in Cincinnati, Ohio—because he doesn’t want it to backfire into a Hollywood-vs.-the-heartland attack. And he downplays and occasionally jokes about his problems, which include a bad back and some short-term memory loss he sustained when working on Syriana, quiet. “I know what pisses people off about fame,” Clooney says. “It’s when famous people whine about it.”

It may look as if he is an effortless movie star, but he has actually given the job a lot of thought. He’s not manipulative, but he is calculating, following the rules he learned from his family. When his aunt Rosemary Clooney went from being on the cover of this magazine to seeing her fame burst because musical tastes changed, she battled depression and took pills for much of her life. He knows random luck will eventually take fame away, just as random luck made him a star. If NBC had put ER on Fridays instead of Thursdays, I might have had Jonathan Silverman over for dinner. And while Clooney didn’t get famous until his 30s, when ER hit, he had kind of always been famous because of his dad, a popular news anchor in Cincinnati. “From the moment I was born, I was watched by other people. I was taught to use the right fork. I was groomed for that in a weird way,” Clooney says. “You give enough. You play completely. You don’t say, I don’t talk about my personal life. People say they won’t talk about their personal life. And then they do. And even when the tabloids say really crappy things and it pisses you off and you know it’s not true, you have to at least publicly have a sense of humor about it.”

He’s just as calculating about his career choices. “He was offered a stupendous amount of money to continue to do Roseanne,” the sitcom he was on for 11 episodes, says his dad Nick Clooney. “I was thinking he could build a little nest egg and maybe acting would pay off after all. He said, ‘No, I’ll be in a cul-de-sac. I’ll be that guy, and that’s all I’ll be.'” He pitched sitcom pilots and dramas and eventually won an Oscar nomination for co-writing the original screenplay for Good Night, and Good Luck. He makes sure to not get stuck in one character or type of film. He has a Joel and Ethan Coen movie coming out in which he plays an idiot (as he did in their O Brother, Where Art Thou?), and he’s working on a movie about the founder of est and a comedy about the 1979 Tehran hostages who escaped. The next movie he directs and co-stars in is Leatherheads, a screwball comedy about pro football in the 1920s that comes out April 4. “After Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck I was offered the Richard Clarke book and every issues movie,” Clooney says. “I didn’t want to be the issues guy because if the issues change, you’re done. The Facts of Life is a good example. If you’re a young heartthrob—which I never caught on as—those fans not only abandon you, but they’re embarrassed to have liked you. It’s the same thing with issues movies. I want to just be a director.”

He is good at slipping into many different worlds, even the one in my kitchen, where he is pouring in the egg mixture while I add the hot spaghetti for the carbonara. He reaches over and stirs the bacon, grabs a string bean from the pot and eats it. He is mad guesting, Olympic-level guesting. He’s been over for two hours, and it occurs to me that the smooth bastard must have turned off his cell phone before he got here. When I leave the table to check on the lamb, he puts extra bacon on my pasta. He’s doing impressions—Pat O’Brien confusedly reporting outside Clooney’s Como villa, expecting Pitt and Jolie’s wedding (Clooney had bought $1,500 worth of flowers and 15 tabletops as a prank on gossip reporters); James Carville denigrating John Kerry’s campaigning skills; Daniel Day-Lewis doing John Huston in There Will Be Blood.

We’re deep into a second bottle of Barolo when Clooney cuts into his rack of lamb, and, oh, there would be blood. This is why a star wouldn’t take this invite, wouldn’t be here, staring at a red-raw-inedible piece of meat. He says it’s fine. I grab it, put it in the oven but forget to turn on the heat, so when I take it back out, it’s just as raw. Fine again, he says. I put it back one more time. He takes more pasta and salad. Rattled, I drop the salt. “Throw it over your left shoulder,” he says. “That’s just bad mojo. You know it, and I know it.” He may not believe in religion, but luck, Clooney has learned from his family, cannot be messed with.

One person Clooney will mess with—the thing he keeps coming back to the more we drink—is what a massive loser Bill O’Reilly is. It’s an irrational feud because every time O’Reilly gets to be as important as Clooney, O’Reilly comes out way ahead. But Clooney can’t help himself. He keeps talking about O’Reilly, and the little traps he’s set for him and how thrilled he is when he falls into them. It’s as if Clooney loves O’Reilly because he gives him permission to be an irrational 8-year-old. Maybe that’s why anyone loves O’Reilly. But he is also the anti-Clooney, donning a public persona, one that’s humorless and incapable of self-effacement. It’s as if someone created for Clooney his own Elmer Fudd.

One of the things O’Reilly has taken issue with is Clooney’s involvement in the crisis in Darfur, saying it’s reverse racism from someone who didn’t care about the Arabs being killed by Saddam Hussein. Clooney got interested in Darfur in 2005 after the campaign for Oscar votes for Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck made him feel dirty. “You’re campaigning for yourself. To compete for art,” he says. His dad was also dejected and angry after losing an election for Congress, and Clooney had been reading about the lack of attention being given to Darfur, so the two went on a trip to Africa to shoot footage. Clooney wasn’t able to get into Darfur until late January, when the U.N. said it would give him an official title. “I have a U.N. passport. It says ‘Messenger of Peace’ on it. It’s very cool,” he says.

The Darfur organization he helped found, Not on Our Watch, has given away more than $9 million. But now, just three weeks back from having a 14-year-old border guard shove a machine gun at his chest, after recovering from malaria, after helicoptering out of N’Djamena, Chad, in a sandstorm three days before the rebels sacked it, he wonders if his critics are right, if this scheme to use celebrity to bring attention to the world’s plights isn’t, if not vanity, at least striving after wind. “I’ve been very depressed since I got back. I’m terrified that it isn’t in any way helping. That bringing attention can cause more damage. You dig a well or build a health-care facility and they’re a target for somebody,” he says. “A lot more people know about Darfur, but absolutely nothing is different. Absolutely nothing.”

He feels his advocacy is not even accomplishing as much as his family did during the embarrassing Christmas day trips his dad would arrange every year, when they would show up with gifts for a family who wrote to his dad’s TV station, asking for help. Now he wonders if it is better to give money and get out of the way, as he does when he gets off Highway 101 at Laurel Canyon Blvd., where there’s always a person begging for money. “You think, This is a $20 light. So you hope to catch the light. And then you feel guilty for hoping to catch the light,” he says. “People say, They’ll buy booze. Fair enough. They need it.” Clooney, having helped knock off two bottles of red and two bottles of dessert wine—all after drinking heavily in Vegas the night before—is not one to deny someone else alcohol.

It’s past midnight; we’re both pretty buzzed. He’s telling me how he wakes up every morning at 5:30 to the hoots of a giant owl and how he climbs into his hot tub so he can hoot back, mesmerized by nature, like Tony Soprano and his ducks, when this alarm starts shrieking. Clooney, not a man of inaction, especially in a moment of crisis like this, stands on my dining-room table, unscrews a panel in the ceiling and, finding nothing, makes me go outside and carry a huge ladder with him up two flights to my garage upstairs—where he climbs into an area I’ve never dared go, crawling along the beams with a screwdriver between his teeth. Finding nothing, he climbs down, knocks the dirt off his jeans, blows the dust out of his nose, rinses his hands and returns to the table. The shriek starts again, and Clooney thinks for a few seconds, ducks down and yanks the carbon monoxide detector out of the outlet. “Either it needs a battery,” he says, “or we have six seconds to live.”

At 1:30 he gets up to leave. He tells me that the next time I have interviewees over for dinner, I should trick them by passing his house off as mine, maybe with some hired servants, smoking a pipe, pretending journalism is something I do as a lark, separate from my silver-mining interests.

As he leaves, I feel as if I failed. In seven hours, I wasn’t able to find a part of Clooney different from the one everyone already knows. As he retreats in his movie-star car to his movie-star lair with his giant-owl sidekick, I feel pretty sure he never separates the public from the private. It explains, at least, why he sucked as Batman.

Then two nights later I get a chance to run the experiment again. My wife and I figure we’ll check out the sushi place Clooney said he’s been going to for 15 years. When we walk in, there’s only one occupied table, and of course it’s Clooney, his girlfriend, his assistant and a friend he met the first day he moved to Los Angeles. He’s unprepared for me, out in the open, vulnerable. But he yanks over a table, puts it next to his, tells us what to order, hands us food from his plate, shows us photos of him and the other guy at the table with Keith Richards, reads the cheesy lines he’s just been faxed for his Oscar presenting, fights for the check and generally hosts the crap out of us. Clooney is a movie star not because he’s overwhelmingly electric or handsome or fascinating. After two very fun nights, I can tell you that he really isn’t any of those things. George Clooney is a movie star because he’s happiest when he controls how everyone around him feels. Because that’s what movies do.

* By Joel Stein (TIME) With reporting by Amy Lennard Goehner

THOUGH no one talks about them much, Ernest Hemingway wrote two plays. The first, finished in 1926, was “Today Is Friday,” a forgettable one-acter set on the evening of the original Good Friday, when three Roman centurions get together at a tavern to discuss memorable crucifixions they’ve seen, including the one that afternoon. Not surprisingly, they sound a lot like Hemingway’s Nick Adams. “He looked pretty good to me in there today,” one of them says admiring Jesus’ stoicism.

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(Photo of Ernest Hemingway, center, during the Spanish Civil War, about 1937.)

His other play, “The Fifth Column,” which the Mint Theater Company in Manhattan is presenting, beginning Feb. 26, is a full-length drama written in 1937, when Hemingway was a correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War.

The play takes its name from Franco’s remark that he had four columns advancing on Madrid and a fifth column of loyalists inside the city ready to attack from the rear.

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(Photo of Ernest Hemingway with Martha Gellhorn on their honeymoon in Honolulu in 1940, at Halehulani Hotel)

“The Fifth Column” is not about Franco sympathizers, however, but about an American war correspondent who is a secret agent for the Republicans, and Hemingway worked on it while holed up in the Hotel Florida with all the other war correspondents.

In an unpublished letter just recently discovered he explained, “In those days” Herbert Matthews of The New York Times, Henry T. Gorrell of United Press, “Sefton Delmer of the Daily Express, Martha Gellhorn of Colliers, Virginia Cowles, then for Hearst, now of the London Times, Joris Ivens, who made the ‘Spanish Earth,’ Johnny Ferno, who photographed it, Josephine Herbst for various American weeklies and for humanity in general, Sidney Franklin working for me, all International Brigade men on leave, and the greatest and most varied collection of ladies of the evening I have ever seen all lived at the Hotel Florida.”

In an introduction to “The Fifth Column” Hemingway wrote that the hotel was bombarded numerous times, adding: “So if it is not a good play perhaps that is what is the matter with it. If it is a good play, perhaps those thirty shells helped write it.”

In the letter he goes into more detail: “In the fall of 1937 when I took up playwrighting, there weren’t any top floors to the hotel anymore. Nobody that was not crazy would go up there in a bombardment.

But the two rooms where we lived were in what is called by artillerymen a dead angle. Any place else in the hotel could be hit and was. But unless the position of the batteries on Garabitas hill were changed; or unless they substituted howitzers for guns; rooms 112 and 113 could not be hit because of the position of three different houses across the street and across the square.

“I was absolutely sure of this after being in the hotel during twenty-two heavy bombardments in which other parts of it were struck. It seemed eminently more sensible to live in a part of a hotel which you knew would not be struck by shell fire, because you knew where the shells lit, than to go to some other hotel further from the lines, the angles of which you had no data to figure and where you would maybe have a shell drop through the roof.

“Well, I had great confidence in the Florida and when Franco finally entered Madrid, Rooms 112 and 113 were still intact. There was very little else that was though.”

The Mint Theater Company normally specializes in revivals of neglected plays, but its production of “The Fifth Column” is really a premier of sorts, Jonathan Bank, the company’s artistic director, said recently.

“I want to be precise about this, so maybe I should say this is the first time Hemingway’s play has been done professionally in America,” he explained. “There might have been an amateur production. There was a production in the Soviet Union in 1963. And from a reference I saw in a biography of Michael Powell, I know he directed a production in Scotland in the ’40s.”

What was billed as an “adaptation” of “The Fifth Column” by Benjamin Glazer, directed by Lee Strasberg, was put on by the Theater Guild in 1940, to mostly mixed reviews. Hemingway by that point had washed his hands of it and for good reason, according to Mr. Bank. “I would say that it’s 80 percent Glazer and 10 percent Hemingway out of context,” he said. “It’s completely restructured and, well, awful.”

* By CHARLES McGRATH (NYT/February 10, 2008)

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Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) — Some Microsoft Corp. shareholders say the software maker’s $44.6 billion bid for Yahoo! Inc. may backfire and reduce its ability to compete with Google Inc. in Internet consumer services and advertising.

“This is a stupid deal, and I’m not happy,” said Jane Snorek, who helps manage more than $70 billion in assets at First American Funds in Minneapolis. She said the firm began selling much of its Microsoft position yesterday, when the stock dropped 6.6 percent, the most since April 2006. “I’m expecting slow market-share erosion from Microsoft and Yahoo.”

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer is attempting the biggest-ever technology takeover after his own efforts failed to narrow the gap with Google. Acquiring Yahoo would still leave Microsoft with a smaller share of the Web search market, and Ballmer would face the distraction of combining the businesses, said Colin Gillis, an analyst at Canaccord Adams in New York.

“Sergey and Larry are going to have no problems sleeping,” Gillis said, referring to Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. “I don’t see them tossing in their beds tonight.”

Gillis recommends buying Google shares, has a hold rating on Yahoo, and doesn’t cover Microsoft. He said he doesn’t own shares in the companies.

Microsoft Falls

The $31-a-share bid of cash or Microsoft stock is 62 percent more than Yahoo’s closing price on Jan. 31. Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, fell $2.15 to $30.45 yesterday in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. Ballmer, 51, has presided over a 44 percent drop in Microsoft shares since taking over as CEO in January 2000.

Yahoo, which reported its eighth straight quarter of declining profit this week, had dropped 18 percent this year before the offer was announced. The shares rose $9.20, or 48 percent, to $28.38 yesterday.

Holders of Yahoo stock would be able to choose to take $31 in cash or 0.9509 of a Microsoft share for each Yahoo share. Microsoft will pay for half the purchase with cash and half with stock, the company said.

Yahoo, based in Sunnyvale, California, also has failed to break Google’s hold on the market, losing Internet search users and share of the online ad market. The stock had lost almost half its value in the past two years before the deal was announced.

`Struggled Mightily’

“Yahoo has struggled mightily to compete against Google,” said Dave Stepherson, a fund manager at Hardesty Capital Management in Baltimore, which holds about 281,000 Microsoft shares in its $650 million under management. “That is not going to change just because they’re pairing up with Microsoft.”

The price is “incredibly expensive,” and Microsoft may have done better by making smaller purchases to build out its own business, he said.

Ballmer himself told analysts in July 2006 that buying Yahoo wouldn’t help Microsoft improve its search business, because only Google has a better quality product than Microsoft.

“There’s no acquisition path,” Ballmer said when asked whether Microsoft should make a large purchase.

Microsoft’s bid is more than seven times larger than the $6 billion the company paid for AQuantive Inc., its largest previous acquisition. Microsoft doesn’t have the experience to fix and combine Yahoo, said Jon Fisher, a portfolio manager at Fifth Third Asset Management in Minneapolis.

`Fixer-Upper’

“They never bought a fixer-upper before,” said Fisher, whose firm manages $22 billion, including Microsoft shares.

The acquisition will probably face lengthy regulatory scrutiny, said Peter Kadzik, an antitrust partner at Dickstein Shapiro, a law firm in Washington. The U.S. Justice Department said yesterday that it is “interested” in reviewing the proposed combination. Neelie Kroes, commissioner of competition for the European Commission, will also investigate, she said yesterday.

Still, the deal would likely be approved because Google would continue to lead the Internet advertising market after the purchase, Kadzik said.

Google captured 56 percent of U.S. Web queries in December, almost double the combined share for Yahoo and Microsoft, which attracted 18 percent and 14 percent, according to New York-based Nielsen Online.

Microsoft Optimism

Some Microsoft shareholders were pleased with the bid.

“If Microsoft executes well, it could be a really good deal,” said Robert Doll, who oversees $1.3 trillion as chief investment officer of global equities at New York-based BlackRock Inc. The firm owns Microsoft shares. “The ball is going to be in Microsoft’s court.”

The deal also makes sense because Yahoo is strong in Asia, while Microsoft’s Web sites are popular in Latin America and Europe, said Bob Ivins, executive vice president of ComScore Inc., a market researcher in Reston, Virginia.

“When you combine the strengths of our two companies, the result will be an incredibly efficient and competitive offering,” Ballmer said on a conference call yesterday. “We believe now in those benefits more than ever.”

Yahoo said yesterday that it plans to evaluate the proposal “promptly.”

Microsoft’s bankers, Morgan Stanley and Blackstone Group LP, could split about $53 million in fees, and Yahoo’s may get about $80 million, according to Bloomberg estimates based on publicly disclosed fees from about 600 transactions since 2005.

Microsoft had considered paying a per-share figure in the mid-$30s range, before its bid of $31, the New York Times reported. The newspaper also said Yahoo’s investment bankers, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., approached other potential suitors yesterday, including News Corp. and AT&T Inc.

News Corp. spokeswoman Teri Everett and AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from Bloomberg News via phone and e-mail messages. Yahoo spokeswoman Diana Wong declined to comment.

By Dina Bass
To contact the reporter on this story: Dina Bass in Seattle at dbass2@bloomberg.net
February 2, 2008

So John Edwards has dropped out of the race for the presidency. By normal political standards, his campaign fell short.

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But Mr. Edwards, far more than is usual in modern politics, ran a campaign based on ideas. And even as his personal quest for the White House faltered, his ideas triumphed: both candidates left standing are, to a large extent, running on the platform Mr. Edwards built.

To understand the extent of the Edwards effect, you have to think about what might have been.
At the beginning of 2007, it seemed likely that the Democratic nominee would run a cautious campaign, without strong, distinctive policy ideas. That, after all, is what John Kerry did in 2004.

If 2008 is different, it will be largely thanks to Mr. Edwards. He made a habit of introducing bold policy proposals — and they were met with such enthusiasm among Democrats that his rivals were more or less forced to follow suit.

It’s hard, in particular, to overstate the importance of the Edwards health care plan, introduced in February.

Before the Edwards plan was unveiled, advocates of universal health care had difficulty getting traction, in part because they were divided over how to get there. Some advocated a single-payer system — a k a Medicare for all — but this was dismissed as politically infeasible. Some advocated reform based on private insurers, but single-payer advocates, aware of the vast inefficiency of the private insurance system, recoiled at the prospect.

With no consensus about how to pursue health reform, and vivid memories of the failure of 1993-1994, Democratic politicians avoided the subject, treating universal care as a vague dream for the distant future.

But the Edwards plan squared the circle, giving people the choice of staying with private insurers, while also giving everyone the option of buying into government-offered, Medicare-type plans — a form of public-private competition that Mr. Edwards made clear might lead to a single-payer system over time. And he also broke the taboo against calling for tax increases to pay for reform.

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Suddenly, universal health care became a possible dream for the next administration. In the months that followed, the rival campaigns moved to assure the party’s base that it was a dream they shared, by emulating the Edwards plan. And there’s little question that if the next president really does achieve major health reform, it will transform the political landscape.

Similar if less dramatic examples of leadership followed on other key issues. For example, Mr. Edwards led the way last March by proposing a serious plan for responding to climate change, and at this point both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are offering far stronger measures to limit emissions of greenhouse gases than anyone would have expected to see on the table not long ago.

Unfortunately for Mr. Edwards, the willingness of his rivals to emulate his policy proposals made it hard for him to differentiate himself as a candidate; meanwhile, those rivals had far larger financial resources and received vastly more media attention. Even The Times’s own public editor chided the paper for giving Mr. Edwards so little coverage.
And so Mr. Edwards won the arguments but not the political war.
Where will Edwards supporters go now? The truth is that nobody knows.

Yes, Mr. Obama is also running as a “change” candidate. But he isn’t offering the same kind of change: Mr. Edwards ran an unabashedly populist campaign, while Mr. Obama portrays himself as a candidate who can transcend partisanship — and given the economic elitism of the modern Republican Party, populism is unavoidably partisan.

It’s true that Mr. Obama has tried to work some populist themes into his campaign, but he apparently isn’t all that convincing: the working-class voters Mr. Edwards attracted have tended to favor Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Obama.

Furthermore, to the extent that this remains a campaign of ideas, it remains true that on the key issue of health care, the Clinton plan is more or less identical to the Edwards plan. The Obama plan, which doesn’t actually achieve universal coverage, is considerably weaker.


One thing is clear, however: whichever candidate does get the nomination, his or her chance of victory will rest largely on the ideas Mr. Edwards brought to the campaign.

Personal appeal won’t do the job: history shows that Republicans are very good at demonizing their opponents as individuals. Mrs. Clinton has already received the full treatment, while Mr. Obama hasn’t — yet. But if he gets the nod, watch how quickly conservative pundits who have praised him discover that he has deep character flaws.

If Democrats manage to get the focus on their substantive differences with the Republicans, however, polls on the issues suggest that they’ll have a big advantage. And they’ll have Mr. Edwards to thank.

* By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: February 1, 2008

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PASADENA, Calif. — The two students in Southern California had just been introduced during an experiment to test their “interpersonal chemistry.” The man, a graduate student, dutifully asked the undergraduate woman what her major was.
“Spanish and sociology,” she said.

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“Interesting,” he said. ‘‘I was a sociology major. What are you going to do with that?”
“You are just full of questions.”
“It’s true.”
“My passion has always been Spanish, the language, the culture. I love traveling and knowing new cultures and places.”
Bogart and Bacall it was not. But Gian Gonzaga, a social psychologist, could see possibilities for this couple as he watched their recorded chat on a television screen.

They were nodding and smiling in unison, and the woman stroked her hair and briefly licked her lips — positive signs of chemistry that would be duly recorded in this experiment at the new eHarmony Labs here. By comparing these results with the couple’s answers to hundreds of other questions, the researchers hoped to draw closer to a new and extremely lucrative grail — making the right match.

Once upon a time, finding a mate was considered too important to be entrusted to people under the influence of raging hormones. Their parents, sometimes assisted by astrologers and matchmakers, supervised courtship until customs changed in the West because of what was called the Romeo and Juliet revolution. Grown-ups, leave the kids alone.

But now some social scientists have rediscovered the appeal of adult supervision — provided the adults have doctorates and vast caches of psychometric data. Online matchmaking has become a boom industry as rival scientists test their algorithms for finding love.

The leading yenta is eHarmony, which pioneered the don’t-try-this-yourself approach eight years ago by refusing to let its online customers browse for their own dates. It requires them to answer a 258-question personality test and then picks potential partners. The company estimates, based on a national Harris survey it commissioned, that its matchmaking was responsible for about 2 percent of the marriages in America last year, nearly 120 weddings a day.

Another company, Perfectmatch.com, is using an algorithm designed by Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist at the University of Washington at Seattle. Match.com, which became the largest online dating service by letting people find their own partners, set up a new matchmaking service, Chemistry.com, using an algorithm created by Helen E. Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers who has studied the neural chemistry of people in love.

As the matchmakers compete for customers — and denigrate each other’s methodology — the battle has intrigued academic researchers who study the mating game. On the one hand, they are skeptical, because the algorithms and the results have not been published for peer review. But they also realize that these online companies give scientists a remarkable opportunity to gather enormous amounts of data and test their theories in the field. EHarmony says more than 19 million people have filled out its questionnaire.

Its algorithm was developed a decade ago by Galen Buckwalter, a psychologist who had previously been a research professor at the University of Southern California. Drawing on previous evidence that personality similarities predict happiness in a relationship, he administered hundreds of personality questions to 5,000 married couples and correlated the answers with the couples’ marital happiness, as measured by an existing instrument called the dyadic adjustment scale.

The result was an algorithm that is supposed to match people on 29 “core traits,” like social style or emotional temperament, and “vital attributes” like relationship skills. (For details: nytimes.com/tierneylab.)

“We’re not looking for clones, but our models emphasize similarities in personality and in values,” Dr. Buckwalter said. “It’s fairly common that differences can initially be appealing, but they’re not so cute after two years. If you have someone who’s Type A and real hard charging, put them with someone else like that. It’s just much easier for people to relate if they don’t have to negotiate all these differences.”

Does this method actually work? In theory, thanks to its millions of customers and their fees (up to $60 a month), eHarmony has the data and resources to conduct cutting-edge research. It has an advisory board of prominent social scientists and a new laboratory with researchers lured from academia like Dr. Gonzaga, who previously worked at a marriage-research lab at U.C.L.A.

So far, except for a presentation at a psychologists’ conference, the company has not produced much scientific evidence that its system works. It has started a longitudinal study comparing eHarmony couples with a control group, and Dr. Buckwalter says it is committed to publishing peer-reviewed research, but not the details of its algorithm. That secrecy may be a smart business move, but it makes eHarmony a target for scientific critics, not to mention its rivals.

In the battle of the matchmakers, Chemistry.com has been running commercials faulting eHarmony for refusing to match gay couples (eHarmony says it can’t because its algorithm is based on data from heterosexuals), and eHarmony asked the Better Business Bureau to stop Chemistry.com from claiming its algorithm had been scientifically validated.

The bureau concurred that there was not enough evidence, and Chemistry.com agreed to stop advertising that Dr. Fisher’s method was based on “the latest science of attraction.”

Dr. Fisher now says the ruling against her last year made sense because her algorithm at that time was still a work in progress as she correlated sociological and psychological measures, as well as indicators linked to chemical systems in the brain. But now, she said, she has the evidence from Chemistry.com users to validate the method, and she plans to publish it along with the details of the algorithm.

“I believe in transparency,” she said, taking a dig at eHarmony. “I want to share my data so that I will get peer review.”

Until outside scientists have a good look at the numbers, no one can know how effective any of these algorithms are, but one thing is already clear. People aren’t so good at picking their own mates online. Researchers who studied online dating found that the customers typically ended up going out with fewer than 1 percent of the people whose profiles they studied, and that those dates often ended up being huge letdowns. The people make up impossible shopping lists for what they want in a partner, says Eli Finkel, a psychologist who studies dating at Northwestern University’s Relationships Lab.

“They think they know what they want,” Dr. Finkel said. “But meeting somebody who possesses the characteristics they claim are so important is much less inspiring than they would have predicted.”

The new matchmakers may or may not have the right formula. But their computers at least know better than to give you what you want.

By JOHN TIERNEY
January 29, 2008

Meet Jorge Fernandez Gates

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At only 18 years of age, Jorge Fernandez Gates can speak, read and write in 11 foreign languages. They are not all related languages either. Some already under his belt include Mandarin Chinese, Catalan, Galician, English, French, German, Swedish, Romanian, Italian, Portuguese, and Dutch.

Not only that, but Jorge only started learning foreign languages a little over 5 years ago, which means he’s been “picking up” a foreign lingo at the rate of two foreign languages per year. His goal is to get into the Guinness Book of Records by mastering at least 25 foreign languages.

Already recognized as the “youngest polyglot in Peru”, in several interviews given primarily in his native Spanish, he discusses some techniques he (and you) can use to develop fluency in whatever foreign language you’re striving to acquire.

He says, “For me, foreign language learning is a hobby, I can’t control it, at any moment I could open a dictionary to look up a new word for my vocabulary.”

His principal ally in the quest to master enough foreign languages to make the Guinness Book of Records is the internet which he credits with up to 70% of his foreign language learning success.

He cites in particular Radio Bucharest online at: (http://www.multilingualbooks.com/online-radio.html) that features both live and pre-recorded radio programming in 38 European and Asian languages as well as 18 African continental languages, and online language courses as aids in helping him to familiarize himself with foreign languages.

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Other tactics he has frequently employed include:

– Talking with the staff in ethnic restaurants
– Watching television programs in or about target languages
– Using the radio as a key listening and comprehension development resource “to help accustom your ear to the pronunciation of the language”
– Using the internet to listen and study foreign languages

A major concern he has had was that “one day his brain would explode” from the constant linguistic input or that he would linguistically get “his wires crossed” and become totally confused. A neurologist he consulted assured him that “there are no limits” to the brain’s capacity to take in and store knowledge.

Jorge Fernandez gives these “keys” as essential to his linguistic accomplishments:

– Learn the foreign language grammar “forwards and backwards”
– Acquire a basis vocabulary of high-frequency words and phrases
– Never stop augmenting new vocabulary in your new language – He tries to learn at least two new words each day
– Practice your new language with friends, language teachers or whomever you can regularly

And just what started it all?

“I’m not a good student and as punishment my Mother decided to take away my cell phone and prohibited me from chatting online. I couldn’t go out, so to keep from spending the entire day sleeping I enrolled in a French course.” Then things began to change for him. “I liked it and decided to take Italian too.” He later discovered a course in Romanian on the internet and “loved it”.

To “prove” his language abilities, family members have gone with him to Chinese restaurants to have him converse with the cook and contacted TV programs and foreign language professors to verify his linguistic skills in other languages.

So began the linguistic journey of Jorge Fernandez Gates. So as not to create a “Babel” in his brain, he restricts himself to “calmly learning only two languages” at a time per year. You can listen to journalist Rosa Maria Palacios do a 26 minute video interview with him (in Spanish) on his language-learning adventures at: http://www.youtube.com/

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an English language teaching and learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. Now YOU too can live your dreams in paradise, find romance, high adventure and get paid while travelling for free. For more information on entering or advancing in the fascinating field of teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language send for his no-cost pdf Ebook, “If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know”, by sending an e-mail with “free ELT Ebook” in the subject line. For comments, questions, requests, to receive more information or to be added to his free TESOL articles and teaching materials mailing list, e-mail: lynchlarrym@gmail.com

Tributes have been paid to Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the top of the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, after he died aged 88.
New Zealand PM Helen Clark said a state funeral would be held for Sir Edmund, while Queen Elizabeth II said she was “very saddened” by his death.

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Nepali Sherpas lit lamps and offered special Buddhist prayers in monasteries for his reincarnation.

Sir Edmund conquered the peak with Tenzing Norgay on 29 May 1953.

The first living New Zealander to appear on a banknote, his health had reportedly been failing since April, when he suffered a fall during a visit to Nepal.

‘Legendary’

Flags at the New Zealand parliament in Wellington and at the Scott Base in Antarctica were at half mast as a mark of respect to the climber, who died of a heart attack at Auckland Hospital at 0900 local time Friday (2000 GMT Thursday).

All New Zealanders will deeply mourn his passing
Helen Clark
New Zealand PM

New Zealand’s prime minister described him as a “colossus”.

“The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived,” Ms Clark said in a statement.

“But most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi.

“He was ours – from his craggy appearance to laconic style, to his directness and honesty. All New Zealanders will deeply mourn his passing.”

‘Knocked off’

Buckingham Palace in London said the Queen was sending a personal message of sympathy to Sir Edmund’s widow and family.

The climber was 33 years old when he and Tenzing Norgay become the first men to climb the 8,850m (29,035ft) peak, just days before the monarch’s coronation.

Before reaching base camp, ascent team walked 175 miles (282km) from Kathmandu and spent three weeks acclimatising
On May 26 initial attempt came within 300ft (91m) of summit, with final bid two days later
Five man team helped Hillary and Norgay to precarious point high up mountain where pair spent night in tent
Next morning they set out at 0630, reaching summit 1130
Source: Royal Geographical Society

Returning to Everest’s South Col camp, he famously greeted another member of the British expedition group with the words: “Well, George, we’ve knocked the bastard off.”

Sir Edmund was knighted that year by the Queen for his achievement, and 42 years later was awarded her highest award for chivalry – the Order of the Garter.

His climbing partner died in 1986 but his son, Jamling Tenzing Norgay, said Sir Edmund was “a great explorer”.

“The most important of all is that he was humble man, a simple man,” he added.

The Sherpa community in Nepal said they were planning a memorial to the man they considered a second father.

“I lit butter lamps and offered prayers for his reincarnation as a human being,” said Ang Rita Sherpa, 60.

After scaling Everest, Sir Edmund led a number of expeditions to the South Pole and devoted his life to helping the ethnic Sherpas of Nepal’s Khumbu region.

Summit race

His Himalayan Trust has helped build hospitals, clinics, bridges, airstrips and nearly 30 schools. He was made an honorary Nepalese citizen in 2003.

To my great delight I realised we were on top of Mount Everest and that the whole world spread out below us
Sir Edmund Hillary

Born in Auckland on 19 July 1919, Sir Edmund began climbing mountains in his native country as a teenager and soon earned renown as an ice climber.

By the time he attempted his ascent of Everest in 1953 as part of an expedition led by the British climber, Sir John Hunt, seven previous expeditions to the top of the mountain had failed.

After a gruelling climb up the southern face, battling the effects of high altitude and bad weather, Sir Edmund and Tenzing Norgay managed to reach the peak at 1130 local time on 29 May.

“I continued hacking steps along the ridge and then up a few more to the right… to my great delight I realised we were on top of Mount Everest and that the whole world spread out below us,” Sir Edmund said.

The two men only stayed on the summit for 15 minutes because they were low on oxygen.

* Story from BBC NEWS

For me the Blogs are a modern and personal tool of very important human communication.

Our Blogs permit us to know us among diverse people that we are in this world of Internet.

Likewise it permits us to observe the enormous variety of points of view, criteria of design or personal opinions on diverse themes.

That is it more valuable of the Blogs; therefore any common person has the opportunity to be expressed, on a worldwide basis, in any theme that we like or we want to emphasize.

Finally greeting everybody or friends “blogueros” around the world.

I wish that you have a Happy and prosper year 2008.

See You Later.
CARLOS Tiger without Time

Time magazine’s rationale for naming Russian President Vladimir Putin “Man of the Year” is heavy with caveats. Those subtleties have largely been ignored by the Russian media, much of it Kremlin-controlled.

In numerous dispatches last week, Russian newspapers and wire services enthused about what they — and most of the country, apparently — seem to like about their president.

Pravda reported (correctly) that the magazine credited Mr. Putin with “bringing political and economic stability to Russia after an extremely hard period of the 1990s” and noted, approvingly, how he had given a “sincere” interview to the magazine’s journalists.

The Moscow News observed that Time’s choice “underscores the importance that Russia has gained on the international stage since Putin came to power.” Meanwhile, RIA-Novosti, the state-run news service, ran several stories trumpeting Mr. Putin’s comments to the magazine, such as “Putin says Russia’s revival is focus of his life” and “Russia will not allow foreign states to alter its course.”

Given short-shrift — and likely unnoticed by most Russian readers — were the more critical aspects of Time’s analysis: “Putin is not a boy scout. He is not a democrat in any way the West would define. He is not a paragon of free speech.” The stability he has imposed on Russia has come “at significant cost to the principles that free nations prize.”


Mr. Putin may have given his country short-term stability but unless something changes he’ll just go down in history as another authoritarian Russian ruler. That will be true for 2007 and years to come, since Mr. Putin has now made clear that he plans to stay in power–as prime minister–when his term ends next year.

* By The Editorial Board (New York Times; 26 Dec. 2007)

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