Hmmm... that's interesting.

Articles and other literary ticklers.

My Photo
Location: Mandaluyong, Philippines

Monday, July 31, 2006

Gibson's Remarks in Spotlight After Arrest
Associated Press

Despite an apology by Mel Gibson, Hollywood insiders and the star's fans sought more details about his reported anti-Semitic tirade during an arrest for drunken driving and whether sheriff's deputies gave him preferential treatment.

Gibson's publicist, Alan Nierob, would not elaborate beyond an apology Gibson issued Saturday in which the star admitted he uttered "despicable" things to deputies.

A leaked arrest report quoted Gibson as saying "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," and asking an arresting officer, James Mee, "Are you a Jew?"

The entertainment Web site TMZ posted the document, which it said was four pages from the original arrest report. Sheriff's officials have declined to comment on Gibson's alleged remarks.

The Office of Independent Review, a department watchdog panel, has opened an investigation into whether authorities tried to cover up Gibson's alleged inflammatory comments, said its chief attorney, Mike Gennaco.

"Assuming that the report was excised, then the question is was it done for a good reason within regulations," he said.

Gibson, a Roman Catholic, has filmed public service announcements for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca's relief committee dressed in a sheriff's uniform.

"There is no cover-up," Baca told the Los Angeles Times. "Trying someone on rumor and innuendo is no way to run an investigation, at least one with integrity."

Gibson was arrested after deputies stopped his 2006 Lexus LS 430 for speeding at 2:36 a.m. Friday. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said deputies clocked him doing 87 mph in a 45 mph zone.

A breath test indicated Gibson's blood-alcohol level was 0.12 percent, Whitmore said. The legal limit in California is 0.08 percent.

Gibson posted $5,000 bail and was released hours later.

In his statement, Gibson said he has struggled with alcoholism and had taken steps "to ensure my return to health."

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called Gibson's apology "unremorseful and insufficient."

On Sunday, some in Hollywood debated whether Gibson's career could recover from the scandal.

"It's a nuclear disaster for him," said publicist Michael Levine, who has represented Michael Jackson and Charlton Heston, among others.

"I don't see how he can restore himself."

But Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, said filmgoers could overlook the alleged ugly comments if a future Gibson film was perceived as worthwhile.

"Usually it comes down to the marketing of the movie and does the average person want to see the film," Dergarabedian said.

Gibson, 50, won a best-director Academy Award for 1995's "Braveheart," and also starred in the "Lethal Weapon" and "Mad Max" films, among others,

In recent years, he has turned his attention to producing films and TV shows through his Icon Productions. His last major starring role was in the 2002 film "Signs." He played a supporting part in the 2003 film, "The Singing Detective," which he also produced.

The hundreds of millions of dollars he made producing the 2004 film "The Passion of the Christ" has given the star the ability to finance his own films, giving him a measure of independence from the major studios.

Days before the release of "The Passion of the Christ," Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, sparked controversy when he told an interviewer that the Holocaust was mostly "fiction."

His next project is "Apocalypto," a movie about the decline of the Mayan empire that is being distributed by The Walt Disney Co.

Promising Model ID'd As Victim of Crash
Associated Press

A young woman killed in a fiery crash on the New Jersey Turnpike was a promising 19-year-old fashion model who recently appeared on the cover of Italian Vogue.

New Jersey State Police confirmed Sunday that Heather Bratton died at the scene of a three-car collision on July 22.

A statement on the Web site of her booking agency, Women Management, said she was en route to Newark International Airport. Her stepfather, Tim Kerrigan, told The New York Post she had been in New York for a magazine photo shoot.

Bratton, of Wesley Chapel, Fla., was photographed by noted fashion photographer Steven Meisel for a recent Italian Vogue cover. She also appeared this summer in shows in Milan and Paris, modeling for Prada, Gucci, Burberry and Chanel.

"Heather was a sweet, gentle and thoughtful girl who achieved a remarkable level of success during her first year modeling, which is a credit to her distinct beauty and spirit," said the Women Management statement.

Police said the hired car in which she was a passenger had broken down in the center lane of the turnpike, and was rear-ended by a sport utility vehicle. Bratton's sedan then struck another car. The SUV and the sedan both caught fire and Bratton was trapped inside.

The accident remained under investigation.

The sedan driver remained in intensive care Sunday at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston with burns over his entire body. Two other people suffered lesser injuries.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Super-simple pick-up strategies
By Rachel Greenwald

If you’ve been out of the dating scene for awhile, you’re probably not used to approaching attractive strangers. Yet you see them everywhere: That cute man in the produce section at the grocery store, the intriguing woman across the field at your son’s soccer game. But how can you make contact without resorting to cheesy lines like “So, do you come here often?” Next time you see someone appealing, try turning a chance encounter into a potential date with these strategies:

Act quickly. When someone catches your eye, don’t hesitate. Often there is only a small window of opportunity before the moment passes and the stranger is gone. If you believe in fate, think of it this way: That interesting person standing in line next to you at the post office may have been put there just for you.

Keep it simple. In that brief window of opportunity, what can you say? Try “Hello.” No, it’s not clever, sassy, or scintillating, but it’s a time-tested classic and it works. (Don’t forget a friendly smile!) It’s also a good gauge for whether someone wants to interact with you; not everyone is in a good mood, has time to chat, or is single—even if you don’t see a wedding band. If you receive a smile and a “hello” back, the natural response is to make a comment about your surroundings. Perhaps “Why do you think the line is so long here today?” or “How do you know our hostess?” This is a casual and non-threatening way to open the door for dialogue. The key is to ask a question that requires more than a “yes” or “no” answer. You want to create a bridge to further discussion, rather than start a dead-end exchange such as, “Isn’t it beautiful out today?” which may only get you a “Yes” in response.

Stay current. Before you leave your house each day, be sure to read the newspaper or watch the news on TV. Staying abreast of current events (including sports events) allows you to comment quickly on something interesting or quirky—after all, you never know who you’ll bump into throughout the day. Think of one question each morning about a current event and commit it to memory. Something humorous is nice, but even a straightforward “Did you see the news this morning about (fill in the blank)?” can be a great ice-breaker.

Consider a conversation prop. If you’re ultra-shy or ultra-rusty, wouldn’t it be great if someone else approached you first? You can put yourself in that position by carrying a “conversation prop” if possible. Sample props might include: A travel book, sports equipment, or even an item of clothing with a foreign slogan, sports team, or university logo on it. Choose something that relates to your interests or reveals something intriguing about you. A single man or woman who would like to meet you might see your prop, make a comment about it, and start a dialogue. You’re making it easy for someone to approach you. While this method is a “passive” one, it’s nice sometimes to let the initial responsibility fall to the other person.

Close the deal. Once you have made contact and exchanged some initial banter, you’ll want to make sure you will see this person again. You should always have cards with your contact info with you (business cards are preferable, but if you don’t have any, make your own cards at Kinko’s and include your name, phone number, and email address). If it feels right, you can say directly, “I’d love to chat with you again; here’s my card.” Or, you can hand someone your card without being too forward by referring to something you’ve just talked about. For example, “If you remember the name of that book you loved, let me know and I’ll pick it up! Here’s my card.” If you’d rather make the first follow-up move, ask for her (or his) card. Make sure you’re carrying a pen in case he or she doesn’t have a card. If all else fails or you’re at the gym without a pocket, commit the person’s last name and company name to memory so you can track him or her down. Sometimes that extra effort can pay off with a wonderful romance.

‘Miami Vice’ Theme: Axed, but Alive
By Roger Friedman

Imagine "Mission: Impossible" or "The Addams Family" without their TV theme music transferred to the movies.

Even the disastrous big-screen version of "Bewitched" took its original theme music along, as did "The Wild Wild West," "The Brady Bunch" movies, "Star Trek" and countless other films that came from television series.

But not "Miami Vice." When the movie opens on Friday, there won’t be a hint of Jan Hammer’s colossally successful, Grammy award-winning theme music.

The reason? Apparently director Michael Mann just didn’t want it, simple as that.

Hammer, however, has the last laugh. His updated version of the theme, released on his own indie label with manager Elliott Sears, is already the most-added record on adult contemporary radio for the last three weeks.

Hammer’s original hit record has many distinctions: it was the only TV theme instrumental to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts when it debuted back in November 1985.

It went on to win two Grammy awards the following winter, for pop instrumental composition and performance.

Hammer, if you didn't know, was a member of the groundbreaking Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early 1970s, with John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Neben McLaughlin, Jerry Goodman and Rick Laird.

But when it came time to record a score for the "Miami Vice" movie, Hammer was snubbed by Mann.

He wasn’t the only one: Phil Collins, Glenn Frey and other musicians whose records made "Miami Vice" so memorable 20 years ago are also absent from the soundtrack.

Instead, Collins’ "In the Air Tonight" is heard as a remake by an unknown group. Two tracks are by Moby (one features Patti LaBelle), and the rest are all by unknowns.

None of this can be good for "Miami Vice," which was politely dismissed yesterday in the trade papers. The big screen incarnation of the famed TV show has already been considered a flop, even before its opening on Friday.

I told you exclusively in this column a few weeks ago that top Universal execs had already given up on this expensive mess.

The movie, directed by Mann, stars Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as Crockett and Tubbs, originally played by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas.

Otherwise, everything else about the movie is different, including the music. And that’s what’s causing the latest problems.

According to Sears, Mann didn’t want any association with the TV series.

Universal execs are said to be upset about Mann’s decision to exclude the music. Sears told me that the studio was forwarded "thousands" of e-mails from "Miami Vice" fans begging the director to stick with the original.

"Universal told him, you’ve got to use the theme even if someone else records it," Sears said, "but he said no."

Hammer told me he knew Mann wasn’t interested in him as a composer when the movie was announced and no one called him.

Still, he said, "I was completely surprised they didn’t have a remake of it. I think it’s a matter of being too cool for school."

But Universal is in a unique situation with "Miami Vice." Since the series was made, the studio merged with NBC, the show’s original network. Last Saturday, NBC — at the behest of panicked Universal execs — interrupted scheduled programming and rebroadcast Mann’s two-hour TV pilot from 1984.

Stars Foxx and Farrell hosted the show with Mann, which was followed by clip from the new movie.

"What’s happening is everyone realizes too late that there’s no association between the movie and the show," Sears said. "They’re trying at the last minute to make a connection."

Sears and Hammer are about to release another updated version of a popular track of theirs from the TV series, "Crockett’s Theme," on Aug. 11.

Mel Gibson Apologizes for DUI Arrest
The Associated Press

Mel Gibson issued a lengthy statement Saturday apologizing for his drunk driving arrest and saying he has battled alcoholism throughout his life.

Gibson also apologized for what he said were "despicable" statements he made to the deputies who arrested him early Friday morning on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.

The following is the complete text of Mel Gibson's statement regarding his arrest for investigation of driving under the influence of alcohol:

"After drinking alcohol on Thursday night, I did a number of things that were very wrong and for which I am ashamed. I drove a car when I should not have, and was stopped by the L.A. County sheriff's. The arresting officer was just doing his job and I feel fortunate that I was apprehended before I caused injury to any other person.

"I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said.

"Also, I take this opportunity to apologize to the deputies involved for my belligerent behavior. They have always been there for me in my community and indeed probably saved me from myself. I disgraced myself and my family with my behavior and for that I am truly sorry.

"I have battled the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse. I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state and have already taken necessary steps to ensure my return to health."

Publicist Alan Nierob declined to elaborate beyond the statement.

Gibson, 50, was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence of alcohol after deputies stopped his 2006 Lexus LS 430 for speeding. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said deputies clocked him doing 87 mph in a 45 mph zone.

A breath test indicated Gibson's blood-alcohol level was 0.12 percent, Whitmore said. The legal limit in California is 0.08 percent.

The actor was released early Friday after posting $5,000 bail.

Mel Gibson Arrested on Suspicion of DUI
The Associated Press

MALIBU, Calif. -- Mel Gibson was arrested early Friday for suspicion of driving under the influence, a Sheriff's Department spokesman said.

Gibson's vehicle was speeding eastbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when officers stopped him at 2:36 a.m., Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

Gibson, 50, was booked at the Lost Hills Sheriff's station at 4:06 a.m., according to department records. The actor-director was cited and released, Whitmore said. Bail was set at $5,000.

"The investigation is ongoing," Whitmore said. "As we would do with anyone, we don't want to release any more since the information is fragmentary."

Gibson's spokesman, Alan Nierob, said he was looking into the matter.

Gibson won a best-director Oscar for 1995's "Braveheart."

Like his 2004 religious blockbuster, "The Passion of the Christ," which was shot in Aramaic and Latin, his new film, "Apocalypto," was done in an ancient tongue, Yucatec Maya.

Gibson has starred in the "Lethal Weapon" and "Mad Max" films, "What Women Want" and "The Man Without a Face," among other movies.

Are These the End Times?
The coauthor of the popular ‘Left Behind’ series explains why he believes Christ will return in our lifetimes.
Web Exclusive

By Brian Braiker

Foretold?: Smoke billows from Beirut as Lebanese youths look on
Ben Curtis / AP

July 28, 2006 - When Tim LaHaye talks, the faithful listen—by the millions. The conservative Protestant minister is the coauthor of the wildly popular apocalyptic “Left Behind” novels. The controversial books, which have sold more than 60 million copies, depict the biblical end of the world: the Christian eschatology of the upheaval that precedes the second coming of Jesus Christ, known also as “end times.” LaHaye recently spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Brian Braiker about why he believes the events currently unfolding in the Middle East reflect biblical prophesy. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: How do you interpret what’s happening in the Middle East? Are you seeing signs that these are the end of days?
Tim LaHaye:
Biblically speaking, the very nations that are mentioned in prophecy—and have been mentioned for 2,500 years as occupying the focus of the tension of the last days—are the very nations that are involved in the conflict right now. That may be one of the reasons there’s a sudden interest in bible prophecy because all of a sudden they realize end-time events could possibly take place and break forth right now.

But first-century Christians believed that the end of the world could come during their lifetime.
We call it the belief in the imminent return of Christ. It’s a motivational factor to serve the Lord and not let the world be so much with us that we don’t serve the Lord in the spiritual environment.

Couldn't almost anything then be taken as a clue that any point in history might be the end times?
Down through the years that’s true. But never the accumulation of events as we have today. I have often said that no one knows the day nor the hour that Christ will come, but no generation has had so many signs of the times as our generation. We have more reason to believe that Christ could come in our lifetime than any generation before us.

You mentioned biblical prophecy. I’m not the student nor the scholar that you are—
Well, I’m not the journalist that you are.

Shane Bevel / AP
Tim LaHaye and coauthor Jerry B. Jenkins

[Laughs.] But my understanding is that current biblical scholarship reads some of the apocalyptic scenes in the Bible as metaphorically addressing events that were taking place as the Bible was being written.
These are usually liberal theologians that don’t believe the Bible literally.

So the Revelation should not be interpreted, for example, as a polemic against Rome?
That’s what they say. We believe that the Bible should be understood literally whenever possible. The next big event is the second coming of Christ. That’s preceded by a number of signs. And some of those signs could be could be stage-setting right now. They’re not going to come out of nowhere. For example, the Bible predicts when the antichrist comes and sits at his kingdom after the Rapture, he’s going to have one world economy and one world government and one world religion. We’re already moving rapidly in the direction of those very things.

Really? It seems we’re a ways off from one world religion.
That’s the least developed, but there are many particularly liberal theologians that just think that "Oh, if we could just get everybody together of all beliefs ..." If you don’t have a strong belief system, you’re willing to compromise your beliefs with other religions.

You’ve written about the threat of secular humanism.
Part of the opposition to our position is from the secular humanists, but part of it is from the liberal people of theology that reject the Bible. I don’t see a great deal of difference between them. Their basic conclusions are often the same.

You’ve also written that “millions of unbelievers will be saved during the terrible time of the ‘Tribulation'.” What do you mean by that?
I take that from Revelation, chapter 7. One of the things that’s going to happen after the Tribulation, after the church is gone, there’ll be no one here to witness the faith in Christ. So the Lord raises up 144,000 Jewish witnesses and he names the tribes that they come from. The result of those witnesses is they reach a multitude of souls that receive Christ.

Does this explain how living right with God, in a Christian sense, would entail supporting the Israeli state right now?
I think those two things are related. Christians who take the Bible literally are generally supportive of Israel because God promises to bless those nations that are a blessing to Israel and curse those nations that are not. And the history of America bears that out.

But is it accurate to equate the state of Israel, which is a geopolitical entity, with all Jewish people around the world, who far outnumber the people actually in Israel?
No, that’s just a third of the number of Jews in the world.

So believers in the Rapture don’t necessarily foresee a damnation of the Jews then?
No, we don’t believe in the damnation of people in ethnic groups. We believe that’s an individual decision. Now, it often follows in people groups. Take the Muslims that we’ve been talking about. Everybody knows that they do not accept Jesus Christ as a means of salvation from sin. That’s the only way you can be saved, is to call on the name of the Lord. They’re not about to do that.

Neither are Jews.
Correct. But during the Tribulation period, there’ll be a sea change, and many Jews will accept Christ. Not all. Again, it’s an individual decision.

You recently donated a whole lot of money for a hockey rink at Liberty University. If these are the end times, why make an investment like that?
[Laughs.] My strategy is that Canada and Northern America produces the bulk of hockey players. We use the ice rink to get the hockey players to come to Liberty University where many of them are exposed to accept Christ. Many of them come because they are Christians. They are challenged to go into the ministry, and we’ve already had some of the guys in the earlier classes that graduated, and they’re going home to Canada to start churches.

Proselytism with a hockey puck?
Evangelism with a hockey puck” would be better.

But if the end times are indeed near, why would there be any point in working toward fostering peace?
Right now the Church of Jesus Christ is busy in the spiritual vein of trying to win people to Christ. We’re concerned about the salvation of individual souls. This whole thing has heightened the spirit of evangelism. Wars have always done that. But never have we had a war that is so specifically following the pattern of the scripture.

Michael Standaert is a critic of yours who has written recently in a blog that this belief in the end of the world in a big explosion of violence, reflects a “spiritual malaise” a “hopelessness in humanity” and that you’re “making money off of fear and hopelessness” in your “Left Behind” series. How do you respond to that?
I would say that he’s just betraying his poverty of faith. If he had faith in the Bible, faith in the future and Jesus Christ, he’d recognize that our passion is just like the theme song in our books: we don’t want anybody to be left behind.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Requiem for a Rookie Card
How baseball cards lost their luster.

By Dave Jamieson

Last month, when my parents sold the house I grew up in, my mom forced me to come home and clear out my childhood bedroom. I opened the closet and found a box the size of a Jetta. It was so heavy that at first I thought it held my Weider dumbbells from middle school. Nope, this was my old stash. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of baseball cards from the 1980s. Puckett, Henderson, Sandberg, Gwynn, and McGwire stared back at me with fresh faces. So long, old friends, I thought. It's time for me to cash in on these long-held investments. I started calling the lucky card dealers who would soon be bidding on my trove.

First, I got a couple of disconnected numbers for now-defunct card shops. Not a good sign. Then I finally reached a human. "Those cards aren't worth anything," he told me, declining to look at them.

"Maybe if you had, like, 20 McGwire rookie cards, that's something we might be interested in," another offered.

"Have you tried eBay?" a third asked.

If I had to guess, I'd say that I spent a couple thousand bucks and a couple thousand hours compiling my baseball card collection. Now, it appears to have a street value of approximately zero dollars. What happened?

Baseball cards peaked in popularity in the early 1990s. They've taken a long slide into irrelevance ever since, last year logging less than a quarter of the sales they did in 1991. Baseball card shops, once roughly 10,000 strong in the United States, have dwindled to about 1,700. A lot of dealers who didn't get out of the game took a beating. "They all put product in their basement and thought it was gonna turn into gold," Alan Rosen, the dealer with the self-bestowed moniker "Mr. Mint," told me. Rosen says one dealer he knows recently struggled to unload a cache of 7,000 Mike Mussina rookie cards. He asked for 25 cents apiece.

Card-trading was our pastime, and our issues of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly were our stock tickers. I considered myself a major player on the neighborhood trading circuit. It was hard work convincing a newbie collector that Steve Balboni would have a stronger career than Roger Clemens. If negotiations stalled, my favorite move was to sweeten the pot by throwing in a Phil Rizzuto card that only I knew had once sat in a pool of orange juice. After the deal went through, my buddy wouldn't know he'd been ripped off until his older brother told him. He always got over it, because he had no choice: Baseball cards were our common language.

Card-trading was our pastime, and our issues of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly were our stock tickers. I considered myself a major player on the neighborhood trading circuit. It was hard work convincing a newbie collector that Steve Balboni would have a stronger career than Roger Clemens. If negotiations stalled, my favorite move was to sweeten the pot by throwing in a Phil Rizzuto card that only I knew had once sat in a pool of orange juice. After the deal went through, my buddy wouldn't know he'd been ripped off until his older brother told him. He always got over it, because he had no choice: Baseball cards were our common language.
In the early 1990s, pricier, more polished-looking cards hit the market. The industry started to cater almost exclusively to what Beckett's associate publisher described to me as "the hard-core collector," an "older male, 25 to 54, with discretionary income." That's marketing speak for the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Manufacturers multiplied prices, overwhelmed the market with scores of different sets, and tantalized buyers with rare, autographed, gold-foil-slathered cards. Baseball cards were no longer mementos of your favorite players—they were elaborate doubloons that happened to have ballplayers on them. I eventually left the hobby because it was getting too complicated and expensive. Plus, I hit puberty.

It's easy to blame card companies and "the hard-core collector" for spoiling our fun. But I'll admit that even before the proliferation of pricey insert cards, I was buying plastic, UV-ray-protectant cases for my collection. Our parents, who lost a small fortune when their parents threw out all those Mantles and Koufaxes, made sure we didn't put our Griffeys and Ripkens in our bicycle spokes or try washing them in the bathtub. Not only did that ensure our overproduced cards would never become valuable, it turned us into little investors. It was only rational, then, for the card companies to start treating us like little investors. The next wave of expensive, hologram-studded cards didn't ruin collecting for us—we were already getting too old for the game. It ruined baseball cards for the next generation of kids, who shunned Upper Deck and bought cheap Pokémon and Magic cards instead.

This year there are 40 different sets of baseball cards on the market, down from about 90 in 2004. That's about 38 too many. When there were just two or three major sets on the market, we all had the same small pool of cards. Their images and stats were imprinted on our brains. The baseball card industry lost its way because the manufacturers forgot that the communal aspect of collecting is what made it enjoyable. How can kids talk about baseball cards if they don't have any of the same ones?

Seeing as the cards I once prized now fetch a pittance on eBay, I decided not to sell my collection. I figure my Boggs rookie is worth more as a keepsake of my card-shop days than as an online auction with a starting bid of 99 cents. The worthlessness of my collection gave me an idea, though. The card manufacturers and the Major League Baseball Players Association have launched a $7 million marketing campaign to remind a generation of children that baseball cards exist. Instead of spending all that money to tell kids that cardboard is cool, Topps and MLB should convince everyone that cards are worthless, suitable for tacking to the wall, flicking on the playground, or at least taking out of the package.

In that spirit, the other day I opened three Topps packs that I'd stowed away as an investment in the late 1980s. I even tried the gum, which was no staler than I remember it being 20 years ago. And as I flipped through my new cards hoping to score a Mattingly, I felt that particular tinge of excitement that a generation of kids have missed out on.

What a concept — albums an aging art form
In era of single-song downloads, artists find it hard to get whole story out

By James Sullivan
MSNBC contributor

Tom Petty is not a highfalutin, concept-album kind of guy. He’s a singles machine: For three decades now, the flaxen-haired rocker has been crafting no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll songs that are consistently ideal for the radio — tuneful and crunchy, with just enough dark insinuation to keep ‘em guessing.

He is, in fact, a kind of human jukebox, turning out one song after another that stands on its own as three minutes of pop dependability. Which makes Petty a logical long-term winner in the digital-download revolution, where “American Girl” and “I Won’t Back Down” are surely common denominators on iPods belonging to a diverse cross-section of users.

Yet he’s a skeptic. In a recent issue of Rolling Stone, the singer essentially counts himself a Luddite.

In theory, he tells the magazine, “iTunes is a great idea. It reminds me of the old days when you bought a single for 99 cents, and if you liked that, you bought the album.”

In practice, however, he thinks the service and others like it are killing albums. Working on his own new record, “Highway Companion,” which comes out this week, “I was up until the middle of the night sequencing this thing,” he says. “And I am starting to think, ‘Who cares? ‘Cause they’re just a bunch of button pushers.’ But I am not giving up my art. I make complete pieces of work, I like to think.”

Are albums headed for extinction?
It’s an ongoing lament in the age of the computerized music collection: Is the wholly conceived long-player headed for extinction? When music is consumed a la carte, one track at a time, is some measure of artistry being lost?

Are we ruining our diets, piling up the calories with ear candy when we once had square meals on round platters?

Undoubtedly, there’s a long history of album-length song cycles that have transcended the concession stand of pop to command recognition in the realm of “art.” The vast ambition of Stevie Wonder’s double-album opus “Songs in the Key of Life,” to name one example, remains astonishing today.

But does that mean that “I Wish” or “Sir Duke” are taken out of context when they’re played on the radio?

Green Day’s “American Idiot,” written as a pop-punk appropriation of the hoary “rock opera” concept, is the most prominent recent example of an album-length “piece of work,” as Petty puts it, designed to be consumed whole. Yet several songs from the record, including all nine minutes of “Jesus of Suburbia,” got loads of airplay on their own.

'Artiness' quotient
The concept album is a obvious yardstick for the “artiness” quotient of an album’s worth of songs. David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” is a masterpiece of the genre.

And bands will continue to dream up characters and plot lines whose exploits hold up over the course of a dozen songs or more — whatever the distribution method. It might be the Arcade Fire or it might be Nas: There’s no shortage of musicians who are creative enough to tell stories that require whole albums to unfold.

There doesn’t have to be a “concept,” either. We’ll always have musicians whose talent demands that fans follow them wherever they go, at whatever length. The individual tracks from Thom Yorke’s new solo album are available on iTunes, a commercial move thus far shunned by his full-time band, Radiohead. But without an evident hit single, he’ll do most of his business selling the record in its entirety, whether hard copy or download.

It could be argued that iTunes and similar destinations have actually helped tighten up the quality of the music industry’s output. The 75-minute CD, featuring one or two radio hits and then stuffed with a painful amount of filler, seems to be phasing out. If you’ve got one irrepressible hook or lyric to share, it’s no longer necessary to pad it with 10 mediocre ones to round out an album.

And the artists who are more prolific, or whose work invites total immersion, will continue to make collections of carefully sequenced songs. They may not always come on little plastic discs, and they may not always be called “albums” — the term, which originated with the album-like books that once held 78-rpm records, was already archaic back when the LP debuted.

But in this age of downloadable ring tones, we’ll still make time for long-form musical works by our favorite artists.

And that’s quite a concept.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It's dangerous to be a young male worldwide
Lifestyle factors linked to higher death rates, researchers say


LONDON - Young men worldwide have higher death rates than women but the causes vary according to their age and where they live, researchers said on Tuesday.

Accidents and suicide are the leading killers in men aged 15 to 34, while deaths from illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and chronic liver disease rise sharply in 35-44-year-olds.

“In every country there is an excess of male deaths due to potentially avoidable reasons. The main causes of death are those that are more or less directly attributable to lifestyle and risk taking,” said Alan White of Leeds Metropolitan University in England.

In a study published in the journal Men’s Health and Gender, White and his colleague Mike Holmes analyzed the causes of death in men and women aged 15 to 44 in 44 countries, excluding nations from sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian sub-continent because of lack of data.

Suicides rates higher in richer countries
In each country the researchers found an excess of male deaths. It ranged from a high in Thailand of 35 percent of males deaths within that age range to a low in Sweden of 3.5 percent.

Along with Thailand, Brazil, Kazakhstan and the Philippines had the highest male death rates among 15 to 44-year-olds while Japan, the Netherlands and Italy ranked among the lowest.

In Brazil, homicide was the principal cause of death among young men, compared to suicide in Japan. Suicide rates were higher among men in the richer northern European countries than in nations further south.

Eastern European countries, particularly the ex-Soviet countries of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia had high male death rates in all categories, according to the researchers.

“Throughout the world the developing countries or those in transition have the highest rates of death among the age group 15 to 44 years,” White said in the study.

“This study has highlighted the importance of recognizing the extent of loss of life in young men.”

The scientists said deaths due to cancer, heart disease and chronic liver disease showed the importance of lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption which are known to raise the risk of developing the disorders.

Retrosexuals: Hollywood’s new leading men
Jack Black, Vince Vaughn among alpha-male, anti-metrosexual stars


Where's the beef?

Well, it's certainly back, especially in Hollywood, where being a bit hairy and showing a little paunch isn't necessarily such a bad thing anymore.

Behold, the era of the everything-old-is-new-again "retrosexual" is upon us. And the celebrity set is leading the charge.

You probably already know the "metrosexual," or at least you've maybe heard of him. It's that guy who, just when you are finally relaxing into your heated spa chair, shows up to get a pedicure all for himself. He dresses well, trims all unnecessary body hair, and spends more time in the gym than watching the game.

By contrast, a "retrosexual" is a manly man, an alpha male who may have the physique of a Shar-Pei dog (a little wrinkly and flabby, yet endearing), the manners of a 5-year-old (the kind who makes armpit farting noises at the dinner table) and the ability to pull you in for a hot, sweaty kiss and then go right out and fix your darn car.

Bill Van Parys, Executive Editor of Details magazine, isn't exactly impressed with a celebrity who can't keep himself looking nice in public.

"I honestly think some people are just looking to validate their sloppy appearance … there are certainly some actors who could show a little more effort at public events, instead of showing up at premieres in bowling shirts or what not," Van Parys told Access Hollywood.

If you want to see the celebrity retrosexual in his native habitat, just check out Will Ferrell running around in his 'tighty whiteys' in "Talladega Nights," or Jack Black in a too-tight pair of polyester pants in "Nacho Libre."


Jennifer Aniston has her very own retrosexual.

Her ex, Brad Pitt, is the ultimate metrosexual, no matter how many motorcycle rides he takes around Santa Monica.

But with his puppy-dog eyes and everyman bod, Vince Vaughn is the retrosexual who has captured Jen's heart.

Even Kid Rock — who could never be accused of unnecessary grooming — has found himself a pretty little lady to share a beer with (again) — Pamela Anderson!

Ben Affleck has always been a closet retrosexual, which is why he fits right into the upcoming summer comedy, "Clerks II," which is inundated with the manly and the burpy.

As for the metros, they haven't done too shabbily for themselves this summer.

Leading the pack — in a sensitive way — is Johnny Depp's "Capt. Jack Sparrow" in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

If the epitome of metrosexuality is spending time on one's appearance, just look at Jack's eyeliner. It must've taken a good 30 minutes to do such a nice job.

Orlando Bloom gives Johnny support in the metro department with his sensitive portrayal of Will Turner in "Pirates." Keira Knightley obviously wears the pants in that relationship.

And from his perfectly coiffed ‘do... to his tights obviously washed in Woolite, Brandon Routh's Superman is a total metrosexual.

Some Hollywood boys straddle the border between retrosexual and metrosexual, sometimes appearing crude; other times cultured.

Hugh Jackman moves easily between the two extremes. His Wolverine from the "X-Men" films is one rascally retrosexual. But his upcoming portrayal of Peter Lyman in Woody Allen's "Scoop" is suaveness itself.

Even though he might be a killer. And therein lies the conundrum. As the gelled Polo-wearing Peter, Hugh might be very bad. As the wolf dude in need of a shave, Hugh is very, very good.

It may all be about gender perspective. Women and men tend to disagree on the degree of retro/metrosexuality that any given celebrity exhibits.

That's why Owen Wilson is borderline. So are George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Colin Farrell.

Even David Hasselhoff is borderline. As well-oiled Mitch Buchannon on "Baywatch," the Hoff was riding the metro.

But on "America's Got Talent," the Hoff is pretty beefy. And we mean that in a good way.

Homeless man finds best reward is honesty
Community rallies around man, gives him $4,000 for returning $21,000 bond

The Associated Press

DETROIT - A homeless man who returned $21,000 worth of saving bonds he found in a trash bin is finding out how much honesty can pay off.

Charles Moore, 59, had been searching for returnable bottles last week when he came across the 31 U.S. savings bonds. He turned them in to a homeless shelter, where a staff member tracked down the family of the man who had owned them.

For his good deed, the bond owner’s son gave Moore $100, but residents around Michigan and in other states decided his action merited a more generous reward.

So far, Moore has received over $4,000.

One man sent him eight trash bags full of returnable bottles and a bowl of coins. Three others gave a combined $2,500, and two businessmen from Troy donated $1,200, a shopping spree and a lead on a job.

“I was thankful for it,” said Moore, who had lost his roofing job in Ohio and moved back to Michigan but couldn’t find work.

Moore said he plans to use the money to find an apartment.

David C. Smith, of Albuquerque, N.M., gave Moore $1,000. Smith said he and his fiancée wouldn’t have thought twice about what to do if the bonds had belonged to them.

“We would have given him the whole amount, period,” Smith said. “No questions asked.”

Fisherman finds his honeymoon in a rum bottle
Texas couple gets a free trip to Cayman Islands — and case of booze!

The Associated Press

ARANSAS PASS, Texas - A Texas man is getting a honeymoon trip out of a message he discovered in a bottle.

John Reed was fishing on a Gulf Coast beach in 2003 when he found an old rum bottle that was sealed. Documents inside said the bottle was one of 12 tossed in the ocean in 1987 off Grand Cayman Island in a promotion for a rum maker, a resort and the Cayman Islands.

Inside were free certificates for a plane ticket, a hotel stay and rum.

Reed gave them to his parents, as a present. But now they've given them back, to use for his honeymoon. He's getting married later this month.

A Tortuga Rum spokeswoman says Reed will get two round-trip airline tickets to Grand Cayman Island, a six-day stay at a resort — and a case of rum.

Seven of the original 12 promotional bottles have yet to be redeemed.

Flood victims get help from Amish families
And they just showed up — they haven't got phones to answer calls for aid

The Associated Press

CANAJOHARIE, N.Y. - Some upstate New York business owners say convoys of Amish families helped them get back on their feet after recent floods.

And they say the Amish weren't asked for help, they just showed up.

One man they helped is the owner of a Canajoharie diner heavily damaged by flood waters from the Mohawk River. He says a man his daughter helped out years ago showed up with several other Amish men and helped rebuild part of the restaurant, while Amish women washed the dishes by hand.

They were part of a steady convoy of horse and buggies that streamed in from Amish communities northwest of Albany.

They helped remove piles of rotting food from supermarkets and hauled ruined merchandise from the farm supply stores they patronize.

As one business owner pointed out, it was all done by word of mouth, since the Amish don't have telephones.

Injured bird gets feather implants — and flies
Osprey gets help from animal-rescue clinic after getting caught in fish line

The Associated Press

Jerome A. Pollos / AP file
An osprey rescued by the Raptor Chapter was fitted with a
transmitter to help located its nesting location after release Monday,
July 3, 2006, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - Independence Day arrived a day early for a female osprey caught at a golf course after becoming entangled in fishing line and swallowing a fishing hook.

Biologists at the Raptor Chapter nursed the 4-pound osprey back to health and implanted feathers from dead birds so it could fly again.

On Monday, that's what it did.

"Talk about an Independence Day for this bird," said Jane Cantwell, a biologist with the Raptor Chapter, which helps rehabilitate injured birds of prey. "She certainly would have perished."

Cantwell said the osprey could have offspring in the area and it was important to get the bird back in the wild.

She said the osprey will pass the fish hook naturally, noting that anglers should dispose of fishing line and hooks properly. A transmitter was attached to the osprey so that Cantwell and others can keep track of its progress.

"What we really want to know is if she went back to her nest," Cantwell said. "And if she gets into trouble we can find her."

Workers at The Resort Golf Course captured the bird May 15 after finding it injured. Kevin Hicks, golf course superintendent, said one worker distracted it while another put a coat over it.

"Somehow my guys wrangled her into a dog cage, of all things," Hick said. "It's a beautiful bird — nice to see, though, not under the best circumstances."

From there, it received help from volunteers who took the osprey to the Rathdrum Animal Clinic, which provided free radiographs. At least three wildlife biologists donated medical assistance.

"These birds don't have any health care, so it's donated time," Cantwell said. "She would have died without their intervention."

Dog makes cell phone call to save owner's life
Beagle receives award after dialing 911 when man suffered seizure

The Associated Press

Max Taylor / AP A beagle named Belle poses with her owner,
Kevin Weaver, in Washington on Monday after becoming the
first canine to win the VITA Wireless Samaritan Award.

ORLANDO, Fla. - A 17-pound beagle named Belle is more than man’s best friend. She’s a lifesaver.

Belle was in Washington, D.C., on Monday to receive an award for biting onto owner Kevin Weaver’s cell phone to call 911 after the diabetic man had a seizure and collapsed.

“There is no doubt in my mind that I’d be dead if I didn’t have Belle,” said Weaver, 34, whose blood sugar had dropped dangerously low. Belle had been trained to summon help in just those circumstances. She had been taught to bite down on the number 9 on his cell phone contacting 911.

Belle was the first canine recipient to win the VITA Wireless Samaritan Award, given to someone who used a cell phone to save a life, prevent a crime or help in an emergency.

Using their keen sense of smell, animals like Belle can detect abnormalities in a person’s blood-sugar levels. The dog periodically licks Weaver’s nose to take her own reading of his blood-sugar level. If something seems off to her, she will paw and whine at him.

“Every time she paws at me like that I grab my meter and test myself,” Weaver said. “She’s never been wrong.”

Dog helps save toddler during roof escapades
Boy climbed out of second-story window and German shepherd followed

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA - A toddler who climbed out a second-story window onto the porch roof of his family's row house was followed by his dog, whose barks alerted neighbors who rescued the child.

Phillip Redmond Jr., who will be 2 years old next month, apparently climbed out of a broken bedroom window Sunday and scampered across the narrow porch rooftops of at least eight homes, neighbors said.

The row homes have connected porch roofs; neighbors heard barking and saw the boy running from roof to roof followed by the family's German shepherd, Alfie.

"He was following the baby across," neighbor Tina Mitchell told WPVI-TV. "He was protecting the baby, making sure the baby was all right."

A neighbor, Shavyonn Robinson, was able to grab the toddler from the porch roof of a home a few doors down. The footprints of Phillip and Alfie could be seen in the blacktop coating on the porch roofs.

"First I had my hand sticking out (of the window) trying to grab him," she said. "That's when he tried to run past, because he thought I was playing with him, and he almost fell so I had to go out and get him."

Police questioned the toddler's parents, Phillip Redmond and Katie Berkelback, but no charges have been filed. Child welfare officials placed the boy in the care of relatives while the incident is investigated, said the boy's father, adding that he was embarrassed but grateful that his son was fine.

"It was my fault," he said. "I didn't think he could get out there."

He's back from Iraq — to wife in wedding gown
Returning soldier gets an airport surprise: A vows renewal in the terminal

The Associated Press

ATLANTA - GRAPEVINE, Texas — Army Staff Sgt. Paul Marler wasn't surprised to see his wife at the airport when he returned home from Iraq, but he certainly wasn't expecting her in a wedding dress.

Melissa Marler surprised her husband of five years with a vow-renewal ceremony right there at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Tuesday.

"Wow," he said after seeing Melissa after he got off the plane after a seven-month tour in Iraq.

Melissa, who admitting to being "nervous, scared," carried yellow roses and shed a few tears of joy. Her husband was wearing fatigues.

Airport officials provided a cake and a chaplain. The Grand Hyatt DFW offered the hotel's presidential suite for the night.

Melissa, 25, said she and her 28-year-old husband have spent just one other anniversary together. The other times he was on duty in Cuba, Korea and Bosnia.

The couple, of Killeen, wed on July 15, 2001.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Suri Cruise Spotted in Telluride
Meanwhile, Tom tries to patch things up with Steven Spielberg.

By Kim Masters

Let's get this out of the way right now: Much as we hate even to touch on this question, there are in fact people who have seen baby Suri. Among them: producers Frank Marshall and Kathy Kennedy (they're married; she produced War of the Worlds). They saw the baby in Telluride, Colo., very recently and told friends that all seemed quite ordinary.

But we're not here to talk about baby Suri, though she does make a cameo appearance below. The question at hand is the relationship between the director of War of the Worlds (that would be Steven Spielberg) and the baby's daddy (that would be Tom Cruise).

As many folks in Hollywood and elsewhere know, there was a rift between Spielberg and Cruise that arose last year during and after their collaboration on War of the Worlds. This was in part because Spielberg felt that Cruise's off-camera antics dinged the film's grosses. And there was another issue, as reported this week in The New Yorker and previously elsewhere. It seems that after Spielberg (in a conversation with Cruise present) praised a psychiatrist who had helped a family member, representatives from the psychiatrist-loathing Church of Scientology staged a protest at the doctor's office.

Although Cruise was said to have assured Spielberg that he was not behind this incident, it infuriated the director and (perhaps more important) Kate Capshaw, also known as Mrs. Spielberg. For a time, it seems, the Spielbergs waited in vain for the star to explain how, exactly, those protesters happened to appear at the doctor's office.

All this may have more than mere gossip value with the prospects for Cruise's production deal at Paramount looking grim. After the middling performance of Mission: Impossible 3, there is a perception that Paramount may not be keen to ante up millions of dollars in overhead to keep Cruise on the lot. (M:I3 director JJ Abrams just made a rich deal at Paramount, diminishing the likelihood that the studio will shell out for the star.) Spielberg's company, DreamWorks, is now owned by Paramount, and there is a perception that the DreamWorkers might not be avid supporters of a Cruise deal.

Against this background, Cruise might well want to patch things up with the most powerful player in Hollywood. About a month ago, the gimlet-eyed folks at posted an item saying that Cruise had appeared at Spielberg's office with the baby for a photo session with the director. Then, last weekend, Cruise "surprised" Spielberg during a tribute at the Chicago International Film Festival. Cruise's appearance was such a well-kept secret that no one in Spielberg's camp knew about it, according to Spielberg spokesman Marvin Levy.

In fact, Cruise had already shown up in a taped tribute, along with Harrison Ford and other Spielberg alumni and associates, such as David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. The only other talent actually present for the event was Roy Scheider. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski was booked to appear but canceled. Cruise filled the void.

Perhaps the organizers of the Chicago event didn't know about a rift between Spielberg and Cruise. Or maybe they simply couldn't resist having a giant star turn up. Certainly Spielberg seems to have been surprised. A few in the industry think that photos of the occasion reveal something less than unalloyed joy on his face.

Not so, says Levy. Spielberg thought the Chicago Film Festival tribute was the best ever, other than the one hosted by the American Film Institute. And Spielberg was "excited" that Cruise showed up, Levy says, adding, "I would dispute that the photos made him look uncomfortable."

But would Spielberg be happy to see Cruise if there is a rift? "I don't know that one necessarily is exclusive of the other," says Levy.

Maybe a Cruise and Spielberg rapprochement had already gotten under way, if Spielberg had previously posed for pictures with father and child. Do such pictures exist? Levy says that question will not be answered.

Those who know Spielberg well say he's nonconfrontational and he's not one to carry a grudge for all that long. But the wife might be another matter. So, the real story behind the Chicago surprise, as well as the mystery about those pictures with the sought-after infant, may have more to do with the politics of the hearth than the politics of Hollywood.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Same-sex marriage pioneers split up
Lesbian couple helped make gay marriage legal in Massachusetts

Julie Goodridge, left, and her spouse, Hillary Goodridge, cross the street in front of
the State House in Boston after being married in May 2004. The women are now
“amicably living apart,” according to their spokeswoman. Winslow Townson / AP file

BOSTON - The lesbian couple whose landmark lawsuit helped Massachusetts become the only state in America where same-sex couples can marry legally have split up, a spokeswoman said Friday.

Julie and Hillary Goodridge and six other gay and lesbian couples sued Massachusetts for the right to marry and won when the state’s highest court ruled narrowly for them in 2003.
Their suit helped spark a nationwide debate on gay marriage.

The women “are amicably living apart,” Mary Breslauer, a spokeswoman for the couple said. “As always their number one priority is raising their daughter, and like the other plaintiff couples in this case, they made an enormous contribution toward equal marriage. But they are no longer in the public eye, and request that their privacy be respected.”

They have not filed for divorce.

Julie and Hillary Goodridge married on May 17, 2004, the first day same-sex couples were allowed to wed, in a festive ceremony attended by dozens of journalists.

Their daughter, Annie, accompanied the women down the aisle serving as ring bearer and flower girl while guests hummed “Here Come the Brides.”

News of their split upset many who had supported their quest for same-sex marriage. “We are very sad for them,” said Carisa Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Two states — Connecticut and Vermont — have legalized same-sex civil unions. California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., offer gay and lesbian couples some legal rights as partners.

The debate over gay marriage recently has heated up again in Massachusetts after the state’s Supreme Judicial Court last week ruled that voters can decide whether to ban same-sex unions.

If enough lawmakers in the state’s legislature approve the measure, it will be put on the 2008 ballot for a popular vote.

How to handle panhandlers
You may give or not give, but chances are you feel guilty and a little angry every time you're asked for money. You're hardly alone.

By Liz Pulliam Weston

I met my first beggar when I was 15.

She was tiny, perhaps 5 years old, with huge brown eyes and a tangle of black curly hair. She was ostensibly selling packets of gum, wandering from table to table at an outdoor restaurant in a Mexican resort town.

(Younger folk, raised with ubiquitous urban homelessness, may find incredible that I'd never before come face-to-face with a panhandler. But I lived in a rural area in an era before U.S. homeless populations skyrocketed.)

I think we bought gum from the little girl -- I can't remember. What I do remember is that she wouldn't leave our table, but kept staring at us sadly with those big eyes. I also remember the emotions I felt as we tried to shoo her away: Pity. Irritation. Sadness. Suspicion. Embarrassment. And a little outrage at a world where such things could occur.

The emotions, in short, that most of us feel when a stranger asks us for money on the street.

Small change, big decision
The amount of cash requested or given in these encounters is rarely very large, but few small-dollar transactions in our lives generate so much internal turmoil as being panhandled. Deciding whether and when to give is, for many, no easy task.

Every major religion tells us to take care of the poor, and many people feel a moral obligation to help the less fortunate. But when asked for a dime, or a buck, or money for a meal, we still squirm. Are we helping, or being scammed? Are we brightening somebody's day or aiding someone's downfall? Will they accept what we offer, demand more, or threaten us if we say no? What does it say about us if we give -- and what does it say if we don't?

Here's how one poster on the Your Money message board, LolaStressed1, put it:

"When I was young and in Sunday school, they'd talk about Bible stories where the poor and downtrodden were ignored and no one would help them. I always thought I'd never be like that to someone in need. Then you grow up and get in the real world and suddenly you're taking the long way around the block to avoid the park where all the bums hang out."

The sheer volume of beggars in cities discourages poster DFish from giving.

"In most major cities there are panhandlers on every freeway exit ramp or busy street corner," DFish wrote. "If I gave money to all of them I would be broke."

No way to win
Some try to distinguish the "deserving" from the not through various means: how pathetic or needy the beggar looks, how convincing the story or even how witty the approach. (The "Why lie? It's for beer" signs seem to be a particularly popular gambit.)

But bad experiences with ungrateful or aggressive panhandlers lead some to ignore requests for help, while others cite safety concerns.

"I always, always say no," wrote BerryBlack, a Your Money poster who is importuned daily on the streets of Washington, D.C. "I'm not heartless, but I usually carry no cash anyway, and if I do have cash on hand, I'm not about to open up my bag to fish for my wallet. … There's too much risk of someone grabbing it and running."

Many worry that their generosity will backfire on the recipient and on their communities.

"I believe that just giving them money is a form of enabling, and will do nothing more than encourage them to spend more time on the corner begging," poster Nervous1 wrote. "And it will bring more beggars in time."

Indeed, there are those who work with the homeless who urge us not to give cash to panhandlers.

Andy Bales, president of the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles, said that not everyone who begs is homeless or indigent, and some panhandle primarily to get drug or alcohol money. Even beggars in the direst straits would be better off, he said, getting their needs met at a shelter rather than through individual donations on the street.

"What they need is a hand up and encouragement to give life another try," Bales said. "They need a relationship that will help them out of a hopeless lifestyle."

Some alternatives
Many shelters offer free business cards, printed with their addresses, hours and services, that can be handed out instead of cash. Gift certificates to fast-food joints are another alternative when panhandlers ask for money for a meal.

Bales acknowledged that he doesn't always have time to respond to everyone who hits him up for money, but said he always tries to be civil, since those in need often feel invisible.

"You can always say, 'No, thank you,'" Bales said.

Not everyone agrees that directions to the nearest shelter are an appropriate response. Randy Cohen, who writes "The Ethicist" column for the New York Times Magazine, said he finds people's reluctance to give money to beggars who might misspend it "slightly priggish."

"You're giving them a dollar," he says. "You don't get to judge their life."

Still, he admitted he's far from having the answers. Cohen said he rarely gives cash when panhandled, preferring to give money to charity and to work for political change to end poverty and homelessness. But every time he's asked for money, he says, he feels "shame and guilt … I never quite know what to do."

Some of his friends, Cohen said, try to resolve their unpleasant stew of reactions by never giving money to anyone who asks. Others always give. Some attempt to thread the needle by only giving in certain situations -- if the panhandler has a child, say -- while others refuse to give in those same situations because the beggar "is using a child in that Dickensian way," said Cohen, author of "The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How To Tell Right From Wrong in Everyday Situations." Many are consistent only in their inconsistency -- sometimes an appeal is rewarded, other times they turn away.

One thing he and his friends have in common: "No one feels good" about the solutions chosen.

Whatever you decide, here are some thoughts for the next time you're panhandled:
• Stay civil. If you're not going to give, a simple "No, thanks" is an appropriate response, mission operator Bales said. A snide comment or argumentative tone can provoke aggression, while ignoring a request can make the other person feel invisible -- something the homeless already experience often enough. Bales says he's asked for money many times every day, but says, "I've never had trouble when I treated the other person as a human being."

• Stay safe. That said, there's no denying that some panhandlers are just plain scary. If you feel unsafe, Bales said, the most important thing is to get away quickly. Don't feel obligated to talk to anyone or go anywhere alone with someone who approaches you on the street. If you do want to give cash, keep the money readily accessible so that you don't have to dig into your pants or purse for a wallet.

• Explore alternatives. Donations to your local shelters ensure that your money goes for feeding and clothing the homeless, rather than supporting a panhandler's vices. (Such donations are also tax-deductible if you itemize.) Some folks carry old blankets, coats and even nonperishable food in their cars to give to the homeless. If someone asks for money and you want to give something else, though, ask if the person wants the item before thrusting it into his or her hands. (And don't give anything that requires a can opener.) The same rule applies if you want to buy a meal rather than give cash. My experience has been that many panhandlers welcome a fast-food meal, but others really do want the cash; either way, my offers tend to be well-received when I make eye contact and inquire politely.

'Normal' Suri Sighted
By Kat Giantis

In the 93 days and counting since Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes announced the birth of Suri, information on the never-seen ankle-biter has ranged from the vague (she's "doing great," Katie mantra-ed to Us Weekly) to the really vague (a supposed spywitness described her fingers as -- whoa -- "small").

Now, fellow L. Ron Hubbard-lover Leah Remini is adding to the nebulous nattering as she recounts her recent meet-and-greet with the mysterious TomKitten.

"She's a newborn and normal size!" the "King of Queens" actress hazily offers to Us Weekly. "Tom and Kate ... want to have a life and raise their baby. They're normal parents."

Remini continues her fuzzy fawning in the pages of People, describing Suri as a "beaming" and "beautiful" baby who "looks like Tom and Katie."

So, for those desperately seeking Suri, be on the lookout for a baby-sized tot with tiny digits, a tendency to smile and a resemblance to the "normal" people who spawned her. That should narrow things down considerably.

The previously PDA- and publicity-dependent duo are "great parents," gushes Remini, who adds that during her visit to the Cruise compound, "There wasn't a second that she was out of their arms except when I held her."

(The Scientology-devoted small screen star apparently rates higher in the shiny-toothed twosome's inner circle than Steven Spielberg, to whom Cruise awkwardly presented a Lifetime Achievement award last weekend in Chicago. The Oscar-winning director told the Chicago Tribune that he's yet to see even a picture of Suri.)

As for the exhausted-looking Holmes, who was spotted on Monday doing some retail therapy at Barneys in L.A. while sporting her now standard uniform of a white shirt and tight jeans, she's "beautiful," Leah tells People. "I'm jealous of her. She bounced right back."

Remini, you'll recall, hasn't always had such kind words for her fellow moms. Last year, she had Cruise's back following his glib-free attack on Brooke Shields for what he called her "irresponsible" popping of Paxil to battle postpartum depression after the birth of daughter Rowan in 2003 (coincidentally, Brooke's second child, Grier, arrived on the same day and at the same hospital as Suri).

"I wouldn't trust someone who had those feelings with a baby," Remini told "Entertainment Tonight." "Do I think she needs help? Yes. Can you take a pill for something that deep? That dark? The answer is no. I got through it, but I didn't get through it by taking a pill."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Our favorite films that pull the old switcheroo!
By Kim Morgan
Special to MSN Movies

What makes for a true twist ending in a movie? Is it merely a shocking jolt of amazement? Is it that moment of recognition the movie was seeking? Is it... "Rosebud?"

It can be all these things and more, provided the picture's story is greatly altered by the final, shocking disclosure. It should also smack audiences with a "never saw that coming" wallop. And it should never be abused. M. Night Shyamalan, who's so well known for the twist ending that he's become almost an irritating brand, has promised no such thing with his latest, "Lady in the Water," but then, is that the twist? Is he deceiving us? We'll just have to wait and see.

As for now, we've listed 10 of our favorite twist endings. Some are classic, some are new and some are probably surprising. That's right, "The Usual Suspects" did not make the cut. Hey, we said these were twists.

And be warned: Spoilers lurk below. How could they not?

10. "
The Others" (2001)
Alejandro Amenabar directed another twisty story with "Open Your Eyes" (re-made as "Vanilla Sky"), but his English-language ghost story is something of a modern classic. Nicole Kidman plays the overprotective mother to two light-sensitive kids who are experiencing all kinds of creepy happenings in their rambling, gothic home. Ghosts talk to them, some even possess them, and the servants are downright weird. Refreshingly old-fashioned and deeply sad, the film's grim, rather bold ending reveals that Kidman's nervous manner is based on the fact that she and her children are not only ghosts themselves but victims of her murder-suicide. "The Others" is both powerfully unsettling and incredibly underrated.

9. "Suspicion" (1941)
This is the strange case of Alfred Hitchcock being forced to create a new twist ending based on studio insistence. And though the resulting finality is altogether weird, almost non-nonsensical, I'm arguing its value for the film's terrifically tense atmosphere and sequences (that glass of "poisoned" milk!) and for simply being so off-putting and surprising. Joan Fontaine stars as a mousy (though pretty) poor little rich girl who's sure to live the life of a spinster until wolfish charmer Cary Grant sets eyes on her. The mismatched pair marry and the resulting story pits an understandably concerned Fontaine against a husband who's not only a wastrel -- he gambles away their dough, steals from his job and generally embodies every trait of a bad apple -- he's probably going to kill her. But wait a second ... no, we were wrong. He actually loves the woman he calls "monkey face" and clearly she must be paranoid. Huh? In the original story, Fontaine was to willingly drink a glass of poisoned milk, sacrificing herself for the cad she loves, but RKO couldn't stomach an evil Grant. Hitchcock ditched this darker and much more congruous ending with Grant and Fontaine enduring a wild car ride that paints Grant as savior. A twist for Hitchcock, a twist for the studio and a twist for the audience, "Suspicion" remains intriguingly baffling.

8. "Charade" (1963)
A tremendously charming cat-and-mouse thriller/romantic comedy that, once again, makes Cary Grant the good guy, "Charade" soars from a twist that's wonderfully endearing. Elegant Audrey Hepburn plays a woman who becomes embroiled in a nefarious mystery after her husband (whom she planned on divorcing) is murdered. All kinds of scary men are now after the penniless widow (including a memorable James Coburn, Ned Glass and George Kennedy) and the vulnerable women must wonder -- are these men seeking her or the hidden money her husband's left behind? And then there's Grant, a suave enigma who appears to be helping her, or is he? Well, he is, eliciting this famous utterance from Hepburn: "Oh, I love you, Adam... Alex... Peter... Brian... Whatever your name is."

7. "Psycho" (1960)
Yeah, yeah, we all know "Psycho" is a masterpiece of shock. We also know that it's not even a spoiler for us to reveal that, yep, Norman Bates' overbearing, murderous mother is actually... Norman Bates. But to see the film in 1960! Imagine what that must have been like for theatergoers unaccustomed to the film's star, Janet Leigh, being murdered midway through the picture and weird Anthony Perkins running around in a dress. Though "Psycho" begs an argument between the twist ending over the shock ending, it did make audiences re-think everything that preceded the cross-dressing revelation. And its influence on the horror genre is immense.

6. "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957)
The courtroom drama has always used the twist, turn and shock (think "And Justice for All..." or "Primal Fear") but none was more entertainingly convoluted than Billy Wilder's "Witness for the Prosecution." It's a film in which the characters' somewhat campy performances actually make sense by the end, and it remains tense, poignant and darkly funny to this day. How to explain? We'll keep it as simple as possible. Tyrone Power (in the performance of his life) stands accused of killing a wealthy widow, while his crusty, heart-attack prone barrister (Charles Laughton) attempts to sort out the details. His first surprise occurs when Power's bitchy wife (played by Marlene Dietrich) testifies against her husband. He's baffled and so are we. But damn if we're not on the edge of our seat through the entire picture. With outbreaks galore and a few major surprises (Laughton's defending the wrong guy! Dietrich stabs Powers in court!), you have to love a movie with end credits that plead: "Please do not reveal the shock ending to your friends."

5. "Unbreakable" (2000)
We know, we know. You're wondering, out of all the M. Night Shyamalan pictures, why in the hell did we chose the movie many critics panned (well, before they aptly trashed "The Village") and not his little twist-ending milestone, "The Sixth Sense." Our reason? It's simple -- "Unbreakable" is a better film. And the twist is much more interesting, mythic and emotional. It also manages to be one of the best examples of cinematic comic book origins without an actual existing comic book source material from which to draw. Bruce Willis plays a security guard who not only miraculously survives a fatal train accident but with nary a scratch on his body. And further, he (a la Peter Weir's "Fearless") realizes newfound special powers after the wreck. What's going on? An eccentric comic book art dealer with an injurious bone disorder (played beautifully by Samuel L. Jackson) provides the explanation -- Willis is the incarnation of a real superhero. The film's reveal is potently surprising, when the supposedly vulnerable, immensely likeable and highly sympathetic Jackson turns out to be himself a super-villain, and Willis' arch-nemesis at that. A gritty, bizarro take on the mythic among us, "Unbreakable" deserves a second consideration. And a sequel!

4. "Oldboy" (2003)
Adapted from the Japanese manga written by Tsuchiya Garon and illustrated by Minegishi Nobuaaki, Korean director Park Chan-wook's "Oldboy" is a compelling look at the endless cycle of surrealistic vengeance. The potently sinister tale involves a regular family man, Dae-su Oh (Choi Min-sik in one of the greatest performances of the new century) who's kidnapped for no reason he can decipher, placed in a cell for 15 years and framed for the murder of his wife. When he's inexplicably set free, his horrifying quest to solve the what's and why's of his lot is riddled (almost literally) by an insane cat-and-mouse game with his bizarre, sadistic former captor, Woo-jin Lee. Dae-su also must cope with an odd woman who takes pity on him and eventually becomes his lover. Immensely violent, gloriously stylized (but with loads of meaning) and at some points, transcendentally thought provoking, the picture finally gives us the one-two gut punch: Dae-su realizes his new lover is actually his long-lost daughter. Brutal. And that his life has taken the turn to crazy town because Woo-jin, a former schoolmate, is still angry over his sister's suicide (she killed herself after Dae-su spread the news that the brother and sister were lovers). Cruelty and karma has never been so inventive. You'll need to pick up your jaw when it ends.

3. "The Crying Game" (1992)
A twist so famous, it garnered a Time magazine cover. Neil Jordan's gritty, lovely and supremely touching masterpiece remains as relevant today as it was nearly 15 years ago. Stephen Rea is an Irish Republican Army member who, because of his own moral decency, muddles an important mission in Northern Ireland. He escapes for London wishing to start life anew but is nevertheless haunted by an English soldier (a powerful Forest Whitaker) whom he developed a bond with while holding hostage. When he falls for the lover his hostage asked him to look after, Dil (Jaye Davidson), the film sets in motion its famous turn -- one that startled many a male moviegoer. Glamorous, world-weary Dil is actually a he. Jordan manages to merge the travails of Northern Ireland with gay club culture to craft an unexpected love story that, in another more meaningful twist, shows that gender doesn't really matter when it comes to love. Stunningly beautiful.

2. "Fight Club" (1999)
David Fincher's transgressive, ingenious rebel yell is a superb example of being subversive within the Hollywood system. It also possesses a fantastic twist ending that's so satisfyingly meaningful (and crazy), you almost wish you could erase your memory and watch it for the first time... yet the film keeps getting better with repeated viewings. Edward Norton is the self-help addicted, mild-mannered corporate drone who finds inspiration in creating Fight Club (a place where guys literally beat the spit and blood out of each other to feel something) with Brad Pitt's iconic Tyler Durden. But did he form the violent movement with Tyler? Well, no, not really. In fact, Durden is the imagined alter-ego of Norton's splintered psyche, a psychotic manifestation of his rage against society. Working both powerfully potent hard truths with delicious satire, "Fight Club," explosive ending and all, is absolute genius.

1. "Les Diaboliques" (1955)
Henri-Georges Clouzot's murder mystery is a masterpiece of suspense, a cleverly constructed accomplishment that's stunningly crafted (all that murky water) and deeply dark. Nastiness, pessimism and odd, irreverent humor abound, as well as one of the most shocking twist endings in the history of cinema. The story involves two very different women with one shared purpose -- to murder a despicable man. A fragile, humiliated head-mistress (Vera Clouzot) to a boy's school endures the evil wrath of her husband (Paul Meurisse), who beats students and flaunts his schoolteacher lover (Simone Signoret) right in front of her. Both women decide they've had enough of this SOB and drown him in a bathtub. But that's just the beginning. When all sorts of disturbing clues pop up that the hubby might not be dead, the women go into existential meltdown, wondering if they're crazy. When he emerges alive from the bathtub, not only do they feel nuts, the audience does as well. Oft-copied and brilliantly perverse, "Les Diaboliques" is, quite literally, a watermark in twisted cinema.

Honorable Mentions: "Jacob's Ladder," "The Usual Suspects," "Angel Heart," "Planet of the Apes"

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Of course it's true! A celebrity said it
As stars swim in a sea of denials, who's a fan to trust?

By Paige Ferrari
MSNBC contributor

I remember when Nick and Jessica were doing great. I remember when Angelina and Brad were just friends. I even remember when Mary-Kate Olsen ate like a lumberjack and baby Suri wasn’t a hastily constructed infant-bot purchased on the Samoan black market.

Yes, those were simpler days. A time when denials flew fast and loose, and good-hearted fans like me chose to believe. I remember racing home for my pre-primetime entertainment show fix, eager to hear soothing words like, “Robert Downey Jr. denies the charges.” Oh, Mary Hart, please tell me again that Kate Moss is high on life and life alone. Make me believe.

But now I’m fed up. I’m disillusioned by divorces, sick of plastic surgery denials that contradict the laws of physics. My patience has been strained by claims of “It’s just Red Bull!” and 24-year-old actresses who inexplicably drop 40 pounds of “baby fat.” I’m hungry for real answers. Where is Suri Cruise if she is, in fact, a flesh-and-blood baby? If there is no Suri, is it also possible that Britney’s marriage is not “awesome”? If K-Fed is on his way out, is it also possible that Star Jones might have had some medical help with her miraculous weight loss? If Star’s stomach is indeed the size of my thumb, is it also possible that David Gest is not the hot-blooded heterosexual he seems?

You see, I’ve often thought of Hollywood as a sweater. A chintzy, cheesy, heavily perfumed sweater bearing many stains of indeterminate origin. Pull one thread and the whole thing falls into a pile of stinky, used-up yarn. Yarn of deception, that is. For me, that sweater started to fray when Nick and Jessica split. Now when I hear some flack say, “My client will not dignify that with a response,” all I hear is: “The truth? You can’t handle the truth.”

To hear it from publicists and their well-scripted clients, Hollywood is boring. It’s a land of non-events, non-feuds, non-vices, non-issues. No one fakes pregnancies or breaks the law. Everyone has authentic body parts and remains good friends with their exes.

As a human being, I find this implausible. I live very far from Hollywood, with no access to beautiful people, large sums of money, fast cars, drugs or power, and I still know people who engage in all sorts of reprehensible and self-destructive behavior. Last weekend I engaged in three. I’m willing to accept a little spin-doctoring, but when denials heap upon denials and denials fly in the face of common sense, who is a fan to trust?

Enter the tabloids, the magazine equivalents of the brazen hussy women chain-smoking down on the dock (or outside your local IHOP, if you’re landlocked). You know the type. They lure you with claims of exclusive insight into secret pregnancies. They dangle rumors of marital strife. They titillate you with the promise of celebrity cellulite and Eva Longoria without makeup, all for the low price of $3.95. So, if you’re a voracious truth-seeker like me, you look left and right, slip an issue under some Rolaids and The Economist (if the cover topic features a mushroom cloud, or is otherwise weighty enough to counterbalance “Get Janet Jackson’s fab abs!”) and off you go. Real fans will take a dignity deduction if it means touching the face of pure truth, or at least something close to it.

Sure, the tabloids are suspect. The same people who brought you “Reese is pregnant!” downgraded their claim to “Reese is bloated!” at first sight of her fuming lawyers. Sure, the gossip rags’ journalistic principle of “If you predict everyone is pregnant and everyone is broken up then, statistically, you’re going to get a major scoop at least once” is not exactly Pulitzer-worthy. But in these days when even the New York Times has its share of scandals, who are we to split hairs over the occasional exaggeration?

Most important, unlike hired flacks who act coy, spit out terse disavowals or simply give the silent treatment to a nation crying out “Are those real?” the tabloids’ lies are always entertaining. Mama always said: If you’re going to have smoke blown up your, ahem, nose, make it colorful, candy-coated smoke that tickles the senses and makes you feel like you’re flying in a sea of super-secret insider knowledge.

They say it’s not the crime that gets you, but the cover-up. I say to the image consultants of Hollywood: It’s not just the cover-up that gets you, it’s the half-hearted cover-up that insults the intelligence of even unintelligent people. It’s the bizarre excuses made up en route to the press conference that make it seem like you’re not even trying anymore.

Take Miss Ashlee Simpson, for example. She’s been laughing off questions about her apparent nose job and offering coy “maybes.” Ashlee, no. You’re from the Simpson camp, and the Simpson camp can do better. If you’re not going to admit that your old nose sits in a jar in Dr. 90210’s office, at least pay me the small respect of spinning an outrageous tale. Chalk it up to 21 years of bad lighting, or even acid reflux. If I don’t hear it from you, I’ll have to hear it from US Weekly.

I remember an episode of the TV classic “Growing Pains,” in which Carol Seaver arrived home late for curfew. Her brother Mike, ever the rascal, schooled her in the art of the cover-up. His lesson: The best kind of fib is carefully crafted, pumped up with lots of artificial details. Whether truth is meant to be warped a tad or snapped like a twig, it's useful advice.

Using '90s sitcom wisdom as my guide, here are a few helpful pointers for flacks out there hoping to gloss over their clients' joking, smoking and midnight toking without sounding dubious:

Too vague: Lindsay Lohan telling me she dropped the weight through “old-school working out.”

Just right: Lindsay Lohan telling me that, on a recent trip to Mexico, she bought a Lifecycle, drank some smelly tap water, and subsequently — in a perfect storm for rapid weight loss — simultaneously acquired a new exercise routine and a rare breed of parasitic flat worm.

That's the level of detail I deserve for suffering through “Just My Luck.”

Too vague: Katie Holmes' bland assertion that “Suri’s doing great! ... She’s back at the house.”

Just right: Kate Holmes assuring the world that “Suri is currently napping in her 4-in-1 convertible crib, a small smile dancing across her innocent face as her father, who is Tom Cruise — and no one other than Tom Cruise — reads her a passage from Dianetics.”

See? Specific, but not too specific. Mike Seaver would approve.

Incidentally, this approach also allows you to dismiss skepticism about your client's personal lives while simultaneously sticking in product endorsements and plugs for personal religious beliefs. So, there you go, publicists of the world. Equivocation meets consumerism meets proselytism, and voila, synergy! Go forth and gloss like warrior poets. Do it like you don't need the money. If you must insult a nation's intelligence, at least do it with loads of heart and gusto. You don't even have to admit that you took tips from me.

Make a Gratitude Adjustment
Count your blessings for a mood boost.


As a child, Chris Peterson absolutely hated writing thank-you notes. His aversion continued right into his 40s, until one day he knew he had to face it.

A psychology professor at the University of Michigan, Peterson regularly gave his students an unusual homework assignment. He asked them to write a "gratitude letter," a kind of belated thank-you note to someone in their lives. Studies show such letters provide long-lasting mood boosts to the writers. Indeed, after the exercise, Peterson says his students feel happier "100 percent of the time."

But what Peterson didn't tell his students was that he couldn't bring himself to write his own letters. "I just thought it would be corny to do," he remembers.

When he finally forced himself to put pen to paper, Peterson avoided embarrassing sentiments by "cloaking it all in humor." His thanks wound up feeling insincere and didn't cheer him. When he tried again, he says, "I spoke from the heart."

The Snowball Effect

Gratitude is a sentiment we'd all do well to cultivate, according to positive psychologists, mental health clinicians and researchers who seek to help everyone create more joy in life. Feeling thankful and expressing that thanks makes you happier and heartier—not hokier.

The biggest bonuses come from experiencing gratitude habitually, but natural ingrates needn't despair. Simple exercises can give even skeptics a short-term mood boost, and "once you get started, you find more and more things to be grateful for," says Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher at the University of California at Davis.

In gratitude letters like those penned by Peterson and his students, writers detail the kindnesses of someone they've never properly thanked. Read this letter aloud to the person you're thanking, Peterson says, and you'll see measurable improvements in your mood. Studies show that for a full month after a "gratitude visit" (in which a person makes an appointment to read the letter to the recipient), happiness levels tend to go up, while boredom and other negative feelings go down. In fact, the gratitude visit is more effective than any other exercise in positive psychology.

Your Happiness List

Gratitude needn't be directed at another person to hit its mark. Take just a few minutes each day to jot down things that make you thankful, from the generosity of friends to the food on your table or the right to vote. After a few weeks, people who follow this routine "feel better about themselves, have more energy and feel more alert," Emmons says. Feeling thankful even brings physical changes, studies show. List-keepers sleep better, exercise more and gain a general contentment that may counteract stress and contribute to overall health.

Gratitude exercises do call for a certain amount of openness. Emmons remembers one woman who wrote the same gratitude list every day: "my cat, my dog and my apartment." In addition to slighting her dog as second-best, the woman probably didn't feel the fruits of gratitude, Emmons says, because she didn't put much thought or care into her task. Exercises "can be done with skepticism, but not with cynicism," Peterson notes.

At First, Fake It

For people who want to activate their gratitude, but feel slightly silly about the exercises, Peterson advises, "fake it until you can make it." Say "thank you" enough, he reasons, and your mind will fall in line with your words. Think you don't have anyone to thank? Gratitude "doesn't depend on circumstances," Emmons says.

You can be grateful for just about anything that you've received in part because of someone or something else. You may feel grateful to your neighbor for a car pool, to luck for meeting your spouse, to nature for a scenic view or to fate or a higher power for your safety. Thankfulness helps you see that you're an object of love and care. Says Emmons: "Your self-esteem is bolstered when you say, 'Hey, people have done things for me.'"

A conscious focus on gratitude may also remind you of unassuming pluses that get lost in the ups and downs of a busy life. "The most important blessings are the ones that are most consistent," such as family, health and home, says Philip Watkins, an Eastern Washington University psychologist. "And those are the ones we take for granted." Grateful reflection helps you pick out and savor the good in life, even if the good isn't flashy.

What's more, gratitude turns your attention to what you do have instead of what you don't, Watkins suggests. Consistently ungrateful people tend to think that material goods, such as a big-screen TV, or winning the lottery will make them happy. On the other hand, people who recognize the blessings they have tend to think they'll get happiness from things like fulfilling relationships—which, research shows, are the real sources of satisfaction. Because grateful people don't fixate on money or material goods, they may cut back on envy and nagging comparisons with the Joneses.

Get Noticed

Gratitude may chase away thoughts far worse than a desire for a big-screen TV. Traumatic memories fade into the background for people who regularly feel grateful, Watkins's experiments show. Troublesome thoughts pop up less frequently and with less intensity, which suggests that gratitude may enhance emotional healing. Thankfulness helps the brain fully process events, Watkins speculates. Grateful people achieve closure by making sense of negative events so that they mesh with a generally positive outlook.

When individuals start a daily gratitude journal, they begin to feel a greater sense of connectedness to the world. "The differences are noticed by others," Emmons says. "People who know them say they're more helpful." Thankfulness may launch a happy cycle in which rich friendships bring joy, which gives you more to be grateful for, which fortifies your friendships once again.

Even a simple "thank you" spurs people to act in compassionate ways they might not otherwise consider. People thanked for giving directions help more willingly in the future, social workers who get thank-you letters visit their clients more often, and diners whose waiters write "thanks" on the check give bigger tips.

Call it corny, but gratitude just may be the glue that holds society together.