Wednesday, January 30, 2013

COACHELLA 2013: Both weekends are sold out

Less than 24 hours after going on sale, all of the remaining tickets for the 2013 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival have sold out.

The festival posted a photo on its social networks at 6:40 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, announcing the festival was sold out. Coachella posted that tickets for weekend one were sold out 13 minutes after they went on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29. However, some readers reported purchasing passes for the first weekend even after the sold-out photo was posted.

Coachella switched to a twin weekend format in 2012 (where all 140-plus artists played both weekends at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif.) due to rising demand for the festival.

An undisclosed amount of pre-sale tickets for 2013, which were offered in May 2012, sold out within hours.

Coachella announced its 2013 lineup, set for April 12-14 and April 19-21 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, on Thuesday, Jan. 24, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blur, The Stone Roses and Phoenix topping the bill.

Did you get tickets? Was it easier/harder than last year? Let me know in the comments below.

I am struggling for justice, remain calm, says Kamal Haasan to fans

Chennai: After losing a court battle to have the ban on his film Vishwaroopman rescinded, actor Kamal Haasan appeared on the terrace of his office and told hundreds of fans gathered there to stay calm. "I am struggling for justice," he said, "don't give in to anger."

It was the sort of sound advice a lead character in a big-budget film could deliver a few plot points away from a happy ending.

In real life, however, the suspense about Kamal Haasan's spy-thriller appears nowhere near resolution.

The Madras High Court today agreed with a two-week ban on Vishwaroopam ordered by the government last week after Muslim groups said the movie's depiction of the community is offensive. Minutes before he lost his court case, Kamal Haasan said he had agreed to drop contentious scenes and words. "My Muslim family has reached out to me... we have settled amicably," he said.

The High Court's ruling means the film cannot release in the state till Wednesday, February 6.

At a press conference in the morning, Kamal Haasan suggested that the battle over Vishwaroopam is a crucible of India's secularism, and threatened to leave Tamil Nadu if the ban on the movie was not lifted. "If there is no secular state in India, I would go overseas," he said.

While his decision to re-edit the film a few hours later was a sharp deviation from that stand, those close to the superstar point out that the overwhelming financial pressure of a large-budget film may have forced the compromise. Kamal Haasan shared today that his house and other properties have been pledged to a money-lender. His brother, Chandra, has said the movie has lost between 30 and 60 crores because it has not screened as scheduled in Tamil Nadu. He said the brothers will wait to see what happens when the two-week blackout ends on Wednesday before deciding whether to appeal to the Supreme Court for help.

Sources say that his supporters believe that the ban, so ardently advocated by the government, is not unhinged from politics. By backing Muslim protests, the ruling AIADMK is showing its support for a votebank traditionally loyal to its rival DMK. And the television rights for Vishwaroopam were granted eventually to Vijay TV and not Jaya TV, the mouthpiece of ruling AIADMK.

Anne Hathaway, Katie Holmes bitter rivals?

Anne Hathaway and Katie Holmes are allegedly bitter rivals.

The 29-year-old Les Miserables star reportedly doesn't like the 34-year-old Broadway star and thinks she relied on her marriage to Tom Cruise, who she split from last June after six years together, to further her career.

A source told the National Enquirer: "Anne and Katie are long-time rivals.

"Anne puts forth a very genial, friendly image, but she has a wicked competitive streak. She doesn't like Katie because they used to go up for similar roles.

"Anne always felt like Katie used her Hollywood connections through Tom to advance her career. And she constantly makes fun of Katie behind her back, mocking her former marriage and even her appearance.

"Simply put, there is no love lost between Anne and Katie. It all comes down to the fact that Anne doesn't take Katie seriously as an actress. And Katie's gotten Anne's message loud and clear."

Their feud has allegedly become even more intense since Anne impersonated Katie, who has a six-year-old daughter Suri with Tom, on Saturday Night Live recently during a skit interview with The Ellen DeGeneres Show, putting on a slightly vacant expression and mocking her demeanour.

She joked: "Well if you read US Weekly you'll know that Suri and I spend every waking minute at the zoo."

Both actresses starred in the Batman franchise. Katie appeared as Rachel Dawes in the first installment Batman Begins in 2005 but was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal in the second film The Dark Knight in 2008, while Anne appeared as Catwoman in the final installment of the series The Dark Knight Rises last year.

Lindsay Lohan too sick to appear in court

Lindsay Lohan is allegedly too sick to appear in court.

The Liz & Dick star - who has been ordered to appear for a pre-trial hearing in Los Angeles after her probation was revoked last month because she allegedly lied to police about driving during a car accident last June - reportedly won't be there and her lawyer has filed documents notifying the judge she is too ill to fly.

The 26-year-old troubled starlet's new representative Mark Heller submitted a note from her doctor in Park Avenue, New York, saying she has an upper respiratory infection and can't fly for her own safety but also because her condition is highly contagious, according to gossip website

He also sent the judge an article from the New York Post newspaper about a flu epidemic hitting the city.

Lindsay - who recently fired her long-term lawyer Shawn Holley - was allegedly examined by a medical practitioner on Saturday (26.01.13), but was spotted on the same day enjoying a shopping-spree in SoHo.

If the judge refuses to accept the excuse, she could issue a warrant for the actress's arrest.

Mark was recently said to be convinced he could keep Lindsay out of jail.

A source previously said: "Mark believes he can get Lindsay acquitted of all criminal charges stemming from her car accident in Santa Monica last summer. Lindsay has convinced Mark that she never lied to cops when they asked her if she was driving the car that day.

"There was a plea bargain offer on the table for Lindsay to go to rehab for nine months, but she absolutely refused that. Mark won't sign off on a deal that sends Lindsay to rehab for more than 60 days."

I had a rich upbringing: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Action star Arnold Schwarzenegger says he misses his rustic childhood in Austria and wishes his children could have the same wealth of experiences as he had growing up in the countryside.

The 65 year old actor, who found his upbringing boring as a child, said it is hard to afford it now, reported Contactmusic.

"Back then I thought there was nothing going on in this boring town and I was always complaining about it. Now I see it and think, 'Look at the luxury I had'. I was able to grow up in a playground that in America people have to create," he said.

The Terminator star lamented the fact that he now has to travel to take his children to experience things which were on his doorstep.

"Now I have to go to take the kids down to the beach and to the swings, or to some special place where they can ride on a pony, or to somewhere else where they can see a cow or something like that. I grew up literally across the street from a castle," said Schwarzenegger.

Jennifer Lawrence suffers wardrobe malfunction at SAG Awards

Actress Jennifer Lawrence narrowly escaped a wardrobe malfunction at the SAG awards after her dress came close to tearing in half.

Lawrence, who was named outstanding film actress for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook, could barely contain her excitement as her name was announced.

Smiling and hugging people around her, the 22-year-old star made her way to the stage. She did not notice that someone had put the leg of their chair down on her expensive Christian Dior gown, tearing it in the middle.

Lawrence was shocked as she realised the mishap but like a professional, the actress quickly pushed the ripped section of dress under the gown's existing tuck and walked towards the stage.

Actresses Marion Cotillard and Nicole Kidman looked concerned for Lawrence as her dress threatened to come off.

Drew Barrymore likes to make husband laugh

Actress Drew Barrymore says she feels prettiest when she puts a smile on her husband Will Kopelman's face.

Barrymore, 37, who tied the knot with art consultant Kopelman eight months ago, says making him smile makes her feel pretty even if she is dressed down, reported Femalefirst.

"(I feel most attractive) when I make Will laugh. I'm usually in sweatpants and a scrunchie, being a dork. But when I hear his funny laugh, I'm like, 'Damn, I feel pretty'," she said.

The actress, who has created her own make-up line Flower, also gave birth to the couple's first child, daughter Olive, four months ago.

"What little girl doesn't want to play with make-up? But kids should be kids for as long as possible. When she gets into her teens though all bets are off. She should just experiment and figure out what kind of woman she wants to be," she said.

Celebrities become soft targets: Priyanka Chopra

Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra admits that she doesn't know much about the controversy regarding Shah Rukh Khan's comments on being a Muslim. However, she says people often use celebrities to "advance their propagandas".

"I believe that people often use celebrities to advance their propagandas. Celebrities have become a soft target nowadays," Priyanka said at a press conference to unveil the video of her single In My City.

In the Outlook Turning Points magazine, published in association with The New York Times newspaper, Shah Rukh gave a first person account on being a Muslim. The writeup led Jamaat-ud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed to state that the star could move to Pakistan if he does not feel safe in India. To that, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik said India should provide security to Shah Rukh.

Priyanka, who has worked with Shah Rukh in films like Don (2006) and Don 2 (2011), says the media should report matters carefully. "The press should not get trapped in all this and must report the truth," she said.

Priyanka, who is otherwise seen to be very friendly with the press, seemed to get ruffled while being questioned on the issue.

Asked if she would have got involved with more controversies if her surname would have been 'Khan', she said: "I get into controversies with 'Chopra' too. A big deal is being made out of nothing. You should be ashamed to even ask such a question in a country as secular as India."

Stardom means nothing to me, says Shah Rukh Khan

With numerous mega-hits in his filmography which spans over two decades in Hindi cinema, Bollywood Badshah Shah Rukh Khan sits pretty on the pinnacle of success, but says stardom means nothing to him.

"It (stardom) means nothing to me. All I know is to work from morning to night. I don't know what it (stardom) means to me. I work almost 18 hours a day. The biggest thing in life is to define the reason for your success because I don't know it. I think you are dishonest if you explain it because I can't pass it on to my daughter and son, nobody can," SRK told PTI.

In 2012, 'King' Khan had only one release - Yash Chopra's Jab Tak Hai Jaan opposite Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma. The film was a huge hit. Even this year, the superstar will have only Rohit Shetty's 'Chennai Express' hitting the cinema houses.

On whether it is a conscious decision to slow down, SRK said, "No it is not... I do one film at a time. Now I like to do one film a year, take time off, sit with the kids. And I feel you can't make four-five films a year. I think it spoils the quality. I want to do quality films. I want people to talk about my film whenever it comes out... be it good, bad or ugly."

"I got injured in between and then Yashji (Yash Chopra) wanted me to start working on his film first so we waited for the girls to get free. I could afford to have started a film but I chose not to. So I spent time with kids. Before that I did Don and Ra.One, both of which were action films... and it takes time," the 47-year-old actor said.

"I wanted to start Happy New Year in January... we were to start shooting for a song. But then I spoke to Farah (Khan) that we will start in one go and continue it. I told her 'let me finish Chennai Express in April-May and then start it'," he added.

On whether injuries made him decide to do one film a year, SRK said, "No it is not like that at all. I don't have problems with breathing or any other injury. I do films as they come. I can afford to do the film that I want to do at the time I wish to... I worked for it for 22 years."

About Chennai Express, he said, "The film is a journey in the South. It is about how we believe our culture and languages are different but love conquers all. So it is a fun way to show that. It is a film which is fun, people meet from different zones."

Citing an example, SRK said, "My mother is from Hyderabad and my father is from Peshawar and I have always noticed this funny act.. she used to speak in Hyderabadi and he used to speak in Pashtun. Different ideologies but love conquered all. So the film is a treatment of a romance in the travel down South of a man who is from North."

The story is about a man's journey from Mumbai to Rameshwaram and what happens on the way. The romantic comedy, also starring Deepika Padukone, is scheduled to release this year.

On the relatable characters that he has portrayed in his filmy career, Shah Rukh said, "I do the film character as a job. If I am given a character to play I do it with the best of my ability. I live it, believe in it, just do it, then leave it and let go off to do another one."

"I liked doing Chak De, I liked Mohan Bhargav (Swades), Rahul and Raj from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dilwale Dhulaniya Le Jayenge respectively, Sunil in Darr," he said.

"If you mix it all then I am a confused personality. None of the roles that I have played till now are close to me. But all of them take upon experiences of what I have seen, read or felt in my life, none of them are far removed from them. I think every actor when essaying a role is about an experience or thought or believe he or she has. I also liked My Name is Khan but I am not any of my characters," he added.

Controversies embarass, sadden and humiliate me: Shah Rukh Khan

Getting involved in controversies is a part and parcel of any celebrity's life, but superstar Shah Rukh Khan says it does affect him personally, though he doesn't let it show in public.

"They all affect me. I am a very educated, sensitive and an extremely private person. So all of them (controversies) extremely sadden, disturb and anger me in the comfort of my house. And what is even more disturbing is that when you go out into the public, you need to behave in a certain is a no win situation," Shah Rukh told IANS in an interview.

The actor says he has not been a very media savvy person and is unaware of what the politically right thing to say is.

"This whole ideology of saying the right thing at the right time and the whole PR activity, I have never done it. I am the most media unsavvy person. I say what I feel and I get into trouble for it," said the 47-year-old.

"I have not learnt to deal with it, but I am a good actor and when I come out in the public I deal with it (controversy). But I don't like it, it is embarrassing, saddening and humiliating," he added.

Though, the actor considers 2012 as a good year as he was a part of legendary filmmaker Yash Chopra's last directorial venture Jab Tak Hai Jaan and his team Kolkata Knight Riders won the Indian Premier League, but at the same time, he often found himself in trouble too. His brawl at Wankhede stadium being at the top of the list.

"It was a good year. Like I said I have beaten up people before when they said wrong things. I am extremely sorry to my children for embarrassing them. But as a father, I would do it all over again, if it happens again. My wife often gets angry when I say all these things honestly," he said.

Elaborating on the Wankhede Stadium controversy after the IPL final last May when he got into an argument with a security guard, the actor admited he made a mistake.

"I thought it (the guard) was wrong and I also thought it was more wrong for me to behave like that. Now I surround myself with more security, so that I get more pushed up in my ivory tower and stop being a normal person. That's the way the world wants to see me, so that's how I will be," he said.

The actor will be a part of Times of India Film Awards (TOIFA), which launched this year. Shah Rukh said awards are still very important to him and he feels extremely proud when he receives one.

"I like awards. I am very childlike when it comes to awards. I get very excited with my kids' awards and medals which they get. We display them," he said.

"When we are surrounded by so much fame and controversies, the thing that keeps you going is that there is recognition in this form. At the end of the year you get happy with the awards. Whenever I get an award, I go and keep it in my children's room. It's like a gift and I get excited," he added.

Kamal Haasan agrees to cut scenes, legal battle moves to Supreme Court

Actor Kamal Haasan will appeal to the Supreme Court to rescind a two-week ban on his mega-budget Vishwaroopam. He lost his case in the Madras High Court today, minutes after he announced he had "settled amicably" with Muslim groups by agreeing to delete contentious scenes and words from the movie.

It was a day of incredible plot twists for the actor-director-producer. Late in the afternoon, he announced he would re-edit his film, removing a list of scenes and words furnished by Muslim groups. "My Muslim family has reached out to me...we have settled amicably...there are no more differences between me and my Muslim brothers," he said.

The compromise contrasted with the firm stand he took at a press conference this morning, where he suggested the battle over Vishwaroopam is a crucible of India's secularism and threatened to leave Tamil Nadu if the ban on the movie was not lifted. "If there is no secular state in India, I would go overseas," he said. Blaming the state government, he said, "It appears Tamil Nadu wants me out...but I will always remain Tamil and an Indian."

The ban on the movie was introduced by the Tamil Nadu government last week. It was lifted by a Madras High Court judge last night, who had reviewed Vishwaroopam. But the government appealed against that verdict in the High Court today, and won.

Petrol bombs were hurled at two theatres 600 kms from Chennai which were scheduled to show Vishwaroopam. Nobody was hurt; glass windows were shattered.

Kamal Haasan's offer to make changes to his film may be based on his financial vulnerability as a producer of the big-budget film. He shared today that his house and other properties have been pledged to a money-lender. His brother, Chandra, who co-produced Vishwaroopam, has said the movie has lost between 30 and 60 crores because it has not screened as scheduled in Tamil Nadu.

Mallika Sherawat chooses Dirty Politics over meeting Obama

Actress Mallika Sherawat has chosen promotion of her upcoming movie Dirty Politics over attending a party in US where President Barack Obama was also invited as it is the "most important film in my life".

She said she skipped the dinner at the party that was to be attended by Obama. "It is true...I was invited to a dinner in US. I had even confirmed that I was attending it. But then I got a call from K C Bokadia (director) that we have a press meet today. I had to make a decision....For me Dirty Politics is the most important film in my life."

She had met President Obama at a tea party in Los Angeles in 2011. She was reportedly invited for tea with President Obama during his Presidential campaign visit in Hollywood last year. Dirty Politics is based on the story of nurse Bhanwari Devi.

Mallika has been roped in for the movie by Bokadia to play the lead in the film inspired from Bhanwari's life. "I remember making a comment that women are treated like cattle in this country but I received a flak for it. But that proved right with all rape cases etc... The way women are treated... I think I owe it to myself to be part of this film and I stand for it... For this story to be told to the public," she told the press conference.

Dirty Politics also stars Om Puri, Jackie Shroff, Anupam Kher and Ashutosh Rana among others and is slated for release later this year.

American Beverage Institute responds to Mayor Ed Lee's statements of limiting alcohol sales during Super Bowl

A group that promotes the responsible consumption of alcohol is asking San Francisco not to demonize hard liquor by tying it to rowdiness after sporting events.

Last week, Mayor Ed Lee said that although San Francisco will not ban liquor sales, he is encouraging bars to limit sales or serve it in a responsible manner. The American Beverage Institute responded Monday in a statement that asked The City “to avoid demonizing a perfectly legal product.”

“Attempts to ban or restrict the sale of certain types of alcohol during a sporting event like the Super Bowl is unnecessary and will discourage fans from watching the game at their favorite restaurants,” managing director Sarah Longwell said in a statement.

Lee spokeswoman Christine Falvey said the mayor’s initial comments were pointing out that he hopes fans will celebrate responsibly and that the statements made by the American Beverage Institute reflect the spirit of Lee’s comments.

The statement by Lee is part of a larger planning process by The City to prepare for possible violent incidents after the Super Bowl on Sunday, in which the 49ers are taking on the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans.

Police are planning to add some 400 officers to the streets, Chief Greg Suhr said last week. The mayor said The City will be focusing its resources on areas that previously have seen destruction and violence after other sporting events.

When the 49ers won the NFC Championship, police arrested 12 people in the Mission district for incidents that included driving under the influence, assault with a deadly weapon and public intoxication.

Celebrations also erupted across San Francisco in 2010 and 2012 after the Giants won the World Series. Last year’s rowdy revelries included torching a Muni bus in the downtown area.

San Francisco condo conversion effort delayed after long debate

After nearly four hours of debate Monday afternoon, a vote on a proposal that would give San Francisco tenancy-in-common owners a one-time opportunity to bypass The City’s condo-conversion lottery system by paying a fee was postponed by a Board of Supervisors committee.

Emotionally charged tenant advocates and homeowners squared off against one another over the years-in-the making legislation proposed by Supervisor Mark Farrell with the backing of Supervisor Scott Wiener.

“I’m not a millionaire,” said Staci Salvi, who purchased a tenancy-in-common unit eight years ago and recently had a child. “We are middle-class families that want to stay in The City. Please help us do that. If we lose everything we will have to start again, and it won’t be and it can’t be in San Francisco.”

But Fran Taylor, a community advocate, called it “class warfare.”

“Don’t kick us out because of what the banks are doing to you,” Taylor said.

People living in such units share a percentage of a building’s ownership and do not own the units outright, unlike condo owners who have access to financing with lower mortgage rates.

Under the legislation, tenancy-in-common owners who participated and lost in the 2012 and 2013 lotteries could convert by paying a fee of up to $20,000 per unit. The City’s lottery system allows 200 units a year be converted into condos.

Board President David Chiu, who sits on the committee along with Wiener and Supervisor Jane Kim, said he opposed the legislation and requested the postponement until Feb. 25 to allow for negotiations.

“My most significant concern is that if we allow the current generation of TIC owners to convert, we will quickly replace them with a new generation of TIC owners,” Chiu said.

Kim suggested there is a need for a larger fee and a ban on the sale of converted condos for up to 10 years.

“TIC homeownership is absolutely one of the things that our city does not want to encourage,” Kim said, noting that rent control units, those built before June 1979, are “a depleting stock every single year.”

According to the Department of Public Works, which administers the conversion program, 2,393 units from 701 properties were entered into last year’s lottery. A total of 124 units had been in the lottery for seven years. Under the proposal, existing protections against tenant eviction would remain and any tenants residing in these buildings would have to be offered lifetime leases.

Earlier this month, Plan C, a homeowner advocacy group, launched a lobbying effort on supervisors London Breed, Norman Yee and Malia Cohen to secure enough support at the full board to ensure the legislation’s passage.

Legislation would take at least six votes to pass and has the support of Wiener, Farrell and Supervisor Carmen Chu.

San Francisco lays out $200 million in bike projects in next 5 years

The City is proposing $200 million worth of changes to its cycling network in the next five years.

Building 12 new miles of bike lanes, upgrading 50 miles of existing paths and installing more than 20,000 new racks are all part of the plan.

Biking has increased by 71 percent since 2006, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages cycling policies in The City, is hoping to build out its network to meet the demand.

At the board of directors’ annual workshop meeting Tuesday, the agency is expected to discuss potential scenarios for bicycling expansion.

As part of its five-year strategic plan, the agency proposes to upgrade 50 intersections to accommodate bicycles and deploy and maintain 2,750 bikes as part of a grab-and-go bike-sharing network.

Along with the plans to upgrade 50 miles of the existing network and add 12 new miles of bike facilities, the total cost of the project could be $200 million. If completed, the agency hopes the share of bike trips in San Francisco increases from its current level of 3.5 percent of all travel to 8 to 10 percent by 2018; a separate goal of 20 percent has been set by the Board of Supervisors for 2020.

The funding and implementation of the network face questions, however. Currently, the transit agency is only able to afford to install 6 miles of bike lanes each year, falling short of its 10-mile goal. Of the $200 million needed for the five-year project, only $30 million has been identified.

Still, Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said the strategic plan goals are achievable. Possible sources for the $200 million project include revenue from a potential vehicle license fee increase, which could go on the 2014 ballot.

Shahum also said the transit agency could do a better job of funding projects, noting that bike projects account for only 0.46 percent of its capital budget plan.

Bike usage is at 15 percent in some neighborhoods, and investing to increase The City’s network is relatively cheap, Shahum said.

“Investing in better biking is one of the most cost-effective and quick ways for The City to address its transportation challenges,” Shahum said.

Howard Chabner, a disability advocate, said The City’s biking goals are unrealistic given the demographic breakdown of residents and their continued reliance on automobiles.

“It’s one thing to promote bicycles; it’s another to have a war on cars,” Chabner said. “And that’s basically the SFMTA’s strategy.”

Director Cheryl Brinkman of the transit agency said some residents — especially those living on hills — might never choose to relinquish their automobiles, but more people are warming up to the idea of using bikes as a primary mode of transportation.

“The appetite for a welcoming bike network is very strong, and we will see increased support and demand with each new project completed,” Brinkman said.

Bones found in San Francisco home believed to be animal remains, not missing boy Kevin Collins

Local and federal law enforcement officers found bones during a search of a Haight-Ashbury home Tuesday, but it’s believed that they belong to some kind of animal and not Kevin Collins, a 10-year-old boy who went missing nearly 29 years ago.

San Francisco police executed a search warrant at the home on Masonic Avenue near Page Street, with the FBI and cadaver dogs from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office assisting in the search.

Several bones were turned over to the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office. Police said preliminary assessment of the bones indicated that they are from an animal, but that further analysis is necessary.

The home is near the area of Masonic Avenue and Oak Street where Collins was last seen alive at a bus stop. He had left a gym on Page Street after basketball practice Feb. 10, 1984, but never arrived home at Sutter and Broderick streets.

Ann Collins, Kevin’s mother, told several news agencies that police had contacted her saying they were conducting the search of the home in connection with the case.

A law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the search warrant in the case is sealed said the home was once occupied by someone who was once a “person of interest” in the case.

Michael Sharff, who lives next door, said he knew the Collins family well and even attended church with them.

Sharff said the two men who lived in the house at the time of Kevin’s disappearance were questioned by police back in 1984.

Police said the home’s current residents are not suspects in the disappearance.

Ex-49er Kwame Harris accused of beating up ex-boyfriend appears in court

Former 49ers offensive tackle Kwame Harris is facing up to nine years in prison on charges that he beat up his ex-boyfriend outside a Menlo Park restaurant last summer during an argument over soy sauce and underpants, prosecutors said.

On Monday, Harris appeared in court for a pretrial hearing on charges of felony domestic violence and assault causing great bodily injury in connection with the Aug. 21 incident at Su Hong restaurant.

The former first-round draft pick’s ex-lover, Dimitri Geier, also is suing Harris, claiming he had to undergo facial surgery after the massive lineman punched him.

Harris’ attorney claims the incident was self-defense.

Geier’s lawsuit claims that about 3 p.m. Aug. 21, the former live-in couple met for a bite despite recently having broken up. After the meal, the 30-year-old Harris planned to drive Geier to the airport.

But, the lawsuit said, those plans fell through when Harris became angry at Geier for pouring soy sauce on their plate of rice. An argument about the soy sauce lasted seven minutes, the complaint said, and caused Harris to storm out of the restaurant.

Soon after, Harris returned and told Geier to find his own ride to the airport. Geier claims he agreed to call a cab and wanted to fetch his belongings from Harris’ vehicle.

While leaving the restaurant, Harris allegedly “began to push” Geier. Harris also tried to pull down Geier’s pants because he reportedly thought his ex had stolen his underwear.

Geier said the 6-foot-7 Harris eventually grabbed him by the shirt, shook him violently, and punched him multiple times in the arms and face. Harris then reportedly chucked Geier’s stuff out of his car and drove off.

Geier said he had a cab drive him to O’Connor Hospital in San Jose. Besides suffering a broken eye socket, he needed to have a metal plate inserted into his face.

Harris was later arrested at his home.

Harris was drafted 26th overall in the 2003 NFL draft and played with the 49ers until 2007. He also played for the Raiders and Stanford University.

Vine’s porn problem won’t hurt Twitter, analyst says

Vine’s recent “sex scandal” has certainly been a headache for parent company Twitter, which issued an apology after an adult video appeared in the app’s “Editor’s Picks” earlier this week.

On Tuesday, Twitter rushed to keep its younger users away from questionable content. Vine announced it had blocked searches for adult material, meaning hashtags like #sex and #porn no longer turn up results.

In the long run, said Max Wolff, a senior analyst at Greencrest Capital, even a hiccup of these headline-making, outrage-fanning proportions won’t impact Twitter’s bottom line — or its potential IPO.

“I don’t think this bump in the road is material,” Wolff said. “If it’s not fixed in three months, we have another conversation.”

For months, pundits and analysts — including Wolff himself — have predicted Twitter will go public within the next two years. Signs to that effect abound. Twitter made a number of management moves in December, naming Ali Rowghabi chief operating officer and hiring Mike Gupta as chief financial officer. The company sold an $80 million stake to BlackRock last week.

To top it off, the popular social network, currently valued at $9 billion, tuned up its photo capabilities to compete with Instagram and launched the new video service, Vine, on Jan. 24.

Vine lets users make and share six-second looped videos. But from the app’s premiere, some of its users turned it to less tasteful ends — a problem shoved in the spotlight on Monday, when Vine accidentally highlighted a video called “Dildoplay” in its Editor’s Picks.

More than a one-time accident, however, the error seemed to highlight a systemic flaw in the platform itself. While all Web services grapple with adult content — as Bloomberg’s Jared Keller riffed in a column on Monday — Twitter didn’t address that problem before releasing Vine. The app’s terms of service don’t ban porn, for instance, and users of any age can unwittingly find it in Vine’s “All Posts” section.

Twitter did not respond to several requests for comment, but confirmed the apology and the search restrictions to various news outlets. “A human error resulted in a video with adult content becoming one of the videos in Editor’s Picks, and upon realizing this mistake we removed the video immediately,” a Twitter spokesperson told Mashable. “We apologize to our users for the error.”

Despite the attention Vine’s alleged “porn problem” is getting now, investors shouldn’t worry, Wolff said.

The platform is young, after all — too young, Wolff argues, to pass judgment on “hiccups.”

Wolff also argues that porn on social media might not prove as scandalous as it does on first glance. There is already porn available on Twitter, he points out, and that hasn’t stopped adults or kids from using it.

“If anything, it’s a reminder that one of Twitter’s strengths is also its weakness,” he said. “When you have an open social network, you attract all kinds of participants. It’s like a free concert in the park — you won’t want to stand next to everyone.”

Wolff still predicts Twitter could go public in early 2014. And if it does go public, CNNMoney’s Paul La Monica has some ideas for a ticker symbol.

“For what it’s worth, $VINE is still available,” he tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “So is $PORN though.”

Record warmth moved into Chicago area during mild winter, but more rain and possible flooding expected overnight

 January 29, 2013 (CHICAGO) (WLS) -- The record high temperature for January 29 was set around 6 a.m., and the thermometer continued to climb. By Tuesday evening, rain and predictions of flooding put a damper on the day.

The conditions caused delays and cancellations for passengers at Chicago's airports.

ComEd crews also worked to restore electricty to homes and businesses that lost power due to the stormy weather. The major of outages were reported in the south suburbs.

The torrent of rain slowed the evening commute, and is causing concerns of overnight flooding.

Still, many Chicago-area residents say they'll take the soaking rain in exchange for 60-degree temperatures in.

Across the country, two dozen record highs were recorded - some of the warmest ever in January.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, deep water overwhelmed some cars, while tornados were reported in Arkansas and Texas.

The warm weather persisted in Chicago Tuesday, providing an assist for those who work outdoors.

"You gotta enjoy the day because tomorrow it's just gonna drop again," said David Beltran, tree trimmer.

At Niles Ice Land, hockey practice was moved indoors due to the warm weather.

The arena is down to its final inch of ice.

A compressor is working non-stop to keep the warm rain from thawing what's left of the ice. Patrons and employees are in the minority when it comes to the weather- they say they are actually looking forward to winter temps.

"We're about ten degrees away for the next 12 hours. I think we'll keep it as long as the temperature goes down," said Marty Stankowicz, general manager.

Stankowicz may get what he asked for.

In addition to Tuesday's rainy outlook, forecasters say winter coats and hats will need to come back out because temperatures will be in the single digits again by Thursday.

Must (Re)Watch Moment of the Week!

Every week, ETonline selects a scene that is so magical, it demands watching, and re-watching, from fans and non-fans alike. This week, that honor goes to New Girl!


While it wasn't "years in the making" like some other long-awaited small screen smooches (lookin' at you, Castle), New Girl's big kiss still made quite an impact last night and now the show's creator is revealing why it almost didn't happen!

As it aired, Nick and Jess spent hours locked in a "Seven Minutes in Heaven"-type situation as a penalty during the return of True American, but he couldn't bring himself to kiss her. "Not like this," Nick said in a rare moment of soul-baring honesty that made Jess' internally swoon and the audience collectively sigh. Eventually Nick and Jess escaped the room without locking lips. However, in the episode's closing moments, the two found themselves alone and Nick, in grand fashion, laid a long, passionate kiss on Jess.

Originally, as Liz Meriwether tells it, Jess was supposed to spend the episode locked up with Schmidt! That plan was quickly abandoned, but the writers debated for a long time if the two should smooch. A week before shooting, the writers decided to go for it. "We were right on the edge of starting to spin our wheels with their story and holding out any longer felt like not an honest thing," Meriwether tells

"It felt exciting to give ourselves this challenge of how are they going to get out of this or how is this going to affect everything. We came up with the way for him to kiss her the way he wanted to. And as we were pitching it out we were all like, 'That's hot!'" And the actors agreed. "In the past we'd have to do another take because Nick and Jess were sitting too close together and they wanted to keep us apart," Jake Johnson tells "So we were really excited we were allowed to go for it."

But those early nerves persisted well into shooting, and only evaporated moments after Johnson and Zooey Deschanel filmed their big scene. "We did a full take without cutting away," Meriwether recalls. "And after he kissed her the whole crew started applauding. We all looked at each other. Everything changed. It just felt like we ignited something in the show."

However, you shouldn't take the kiss to mean Nick and Jess are going to jump into a full-blown relationship any time soon. "Obviously there are a lot of obstacles to them being together," Meriwether concedes. "We're just trying to be honest about how we think this relationship would actually go down." Johnson concurs. "I want that relationship to get as complicated as possible before it either ends or becomes real.”

Coachella 2013 tickets for Weekend 1 sold out

 January 30, 2013 (INDIO, Calif.) (WLS) -- Coachella lineup 2013: The popular music festival, which runs April 12-14 and April 19-21 at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, California, will again feature veteran artists and cult favorites, including Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blur.

The two-weekend concert series in April in California will again feature veteran artists and cult favorites, including Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blur.

A note on the Coachella Twitter page said, "If you are in the Coachella waiting room or purchase process, please continue to standby," as of Tuesday afternoon. No further Twitter updates were provided. Tickets went on sale around noon CST Tuesday. Coachella's full lineup page still displayed a "404 error page," as of 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Passes for Weekend 2 - April 19-21, appeared to still be available Wednesday morning.

The full lineup includes:

2 Chainz
3Ball MTY
Action Bronson
Adrian Lux
Aesop Rock
Alex Clare
Allen Stone
Band of Horses
Bat for Lashes
Beach House
Ben Howard
Benny Benassi
Biffy Clyro
Bingo Players
Birdy Nam Nam
Booka Shade
Café Tacvba
Cloud Nothings
Danny Avila
Danny Brown
Dead Can Dance
Deap Vally
Dillon Francis
Dinosaur Jr.
Divine Fits
DJ Harvey
Dog Blood
Dropkick Murphys
Dub FX
Earl Sweatshirt
Eric Prydz
Excision x Vision
Father John Misty
Fedde Le Grand
Four Tet
Franz Ferdinand
Grizzly Bear
Hanni El Khatib
Hot Chip
How to Destroy Angels
Infected Mushroom
IO Echo
Jake Bugg
James Blake
James McCartney
Jamie Jones
Jamie xx
Janelle Monae
Jason Bentley
Jeff the Brotherhood
Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo...
Jessie Ware
Johnny Marr
Joris Voorn
Julio Bashmore
Jurassic 5
Kids These Days
Kill the Noise
Knife Party
Kurt Vile
La Roux
Ladies Night
Lee Scratch Perry
Little Green Cars
Local Natives
Loco Dice
Lord Huron
Lou Reed
Major Lazer
Maya Jane Coles
Moby DJ Set
Modest Mouse
Mord Fustang
New Order
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Nicky Romero
Of Monsters and Men
Palma Violets
Parov Stelar Band
Passion Pit
Paul Kalkbrenner
Paul Oakenfold
Portugal. The Man
Pretty Lights
Purity Ring
Pusha T
Raider Klan
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Richie Hawtin
Robert DeLong
Roni Size
Sam XL Pure Filth Sound
Seth Troxler
Shovels & Rope
Sigur Ros
Simian Mobile Disco
Skinny Lister
Smith Westerns
Social Distortion
Tame Impala
Tegan and Sara
The 2 Bears
The Airborne Toxic Event
The Colourist
The Evens
The Faint
The Gaslight Anthem
The Lumineers
The Make-Up
The Neighbourhood
The Postal Service
The Selecter
the shouting matches
The Stone Roses
The Three O'Clock
The Wombats
The xx
Thee Oh Sees
Theophilus London
Thomas Gold
Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra
Tommy Trash
Trash Talk
Two Door Cinema Club
Vampire Weekend
Wild Belle
Wild Nothing
Wolfgang Gartner
Wu-Tang Clan
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Youth Lagoon
Zane Lowe

Jason London Arrested in Arizona, Defecated in Cop Car: See His Mugshot

Jason London's recent arrest has left him Dazed and Confused. According to a police report obtained by Reuters, the actor, 40, was charged with assault and disorderly conduct after getting into a bar fight in Scottsdale, Ariz. on Sunday, Jan. 27.

London allegedly punched a person who accused him of sneezing on him at Martina Ranch bar. When security attempted to escort London out of the bar, the actor allegedly threw punches at them as well, and they had to "defend themselves," authorities stated.

The report states that London "became belligerent and started cursing" while being treated by paramedics. When he was placed in the back of a police car, an officer claimed he saw London "lean to the left and defecate in his pants." An officer also wrote in the report that the actor "showed obvious signs and symptoms of extreme alcohol impairment."

But London has since denied all the charges against him on Twitter.

"Guys, the TMZ report is a total f--king lie. I got jumped by three 250 pound bouncers," he wrote on Jan. 29. "They knocked me out and beat me for several minutes. I would never say or do the crap they are reporting. Have faith in me The truth will come out and you will see."

The Dazed and Confused star also says his wife, actress Sofia Karstens, was nearby at the time of the altercation.

"Some guy thought I was hitting on his girl and had me jumped. My wife was in the next room, had no idea what even happened," he explained, adding, "I hate Arizona."

"Wait till you see the real pictures," he said. "I have a right orbital fracture and sinus fracture. The truth will win."

Would you pay $400,000 for a hotel room in space?

We've heard of steep room rates, but this is ridiculous.

Las Vegas entrepreneur Robert Bigelow this month received a $17.8 million contract from

NASA to create a prototype of a space hotel room. Bigelow, who's investing $500 million of

his own money in this venture, dreams of a future where tourists will take round-trip

flights to space stations, where they will stay for 60 days ... for $26.3 million per


We love our dreamers big, and right now, this is about as big as it gets.

Surprise! Coachella 2013 isn’t sold out … yet

Tickets for the first weekend of the 2013 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival reportedly sold out within 15 minutes of going on sale at 10 a.m. PST on Tuesday, but as of press time Tuesday evening, tickets for its identical second weekend remain available. That marks a sharp contrast from 2012, when both weekends of the popular SoCal desert festival sold out in less than three hours.

The majority of this year’s Weekend 1 tickets were bought up during a pre-sale last May; fans seeking to buy the remaining first weekend tickets (face value: $365) this morning were also required to purchase a shuttle pass or camping, bringing the minimum total cost of a single festival pass to $399 (camping passes ranged from $30 to $85).

Explanations for the unsold Weekend 2 passes can only be left to speculation, and the fest still might sell out soon. However, with the 2013 lineup eschewing the superstar DJs who helped broaden Coachella’s mainstream appeal in favor of hipper but lesser-known (in the United States) acts like Blur and Nick Cave, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suspect that certain festival fans feel underwhelmed. In addition, with tickets more expensive than ever—last year’s passes started at $285—Coachella might simply no longer be affordable for some.

Still, none of this is to say Coachella has lost its high-stakes appeal: As of Tuesday evening, there were 264 ticket listings on the LA Craigslist website, with the asking price for a GA Weekend 1 ticket as high as $900. Las Vegas’ Craigslist already features 15 listings for Coachella tickets, with prices as high as $750.

Fans also reported a number of technical issues Tuesday while attempting to purchase passes through Coachella's ticket brokering site, Front Gate. Many took to the festival's official Facebook page to complain about problems ranging from long wait times to mid-purchase site crashes to reportedly being able to purchase Weekend 1 tickets hours after Coachella officials declared them to be sold out.

"I was on payment page typed in all my credit card information and it crashed. customer service PLEASE!" wrote one disgruntled fan.

"Once again these announcements were premature and misled people... at the time of this posting I had just purchased my 2nd pass for w1," wrote another fan at about 2 p.m.

Since launching in 1999, the festival has come to enjoy worldwide popularity, eventually eliminating the option of single-day ticket purchases for more pricey three-day weekend passes and, as of 2012, expanding the festival into two weekends with identical lineups. Coachella has sold out every year since 2009.

7 FAQs When You Apply for a Credit Card

There are so many credit cards out there to choose from that deciding which one to get can feel really daunting. What makes one offer better than the hundreds of others you’ve seen? Here are top 7 FAQs to finding the right credit card:

1. Are You a Student?

If you are, then you’ll be better off with a student card. Your application is likely to get accepted without problems. It would be best to contact the bank where you have your student account before you do anything else.

2. Are You Transferring a balance from another credit card?

If you are, then you need to be looking for a card with a low APR on balance transfers. APR is the acronym for Annual Percentage Rate. APR is the cost of credit, expressed as a yearly interest rate. However, do be careful of credit card offers that promise 0% introductory rates for say 6 to 9 months. There may be a catch somewhere!

3. Do You intend to Make New and Large Purchases?

If so, then pay more attention to the APR for purchases, which is usually entirely different to the one for balance transfers. You should also look at what kind of grace period different cards offer, so you don’t end up paying interest on your purchases straight away. Also called a "grace period," a free period lets you avoid finance charges for a specified time before you are required to start paying your balance. Without a free period, the card issuer may impose a finance charge from the date you use your card or from the date each transaction is posted to your account. If your card includes a free period, the issuer mails your bill at least 14 days before the due date so you'll have enough time to pay.

4. Do You Pay Off Your Balance In Full Every Month?

If you have a lot of money or you only keep a credit card for emergencies, then you might just pay it all off each time you get the bill. If you do, then you’re in a position where you obviously don’t need to worry about the interest rate much at all, since you won’t be paying any interest (make sure there’s a grace period, though).

5. Do You Need to consider Other fees?

Many issuers charge annual membership or participation fees. Some issuers charge a fee if you use the card to get a cash advance, make a late payment, or exceed your credit limit. Some charge a monthly fee whether or not you use the card.

6. Need Good Customer Service Support by the Issuing Bank?

This can be an important factor especially in situations of lost card or a charge that you wish to dispute. You want customer service support that is friendly and helpful. Choose a reputable bank that has excellent call center help. Which Reward Program is suitable? You may wish to consider the card that offers you the best reward programs or frequent flyer points for your needs.

In conclusion, there will be plenty of offers of credit card deals and "pre-approved" credit card application forms in your mail. However, do take the time to shop around for the right credit card for yourself.

Tampines accident: Even strangers step forward to help brothers' family

HELP has streamed in for the family of the two young brothers who died in Monday's tragic road accident.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, church members and even strangers have either rendered assistance or posted condolences online to the family of Nigel and Donovan Yap, aged 13 and seven.

In a Facebook post just hours after the brothers' bicycle was hit by a cement truck, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said schools would step up road safety education and work with the police and Land Transport Authority "on further measures to enhance safety".

He added that he was "very saddened" by the boys' deaths and said the accident would be investigated "thoroughly" by the police.

PM Lee also posted online that it was "tragic that an evening cycle could end like this".

"We will render all the help they need to get through this difficult period", he wrote.

Their voices join those of other ministers, MPs and social media users, who called on Singaporeans to be sensitive to the family in their time of grief and conveyed their condolences online.

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng visited the family in person yesterday and said he was thinking of holding a candlelight vigil.

The employers of the victims' parents have also rendered assistance. Counsellors from the Singapore Armed Forces, for whom the boys' father works, were around to talk to the grieving couple.

McDonald's director of human resources Audrey Chin said the restaurant chain had provided "assistance and support".

Yesterday, a steady flow of colleagues, members of the family's church and strangers arrived at the wake at Tampines Street 44.

About 30 strangers from an advertising firm collected $880 for the family. Mr J. Cheong, 36, who was with this group, said: "When I saw the news, as a cyclist and parent, I could relate. We are all random strangers but everyone is connected because we are all human."

The Straits Times also received a call from cyclist Mohd Adila, who said he was trying to gather other cyclists to make a donation to the family.

The Singapore Road Safety Council's chairman, Mr Bernard Tay said: "Drivers have the responsibility to be alert and mindful of other road users, especially cyclists and pedestrians, who are the most vulnerable on the roads.

"Drivers must constantly be on the lookout for inexperienced and vulnerable road users who may not be fully aware of the different risks and hazards on the roads."

Safe Cycling Taskforce president Steven Lim was at the accident site yesterday afternoon.

"If you can take care of your own safety, you can take care of others' safety," he said. "If you are reckless, chances are you hurt yourself and hurt others as well."

Why combat role for US women could reverberate worldwide

In lifting a ban on women serving in combat roles in the US military, the Obama administration has made a monumental move toward gender rights that could ultimately change the way war looks.

But the United States is not a global trailblazer when it comes to putting women on the front lines.

From the female "Battalions of Death" in Russia to the ancient "Amazons of Dahomey" of modern-day Benin, women have historically protected their nations against the threat of enemy force. Today they participate in many military conflicts around the world. For example, women in Israel, who have served in the Israeli Defense Forces since the country's founding, have been able to participate in combat for nearly 15 years.

But even if the US is not ahead of the curve in allowing women to serve in the most dangerous roles, the move, announced by US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Jan. 24, could reverberate worldwide.

Women have historically served in combat positions when a demographic need requires it. Soviet armies, for example, were filled by women during World War II. The US move is also in part an acknowledgment of the roles women have played in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as demand for soldiers has swelled over the past decade.

But it's not just about numbers. It's also about equality.

"The department's goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most-capable people, regardless of gender," Mr. Panetta said.

The US joins a number of countries, from Canada to Australia, that are pushing against old notions that women have neither the stamina nor strength to serve on front lines, that they should be home mothering children, or that militaries are better off without sexual tension in the barracks. That could have implications for armies around the world, from countries in Europe to Latin America to Africa, where women are still confined to gender-specific tasks.

"[The US is] not the first, but they are in the vanguard," says Nancy Duff Campbell, copresident of the National Women's Law Center, who has pushed for women's rights in the military. "I assume we'll be able to do it well and effectively and become a model for the rest of the world."

Women's presence is limited

Countries around the globe have opened militaries to women, but even in countries where women have the right to be in combat roles, their presence is limited. Among the world's most famous female soldiers are Israelis: In 1948, upon the founding of the state, Israel became the first country to draft women as part of its mandatory military conscription. They've been in combat roles since 2000, following a landmark ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court. Over the past dec-ade, the number of positions open to women in the military has reached 90 percent (though some combat roles in the special forces, the artillery corps, and infantry divisions remain closed).

The number of female career officers in Israel has increased by 40 percent since 2000, according to military statistics. In 2011 Orna Barbivai became the country's first female major general.

Still, the presence of women in combat remains relatively rare, even in Israel: In 2011 only 3 percent of combat officers were women. Yoav Gelber, a professor of Israeli military history at Haifa University, says that many Israelis still see female combat as a rarity. "It's an exception ... most people think women can fulfill so many roles in the army besides combat," Mr. Gelber says.

It is not only in conflict zones that women are a growing fixture in combat positions. In 2009 in China, the People's Liberation Army Air Force graduated its first class of female fighter pilots, and a year later the Chinese Army founded its first all-female missile-launching unit. In 1993, Japan opened nearly all combat positions to women, who now make up 5 percent of the Japan Self-Defense Force. But, unless Japan is directly attacked, its troops should never be involved in combat.

In Pakistan, going off to fight for one's country was always considered a "man's job," with women only allowed to serve in military hospitals. But in 2006, Pakistan's military saw its first recruitment of female officers as combat pilots and in noncombatant positions. When the first female pilots were inducted into the Air Force, then-Vice Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ahsan Saleem Hyat said they had "shown the spirit and courage to rise above the ordinary and break new ground for others to emulate."

Analyst Ejaz Haider, who covers Pakistan's Army, says the reaction to women joining combat forces was positive. "People ... felt a sense of pride in belonging to an organization that is giving an equal opportunity," Mr. Haider says. "There wasn't anything close ... to the debate in the US about gays serving in the military."

Five European countries allow women to serve in combat divisions: Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway, according to a British Ministry of Defence study, which reports that Nordic countries have been some of the more-progressive nations in Europe, taking on total-inclusion policies that aim to be gender neutral.

Norway allowed women in combat forces in the mid-1980s, and later became the first NATO country to allow women in all combat functions, including submarines, according to the British Ministry of Defence. But Norway's strategic goal of getting a 15 percent female representation in the military has still not been met, according to the Norwegian Ministry of Defence.

According to European Union equality laws, member countries must revisit the issue of women in combat roles every eight years. When Britain last addressed the issue in 2010 it maintained the exclusion of women from combat, with then-Minister of Defence Andrew Robathan citing threats to troop "cohesion" in intense battle situations.

On paper, European armies look good in terms of gender equality, but in reality it doesn't always play out that way.

"In many European countries, there are more restrictions on the duties women can perform in the armed forces than in the US. As a result, women play less of a prominent role," says Clara O'Donnell, a senior fellow at the Centre for European Reform in London.

Part of this state of affairs might be tied to the reliance, until recently, of a number of European countries on conscription. In addition, militaries tend to be smaller in Europe. This can make it harder, or comparatively more expensive, to create quarters that can accommodate both genders, Ms. O'Donnell says.

NATO sometimes requires its partners, such as the Afghan government, to introduce higher benchmarks for female participation in their armed forces than those observed by NATO allies themselves, O'Donnell says.
In Latin America, women are sidelined

Although Latin American women played a role in rebel movements like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, today, in modern armies, they are sidelined. Adam Isacson, a security policy expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, describes militaries in the region as classic "old boys networks," and notes that women's rights movements in Latin America lag behind those in the US. "A lot of the focus has been on getting women more involved in politics, or rights to abortion, but certainly no strong demands on participation in the armed forces."

But militaries have increasingly been opened to women over the past decade. In Mexico, women have joined ranks amid personnel shortages, says Dr. Roderic Camp, a Mexico specialist at Claremont McKenna College in California. The number of women in noncombat roles has significantly increased since 2000; and in 2008, the Army passed an internal regulation that allows women to obtain the highest positions in the organization. Today, 4 to 5 percent of the Mexican Army is made up of women; and in the Navy, female representation is closer to 15 percent, according to government statistics. That's about the same percentage of US women in the military.

Elsewhere in the region, Michelle Bachelet, Chile's former president and current director of UN Women, was the minister of defense prior to taking on the presidency. She helped pioneer a number of policies including making women's inclusion in the military a national policy. Women were first allowed to enroll in military colleges in Chile in the 1970s, though they were limited to administrative and teaching roles. By 2002 they could join the Air Force, and two years later, the Navy, according to a 2004 Canadian Foundation for the Americas report. In 2004 1 in 5 new Chilean officers in training was female; by 2005 women in Chile, a leader in the region, represented 15 percent of the armed forces.

And last year a Colombian senator proposed that women be included in required military service, in an effort to encourage further gender equality. The armed services "should have the support and backing of women, [and both genders] should work side by side," Sen. Juan Manuel Galán told Colombian newspaper El Espectador.
Demand has typically driven opportunity

Most countries have relied on women only when they've most been needed. During World War II, Soviet women were enlisted en masse; about 800,000 of them served in the Red Army, mostly in support and auxiliary roles. But significant numbers also fought the oncoming Nazis, as machine-gunners, tank crew members, and guerrillas in occupied territory. The Soviet Army discovered that women made excellent snipers, and employed hundreds of them on the front lines throughout the war.

Most famously, the USSR created three regiments of female aviators who went on to fly a combined 30,000 combat missions during the war. They included an entire regiment of female fighter pilots, known as "Stalin's Falcons," which shot down 38 Nazi planes in air combat, and produced two fighter aces.

But today there is a strict rule against Russian women serving in any direct combat role. "The Russian armed forces are rather old-fashioned about this," says Alexander Golts, a military columnist for the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal. "Women serve as signals and communications technicians, medical personnel, clerks, and other support roles, but never in combat ones," Mr. Golts says.
In Africa, forced to step back from front lines

Princesses in 17th-century Nigeria commanded armies that seized dozens of cities, extending kingdoms. In Ghana, Yaa Asantewaa, a woman, led a rebellion against British colonialism known as the War of the Golden Stool.

Today, however, Africa's women have mostly been forced to step back from the front lines and are most likely to be seen in support roles that mirror their traditional positions in domestic settings. They serve as cleaners, cooks, and secretaries for armies. In no major recent conflict across the continent have women been deployed in combat positions on the order of a government, aside from during the Ethiopian-Eritrean war, when both sides sent women to the front lines. Eritrea continues to recruit female soldiers, as does South Africa, which implemented a controversial gender equality policy that aims to bring more women into the military. South African women can also serve as fighter pilots.

Africa's tradition of women warriors came to an end during and after colonization, says Helmoed Heitman, a South Africa military analyst for Jane's Defence Weekly.

"Most African armed forces took the lead from their respective colonial powers when they came to independence, and those had no tradition of women in the forces," Mr. Heitman says.

Some of this is changing. Years after initiating active female service in World War II, the Russian military, for example, spent the past decade actively courting female recruits because of a demographic crisis that sharply limited its available pool of male conscripts.

In 2009, then-President Dmitry Medvedev authorized an experiment to admit women into military academies for full training in most officer categories. One well-publicized case was the inclusion of 20 female cadets in Russia's top airborne warfare school in Ryazan, which turns out elite paratroopers.

However, Golts, the military columnist, says when the women graduate, they are likely to be left on the ground to carry out support roles. "A female paratroop platoon is something new for Russia," Golts says. "We'll see where this leads."

In other countries, including the US, some believe opening up combat roles to women is part of a slow but long-lasting change.

Canada's policy of including women in combat was the result of a 1989 ruling by its human rights court. The court stipulated that women were to be fully integrated into the Canadian Forces (CF), with the exception of submarine service, a limitation that was lifted in 2001.

The court said the CF could not justify the exclusion of women on the basis of operational effectiveness, and the CF was given 10 years to develop a plan that "steadily, regularly, and consistently" worked toward the full integration of women in combat positions.

Part of that included implementing science-based standards. For example, says Ms. Campbell, investigators found that while it was hard for women to carry wounded soldiers off fields over their shoulders, it was hard for men, too. In fact, most were dragging soldiers – something that women and men can do equally.

Australia, which announced it would open up front-line combat roles to women in 2011, also committed to a multiyear process of incorporating women into combat with scientific standards. "[In the US] this is going to be a three-year process, too. The fact that Australia did something very similar means it's very doable," says Campbell.

In some ways the US announcement just codifies what has already been practiced for years: Women were on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq in an unofficial capacity.

"In reality, women have been in combat all along," says Rosemarie Skaine, author of "Women in Combat." And she says that by legalizing it, the US can set an example for the rest of the world. "I think the US is looked upon as a military supreme," Ms. Skaine says. "If it works, then [other countries] might think it would work for them, too."

A cheaper Surface tablet? Microsoft hints it may be on the way.

Microsoft has strongly hinted that a cheaper version of its Surface tablet may be on the way.

In an earnings call yesterday, Microsoft CFO Peter Klein said the Redmond, Wash., company was "working closely with chip partners and OEMs" – original equipment manufacturers – "to bring the right mix of devices,” which would include a “a greater variety of devices at a bigger variety of price points.”

The Windows 8-powered Surface line launched last fall to generally favorable reviews. Critics liked the sleek, sturdy hardware, but questioned whether the software and app ecosystem were as dynamic as they could be. "If you're an early adopter willing to forget everything you know about navigating a computer, the Surface tablet could replace your laptop," summarized Eric Franklin of CNET. "Everyone else: wait for more apps."

Microsoft hasn't revealed exactly how many Surface tablets it has sold since launch, but as BGR points out, estimates for the most recent quarter hover around 1 million units. Not particularly good, in other words, and many analysts believe that may have something to do with the price: The cheapest Surface retails for $499, on par with the cheapest full-size iPad, but in order to get the most out of the device, you'll want the Touch Cover, which costs $120.

In related news, in early February, Microsoft will release a high-powered, heavy-duty tablet called the Surface Pro. The base price for the Pro, which gets a Intel Core i5 processor, is a whopping $899 – and over a thousand bucks if you want the Touch Cover.

All of which has John C. Dvorak a little bit annoyed.

"Over the past decade, there has been some indication that the retail pricing has actually been three times the bag of parts," Dvorak writes at PC Mag today. "Let's go with that theory regarding the Surface. The product is selling for $900, so the bag of parts is probably $300. It's just that simple. If the bag of parts is in fact $300, I see no reason why Microsoft cannot bite the bullet and sell the thing for $399."

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American Idol contestants claim racial discrimination. Do they have a case?

Nine former "American Idol" contestants have filed a claim of racial discrimination against the popular reality TV show "American Idol," stating that they were they were publicly disqualified based on their race.

But what does a legal expert – and legal precedent – say about the legal merit of the claim?

The claim includes Season 2's Corey Clark and Jaered Andrews, Season 3's Donnie Williams, Season 5's Terrell Brittenum and Derrell Brittenum, Season 6's Thomas Daniels and Akron Watson, Season 8's Ju'Not Joyner and Season 9's Chris Golightly.  New York attorney James Freeman is representing them.

TMZ broke the story last Friday, quoting from the letter Freeman submitted to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Freeman claims that the contestants were essentially applying for "employment" with Idol. During the background check that producers conduct on all American Idol contestants, they ask them whether they have ever been arrested, which would be a violation of California employment law. State law forbids employers from asking applicants about arrest history.

Freeman also claims that the show has never "publicly disqualified a white or non-black American Idol contestant in the history of the eleven season production," according to the letter.

Gloria Allred, a founding partner of law firm Allred, Maroko and Goldberg in Los Angeles, has been practicing discrimination law in California for more than 30 years and says that in order for the contestants to win the potential lawsuit, it would first need to be established that "Idol" is, in fact, an employer.

"This is not a traditional employment application situation," Ms. Allred says. "If they can show that 'Idol' disqualified African Americans because of their arrest records, they may be able to establish a violation."

But legal precedent, at least outside of California, indicates that it may be difficult to prove that American Idol was their employer.

Last year, two black men tried to sue another reality TV show, "The Bachelor," for racial discrimination. The class-action lawsuit got thrown out of a Tennessee court because the judge, US District Court Judge Aleta Trauger, said that contestants on the show are being cast, not hired, and that casting for TV, movies, and plays is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment as free speech. The court decided that "Bachelor" casting is not racially biased, but even if it were, it would be legal.

"We treat everybody the same," "Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe said in response to the lawsuit in an interview with TMZ. "I don't think I've ever seen racism at the show."

Fox representatives did not respond to calls for comment.

Additionally, four other former American Idol contestants have spoken out against the allegations of racism, with Season 4's Vonzell Solomon telling TMZ, "All of our contracts were clear about how the background checks worked and that we could be disqualified if we lied about our past."

Season 6's contestant Melinda Doolittle agreed in an interview with TMZ. "In my experience on the show, the 'Idol' team strives to champion everyone, regardless of race," she said.

American Idol has also had three black winners in 11 seasons, Reuben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, and Jordin Sparks.

'Downton Abbey': About that twist...

“Downton Abbey” fans were shocked by the death of a main character in the newest installment of the British show, which aired its fifth episode on Jan. 27.


Youngest daughter Sybil Crawley Branson (Jessica Brown Findlay) suffered complications from childbirth, and died after giving birth to her daughter. The family had been paralyzed by indecision over what to do about suspicious symptoms that Sybil exhibited during her labor, with the family doctor, Dr. Clarkson, recommending that she be moved to a hospital. However, Sybil’s father Robert, who had lost faith in Clarkson, brought in another expert. The new physician, obstetrician Sir Philip Tapsell, said a public hospital wouldn’t be a safe area to perform an operation and that Sybil shouldn’t be moved.

After lots of blustering, Robert agreed to let Sybil’s husband Tom make the decision. Eventually, Tom chose to keep her at home, even though Dr. Clarkson warned that he may not be able to save her life. Clarkson was proven right when Sybil woke in the middle of the night, suffering from seizures, and died.

“Downton” creator Julian Fellowes mentioned Brown Findlay’s departure from the show while discussing the exit of another character (we won’t spoil it for you).

“We would have loved to keep Jessica [Brown Findlay] too,” he told the Daily Telegraph. (Spoilers in the linked story.)

Brown Findlay is scheduled to appear in the movie “Winter’s Tale” with Russell Crowe as well as the film “Lullaby,” which also stars Garrett Hedlund and Amy Adams.

“Downton” fans took to Twitter to express their sadness over the twist.

“Last night had me in tears!” Twitter user Ruth Kaiser tweeted.

Twitter user Kelly Murphy was similarly bereft.

“I'm 100% still not over what happened on Downton Abbey last night,” she wrote. “Not at all.”

Others had similarly strong reactions, with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer titling its recap of the episode "How Downton Abbey Broke Our Hearts." Meanwhile, Hollywood Life writer Bonnie Fuller had some harsh words for Sybil's father Robert.

"Cora Crawley is beyond right to blame her dolt of a husband, Robert, for the unnecessary death of Downton’s most beloved character," Fuller wrote.