Browsing articles from "December, 2016"

On The Men Who Rattled Pop’s Gender Rules — And What It Means To Lose Them Now

Dec 31, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on On The Men Who Rattled Pop’s Gender Rules — And What It Means To Lose Them Now

Cultural critic Wesley Morris says George Michael’s music video for the song “Faith” was boundary-pushing. “You are allowed to look at this body in a way that you weren’t allowed to look at Elvis’ when he danced,” Morris says.

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Cultural critic Wesley Morris says George Michael’s music video for the song “Faith” was boundary-pushing. “You are allowed to look at this body in a way that you weren’t allowed to look at Elvis’ when he danced,” Morris says.

Courtesy of the artist

When Departed Stars Become Digital Saints

David Bowie, Prince and George Michael are all pop icons who died in 2016. But there is something else that connects them: They all helped to redefine the concept of masculinity in pop culture.

Cultural critic Wesley Morris has been thinking about how these artists performed gender and sexuality. He recently wrote in The New York Times that in today’s climate, “The Princes and the George Michaels seem as radical as ever.”

Morris joined NPR’s Ari Shapiro to discuss how Bowie, Prince and Michael called upon their audiences to reimagine what it is to be a man. Hear their full conversation at the audio link and read an edited transcript below.

Ari Shapiro: Let’s start with David Bowie. He was the oldest of the three, and he kind of paved the way in the 1970s. How do you think he changed our view of manliness?

Plastic And Fantastic: Reflections Of A Bowie Girl

Wesley Morris: Sort of by suggesting that it didn’t exist, for at least the first 10 or 11 years of his career. He was part of a wave of artists who were interested in — and I don’t know how conscious it was — but it definitely was a reaction against a kind of standard notion [of what] men are supposed to do, any sort of male cliché.

So paint a picture of what he did — how he performed his version of what it meant to be a man.

For one thing, he was limber. He seemed very loose. He was what I imagine the people who might have tormented him, or tormented kids like him, would have called a “sissy” — on the nicer end, I guess, the less mean end. I think that he was really interested in his femininity more than he was interested in his masculinity. He spent a lot of time creating these personae that were androgynous — they weren’t from this planet.

Right. As much as he dissolved the border between male and female, he also kind of dissolved the border between human and alien.

I mean, he made every aspect of what was normal about being human seem foreign. I think that Ziggy Stardust period was probably the most obviously queer period that he performed in. He was interested in this makeup and these platforms and this hair, and it was neither male nor female, and I think that was what was so disconcerting about him.

But also, if you were a kid, it was kind of weirdly exciting, because these ideas of gender and masculinity and femininity are these acquired notions. I think that if you’re ignorant of what they signify, you see this person signifying none of it and it kind of blows your mind.

Prince was 12 years younger; he took what David Bowie did and ran with it. How would you describe the way he evolved from the version of masculinity that Bowie presented?

It was incredibly sexual. Not only was he interested in acquiring it — he liked having it. He liked making sure the person he was having it with was happy.

And yet he sang about it in his very falsetto voice that doesn’t sound typically masculine at all.

No, no. And it has a tradition in popular music, obviously: He’s doing what people like Little Richard do. I mean, he was a seducer, [but] he wasn’t doing the thing that a lot of RB artists were doing — like “Yeah, baby, you and me. We got something so special.”

Listen To My Body Tonight: How Prince's Transgressive Spirit Broke Boundaries

He doesn’t turn the lights low. And he he’s also doing it while wearing boas, high heels, eyeliner, makeup.

And if not being a man in the way that we think of men was something that didn’t hurt your art or hurt your sales, then why not continue to pursue it?

The thing about the ’80s in particular was just how hyper-masculine we had become. There was the burgeoning of the American action movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career as an action hero began. Sylvester Stallone moving from Rocky not just to Rambo, but to things like Cobra and Over The Top. This was a time when Michael Douglas was the sexiest man alive.

And people who were gay, defying gender norms, were dying of AIDS.

Yes. And so you have this tension between straight culture — and you have, in somebody like Prince, this person who is really queering the difference between these two. He was singing about heterosexual sex while looking anything but conventionally heterosexual.

How do you explain the success of Bowie and Prince and these other super-effeminate pop stars in an era of such hyper-masculinity?

Their songs were good. [Laughs]

Let’s get to the third member of this trifecta of musicians who exploded masculinity and who died in 2016 — and that is George Michael. What was he doing that was different from Bowie or Prince?

He seemed to be the person who was most clearly gay.

Well, he was. I mean, unlike the other two, he was gay.

George Michael: A Father Figure For Political Pop

Right, but at the height of his popularity, he wasn’t out. But he was the person who, more than anybody else, if you had a gaydar, he set it off.

That shot in the video for “Faith” that’s focused on the seat of his jeans, just swinging back and forth.

Yeah, there’s that. I think that by the time the “Faith” video came around — it was his first solo album — he wanted to have a look that separated him from Wham! And this very sort of butch, rockabilly thing that he went for was so different than the other George Michael that it was arresting. That video just completely eroticized him: I mean, the camera is rising up his body as moving around this contraption that’s spinning. It’s great.

How standard was it at that time for a male body like that to be the object of the camera’s gaze? Because it’s so much more common for the camera to gaze upon a gorgeous woman, especially in a music video.

Right, like the express train to Elvis is immediate. And the express train to James Brown; it goes there, too. I think the thing is that it’s immediate and it’s unmediated. You are allowed to look at this body in a way that you weren’t allowed to look at Elvis’ while he danced.

It’s obviously a tragedy — a coincidence of the calendar — that all three of these artists died in 2016. But do you think that when you put the three of them together, you see something about the evolution, or maybe devolution, of masculinity in pop music?

Yeah. I mean, to have that happen in a year in which we were re-debating the propriety of maleness with regard to women, and excusing it as just the thing that men do?

You’re talking about the presidential race talk about sexual assault, things like that.

Yes, yes. And I think that just looking at what the coming administration is going to look like, it’s gonna be full of generals, full of men who have exerted power in this very traditional way. I think that we go through these waves, these periods. It’s gonna be really interesting to see what the next three or four years turns up — in terms of how you might be able to trace some through-line from people like your Princes and David Bowies and George Michaels to whatever is happening in music in two years.

Intelligence Compounds Or Bucolic Resorts? Russian Estates May Be Both

Dec 31, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Intelligence Compounds Or Bucolic Resorts? Russian Estates May Be Both

A dock is seen at a recreational compound owned by the Russian government near Centreville, Maryland on Thursday. The U.S. government said the facility was used “for intelligence-related purposes.”

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A dock is seen at a recreational compound owned by the Russian government near Centreville, Maryland on Thursday. The U.S. government said the facility was used “for intelligence-related purposes.”

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Russia was ordered to vacate two compounds it owns in Maryland and New York, as part of the sanctions imposed Thursday by the White House to punish Russia for its meddling in last month’s U.S. presidential election.

“They are compounds that the Russian government owns and that they use for multiple purposes .. .intelligence, but also recreational, as well,” said a senior White House official in a call with press on Thursdsay. “And under the Foreign Missions Act, we have the authority to restrict their access to these properties based on their pattern of behavior.”

Putin Says Russia Won't Expel Diplomats In Response To U.S. Sanctions

While the Obama administration is calling them compounds, the sites — one on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the other in Oyster Bay on Long Island — certainly look like resorts for sun-seeking diplomats.

A 2007 Washington Life magazine profile showed then-Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov and his wife Svetlana strolling the 45-acre retreat in Centreville, Md.:

“Within a short walk from the main house are a swimming pool and cabana, tennis court and waterfront dock. While the 57-year old ambassador’s wife likes the seclusion of the pool near the river, her husband, a fit 60-year old, prefers swatting balls on the tennis court, boating on the river or cycling around the grounds with his grandson in tow.”

An Associated Press report from 1997 said that site’s mansion had been converted into apartments, and there were a dozen cottages — enough to house 40 families.

While the properties in Maryland and New York were used for recreation and relaxation, James Bamford, author of three books about the NSA, says the estates were almost certainly used for intelligence purposes as well.

It’s likely, Bamford says, that Russia installed antennas on the roof for microwave eavesdropping. This would allow Russia to pick up phone calls, emails, or anything else transmitted over microwave, which Bamford says is the same thing as a telephone wire — except that it’s invisible. “You need a ground location to pick them up, and it’d be a good place to pick them up.”

A fence surrounds an estate in the village of Upper Brookville in the town of Oyster Bay, N.Y., on Long Island. On Friday, the Obama administration closed this compound for Russian diplomats, in retaliation for spying and cyber-meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

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A fence surrounds an estate in the village of Upper Brookville in the town of Oyster Bay, N.Y., on Long Island. On Friday, the Obama administration closed this compound for Russian diplomats, in retaliation for spying and cyber-meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

Alexander F. Yuan/AP

Was it an open secret that these compounds were being used for intelligence gathering? “I think anybody that works in signal intelligence, which is what the NSA does, would assume this,” said Bamford. “It would be silly if [Russia] didn’t put microwave reception facilities in these places. That’s what you do. That’s how you collect intelligence.”

But to the residents of Centreville, the Russian vacationers were a part of the community — neighbors who mostly kept to themselves, but who also went crabbing, played tennis, and threw big parties on Labor Day.

As Bonnie Delph, who works at the Acme grocery in Centreville told NPR’s All Things Considered, “They’re just like anybody else. And most of them now can speak English; you don’t even know that they are ‘the Russians,’ as we call them.”

Though when it came to local custom of catching and steaming live crabs, Delph said the neighbors behind the tall hedges had a different method: The Russians would catch the crustaceans, kill them with a screwdriver, and then boil them.

Delph said that when she moved to Centreville in 1979, during the Cold War, Air Force jets would fly over the town twice a day, a practice that she said went on for years. Only later did the town’s residents understand that the jets were flying over the Russian property.

She said she was shocked and saddened by Thursday’s announcement that the Russians were being made to leave. “They’re just vacationers, and now they’re all older people, like me. And they cause no trouble — you don’t even know they’re there.”

But she predicts this won’t be the end of the Russian presence in her town. “Times change,” she says. “What goes around comes around, and I’m hoping that they get to come back.”

Bamford, the NSA expert, agreed that this exodus may be a temporary one. The closing of the compounds is “mostly a symbolic gesture,” he said. “They’ll probably get it back on January 20 anyway.”

Simon & Schuster Will Publish Book By Breitbart Editor, Despite Criticism

Dec 31, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Simon & Schuster Will Publish Book By Breitbart Editor, Despite Criticism

Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative columnist and Internet personality, confirmed that he has a book deal with Simon Schuster, saying on his Facebook page: “They said banning me from Twitter would finish me off. Just as I predicted, the opposite has happened.”

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Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative columnist and Internet personality, confirmed that he has a book deal with Simon Schuster, saying on his Facebook page: “They said banning me from Twitter would finish me off. Just as I predicted, the opposite has happened.”

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The AP reported Friday that Simon Schuster planned to move forward with publication of a book by Milo Yiannopoulos, in spite of harsh criticism. The forthcoming book, called Dangerous, is said to be about free speech.

Yiannopoulos, who writes for Breitbart News, became widely known over the summer after he was permanently banned from Twitter for “participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals.”

As NPR reported at the time, Yiannopoulos had launched a campaign against Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones, calling on other users to help him harass her on Twitter. (Editor’s note: The linked site contains offensive material.)

“People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter,” Twitter said in a statement emailed to NPR. “But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.”

Several Simon Schuster authors expressed their outrage on Twitter at the news that they would be sharing a publisher with Yiannopoulos.

In a post on his Facebook page, Yiannopolous wrote:

“They said banning me from Twitter would finish me off. Just as I predicted, the opposite has happened. Every line of attack the forces of political correctness try on me fails pathetically. I’m more powerful, more influential, and more fabulous than ever before and this book is the moment Milo goes mainstream. Social justice warriors should be scared — very scared.”

In a statement to the AP, Simon Schuster said Friday that it does not condone discrimination or hate speech and that readers should “withhold judgment until they have had a chance to read the actual contents of the book.”

The book, which is available for preorder, had climbed to No. 1 on Amazon’s Best Sellers list as of Friday.

Episode 745: The Rest Of The Story, 2016 Edition

Dec 31, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Episode 745: The Rest Of The Story, 2016 Edition

Every year at Planet Money, we take a cue from radio legend Paul Harvey and bring you The Rest of the Story.

Every year at Planet Money, we take a cue from radio legend Paul Harvey and bring you The Rest of the Story.

Every year at Planet Money, we take a cue from radio legend Paul Harvey and bring you “The Rest of the Story.” It’s a show where we check in on some of the episodes that we’ve done in the past year, and tell you what’s changed.

It turns out that 2016 is a hard year to wrap up. A lot of the big economic stories that we covered this year still don’t have endings. Puerto Rico is still crushed under massive debt. Venezuela is still collapsing. The United Kingdom hasn’t yet pulled the trigger on Brexit. And, of course, Donald Trump won’t take office for another few weeks.

But, there are some episodes from 2016 that we want to revisit. We talk with Senator Elizabeth Warren about the fallout from our investigations into Wells Fargo. We learn that the store of the future arrived sooner than anyone expected. We hear about ISIS’s new tax scheme. And finally, we check in with the man who sold us our Planet Money oil—and find out that he just bought a steak dinner with the profits.

In case you missed them, here are the original stories featured in today’s episode:

Music: Shake ‘Em Loose, Move Your Feet, and (You Give Me) Nothing In Between. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

‘Neruda’ Affectionately Dismantles The Myth Surrounding The Chilean Poet

Dec 30, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on ‘Neruda’ Affectionately Dismantles The Myth Surrounding The Chilean Poet

Luis Gnecco as Pablo Neruda in Pablo Larrain’s Neruda.

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Luis Gnecco as Pablo Neruda in Pablo Larrain’s Neruda.

The Orchard

If Pablo Larrain is news to you, he won’t be for long. The Chilean director, whose Tony Manero, No, and The Club won critical praise but only modest box office here, has two highly recommended new films in the awards spotlight this year. Like Jackie — a challenging and brilliant portrait of Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination — Larrain’s Neruda engages in iconoclastic play with clichés that have clung to a national legend, in this case Chile’s beloved poet-politician Pablo Neruda. Neruda is warmer, funnier, more accessible and more willing to entertain than Jackie, in part because it’s only a nominal bio-pic that comes cunningly wrapped in genre packaging. Expect no saints or blemish-free heroes; the story is narrated by a fascist cop, and he’s not the only one crafting a grandiose self-image here.

The movie begins with Neruda at the height of his populist appeal even as the Communist Senator is impeached and about to flee the wrath of Chile’s rising dictatorship three years after the end of World War II. Framed as a detective road picture, Neruda is a fanciful unpacking that works in the flawed spaces separating Neruda the hero, the artist, and the man. As played by Luis Gnecco, he’s a long way from the rosy look-in Neruda got in the saccharine 1995 movie The Postman (Il Postino). Paunchy and balding with a bad comb-over and a disconcerting Cabbage Patch doll face, Gnecco’s Neruda is nobody’s idea of a pin-up, still less a literary lion.

Yet women — from hotel maids to the hookers he cavorts naked with on unauthorized jaunts away from his various hideaways, to his wives past and present — go mad for him. And he for them, though his treatment of women, to say nothing of the workers and leftist politicians and intellectuals who faithfully abet his efforts to escape the authorities, careens between loving, evasive, and downright cruel. The son of a railwayman and a dedicated champagne Communist who hangs out with bohemians and intellectuals, Neruda is a political animal who fairly bursts with contradictions that Larrain delights in playing off one another.

Like many men of The People, this Neruda falls short when he’s around actual flesh and blood. Larrain has us rooting for Neruda’s second wife, Delia (Mercedes Moran), a cultivated and preternaturally loyal painter, only to have him turn away from her when necessity or need arise. Sensitive and generous with impoverished strangers, he routinely places his handlers in danger by wandering off from the safe houses they risk their lives to secure for him. Neruda really did go on the run, fleeing across the Andes to Argentina while writing and circulating his famous cycle of poems, “Canto General.”

He also read crime novels to while away the tedium of a life in hiding, and Larrain has given him a delicious, fictionalized nemesis in the form of an openly corrupt policeman, played by Gael Garcia Bernal in a dopey fedora and pencil mustache. His Oscar Peluchonneau fancies himself both a great cop — he models himself on Chile’s notorious Chief of Police — and a great artist like Neruda. He both loathes and over-identifies with the man he’s tasked with taking down, and who keeps setting traps for him. He is, of course, Neruda’s creation, and together, as it grows unclear who is writing whom, they carry the tone into farce.

For all its jokey impudence, though, Neruda takes deadly aim at Chile’s flowering dictatorship. Peluchonneau is as sinister as he is ridiculous, and Augusto Pinochet, who would later become Chile’s President until his overthrow in 1981, pops up as a vicious prison commander, rounding up workers and dissidents with gusto. As in all his movies, Larrain is an expert juggler of tones: by turns antic and lyrical, Neruda is shot with a dark, nocturnal beauty and a mournful orchestral score.

As the left-wing son of right-wing parents, Larrain is no stranger to irony or complexity. Neruda doesn’t merely unpacks the idea of the hero as saint; it dismisses the whole notion of an integrated personality. (Jackie, too, grasps Kennedy’s widow as a woman of steel determined to preserve the whole Camelot flimflam in the midst of her grief.) Yet if Larrain never saw a facile myth he didn’t love to dismantle, he’s no cynic either in this tough, tender portrait of a man, at once an opportunist and an idealist, with Chile’s best and worst selves duking it out inside and around him.

Is It Possible To Die Of Grief?

Dec 30, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Is It Possible To Die Of Grief?

Debbie Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, at the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in 2011 in Los Angeles. Reynolds’ death, just one day after her daughter’s, has led many to ask whether it’s really possible to die of a broken heart.

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Debbie Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, at the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in 2011 in Los Angeles. Reynolds’ death, just one day after her daughter’s, has led many to ask whether it’s really possible to die of a broken heart.

Chris Pizzello/AP

The actress Debbie Reynolds’ death just one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, died has led some to speculate that grief from the loss might have been a contributing factor. There was similar speculation when actress Britney Murphy’s husband, Simon Monjack, was found dead at just 39, several months after the sudden death of his wife.

Debbie Reynolds, Iconic Actress And Singer, Dies At 84

It’s a common theme in literature — 10 of Shakespeare’s characters die of strong emotion — but is it actually possible to die of a broken heart?

The short answer is, maybe. A small study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005 evaluated 19 patients who showed symptoms of cardiovascular dysfunction after sudden emotional stress, concluding: “Emotional stress can precipitate severe, reversible left ventricular dysfunction in patients without coronary disease.” The condition, known as Broken Heart Syndrome, has been well-documented since this small study and is now recognized by the American Medical Association as occasionally fatal. It seems to primarily affect older women.

While this particular condition is quite rare, stress and strong emotions have long been known to elevate the risk of more common problems, like heart attack and stroke. Some reports have suggested Reynolds had stroke-like symptoms before she died.

Dr. Ilan Wittstein was lead author of the NEJM study and is a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University. “It looked clinically like a heart attack,” he says of the patients suffering Broken Heart Syndrome in his study. But, he adds, “Typically a heart attack is caused by a blockage in an artery, that develops a blood clot around it, and then blood flow to the heart is cut off. And what we saw in our patients was that they really didn’t have any blockages in their arteries.”

The good news is that the effect seems to be remarkably short-lived and treatable in most people. While heart attacks cause permanent damage to the heart muscle, the effect of Broken Heart Syndrome seems to be completely reversible. “Typically within a couple of weeks the heart muscle is back to normal again,” Wittstein says. He adds that while the condition can be fatal, it usually isn’t.

Wittstein thinks the physiological explanation involves the hormones your body produces when you’re under significant stress: adrenaline and noradrenaline. “We think these stress hormones, when they’re produced in large amounts, actually go to the heart and affect the very tiny blood vessels that surround the heart,” triggering a temporary decrease of blood flow to the heart.

“As a result, the heart muscle is stunned,” Wittstein says. “It can’t function properly for a matter of days.”

George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist who studies grief at Columbia University, says he is skeptical that grief had anything to do with Reynolds’ death. “It’s a little on the 19th century side to be saying she died of grief,” he says. In most cases, after a loss, “we get on with our lives pretty quickly. I had argued, and I think the data supports, that we’re kind of wired to do that.”

Bonanno says sadness is adaptive: We have evolved to feel sad in the same way we evolved to feel cold.

“You don’t need to feel cold,” he says. “Your body will regulate its temperature as best it can, without you even knowing you’re cold. But we evolved the feeling of cold later in evolution because it’s instrumental.” When you feel cold, you can often do something to help your body — by putting on a coat, going inside, or turning up the heat.

In the same way, Bonanno says, there must be a good reason humans evolved to feel sadness. “Being sad is very adaptive when you’ve had a major loss, because you’re turning inward, because you’re reflecting, because you’re recalibrating,” he says. “And all those things are all very important to do.”

His work has also examined facial expressions, and how people who look sad invite sympathy. One theory is that by feeling and looking sad, we let the people around us know that we need their help.

But, like so many things, sadness might be “adaptive” only in moderation. Camille Wortman, a psychologist at Stony Brook University who studies grief and bereavement, is especially interested in cases where the loss of a loved one is very sudden or traumatic. She says there is a more extreme grief associated with the sudden loss of a child — even if that child is an adult — as was the case for Reynolds.

“The death of a child is absolutely devastating for a parent no matter when it occurs,” Wortman says. “I don’t think those people really bounce back the way we might think. I see them struggling for years and years with just an enormous hole in their heart, and an enormous sense of emptiness.”

People do improve over time though, she says, provided they get the help and support that they need.

We may never know whether a sudden stun to the heart or any other manifestation of grief played a role in Reynolds’ death. But Wittstein says the symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome are very similar to that of a heart attack — chest pain and shortness of breath — and anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention.

As for the psychological and emotional aspects of grief, Bonanno and Wortman both say it’s important not to be judgmental, of your own grief or that of others. There are many healthy ways to grieve, and Bonanno says, grief comes and goes in phases. Everyone’s pace of healing is different.

“We don’t stay in these states all day long, even though it may seem like we do,” he says. “We go in and out of these states.”

In his research coding facial expressions, Bonanno has found that the majority of people are able to laugh and smile when remembering things about a deceased spouse, even very soon after their death. “[They] might be crying one second, and then you’d get somebody genuinely laughing and smiling,” Bonanno says. “You see people do this at funerals,” he adds. Loved ones gather, and “most people are actually capable of interacting with them in a really meaningful way.”

An Unforgettable Journey To The Red Planet

Dec 30, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on An Unforgettable Journey To The Red Planet

This simulated 3-D perspective view of Chasma Boreale, a canyon that reaches 570 kilometers (350 miles) into the north polar cap on Mars, was created from image data taken by NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

NASA/JPL/Arizona State University, R. Luk


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This simulated 3-D perspective view of Chasma Boreale, a canyon that reaches 570 kilometers (350 miles) into the north polar cap on Mars, was created from image data taken by NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

NASA/JPL/Arizona State University, R. Luk

In these closing days of the year, a year where so much controversy and distrust bubbled up in the U.S. and abroad, it is a relief — and I’d say even therapeutic — to look at the reliability of science as a harbor, a place to anchor our expectations for the future.

For if science is not infallible — and how could it be, given that it is the creation of fallible humans? — it does provide a reliable method for building trust. This happens through a community of individuals who strive to attain an ever more precise knowledge of the natural world and use it to create technological applications that shape and define the way we live our lives, fight illness, communicate with one another, travel across continents, are alerted to future dangers, and dream of better days. It is true that science also kills and, when extrapolated forward, that it creates nightmarish scenarios of what may become of us. But those reflect not the nature of science, but of our own — confused and morally lost as we remain after millennia of endless strife.

So to celebrate this season, ever hopeful, with optimism of what we can accomplish as we work together to fulfill our dreams and expectations, I share with you this video clip from the IMAX documentary Roving Mars — covering the spectacular Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. What’s amazing about this video is not only the almost magical quality of the science, the incredibly complex technological feats necessary for the success of the mission, but also the human element, the passion, the genius, the hopes and, even more important, the togetherness that emerges throughout the video.

May we learn something from this amazing group of human beings.

Marcelo Gleiser is a theoretical physicist and writer — and a professor of natural philosophy, physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College. He is the director of the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement at Dartmouth, co-founder of 13.7 and an active promoter of science to the general public. His latest book is The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected: A Natural Philosopher’s Quest for Trout and the Meaning of Everything. You can keep up with Marcelo on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser

From ‘No Way,’ To Global Success: The Inspired Journey Of GM’s Design Chief

Dec 30, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on From ‘No Way,’ To Global Success: The Inspired Journey Of GM’s Design Chief

Ed Welburn, vice president of General Motors Global Design, stands with the Buick Riviera concept as it makes its North American debut at the North American International Auto Show in 2008 in Detroit.

John F. Martin/Courtesy of General Motors


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Ed Welburn, vice president of General Motors Global Design, stands with the Buick Riviera concept as it makes its North American debut at the North American International Auto Show in 2008 in Detroit.

John F. Martin/Courtesy of General Motors

Car designers are a type. They stand out from the engineers, accountants and lawyers that populate the car business. By all accounts, Ed Welburn, General Motors’ first global head of design, is quiet, focused and congenial. This year, he retired after 44 years at GM.

“These are oversized individuals,” says Bill Pretzer, a curator with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. He’s referring to famed auto designers like Chuck Jordan or Harley Earl. “They have huge personalities and are in many ways grandiose, and Ed is exactly the opposite,” Pretzer adds.

Welburn’s passion for cars started early. He didn’t come out of the womb thinking about cars, but by age 3 he was drawing them.

And before he could properly tie his shoes, he was fixing bikes in the backyard. In 1959, when he was 8, Welburn’s parents took him to the Philadelphia Auto Show and changed his life.

When Ed Welburn saw a 1959 Cadillac Cyclone concept — think rocket ship on wheels — at an auto show in Philadelphia as an 8-year-old, he knew he wanted to design cars.

Courtesy of General Motors


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Courtesy of General Motors

When Ed Welburn saw a 1959 Cadillac Cyclone concept — think rocket ship on wheels — at an auto show in Philadelphia as an 8-year-old, he knew he wanted to design cars.

Courtesy of General Motors

“I saw that car, and that car took me from being crazy about cars to this is it — this is what I wanna do,” Welburn says. That car was the Cadillac Cyclone, a concept car. Chuck Jordan, the famed promoter of the fin at Cadillac, was just arriving on the scene. When you look at the Cyclone now, it’s easy to understand how it would have captured a young boy’s imagination: It’s a rocket ship on wheels.

It wasn’t just that Welburn wanted to design cars. He wanted to design crazy new-age cars like the Cyclone. “It was an emotional connection,” he says. “And that’s what I strive for in every design that we develop. … That car connected with me,” he says wistfully, sitting in GM’s Burbank design studio, one of 10 around the globe that Welburn led for more than a decade.

“It was through car magazines that I found out where that car came from,” he says. At age 11, Welburn wrote a letter to GM Design. “I want to be a car designer when I grow up. What courses should I take? What do I need to do?” he wrote.

Concept Cars, Once Outlandish, Now Vital To Auto Industry's Future

GM wrote back! The head of personnel sent the young man brochures to the top design schools. The automaker knew he was 11, but it seemed to take him seriously.

When he was in high school, still obsessed with cars and designing them, Welburn began to apply to design schools. But his youthful enthusiasm soon met the reality of being an ambitious smart black man in the 1960s.

“You make it through the first wave because your grade-point average was excellent and then you present your portfolio,” he says. “Design school after design school that was on that list from GM rejected me. And that was this big shock to my system.”

It’s important to understand that getting into a car design program is a direct pipeline to designing cars. Students are recruited in their freshman year. An internship with a car company often turns into a job.

Bill Pretzer with the Smithsonian says that Welburn’s family was in many ways typical of their time, determined to move up the economic ladder. “There’s a phrase in many African-American communities called ‘making a way out of no way.’ … If confronted with obstacles you still find a way. And this was a family that consistently found a way to make a way out of no way.”

The Welburn family’s way was through Howard University. Welburn was accepted into the art school at the historically black college at a powerful moment at Howard and in the country. He was a sculpture student studying under the great Harlem renaissance painter Lois Jones.

The university already had a design program and a sculpture program. It created a car design curriculum for Welburn from within the art school. He says his unconventional school would become a benefit.

“You could hear Roberta Flack in the music studio studying. You go down the hall … and there’s Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad there studying. We were all students together. That was an incredible environment in which to grow,” he says. It was that environment in art school that burnished his skills as an artist and placed him firmly in the black art world.

Eventually, Welburn would get an internship in GM’s sculpture studio. It was a summer program and by then he was hooked. Welburn says he learned as much in those 10 weeks on the job as he would in two years in the classroom At the end of that summer, Welburn says he heard from his boss: “He said, ‘You just go back, finish your senior year at Howard. We wanna hire you.’ “

So Welburn went back, finished his senior year and turned the internship into a career that would last 44 years and make him the highest ranking African-American in the history of the auto industry. His first project was to design the tail lamp for the Pontiac Grand Ville.

Ed Welburn was an intern at General Motors Design in 1971. He began his GM career the following year as an associate designer assigned to the Advanced Design Studios.

Courtesy of General Motors


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Courtesy of General Motors

Ed Welburn was an intern at General Motors Design in 1971. He began his GM career the following year as an associate designer assigned to the Advanced Design Studios.

Courtesy of General Motors

“The guy has impeccable design sense and judgement,” says Stewart Reed, a renowned car designer and chairman of Art Center Transportation Design. He says you can tell a Welburn design: “You know when it comes to seeing a car’s posture and proportion, and then right down to the details that support the overall character of the car.”

Welburn says it was during those early years that he came up with his chief principle — that design and engineer should be one. He came up with his philosophy:

  1. You have got to have a very clear vision of what you’re doing.
  2. You have to have great collaboration across the company in what you’re doing.
  3. There must be a collaboration between design and engineering.
  4. Most importantly: “I don’t design the cars for me. … You design it for your customers. You’ve got to listen to them, spend time with them.”

It was that kind of thinking that led Welburn to hit after hit in the car world.

In 1996, Ed Welburn began a two-year assignment at Saturn. That led to an assignment in Germany, where he worked on future GM global design programs.

Courtesy of General Motors


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Courtesy of General Motors

In 1996, Ed Welburn began a two-year assignment at Saturn. That led to an assignment in Germany, where he worked on future GM global design programs.

Courtesy of General Motors

He led the design team at Saturn. He was instrumental in designing or redesigning vehicles such as the Volt, the Hummer, the Escalade, the Corvette and many others.

Reed says Welburn’s job and his impact is less about picking this fin or that color. He likens Welburn to the great conductors. He set a standard and allowed his designers freedom, Reed says.

“The guy that you want responsible for the orchestra should be an artist, a musician,” Reed says. “And maybe they’re not good at every instrument. Maybe they’re a pianist or something, but they have a sense of how all these talents work together for a result.”

In 'Engines,' A History Of America Through Cars

Reed says that because of the dignity and the skill with which Welburn worked in the corporate environment, “he has placed design on a much higher plane. It’s respected more. Designers at GM are doing well. They’re respected, they’re getting great results. They’re supported by the rest of the corporation because of leadership.” All that, Reed says, is still somewhat unusual in the car business.

Glenda Gill is an automotive consultant, who spent years as a consultant and lobbied the industry for more diversity. She was executive director of the Rainbow PUSH Automotive Project.

“We always state about being twice as good. Just know that [Welburn] was three times as good in his industry, and well respected, and was a mentor to many,” she says. As the head of design, Gill says, Welburn reshaped car design but was also a beacon for African-Americans throughout the industry.

More importantly, she says, by his example he taught the car business a lesson. She says somebody decide to take a chance on him, “and guess what? They won.” She says Welburn is the embodiment of what diversity can bring to a company: “He’s great, he’s passed every test, we’re going to [pick] him based upon his merit and see what he does, and he did it.”

Trump Reverses Obama Criticism, Touts New Jobs In Brief Remarks

Dec 29, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Trump Reverses Obama Criticism, Touts New Jobs In Brief Remarks

President-elect Donald Trump speaks to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday.

Evan Vucci/AP


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President-elect Donald Trump speaks to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday.

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President-elect Donald Trump and @realDonaldTrump are contradicting each other.

Wednesday afternoon, Trump emerged from his Mar-a-Lago resort to tell reporters that he and President Obama had spoken on the phone and had “a very nice conversation.”

“I appreciate that he called me,” Trump said.

The comment came hours after Trump blasted Obama on Twitter.

But asked by reporters Wednesday afternoon how that transition was going, Trump said, “I think very, very smoothly. Very good. You don’t think so?” (A “not” was not forthcoming in real life.)

President-Elect Trump Breaks With Long History Of Press Conferences

The Obama tiff — or non-tiff, depending on which Trump you listen to — is the latest sign of a disparity between Trump’s public statements and his social media statements.

There’s long been a serious personal rift between the two, but with Trump set to take the oath of office in less than a month, the stakes are higher. Presidents’ words move markets and can create global tension.

Take Trump’s recent tweet about nuclear weapons, which quickly ricocheted around the world despite Trump aides’ efforts to minimize the importance of the statement.

On Wednesday Trump also highlighted a Japanese tech mogul’s plans to create 8,000 new jobs in the U.S.

Is Trump's Deal With Carrier A Form Of Crony Capitalism?

Trump had previously appeared with Masayoshi Son at Trump Tower, to announce Son’s promise to invest $50 billion in the U.S. and create 50,000 new jobs.

Wednesday, Trump offered what appeared to be more specifics as part of that plan: 5,000 jobs that Sprint will bring back into the U.S. from overseas. Son’s company, SoftBank, owns about 80 percent of Sprint.

“They’re taking them from other countries. They’re bringing them back to the United States,” Trump said.

In a statement on its website, Sprint said it “anticipates these jobs will support a variety of functions across the organization, including its customer care and sales teams.” But the jobs aren’t finalized yet — the company said it will “begin discussions immediately with its business partners” and aims to fill the positions by the end of the 2017 fiscal year.

“We are excited to work with President-Elect Trump and his Administration to do our part to drive economic growth and create jobs in the U.S.,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said in the statement. “We believe it is critical for business and government to partner together to create more job opportunities in the U.S. and ensure prosperity for all Americans.”

The additional 3,000 jobs come from a $1 billion SoftBank investment in OneWeb, a Virginia company that will set up a factory in Florida to manufacture satellites to provide broadband Internet access.

Trump said the jobs are being created “because of what’s happening and the spirit and the hope” around his election. He had previously taken credit for the Carrier Corp.’s keeping hundreds of jobs in Indiana — which came with tax concessions from the state where Trump’s incoming vice president, Mike Pence, currently serves as governor.

Actress Debbie Reynolds Dies A Day After Daughter Carrie Fisher’s Death

Dec 29, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Actress Debbie Reynolds Dies A Day After Daughter Carrie Fisher’s Death
  • Debbie Reynolds on the set of For Love or Money.

  • Debbie Reynolds entertains soldiers at the 8th Army headquarters in Seoul, South Korea in May 1955.

  • Singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds cuddle their two children, four-month old Todd (left) and 19-month-old Carrie, in 1958.

  • Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds from the movie Singin' in the Rain.

  • Debbie Reynolds holds out her hand to display her wedding ring as she stands beside multimillionaire shoe magnate Harry Karl following their wedding at Beverly Hills, Calif., in November 1960.

  • Debbie Reynolds, dressed as nun for her role as a nun in the film The Singing Nun, practices her next scene while she watches another scene being filmed in November 1965.

  • Debbie Reynolds takes the stage for a curtain call after a performance of Woman of the Year at New York's palace theatre on March 8, 1983. Miss Reynolds returned to the show after having collapsed on stage during a matinee on March 5.

  • Debbie Reynolds poses at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce 82nd Annual Meeting  Lifetime Achievement Luncheon Honoring Debbie Reynolds on March 26, 2003, in Century City, Calif.

  • Debbie Reynolds poses alongside one of the original costumes she wore in the The Unsinkable Molly Brown, on display at The Paley Center For Media's Reception For Debbie Reynolds: The Exhibit in August 2011 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

  • Carrie Fisher (right) presents her mother, Debbie Reynolds, with the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award at the 21st annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2015.

  • Debbie Reynolds, poses for a photo with her son, Todd Fisher (left), daughter Carrie Fisher, and granddaughter Billie Lourd (far right) after Reynolds received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2015.


Updated at 9:30 p.m.

Actress Debbie Reynolds has died, just one day after the death of her daughter, actress Carrie Fisher, NPR has confirmed.

Hours before reports of her death, The Los Angeles Fire Department confirmed to NPR that an elderly female was transported to Cedar Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Public records found by NPR show the address the woman was taken from is listed as belonging to Carrie Fisher.

The 'Unsinkable' Debbie Reynolds Looks Back On Life, Love And A Boozy Busby Berkeley

Debbie Reynolds, 84, has had a long and celebrated career as a film actress — she was in the classic Singing’ in the Rain — a TV star — The Debbie Reynolds Show — and a Broadway and Las Vegas star.

She has been nominated for an Academy Award, an Emmy and a Golden Globe. In 2015, she won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She received the award on the Oscar telecast.

Carrie Fisher, Actress Beloved For Playing Princess Leia, Dies At 60

Reynolds has been an activist for mental health awareness alongside her daughter, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The pair had a close and complicated relationship. Much of it was outlined in Fisher’s book Postcards from the Edge, which was made into a movie.

Fisher died Tuesday after suffering a heart attack last Friday aboard a plane from London to Los Angeles.

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