News & Current Affairs

July 1, 2009

Hollywood actor Karl Malden dies

Filed under: Entertainment News — Tags: , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 9:02 pm

Hollywood actor Karl Malden dies

Karl Malden and Michael Douglas in 2004

Malden starred with Michael Douglas in The Streets of San Francisco

US actor Karl Malden, best known for his roles in films such as A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, has died at the age of 97.

He was also famous for playing Lt Mike Stone in the long-running TV series, The Streets of San Francisco.

Malden won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1951, for his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire, and was nominated again in 1954.

Malden, who died at home, had been in poor health for several years.

His family said he had died of natural causes.

Early on in his career, Malden said he realised that his average looks and distinctive nose – twice broken on the sports field – were unlikely to make him a leading man.

Many of his more memorable performances came in supporting roles.

Homicide detective

His film career flourished in the 1950s and ’60s, with parts in movies such as Birdman of Alcatraz, How the West Was Won, Gypsy, The Cincinnati Kid and Patton.

He avoided moving into television for many years, but succumbed to the role of the gruff homicide detective Mike Stone in The Streets of San Francisco, which ran from 1972 to 1977.

His young on-screen police partner, Insp Steve Keller, was played by Michael Douglas.

Malden was nominated four consecutive times for an Emmy for The Streets of San Francisco. He finally won one in 1984, for the mini-series “Fatal Vision”.

He was married to actress Mona Graham for more than 70 years, one of the longest partnerships in Hollywood history.

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June 26, 2009

Web slows after Jackson’s death

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 11:35 am

Web slows after Jackson’s death

Google error page

The sheer number of queries concerned Google

The internet suffered a number of slowdowns as people the world over rushed to verify accounts of Michael Jackson’s death.

Search giant Google confirmed to the BBC that when the news first broke it feared it was under attack.

Millions of people who Googled the star’s name were greeted with an error page rather than a list of results.

It warned users “your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application”.

“It’s true that between approximately 2.40PM Pacific and 3.15PM Pacific, some Google News users experienced difficulty accessing search results for queries related to Michael Jackson and saw the error page,” said Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker.

It was around this time that the singer was officially pronounced dead.

Google’s trends page showed that searches for Michael Jackson had reached such a volume that in its so called “hotness” gauge the topic was rated “volcanic”.

Fail

Google was not the only company overwhelmed by the public’s clamour for information.

The microblogging service Twitter crashed with the sheer volume of people using the service.

Google user graph

Searches for topics related to Michael Jackson peaked at 3PM Pacific

Queries about the star soon rocketed to the top of its updates and searches. But the amount of traffic meant it suffered one of its well-known outages.

Before the company’s servers crashed, TweetVolume noted that “Michael Jackson” appeared in more than 66,500 Twitter updates.

According to initial data from Trendrr, a Web service that tracks activity on social media sites, the number of Twitter posts Thursday afternoon containing “Michael Jackson” totaled more than 100,000 per hour.

That put news of Jackson’s death at least on par with the Iran protests, as Twitter posts about Iran topped 100,000 per hour on June 16 and eventually climbed to 220,000 per hour.

Early reports of Mr Jackson’s death and the confusion surrounding it caused a rash of changes and corrections to be made on his Wikipedia page as editors tried to keep up with events and the number of people trying to update the page.

TMZ, the popular celebrity gossip site that broke the story following a tip-off that a paramedic had visited the singers home also crashed.

There was a domino effect as users then fled to other sites. Hollywood gossip writer Perez Hilton’s site was among those to flame out.

Keynote Systems reported that its monitoring showed performance problems for the web sites of AOL, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and Yahoo.

Beginning at 2.30PM Pacific “the average speed for downloading news sites doubled from less than four seconds to almost nine seconds,” said Shawn White, Keynote’s director of external operations.

He told Data Center Knowledge that “during the same period, the average availability of sites on the index dropped from almost 100% to 86%”.

September 27, 2008

Movie legend Paul Newman dies, 83

Movie legend Paul Newman dies, 83

Hollywood legend Paul Newman has died of cancer at the age of 83, his spokesman has confirmed.

The blue-eyed star of films like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid had died at home on Friday surrounded by family and close friends, said Jeff Sanderson.

Newman was nominated for an Oscar 10 times, winning the best actor trophy in 1987 for The Color Of Money.

In May 2007, he said he was giving up acting because he could no longer perform to the best of his ability.

“I’m not able to work any more… at the level that I would want to,” he told US broadcaster ABC.
I was always a character actor – I just looked like Little Red Riding Hood
Paul Newman

“You start to lose your memory, you start to lose your confidence, you start to lose your invention.

“So I think that’s pretty much a closed book for me.”

Earlier this year, he pulled out of directing a stage production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in Connecticut because of unspecified health problems.

Broadcaster Sir Michael Parkinson said Newman had been “a real giant of the cinema”.

“He was the link between the great time of Hollywood, the Cary Grant and people like that, and Tom Cruise,” he told BBC News.

“He fills the gap between the two, and fills it in a most extraordinary, dominant manner.”

Hit films

The star won a total of three Oscars

Although his handsome looks and piercing blue eyes made him an ideal romantic lead, Newman often played rebels, tough guys and losers.

“I was always a character actor,” he once said. “I just looked like Little Red Riding Hood.”

He appeared in some 60 movies, including Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, The Sting and Hud.

Along the way, he worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood – including Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall and Tom Hanks.
YOUR MEMORIES
His acting skills will be missed, his films will be watched endlessly
Maggie Jones, Cheltenham, UK

He also appeared with his wife, Joanne Woodward, in several films including Long Hot Summer and Paris Blues. The star later directed his wife in movies such as Rachel, Rachel and The Glass Menagerie.

But his most famous screen partner was undoubtedly Robert Redford, his sidekick in both Butch Cassidy and The Sting.

In addition to his Academy Award for best actor, he was given an honorary Oscar in 1986 “in recognition of his many and memorable compelling screen performances and for his personal integrity and dedication to his craft”.

Newman became a professional racing driver and took second place at Le Mans in 1979

In 1994, he won a third Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, for his charitable work.

His philanthropic efforts included the establishment of summer camps for children who suffered from life-threatening illnesses.

He also donated profits from his Newman’s Own food range to a number of charitable organisations.

Newman’s last film role was as the voice of Doc Hudson, one of the most famous racing cars in history, in the Pixar animation Cars.

It was perhaps a fitting epitaph for the actor, who had a lifelong fascination with the sport – and put his film career on hold in the 1970s to become a professional racing driver.

He is survived by his wife, five children, two grandsons and his older brother Arthur.

September 24, 2008

American v British teeth

Filed under: Health and Fitness, Latest, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:27 pm

American v British teeth

From top left, by row, Missy Elliot, Jessica Simpson, Ricky Gervais, Tony Blair, John Travolta, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matt Lucas, Victoria Beckham, Kate Bosworth, Brandon Routh, David Walliams, Elton John, Tom Cruise, Megan Gale, Mick Jagger and Robbie Williams

Ricky Gervais is the first to admit that his teeth are neither white nor straight – and Americans mistakenly think he wears bad false teeth for comedic purposes. Why the dental divide?
British teeth are not like American teeth.

Hollywood smiles are pearly white paragons of straightness. British teeth might be described as having character.

Ricky Gervais at the Emmys
These are my real teeth. You think I’d wear them all the time if they weren’t real?
Ricky Gervais’ reply to interviewer remarking on his ‘false teeth’

So much character, in fact, that Ricky Gervais says one US journalist complimented him on being prepared to wear unflattering false teeth for his role as an English dentist in his latest film, Ghost Town. Only he didn’t.

“He was horrified that I could have such horrible real teeth. It’s like the biggest difference between the Brits and the Americans, they are obsessed with perfect teeth,” says Gervais.

Unlike many British stars hoping to make it big across the Atlantic, Gervais hasn’t bought himself a Hollywood Smile.

But what is it about the bright white and perfectly straight teeth of Los Angeles that Americans love – and expect of their public figures?

“Americans have the idea uniformity is equivalent to looking good. The British character is more free-spirited, more radical,” says Professor Liz Kay, dean of the Peninsula Dental School in Exeter and Plymouth.

She says Americans aspire to a row of teeth which are absolutely even and white.

Artificial smile

Whiter than white, it transpires. Teeth naturally vary in colour and the palette can tend closer to cream than white.

In Cold Comfort Farm in 1995; and in 2001 after Serendipity and Pearl Harbor

Kate Beckinsale, now glossy of mane and white of tooth

“US teeth are sometimes whiter than it is physically possible to get in nature – there is a new reality out there. The most extreme tooth bleaching is terrifying, it looks like it’s painted with gloss paint and has altered what people perceive as normal,” says Professor Jimmy Steele, of the School of Dental Science at Newcastle University.

The British traditionally prefer “nice natural smiles – natural in colour”, he says, and have had a more functional view of teeth and dentistry, whereas Americans have always seen teeth more aesthetically, hence the rise of the artificial smile in show business and pop culture.

Cue jibes such as The Bumper Book of British Smiles which cajoles Lisa Simpson into having a brace, and Mike Myers’ mockery of buck-toothed Brits in Austin Powers. Conversely, in the UK the snide remarks are saved for those who have had obvious work done, such as Simon Cowell or glamour model Jodie Marsh.

When it was widely reported that Martin Amis had secured a book advance in 1995 to help “do his teeth” – which the author denied – he was lampooned by critics. And more recently there has been much speculation over whether Gordon Brown has had a smile makeover.

Until now it has been considered rather un-British to go for an upgrade, says Professor Steele.

Simon Cowell

A new smile for a job on US TV

He now performs cosmetic dentistry on a wide spectrum of patients, from an 82-year-old woman with overlapping teeth who finally wanted to “do something for herself”, to a 17-year-old worried that fluoride had given her mottled teeth that were whiter than normal.

But the main difference is that Brits tend to go for more conservative treatments.

“Dental tools can do an awful lot of damage if used inappropriately. Crowns can mean a perfectly good tooth has to be cut down, which can weaken the tooth or damage nerves in the long run,” he says.

Metal mouth

While it is starting to be more common to see braces on adults, most people opt for quicker solutions, says Martin Fallowfield, a cosmetic dentist and executive board member of the British Dentist Association.

UV whitening treatment

Whitening can be done by chemicals or UV light

“Quite often teeth whitening is a 40th or 50th birthday present,” he says, a procedure that can be done in a dentist’s chair in two hours for about £650. A more intensive “smile makeover” – perhaps involving veneers, crowns and reconstruction work – can take months and cost anything from £2,000 to £10,000.

Dentistry in the UK is a £5bn market, and Mr Fallowfield expects this to rise to £15bn within 10 years, largely fuelled by private cosmetic dentistry. While NHS dentists are in short supply in parts of the country, the number of dentists registered with the General Dental Council is up from 31,029 in 2000 to 35,419 in 2007.

On average, cosmetic procedures account for a third of a dentist’s income from non-NHS work, according to research by the British Dental Association.

Among Mr Fallowfield’s patients is Jenny Horton, 36, who has had four crowns redone, six new ones added and her lower teeth whitened after she had a baby.

British toothpaste advert

Toothpaste has long promised to do more than just clean

“The first thing I notice on people is their smile,” she says. “I wanted a confidence boost – I was putting my hand over my mouth before, now I can smile. And the compliments have come flooding in: people haven’t noticed my teeth, but say I look well.”

But Brits haven’t embraced the full Hollywood makeover – yet.

“Americans don’t mind this unnaturally white look. It’s a new phenomenon, like buying a Rolls Royce and telling the world. They are wearing a smile as a badge,” says Mr Fallowfield.

Nor do aspiring actors and actresses need to get a new and very expensive set of pearly-whites, says Sylvia Young, of the eponymous theatre school. “A trip to the orthodontist can be a good idea, to get the teeth straightened if need be.”

As for the likes of Ricky Gervais, it makes sense to stick to his guns, says Mr Fallowfield.

“A lot of people in his place would have had their teeth fixed in this day and age. But for comedians, it’s good to look unique.”

 


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September 7, 2008

New charges for actor accused in stabbing

New charges for actor accused in stabbing

VISTA, California (AP) — Prosecutors have brought additional charges against a Hollywood actor accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend 20 times.

Shelley Malil portrayed the character Haziz in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

Shelley Malil portrayed the character Haziz in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Shelley Malil, 43, who played a supporting role in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” was charged Friday with residential burglary and assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly attacking a man who with Malil’s ex-girlfriend, Kendra Beebe, on August 10.

Prosecutors say that was the day Malil stabbed Beebe with two knives while chasing her in and around her San Marcos home as her two children slept.

A man who was with Beebe at the time grabbed one knife, but Malil found another and continued the attack until a neighbor disarmed him, prosecutors said.

Malil previously pleaded not guilty to one count of attempted murder with a special circumstance of premeditation and one count of personal use of a knife and inflicting great bodily injury. He faces life in prison if convicted.

During a Superior Court hearing Friday, a judge reduced his bail from $10 million to $3 million. Malil’s attorney, Steve Meiser, argued that the higher figure was unreasonable and that his Indian-born client was not a flight risk.

Malil has been jailed since August 11.

Beebe, 35, suffered deep wounds to her lungs and throat, but prosecutors said she was expected to recover.

Malil played a co-worker, Haziz, to comedian Steve Carell’s title character in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” He has appeared on dozens of TV shows, including “NYPD Blue” and “Scrubs.”

August 28, 2008

For those too young to remember the Cold War…

For those too young to remember the Cold War…

WarGames

Before the days of flat screen monitors… and Perestroika

The conflict in Georgia has awoken fears of a new Cold War between Russia and its allies and the West, nearly 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But will the animosity come back to haunt Western imaginations as it once did?

“We share the same biology,
regardless of ideology.
Believe me when I say to you,
I hope the Russians love their children too”

That couplet might be a mere piece of lyrical doggerel to any listener born after 9 November 1989, but when Sting released the single Russians in 1985, it came out of a deep mine of anxiety in the West about the course of the Cold War.

Sting

A good period in which to make profound statements…

For nearly five decades, the Cold War provided a rich seam running right through popular culture in the West, throwing out films, music, novels and even computer games that carried the fears, conscious and subconscious, of millions.

In the 1950s, science fiction movies were often allegories about different aspects of Cold War politics. Invasion of the Body-Snatchers was interpreted as a reference to McCarthy-era paranoia, Invaders from Mars as a parable of communist infiltration, and the Day the Earth Stood Still as a simple fantasy that some higher supernatural power would come to try and sort everything out.

After the world reached the brink of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, there was another wave of Cold War-inspired fiction, with Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove perhaps the most notable example.

With the detente of the 1970s the Cold War thread became less noticeable, but with worsening relations in the early 1980s, both sides of the Atlantic were suddenly replete with fictional Cold War dystopian scenarios.

On the British side people were treated to the agonisingly poignant graphic novel When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs and its film adaptation, as well as 1984’s Threads, about the terrifying aftermath of a nuclear strike. On the other side of the Atlantic, there were the mini-series Amerika and World War III, and the gruesome The Day After with its vivid montages of men, women, children and even horses being vaporized.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood

…and ripe for sensational scare-mongering

On the silver screen WarGames explored the issue of computer hacking against a background of mutually assured destruction , while Red Dawn took the usual brat pack characters complete with preppy letterman jackets, and armed them with AK-47s to fight a Soviet invasion of the US. Popular attitudes towards the Eastern Bloc were shaped by movies like Rocky IV, where the drug cheat Ivan Drago was emblematic of suspicions held against Soviet athletes.

As well as Sting’s Russians, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s chart-topper Two Tribes provided a musical accompaniment to the era. It seems strange to discuss now what was, even then, viewed as often laughable ephemera, but the course of popular culture reflected deep-seated fears, particularly significant among those too young to temper their concerns with a grasp of the political context.

Almost as soon as it had intensified, the Cold War quickly ebbed away, and by the end of the 1989, with the Berlin Wall coming down and relations defrosting across the whole of eastern Europe, it suddenly became a bit silly to pick the Soviet state as baddies.

Hollywood had to find new protagonists for a new zeitgeist, and fast.

Bond sabbatical

While rarely casting Russia itself as the main enemy in a storyline, and indeed often featuring a sympathetic KGB general, the James Bond franchise was unmistakably driven by Cold War themes of espionage and fear of weapons technology. It was inevitably affected, says film critic James King.

It was a competition to be modern – consumer society was used as a bulwark against communism
Jane Pavitt

“Bond went into limbo for seven years, for many reasons, but one was that it didn’t feel relevant any more.

“The first film I remember that actually caught up was True Lies. When that came out it was almost a James Bond film and it had a new Hollywood enemy, which was an Arab – this was the new thing.”

Post 9/11 there has been a glut of movies either tackling the threat of terrorism, attacking the politics of the war on terror and Guantanamo Bay, as well as a host of television programmes that have explored the fall-out for Muslim communities on both sides of the Atlantic. A poster for the current movie Shoot on Sight – with its tag line “Is it a crime to be a Muslim?” – is typical.

In the space between the end of the Cold War and Islamist terrorism entering the mainstream mindset as the main threat to the West, movie producers did their best to come up with convincing action movie baddies.

Having been conceived long before the fall of the wall, the Hunt for Red October, an adaptation of Tom Clancy’s 1984 novel, still performed well at the box office in 1990. But in projects conceived after the end of Cold War hostilities, the baddies are very often neo-nationalists or rebels trying to destabilise a friendly Russia (Crimson Tide and Air Force One) or are avaricious terrorists and gangsters of other nationalities (Die Hard).

Cold War the Sequel

The effect of the end of the Cold War on secret services and military personnel came to be a major theme. John Le Carre was one of those spy novel authors who made the transition smoothly. The Russia House marked the last of his novels released during the Cold War, the next three deal with the effect of the thaw on intelligence operatives, while the subsequent four, including the Tailor of Panama and the Constant Gardener are not directly related to the Cold War. But Hodder and Stoughton, his publisher, maintain sales of the Cold War novels were unaffected by the events of 1989.

Threads

Threads – not your average prime-time BBC drama

King is sceptical about whether current Cold War fears will quickly feed back into popular culture.

“Films take a while to get on the screen – I don’t think we will see anything for a year.”

Film producers and publishers may also feel that with the long lead times, tensions could be defused by the time anything gets to market.

They are returning to Cold War classics but not necessarily because of modern fears over relations between the West and Russia. WarGames was recently remade as a straight-to-DVD release although terrorism underpinned the story rather than a renewed Cold War. It has also been recently reported that Red Dawn is to be remade, although the exact plot is unclear.

But as well as those cultural products directly referencing or making allusions to the Cold War, the conflict also provided the backdrop to massive shifts and vigorous battles in everything from product design and modern art to fashion, says Jane Pavitt, curator of the Cold War Modern exhibition opening next month at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

“It was a competition to be modern,” says Pavitt. “Consumer society was used as a bulwark against communism in Europe in the 1950s. That’s why fashion and kitchen goods can be seen as part of this.”

For those who were too young to remember the Berlin Wall coming down, or were born afterwards, the unique fears of the Cold War era, and the popular culture they steered, may be hard to appreciate.

But for anyone over the age of 25 in the West, they remain a deeply significant part of our psyche.


Add your comments on this story.

What about Soviet / Eastern Bloc popular culture during the cold war – was it also full of espionage dramas and ‘what if’ nuclear bomb scenarios? As someone old enough to remember it from a British perspective, I realise I have no idea at all how it was perceived and represented in media the other side of the Iron Curtain. I’m sure there is a level of propaganda and also aware that creativity was somewhat stifled, but is there a parallel strand of writing/drama/film-making that we’re all ignorant of over here?
WorldGirl, Enfield, UK

I have grown up at the other side of the Iron Curtain and can assure you: the fear that the Cold War would spiral out of control was just as real on our side, only that we expected the West to make the first move. This was reflected in our popular culture in a similar way as was quoted in the article. I used to think: perhaps both sides are just too afraid of each other, perhaps such fears could be calmed by assuring each other that “we” would not make the first move. However, my views have changed a bit over the years. Having seen how readily the West is prepared to enter into a war (Yugoslavia, twice in Iraq, Afghanistan) and how openly it encroaches on Russia’s borders by supporting various colour-coded revolutions, I am beginning to wonder who was indeed the more aggressive side. For anyone getting into a rage about this posting: just for one moment, try to forget our view that we are always right and that our view on democracy justifies any means to spread it around the world. Try to be unbiased and then read again what I said.
Holger Laux, Bristol, UK

It’s interesting, and perhaps significant, that in times of national perceived potential threat from outside, so much creativity happens. I remember vividly the tension of the 1980s, the big changes in the UK and around the world. In some ways, it was an exciting time because every new day could bring danger. Is that what we humans survive on and does it draw us together?
Krystyna, Sedgley

In the mid 1980’s I can remember being in a 6th form who generally agreed that they would not live to be 30 because nuclear war was both imminent and inevitable. A strange mix of living a normal life but with the constant knowledge of impending disaster. This is probably why I felt so uneasy with the worsening relationship between Russia and the West. The world is, in my opinion, much less stable than it was in the 80s and the politicians are much more dangerous and paranoid than Maggie/Ronnie/Andropov/Chernenko.
John Ferris, Coventry, UK

I’m 27 and can just about remember the Berlin Wall coming down, though I can’t say I remember much more about the cold war. I’d raise your threshold to at least 30!
James, London

How true. I was only nine years old when they installed an air raid siren to the roof of our school. There were lots of discussions about what we would do with our last three minutes of life before the bombs arrived. It sounds trivial now but at the time we were convinced it would happen.
Dawn, Redhill

Reading the above it confirms my gut feeling that it is the Media that stir up scenarios causing more trouble than most just by publishing half of the story and twisting the facts. Even the BBC has succumbed to the drum of the gutter press by allowing the papers to show headlines on some of their programmes such as Breakfast, the BBC does not need to give the like of these people air time they have enough journalists to concoct their own stories, so why of why do they (BBC) despoil their standards with drivel?
Robert, Liverpool

I was born in 1985 so missed the hysteria, but we were subjected to ‘Threads’ in school. I didn’t sleep for weeks and when I did I dreamt of that cat on fire and the melting milk bottles! Haven’t been to Sheffield since!!
Martin Doyle, St Albans

Threads was an excellent – and terrifying – story, and was also the first ‘post-holocaust drama’ to incorporate the concept of the nuclear winter, which had only recently been realised. And it was more than just a story: it included occasional subtitles to spell out what would be happening. It’s hardly likely to get repeated (and would in all likelihood be out of date with its figures), but as an illustration of why not to play with nuclear weapons it was second to none.
Ruaraidh Gillies, Wirral, UK

Please stop doing this. Drumming up panic when there is no need. Even Russia has said they don’t want another cold war. There is NO crisis, just sabre rattling as always.
Rich, UK

Yes a large influence on Culture of the 80’s when I grew up. I went into the RAF and ended up at Greenham Common on the other side from the peace camp. I have still have a Cold War playlist on my iPod with tracks like ‘Two Tribes’, ‘Mad World’ and ’19’. Recent Computer games like Operation Flashpoint also hark back to the Cold War 80s. Are we going into a Second Cold War. Yes and there is nothing the West can do.
Simon CS, Farnham, Surrey, UK

The Cold War was fun and inspired some great films.
Matt, Philadelphia USA

Let’s hope that we don’t go back to the scare-mongering of the early eighties. For once I would like to think that today’s youngsters are a bit de-sensitised to the whole ‘we’re all going to die’ thoughts portrayed back then. I myself started digging out a bunker at the age of seven for our family to shelter in. When I was discovered I claimed it was a copy of Percy Thrower’s Blue Peter sunken garden!!!
Jenny, Wolves

I remember being absolutely terrified of nuclear war growing up. It was an all too real possibility. The intro to “Two Tribes” used to frighten me, and “Threads” is just as disturbing to watch now as it ever was. We also had the misfortune to live nine miles from the RAF/US Navy bases and oil refineries making us a prime target. When the Air Force did their low-flying exercises in the middle of the night, I’d lie awake waiting for a bomb blast to follow. That said, I think the idea of being nuked at any moment really beefed up Western popular culture at the time.
Mandi, Cardiff, Wales

They don’t need to drop the bomb. Russia has between 1/4 and 1/3 of the world’s oil and natural gas.

All they have to do is turn the taps off.
Philip Le Roux, Aldershot HANTS UK

August 23, 2008

Montana meth ads winning drug battle

Montana meth ads winning drug battle

They call Montana “Big Sky Country” or “The Last Best Place” – and it is easy to see why with its wide open spaces, majestic mountains and meandering rivers.

But there is a far less wholesome side to this wilderness, a problem more associated with grim urban despair – drugs.

And one drug in particular – Methamphetamine.

Also known as crystal meth, the stimulant is more addictive than heroin or crack cocaine.

It is also relatively easy to get hold of the basic ingredients, including drain cleaner and cold medicines, although more dangerous to mix them.

The day that meth walked into our house was the day our life took a spiral
Gerri Gardiner

That said, Montana’s wide open spaces have provided the perfect cover for makeshift meth labs, which are used to make the deadly cocktail.

Until recently, the north-western state was ranked among the top five in the US with the worst meth problem.

Fifty percent of the children in foster care in Montana were there because of meth, while 50% of the prison population was there because of meth-related crime.

‘Life-destroying’

It was a drug destroying lives, like that of Gerri Gardiner, whose daughter Angela starting using meth in school as many of those who eventually get hooked do.

METHAMPHETAMINE
Methamphetamine crystals (US Drug Enforcement Administration)
Sold as powder, tablets or crystals
Can be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed
Can alter personality, increase blood pressure and damage brain

Addicts talk of the initial highs, the burst of energy, the loss of weight. But for Angela it ended with depression and despair and her eventual suicide.

About a year later, Gerri’s grieving father took his own life too.

“The day that meth walked into our house was the day our life took a spiral,” she says.

We also met Katrina, who started taking meth when she was 11 years old – and carried on until she was 20. She got the habit from her mother.

“I did it all the time… I liked everything about it,” she says. “I didn’t have time for my boyfriend or my daughter.”

Now she says: “I think it’s retarded – I wish I had never done it.”

‘Un-selling meth’

Katrina managed with help to break the hold of the drugs. Many others have failed.

Tom Siebel

Tom Siebal said it was easy to “un-sell” meth as it is “pure evil”

But fortunately for Montana, there was a rich part-time rancher in their midst. The good, among the bad and the ugly.

Tom Siebel made his millions in the computer software industry and he approached the scourge of meth as if it were any other business.

“We took an unusual approach,” he said when we went to meet him at his holiday home.

“We viewed it as a consumer product, researched it as a consumer product and marketed it… or un-marketed it as a consumer product.”

Mr Siebel says the task of “un-selling” meth was particularly easy because it is so nasty – “pure evil” in his words.

He then used his money to set up the Montana Meth Project.

Shock tactics

The project came up with a “shock campaign” – a series of hard hitting adverts and posters that graphically portrayed the costs of taking meth.

If you live in Montana, the chances are that you have almost certainly seen or heard the ads… ending with the slogan: ‘Meth – not even once.’

He brought in Hollywood directors to produce the ads, which were shown on prime-time television.

They illustrate all too well the breakdown in family relationships caused by meth, and the physical decay for those who use it – the dramatic weight loss and the scabs on the skin.

If you live in Montana, the chances are that you have almost certainly seen or heard the ads on television or radio, ending with the slogan: “Meth – not even once.”

Two years on, the posters are still on prime billboard spots around the state.

The campaign has been a remarkable success.

In just two years, meth abuse in Montana has nearly halved.

Teenage meth use is down by 45% and adult use down by 75%. The state that once had the 5th biggest meth problem in the US is now ranked 39th.

More than that, about a dozen other states are now in the process of following Montana’s lead.

Montana still has a problem – but one that it is now rooting out and something that will no longer overshadow its image as “The Last Best Place”.

August 20, 2008

Dave Matthews Band founder dies

Dave Matthews Band founder dies

LeRoi Moore

LeRoi Moore was a founding member of the Dave Matthews Band

LeRoi Moore, a founding member of the Dave Matthews Band, has died aged 46, his publicist has said.

The versatile saxophonist died after suffering complications from injuries sustained in a vehicle accident in June on his Virginia farm.

Publicist Ambrosia Healy said he died on Tuesday at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, in Los Angeles.

A statement announcing the star’s unexpected death on the band’s website said: “We are deeply saddened”.

Classically trained

Moore initially went to hospital in June after crashing an all-terrain vehicle on his farm outside Charlottesville, Virginia.

He was later discharged and had returned to his Los Angeles home to begin a physical rehabilitation program when complications forced him back to the hospital in July.

It’s always easier to leave than be left
Dave Matthews

The musician was best known for donning dark sunglasses at live concerts.

He was classically trained but said jazz was his main musical influence, according to a biography on the band’s web site.

The group formed in 1991 in Charlottesville, Virginia, when lead singer Dave Matthews was working as a bartender.

He handed a demo tape of his songs to Moore, who liked what he heard and recruited his friend and fellow jazzman Carter Beauford to play drums.

The group broke out of the local music scene with the album Under the Table and Dreaming.

They went on to win a Grammy award in 1997 for the hit song So Much to Say, from their second album Crash.

Other hits include What Would You Say, Crash Into Me and Satellite.

The band went on with its show Tuesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where lead singer Dave Matthews dedicated the entire show to Moore.

“It’s always easier to leave than be left,” Matthews told the crowd, according to Ambrosia Healy, the band’s publicist.

“We appreciate you all being here.”

Saxophonist Jeff Coffin had been sitting in for Moore during the band’s summer tour.


Did you ever meet LeRoi Moore? Tell us about your memories of him. You can send your comments

August 16, 2008

Potter film release date delayed

Potter film release date delayed

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson in Harry Potter

Order of the Phoenix was the top-grossing UK film in 2007

The release date for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been pushed back by eight months, to July 2009.

The sixth installment of the teenage wizard’s adventures was supposed to have its Royal premiere on 17 November.

Alan Horn, president of studio Warner Bros, said the decision was taken to guarantee the studio a major summer blockbuster in 2009.

He also blamed the Hollywood writers’ strike, which hit the film industry hard earlier this year.

Mr Horn said the strike, which ended in February, had “impacted the readiness of scripts for other films.”

Fantasy books

He said: “The picture is completely, absolutely, 100% on schedule, on time. There were no delays.

“I’ve seen the movie. It is fabulous. We would have been perfectly able to have it out in November.”

The move will mean a two-year delay between the film adaptations of books five and six in JK Rowling’s fantasy series.

But it will shorten fans’ wait between Half-Blood Prince and the final two installments of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which are being shot simultaneously next year.

It is thought actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson – who is celebrating getting straight As in her A Levels in English literature, geography and art – will reprise their roles.

The release date for part one is tentatively set for November 2010.

Royal performance

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had been chosen for this year’s Royal Film Performance, on 17 November.

Last year’s performance was canceled amid controversy about the chosen movie, Brick Lane.

It was the first time the annual gala – held in aid of the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund (CTBF) – had been scrapped since 1958.

CTBF chief executive Peter Hore told the News he was “very disappointed” with the decision to shelve the Potter premiere.

But he was hopeful a Royal premiere would still go ahead this year.

He said: “The Royal Film Performance has been around for a long time and has a tradition of showcasing the best films. We are confident we will be able to do that again this year.”

Mr Hore added that he expected to make an announcement shortly.

August 14, 2008

All because the lady loves a foreign accent

All because the lady loves a foreign accent

Bride of the Rif, The Sheikh's Reward and  At the Sheikh's Command

Courtesy BBC

By Samanthi Dissanayake
BBC News

It is the stuff of escapist fantasy. A tall, dark and handsome type sweeps a cream-and-roses Home Counties heroine off her feet. In its 100 years of publishing, the exotic alpha male has been a staple of the Mills and Boon romance.

The tale of the passionate desert sheikh who sweeps secretary Janna Smith h off her feet in Violet Winspear’s 1970 romance Tawny Sands is perhaps the quintessential Mills and Boon story.

Still from 1921's The Sheik

Silent film sex symbol Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik

“His tone of voice was softly mocking, but she knew he didn’t really jest. He was Raul Cesar Bey and the further they traveled into the desert the more aware she was of his affinity with the savage sun and tawny sands.”

Shocking, suggestive, the tale of their love was wildly popular with a generation of romance readers.

It is also typical of a taste for foreign pleasures when it comes to romantic fiction.

It’s 100 years since Mills and Boon published their first book. Sold in 109 countries and translated into 26 different languages, it is arguably Britain’s best-known publishing house worldwide.

From early in the company’s history, its winsome heroines have looked beyond Britain’s shores to find love.

Nobody can quite identify the very first Mills and Boon romance to feature an exotic hero or location. But Dr Joseph McAleer, author of Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills and Boon, says it was probably in the 1910s, following the lead of Hollywood cinema and its preoccupation with desert sheikhs and jungle escapades.

The fascination still exists today with the best-selling title of the June 2008 Modern Romance series being Desert King, Pregnant Mistress by Susan Stephens.

“Exotic locations gave great scope to authors to be a bit racier. It is usually an English person going into the tropics to experience this different culture,” Dr McAleer says.

“But they never lose their moral foundation. The heroines normally wind up reforming the sheikh.”

Steamy scenes

In 1915 Louise Gerard wrote The Virgin’s Treasure, the story of Dr Keith Harding, who leaves England for Africa to treat tropical diseases.

British woman dancing with an American GI in 1942

A fine wartime romance

“This was not England but the tropics where blood was hotter and where incredible things happen with amazing swiftness” Gerard writes, preparing the reader for the steamy scenes to come. It was only in the 1930s that Mills and Boon became a dedicated romantic fiction publishers. Since then, enigmatic sheikhs, brooding Spaniards and sardonic Greek tycoons have become a staple of their storylines.

These international tales have tended to mirror broader social trends. The experience of World War II enhanced the possibilities of love abroad. WAAF Into Wife, by Barbara Stanton, follows the fortunes of Mandy Lyle, who falls under the spell of Count Alexei Czishkiwhizski, leader of a Polish squadron.

“With horizons being broadened and more international travel, the romances set in rose-covered cottages did not have the same cache as Greece, Ibiza, and South Africa,” Dr McAleer says.

The exotic and the international became a key measure of the ultimate romantic lead.

“The alpha male has to be larger than life, an incredibly heroic figure. He was usually fabulously wealthy with a mystery about him,” says Dr McAleer.

Greek shipping magnates emerged in the 70s and 80s, and the Mediterranean hero rose in popularity as package holidays became the norm.

The growth in air travel also saw the rise of the air hostess/pilot romance, with many tender words lavished on the captains holding passengers’ lives in their manly hands.

Woman reading on a beach

It could happen to you…?

Nowadays, Italians and Spaniards remain popular heroes and at least one sheikh romance a month is published. Even Russian oligarchs have made an appearance.

“As the world has become more globalised our settings have had to become more exotic, more luxurious and exciting. Where our heroes were once millionaires, now they have to be billionaires,” says Clare Somerville, marketing director for Mills and Boon.

Middle Eastern tycoons feature frequently but hail fictional countries and kingdoms – there is little room for the realities of the region’s geopolitics in escapist fiction.

The company’s largest markets have been the UK, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Demographically, North America is the biggest market but with the launch of English-language editions in India earlier this year, Mills and Boon acknowledges this could change.

Harlequin Mills and Boon
The real aim of romance is to provide escape and entertainment
Violet Winspear

As India’s middle classes exercise their consumer muscle, so the company wants to expand its roster of romantic heroes.

“We are also looking at the Indian prince idea. He is a clear extension of the alpha male and we are looking at launching this next year,” says Ms Somerville.

It is also running a competition to find new local authors in India. Mills and Boon novels are translated in China, and for some years now its romances have graced Japanese bookshelves in the form of manga comics.

Exotic escape

Mills and Boon claim its readership all over the world look for the same thing: identification with the heroine and intense romantic relationships.

Shirley Valentine

You’re not in Liverpool now, Shirley

Violet Winspear, one of Mills and Boon’s best-selling authors in the 1960s and the author of Tawny Sands, set many of her books in Greece, Spain and North Africa.

But she was a spinster who reputedly never left south-east England – instead she meticulously researched her far-flung settings at the local library.

Miss Winspear caused considerable controversy when explaining her archetypal hero – the sort of men “who frighten and fascinate” and “the sort of men who are capable of rape: men it’s dangerous to be left alone in the room with”.

Although this comment would haunt her, Dr McAleer says she thought hard about what exotic themes brought to her readers. In a letter to her publisher, she wrote: “Who on earth can truly identify with a sardonic Spanish Don, a handsome surgeon, a dashing Italian or a bittersweet Greek? The real aim of romance is to provide escape and entertainment, not to dish up ‘real life’ and ‘real life people on a plate with egg on it’!”

Shirley Valentine would surely agree.


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