Saturday, December 31, 2011


  Revellers around the world are celebrating the end of 2011 and starting to see in 2012.
  Sydney heralded the new year with a 15-minute multi-million dollar firework display at midnight (13:00 GMT).
Thousands of people in Tokyo released balloons carrying hand-written wishes for the New Year.
  In Hong Kong huge crowds turned out to witness the countdown to 2012, which was made in giant illuminated numbers on the side of a skyscraper.
Sydney fireworks display welcoming in 2012
Taiwan celebrated with a jaw-dropping firework spectacle that obscured the world's second-tallest building, Taipei 101, in a blaze of light and smoke.
The first places to celebrate were Samoa and Tokelau after they jumped across the international dateline.
 As the clock struck midnight at the end of 29 December, the two South Pacific island nations fast-forwarded to 31 December, missing out on 30 December entirely.
  Tourists and locals partied throughout Saturday as Samoa revelled in being the first country to ring in the new year, rather than the last.
  Sydney's firework spectacular had the theme "Time to Dream", which producer Aneurin Coffey said was about giving people a chance to put a bad year behind them.
  An estimated million-strong crowd watched the pyrotechnics around Sydney Harbour Bridge, which were accompanied by a medley of wild animal sounds and pop music.
  Some of the fireworks resembled waterfalls, rainbows and clouds - which Mr Coffey said was "because every cloud has a silver lining".
 Bad weather prompted some New Zealand planners to cancel outdoor events, but a low-key fireworks display went ahead at Auckland's Sky Tower.
 Heavy rain meant celebrations in Palmerston North, Mount Maunganui, Rotorua and on Wellington's waterfront were called off, the New Zealand Herald reported.
Buddhist Thais and monks take part in a mass prayer as part of New Year Eve celebrations in Bangkok, Thailand, 31 December 2011  Buddhists took part in a mass prayer as part of New Year Eve celebrations in Bangkok
  In Tokyo, people released helium balloons in front of the Tokyo Tower at midnight with notes attached listing their hopes for 2012. Many wished for a better year, following the earthquake and tsunami that brought devastation to the north-east of Japan in 2011.
  A downbeat tone was reflected in the new year's message of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said 2012 would be more difficult than 2011, but hoped Europe's debt crisis would bring its member states closer.
  For his part, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who starts his second term on Sunday, said he hoped the new year would continue the move towards democracy that protesters had started during the so-called Arab Spring in 2011.
 Paris and other European cities celebrated the end of a year that has seen the continent embroiled in economic woes.
For the UK, meanwhile, New Year's Eve was just the start of a year of festivities that will include the Queen's diamond jubilee and the London Olympics.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Tis the season to be jolly---but apparently not in Bethlehem where a fight broke out at the centuries-old Church of the Nativity after rival groups of priests clashed over the boundaries of their jurisdictions inside the church
.Several dozen Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests were cleaning the interior of the church when, according to witnesses, two of them began fighting.
The fight quickly escalated, and soon, 50 to 60 priests were exchanging blows with broomsticks.
   Police armed with batons and shields stormed the church to restore order. Palestinian police Maj. Ahed Hasayen said.. "This is an internal problem related to the Nativity church only.," said Palestinian police spokesman Major Ahed Hasayen. "Police had to interfere to stop the clashes as soon as possible to avoid devastating consequences." 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Relic: The 105-year-old Indian Camelback 'motorbike' is worth £50,000 thanks to its 'unrestored' appearance
  It looks like a neglected bike long since consigned to the shed, but this two-wheeled contraption is worth a small fortune.
  The ancient bicycle is a 1906 Indian Camelback, one of the first ever two-wheeled motorised machines and one which is hugely desirable to collectors.
Anthony Hopkins
  Just 1,698 of the rare cycles were produced 105 years ago, with its 'unrestored' state meaning the relic could fetch as much as $75,000 at auction.
  It was owned by the du Pont family, which bought the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company that built it, and this cycle, which packs a puny 2.25 horse, has a single cylinder and top speed of 30mph, was last ridden in the Seventies.
 One was featured in the 2005 film The World's Fastest Indian which starred Anthony Hopkins as New Zelander Burt Munro who spent years building  a 1920 Indian motorcycle -- a bike which helped him set the land-speed world record at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967.
  The Indian cycles were the great rivals of Harley-Davidson, but the company eventually went bankrupt in 1953.
  The motorcycle is going under the hammer at Bonhams in Las Vegas, on January 12.
 Ben Walker from Bonhams said: 'This motorcycle is in such demand because of its condition and to restore it would actually take value off."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Sinead O'Connor at an event in December 2011 
Irish singer Sinead O'Connor has announced the end of her marriage to therapist Barry Herridge.
Writing on her blog, 45-year-old O'Connor blamed the end of her fourth marriage after only 16 days on disapproval from Mr Herridge's family and friends.
O'Connor admitted that they had "made a mistake rushing into getting married".
They were parting company "amicably", she said, calling Mr Herridge a "wonderful man". She urged the media to respect his and his family's privacy.
The pair met earlier this year when Mr Herridge responded to an internet appeal O'Connor posted.
She said that within three hours of the ceremony, the marriage was "kyboshed by the behaviour of certain people in my husband's life".
She also blamed the split on taking her husband on what she described as "a bit of a wild ride" looking for marijuana on her wedding night, as she does not drink.
O'Connor achieved worldwide fame in 1990 with the song "Nothing Compares 2 U", written by Prince.
She had often courted controversy for her outspoken political views.
Last year she called for Catholics to boycott Mass until there is a full investigation into the Vatican's role in the issue of child abuse.

Monday, December 26, 2011


   With Christmas day over it's time to relax and enjoy Boxing Day----a time to watch sport, bring out the sausage rolls and mince pies, eat leftovers from Christmas dinner and, in some cases, return unwanted presents to the stores. And no, it has nothing to do with pugilism.
    For the uninitiated, Boxing Day dates back to the 1500s and was traditionally a day when the Lords of the Manor,  the Squires and the wealthy in the United Kingdom would give a box containing a gift to their servants. 
   Now it's better known as a holiday with a full sporting calendar of football, rugby and horseracing when all the pubs are open again, having closed or only opened for a few hours on Christmas Day.
 Boxing Day is traditonally observed in Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In South Africa it has been renamed Day of Goodwill and in Ireland it is recognised as St. Stephen's Day.
 In many European countries it is simply the Second Christmas Day.
 But whatever you call it, wherever you are, enjoy it in whatever way you prefer. 
  And Happy Boxing Day! 

Thursday, December 22, 2011


 No. That's not real snow and they're not real trees either. The big guy is Armie Hammer, who co-stars in Mirror, Mirror, one of two films about Snow White currently in production.
 The picture was taken on the set in a studio in Montreal where Briton Tarsem Singh is directing a cast that includes Lily Collins, daughter of Phil Collins, Julia Roberts, Sean Bean and Nathan Lane.  
  Roberts, of course, is the Evil Queen while Armie is handsome Prince Andrew (yes, true!).
The other movie, Snow White and the Huntsman, currently filming in London, stars Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen and features a cast of British actors that includes Ray Winstone, Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins.
  "They're totally different stories and the movies won't be in competition with each other," says Armie, who is currently seen in J.Edgar, portraying Clyde Tolson, the gay, longtime companion of  FBI director J.Edgar Hoover. 

Friday, December 16, 2011


   I was very sad to wake up to the news that Christopher Hitchens, that wit, charmer and troublemaker who once declared that the four most overrated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex and picnics,  had lost his battle with esophageal cancer and has died at the age of 62.
The last time I met him was at a party thrown by Arianna Huffington before his cancer had been diagnosed where, whisky glass in hand and leaning on the bar, he was his usual witty, congenial and entertaining self. 
   Tributes of course, are pouring in from all quarters, even from those who were strongly opposed to his views on politics, religion and virtually everything else.
   So now is a good time to recall some of his more memorable epigrams and bon mots:

"I became a journalist partly so that I wouldn't ever have to rely on the press for my information." – Hitch-22, 2010

"What is your idea of earthly happiness? To be vindicated in my own lifetime." – Hitch-22

"Cheap booze is a false economy." – Hitch-22

"Where would you like to live? In a state of conflict or a conflicted state?" – Hitch-22

"[George W Bush] is lucky to be governor of Texas. He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things."--Hardball with Chris Matthews

"The noble title of 'dissident' must be earned rather than claimed; it connotes sacrifice and risk rather than mere disagreement …"

"[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction." 

"The search for nirvana, like the search for utopia or the end of history or the classless society, is ultimately a futile and dangerous one. It involves, if it does not necessitate, the sleep of reason. There is no escape from anxiety and struggle."

"The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals." – God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 2007

"My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilisation, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either." – God Is Not Great

"The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more." – The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer, 2007
Hitch, we will miss you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


A Christian protester in front of an atheist group's display. Picture: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

  For nearly 60 years churches in the California beach city of Santa Monica have come together to create displays illustrating different scenes from the birth of Jesus Christ.
 They have been criticised in the past for the bad wigs and false eylashes on the store window-type mannequins protraying Joseph, Mary and various angels. But they drew hundreds of visitors and until now there was little or no competition for the available spaces along Ocean Avenue.
  That changed this year when more than a dozen groups competed for the 21 spots, forcing the city to create a lottery system to fairly dole out each lot. The churches got three of them, a Jewish group got one and two other groups received all of the remaining slots for "solstice greetings."

 One of the atheist booths contains a Thomas Jefferson quote likening religion to fables and mythology, while another reads "HAPPY SOLSTICE" in big bold letters.Yet another contains a poster: " 37 million Americans Know MYTHS When They See Them. What do you see?"
   "There's no way the city can equally represent everybody's view in this country – there's not enough real estate," says the man behind the atheist effort, Damon Vix. “For 60 years, it’s almost exclusively been the point of view of Christians putting up nativity scenes for a whole city block  I'm using it as a park, as it should be used, to demonstrate my idea of what a park should be like." The city attorney, Marsha Moutrie, supports the First Amendment free speech rights. "Everyone has equal rights to use the streets and parks for expressive activities, irrespective of residency,’’ she says.
  Personally, I support the right of every group to express their views and I'm delighted to see there are less bad wigs on display this year. 

  However, my feeling is that the atheists should be asked to smarten up their displays and give visitors and sightseers something visually interesting and pleasing to look at instead of merely posters, printed notices and signs.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star Rooney Mara could have had a high flying career as a sports executive....but she wasn't interested.
  Rooney, 26, who has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as the tattooed and psychologically troubled Lisbeth Salander, comes from a powerful and wealthy sporting dynasty: her two great-grandfathers founded the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants NFL franchises and her father and uncle are both executives with the Giants. 
  "I was never much of a sports person so it was pretty clear from the beginning it wasn't going to be my path," she told me.  
  Instead she followed her sister Kate Mara into acting, but, she says: "I never really took myself too seriously."
  Now, with film offers pouring in and a likely Oscar nomination looming, she'll have to. 

Friday, December 9, 2011


Forbes magazine's list of the lowest-grossing stars is headed by star of box-office flops Going the Distance and Whip It

Friday, December 2, 2011


  Judy Lewis - the secret love child of film stars Clark Gable and Loretta Young, who conceived her on the set of The Call of the Wild in the 1930s - has died of cancer aged 76.
  Lewis revealed in her 1994 memoir Uncommon Knowledge that she was conceived in 1935 when Young, 22, and the married Gable, 34, were shooting the classic movie.
  Young, a single Catholic woman, concealed her pregnancy and placed her daughter in an orphanage at eight months. She brought her into public view at 19 months, saying she was her adopted child.
  Terrified her secret would come out, Young did all she could to cover up clues about her daughter's origins. There are no photographs of Lewis up to the age of two. Up to seven they show her wearing a bonnet.
  Lewis recalled: 'My ears stuck out, just like my father's did. So I had plastic surgery when I was seven. My surgeon had told my mother that an operation of this nature was extremely painful.
‘He suggested it should wait until I was older. But she insisted.' 
  Lewis saw her father, who died in 1960, only once, when she was 15.


  It's always a pleasure seeing Nicole Kidman, whom I first met 21 years ago on Batman Forever. A lot of water under the bridge si...