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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Iconoclasm: The Office


Because I can break my own rules, I'm going to start off this commentary by talking about Arrested Development instead of The Office. If that doesn't sit well with you, well, fuckin' a. The day that Arrested Development was canceled, I felt like the world had ended horrifically with Biblical plagues. It was by far the most shameful day in television history. Nothing is more frustrating than an amazing TV show being kicked off the air while travesties like Friends go on for another mind-numbing season. Yes, they are friends, we get it already. Everyone has them, so for the sake of all that’s good in this world please get over it. It’s confounding that something so stupid can remain so popular for so long while the clueless twats and soccer moms of America force the end of true comic genius in shows like Arrested Development. If you are going to end shows on television, end the shitty ones.

Continuing with my story, life was dim and hopeless. Things remained in a perpetual state of bleakness. That is, until they were rescued by an unlikely suitor: NBC. Apparently, somewhere in America, there was a producer who wasn’t completely shit-stupid, and thus “The Office" came onto the scene. It's important to distinguish that I'm referring to the US version of this show, since I don't give a flying fuck about its UK counterpart, as is warranted by this analysis:

"Who is that blazing hot chick? And why is there a cow on the left?" you might ask, “Do you work for Peta or something?" The girl on the right is Jenna Fischer, and the 4-stomached grass-eater on the left is why, without any further argument necessary, you need not concern yourself with The UK Office. At any rate, like Arrested Development, "The Office" made it through 3 successful seasons. However, unlike Arrested Development, "The Office" continued on into its fourth season. There was peace on Earth. Around the world, fighting became a thing of the past as Janjaweed rebels held hands with Sudanese officials and sang “Kumbaya My Lord." Life was good and there was much rejoicing. Then the unthinkable happened...

The writers’ strike hit Hollywood and all the bullshit that only self-important Hollywood assholes can muster hit the proverbial fan. To put it in perspective, the writers were upset because millions and millions of dollars weren’t enough to compensate them for writing a mediocre TV episode or two. With most of the unconscionable unadulterated shit that is loosely termed a "TV show" today (see “Friends" above), the fact that these bastards were getting paid at all should have been enough to make them grab the money and run for the border. But all of a sudden they wanted "more." Rather than saying "You're fired. Hasta luego dipshits," and hiring brilliant internet writers to fill their void, the studios instead "talked" with the writers and by talked I mean "participated in a 6 month circle jerk." Finally, once all the whiny bitches and their mothers had been satisfied by the havoc they were wreaking, the strike ended and writers came back to work, in the process reinstating the thousands upon thousands of behind-the-scenes workers who lost their bread and butter because of the WGA's selfish antics.

But I digress. Today, The Office, Season 4, Episode 9 will once again bring joy to your otherwise void life. In honor of this momentous occasion, I’ve decided to give special recognition to this staple of our lives. I know this does sound extreme: "Dwayne, are you sure it's worth it?" Yes. Yes I am.

The Overview: If you haven’t ever seen the Office, I would recommend that you bang your head into a wall for being so ignorant, and then immediately reconcile the situation by going to your nearest entertainment outlet, buying all three seasons, and watching them before 9:30 PM Eastern. If you need cash, hold your significant other's newly adopted puppy for ransom. That being unlikely, however, I’ll enclose a brief synopsis. Essentially, you’ve got people working at a paper-supply company under the wacky-yet-somehow-manages-to-keep-his-job Michael Scott played by Steve Carell. While sitcoms rarely rely on anything resembling a plot, opting instead for one-liners with a laugh track, The Office is intelligently funny. For most of America, this means “you won’t get the jokes until they are explained to you, you dipshits." While, of course, some of the plotlines are a little far-fetched (if you have a problem with that then go do something “realistic" like making me a sandwich), the general ideas of the show are realistic enough to make you hope that you get to work in an office like that some day. In fact, I would be willing to work as a test dummy for BMW if it involved getting to see Jenna Fischer every day. What more could I possibly say?

You don’t really start watching The Office expecting anything more than detached entertainment, but what you end up with is sheer brilliance. In addition to really sharp and witty dialogue, most of which requires a second or third viewing to fully appreciate, even the tiniest elements like facial expressions and vocal intonations are done to perfection. The result is hysterical laugh-your-ass-off comedy combined with a humanizing touch that really creates an emotional bond with the characters. Don't worry, though, The Office is no Brokeback Mountain. In fact, I would equate watching The Office to eating a delicious dinner of bacon-wrapped filet mignon cooked perfectly medium-rare (or a nice tofu burger if that's your thing) without ever getting full, and perpetually loving the next bite twice as much as the one that came before it. Eventually you'll probably die from overfilling yourself, but death is just a part of life, so why sweat it? It’s also very manly.

But there always has to be that buzzkill. Yeah, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There are always those pompous “critics" who say “The Office is nothing more than a knockoff of this or a failure in that." Honestly, I don’t even want to refute this. There is always some arrogant son of a bitch somewhere who will put down perfection just to because it makes him feel a sense of importance (see my review of Indie music). For your collective benefit, I have procured a logical premise that can’t be defeated, and you are welcome to quote it word for word: How could a show that contains the talents Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, B.J. Novak, Rainn Wilson, Greg Daniels, Ricky Gervais, and Stephen Merchant not be the most amazing thing to ever grace your television? Actually, it would take way too long to say that. Instead, just say “Dwayne thinks it’s the shit," and never speak to them again.

Original here

"V" Remake Aiming for Theaters, Plus Sequels

If you were a big fan of the 80s sci-fi mini-series and TV series V, hold on to your alien hats; we've got some awesome news coming your way. After several years of trying to bring the once popular sci-fi series V back to the small-screen as a TV movie or mini-series through the efforts of show creator Kenneth Johnson, it's looking more likely that V - which starred Marc Singer, Jennifer Cooke, Michael Ironside, Robert Englund, Faye Grant, and Jane Badler - might be coming to a theater near you.

Late Wednesday afternoon The Deadbolt had the amazing good fortune to talk to legendary and groundbreaking TV writer, director, and creator Kenneth Johnson about his writing/directorial work on the popular cult TV series Alien Nation and the five subsequent movies from the 1990s. Although Johnson was on the line to promote the upcoming Alien Nation Movie Collection, due out on DVD April 15, we managed to get some fantastic news for all of you fans who have been waiting for the return of V, the popular sci-fi mini-series that Johnson created back in the 1980s that become an instant cult hit before it disappeared into the TV ether only to reappear in novel form. During the call, our own Troy Rogers, who was a huge fan of the original V, asked Kenny about the status of V: The Second Generation, which Johnson's been trying to get off the ground for a few years and would expand on the original series and subsequent novel.

So, what's the status of V: The Second Generation? Well, it looks like Kenny is thinking big, like big-screen and franchise big. Not just one theatrical movie that would remake the original, but two sequels, and the process is already underway to get things going in a forward motion. AND, given the advances in technology since the original mini-series aired in 1983, it looks like Johnson might be able to do a lot more than he ever dreamed of when he first created the show.

Although the process is still ongoing, details are being worked on, and nothing's been finalized, here's what Kenneth Johnson had to say about the future of V and V: The Second Generation:

"... since I own the motion picture rights to V, we’re in the process to do a remake of the original mini-series first as a theatrical feature, which I’m so jazzed about because it will give me an opportunity to really realize it and execute it in a way that was impossible to do back then. Then that will lead to the obvious sequel, because it is a franchise, and then we’ll get into The Second Generation and I'm hoping we’ll be able to do two movies, because there’s certainly enough material in the novel to warrant two separate sequels. That’s my goal at this point and that’s what we’re in the process of doing. I just literally came from a meeting, 15-20 minutes ago with a fellow in Beverly Hills who really says that we’re gonna do it."

Like we said, a lot can happen and nothing's final, but we'd love to see a remixed, remastered, and revamped V on the big screen. We hope it happens, wish Kenny all the best, and can't wait to see someone give birth to an alien baby like one of the characters did on the show back in the day. It was one of the coolest moments in '80s sci-fi TV.

For our complete interview with the legendary Kenneth Johnson, check back later this week to find out how Alien Nation got started as a TV series, the show's approach to its social conscious themes, how all five Alien Nation movies got off the ground, and more on V: The Second Generation and the real story on what happened to the long-forgotten-but-amazingly-cool Cliffhangers series from the '70s that Kenny also created.

-- Reg Seeton

Original here

Are people ready for an emo Bond?

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile (AP) -- After getting the bad end of his own ax in a fight, a bloodied villain limps alone in a stark desert.

Craig

Daniel Craig gets a little beaten up as James Bond in "Quantum of Solace."

Mathieu Amalric stumbles to the red, rocky ground.

"CUT!" rings loudly from the set of the 22nd James Bond film.

Picking up an hour after "Casino Royale" left off, "Quantum of Solace" is the spy franchise's first direct sequel. Filming began in January and has taken the crew from Britain to Panama to this moonlike landscape in northern Chile, which is standing in for Bolivia.

It's a place that director Marc Forster said evokes Bond's "isolation and loneliness."

"He is an assassin, he is a secret agent, and that reflects a certain lifestyle, which is lonely," said Forster.

Indeed, the big news on the set is that one of the two Bond girls, Olga Kurylenko, doesn't get in even a single kiss with star Daniel Craig. ("Why would I be disappointed?" Kurylenko insisted. "I'm just doing my work.")

The question is: Do audiences want an emo Bond?

Craig says not to worry too much.

"We're not making a kitchen-sink drama here. We are making a Bond movie," he said. "What Marc wanted and the producers and what I wanted is to bring back a visual flair to the movie, so that every frame in every shot that we see is beautiful. And there may be things exploding, but they're good to look at."

Still, Forster, the youngest-ever Bond director at 39, was hired on by longtime producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson because of his emotionally intense films like "Monster's Ball" and "The Kite Runner."

Despite the heightened realism of the last Bond film, not to mention its commercial success (over $500 million worldwide), the German-born Swiss director was wary of joining the bombastic franchise.

Forster negotiated with producers to ensure he had as much creative control as possible on the $200 million-plus production. Nevertheless, he's still squeezed into the "framework of Bond."

"But I like it because you feel like it can make you very creative," he said. "And a lot of interesting things come out of that. Because, if you look at filmmakers that worked under politically repressive regimes, (they) made sometimes really interesting movies."

Filming is about halfway done on "Quantum," which is the name of the organization Bond is going up against. Craig said the emotional tone is lighter than "Casino Royale," in which Bond's lover Vesper Lynd betrayed him and then died -- but only a smidgen so.

"It's kind of Bond's journey into, at first we think it's vengeance, but it goes somewhere else," Craig said. "They've killed the love of his life, this organization, and we don't know who this organization are, and he needs to find out who they are. And it's for personal reasons but also professional reasons." Video Watch Craig offer more tidbits about "Solace" »

Craig said that aside from some communications equipment, "Quantum" puts little emphasis on gee-whiz electronics.

"The Aston Martin's there, and that's still the best gadget we have," he said.

During reporters' visit to the set, Forster was filming the climax. Offices and a lodge underneath one of the world's largest telescopes at Paranal Observatory acted as an eco-hotel, used by the villain. Back in London, it would be re-created -- in order to be blown up, Broccoli said.

Craig fired into the skylight above the offices, and Kurylenko's character Camille ran separately off the roof of the building, flipping into a balcony. Amalric, playing the villain Dominic Greene, roamed the set in post-Bond fight makeup, bloodied and bruised on his cheeks.

A French director and actor known internationally for his star turn in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," Amalric was allowed no shortcuts to villaindom.

"No scars, no eye that bleeds, no metal jaw," he said. "I tried everything to have something to help me. I said to Marc: No nothing? A beard? 'No.' Can I shave my hair? 'No. Just your face.' "

Craig, muscles flexing under a dark polo shirt, said he was exercising more than he had on the "Casino Royale" set, to avoid injuries when doing his own stunts.

He laughingly steered conversation away from health concerns. "It's just not very Bond-like," he said. "Bond should be able to do ten press-ups, then smoke 60 cigarettes, and then drink a bottle of something and pop a pill, I think."

Kurylenko, a 28-year-old Ukranian-born model-actress with few films to her credit, said her character also has "a masculine spirit."

"When she meets Bond, it clashes," she said. "She's careful and she doesn't trust that easily. So basically with men, she either uses them, or if they're no use, and she sees that they can't serve her, then she throws them away."

There have been several noteworthy confrontations around on the Bond production so far. In Panama, riots near the set forced a shift in schedule. And in Chile, a local mayor interrupted production claiming producers didn't get his permission.

National media has reported on Chileans' disappointment in not seeing more of Craig during his stay in their country. And in a separate controversy, Chile-as-Bolivia has not been a popular choice, either: Hurt feelings remain between the South American neighbors over an 1879-84 war in which Chile took Bolivia's Pacific coastline. The two have not had diplomatic relations since 1978.

"We knew there was a war 100 years ago, but we didn't know it was still an issue," Wilson said.

Next, the eternal question: What's next for Bond?

Wilson said he expected Bond production to pause for at least a year following "Quantum of Solace."

"I need a break for a little while," he said.

Forster said he won't be back for Bond 23.

"If I would ever do a big movie again in that size," he said, "it has to be my own franchise, which I would create from scratch, which I would cast, create the look and really create the franchise on my own."

And Craig, who turned 40 while filming in Panama, said he'd keep playing Bond -- so long as the quality remains high.

"I want them to stand alone and be good films," he said. "As long as that continues, then we'll keep making them. And if it doesn't, then we'll stop."

Original here

The Story of Barack Obama's Mother

Each of us lives a life of contradictory truths. We are not one thing or another. Barack Obama's mother was at least a dozen things. S. Ann Soetoro was a teen mother who later got a Ph.D. in anthropology; a white woman from the Midwest who was more comfortable in Indonesia; a natural-born mother obsessed with her work; a romantic pragmatist, if such a thing is possible.

"When I think about my mother," Obama told me recently, "I think that there was a certain combination of being very grounded in who she was, what she believed in. But also a certain recklessness. I think she was always searching for something. She wasn't comfortable seeing her life confined to a certain box."

Obama's mother was a dreamer. She made risky bets that paid off only some of the time, choices that her children had to live with. She fell in love—twice—with fellow students from distant countries she knew nothing about. Both marriages failed, and she leaned on her parents and friends to help raise her two children.

"She cried a lot," says her daughter Maya Soetoro-Ng, "if she saw animals being treated cruelly or children in the news or a sad movie—or if she felt like she wasn't being understood in a conversation." And yet she was fearless, says Soetoro-Ng. "She was very capable. She went out on the back of a motorcycle and did rigorous fieldwork. Her research was responsible and penetrating. She saw the heart of a problem, and she knew whom to hold accountable."

Today Obama is partly a product of what his mother was not. Whereas she swept her children off to unfamiliar lands and even lived apart from her son when he was a teenager, Obama has tried to ground his children in the Midwest. "We've created stability for our kids in a way that my mom didn't do for us," he says. "My choosing to put down roots in Chicago and marry a woman who is very rooted in one place probably indicates a desire for stability that maybe I was missing."

Ironically, the person who mattered most in Obama's life is the one we know the least about—maybe because being partly African in America is still seen as being simply black and color is still a preoccupation above almost all else. There is not enough room in the conversation for the rest of a man's story.

But Obama is his mother's son. In his wide-open rhetoric about what can be instead of what was, you see a hint of his mother's credulity. When Obama gets donations from people who have never believed in politics before, they're responding to his ability—passed down from his mother—to make a powerful argument (that happens to be very liberal) without using a trace of ideology. On a good day, when he figures out how to move a crowd of thousands of people very different from himself, it has something to do with having had a parent who gazed at different cultures the way other people study gems.

It turns out that Obama's nascent career peddling hope is a family business. He inherited it. And while it is true that he has not been profoundly tested, he was raised by someone who was.

In most elections, the deceased mother of a candidate in the primaries is not the subject of a magazine profile. But Ann Soetoro was not like most mothers.

Stanley Ann Dunham
Born in 1942, just five years before Hillary Clinton, Obama's mother came into an America constrained by war, segregation and a distrust of difference. Her parents named her Stanley because her father had wanted a boy. She endured the expected teasing over this indignity, but dutifully lugged the name through high school, apologizing for it each time she introduced herself in a new town.

During her life, she was known by four different names, each representing a distinct chapter. In the course of the Stanley period, her family moved more than five times—from Kansas to California to Texas to Washington—before her 18th birthday. Her father, a furniture salesman, had a restlessness that she inherited.

She spent her high school years on a small island in Washington, taking advanced classes in philosophy and visiting coffee shops in Seattle. "She was a very intelligent, quiet girl, interested in her friendships and current events," remembers Maxine Box, a close high school friend. Both girls assumed they would go to college and pursue careers. "She wasn't particularly interested in children or in getting married," Box says. Although Stanley was accepted early by the University of Chicago, her father wouldn't let her go. She was too young to be off on her own, he said, unaware, as fathers tend to be, of what could happen when she lived in his house.

After she finished high school, her father whisked the family away again—this time to Honolulu, after he heard about a big new furniture store there. Hawaii had just become a state, and it was the new frontier. Stanley grudgingly went along yet again, enrolling in the University of Hawaii as a freshman.

Mrs. Barack H. Obama
Shortly before she moved to Hawaii, Stanley saw her first foreign film. Black Orpheus was an award-winning musical retelling of the myth of Orpheus, a tale of doomed love. The movie was considered exotic because it was filmed in Brazil, but it was written and directed by white Frenchmen. The result was sentimental and, to some modern eyes, patronizing. Years later Obama saw the film with his mother and thought about walking out. But looking at her in the theater, he glimpsed her 16-year-old self. "I suddenly realized," he wrote in his memoir, Dreams from My Father, "that the depiction of childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen ... was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life, warm, sensual, exotic, different."

By college, Stanley had started introducing herself as Ann. She met Barack Obama Sr. in a Russian-language class. He was one of the first Africans to attend the University of Hawaii and a focus of great curiosity. He spoke at church groups and was interviewed for several local-newspaper stories. "He had this magnetic personality," remembers Neil Abercrombie, a member of Congress from Hawaii who was friends with Obama Sr. in college. "Everything was oratory from him, even the most commonplace observation."

Obama's father quickly drew a crowd of friends at the university. "We would drink beer, eat pizza and play records," Abercrombie says. They talked about Vietnam and politics. "Everyone had an opinion about everything, and everyone was of the opinion that everyone wanted to hear their opinion—no one more so than Barack."

The exception was Ann, the quiet young woman in the corner who began to hang out with Obama and his friends that fall. "She was scarcely out of high school. She was mostly kind of an observer," says Abercrombie. Obama Sr.'s friends knew he was dating a white woman, but they made a point of treating it as a nonissue. This was Hawaii, after all, a place enamored of its reputation as a melting pot.

But when people called Hawaii a "melting pot" in the early 1960s, they meant a place where white people blended with Asians. At the time, 19% of white women in Hawaii married Chinese men, and that was considered radical by the rest of the nation. Black people made up less than 1% of the state's population. And while interracial marriage was legal there, it was banned in half the other states.

When Ann told her parents about the African student at school, they invited him over for dinner. Her father didn't notice when his daughter reached out to hold the man's hand, according to Obama's book. Her mother thought it best not to cause a scene. As Obama would write, "My mother was that girl with the movie of beautiful black people playing in her head."

On Feb. 2, 1961, several months after they met, Obama's parents got married in Maui, according to divorce records. It was a Thursday. At that point, Ann was three months pregnant with Barack Obama II. Friends did not learn of the wedding until afterward. "Nobody was invited," says Abercrombie. The motivations behind the marriage remain a mystery, even to Obama. "I never probed my mother about the details. Did they decide to get married because she was already pregnant? Or did he propose to her in the traditional, formal way?" Obama wonders. "I suppose, had she not passed away, I would have asked more."

Even by the standards of 1961, she was young to be married. At 18, she dropped out of college after one semester, according to University of Hawaii records. When her friends back in Washington heard the news, "we were very shocked," says Box, her high school friend.

Then, when Obama was almost 1, his father left for Harvard to get a Ph.D. in economics. He had also been accepted to the New School in New York City, with a more generous scholarship that would have allowed his family to join him. But he decided to go to Harvard. "How can I refuse the best education?" he told Ann, according to Obama's book.

Obama's father had an agenda: to return to his home country and help reinvent Kenya. He wanted to take his new family with him. But he also had a wife from a previous marriage there—a marriage that may or may not have been legal. In the end, Ann decided not to follow him. "She was under no illusions," says Abercrombie. "He was a man of his time, from a very patriarchal society." Ann filed for divorce in Honolulu in January 1964, citing "grievous mental suffering"—the reason given in most divorces at the time. Obama Sr. signed for the papers in Cambridge, Mass., and did not contest the divorce.

Ann had already done things most women of her generation had not: she had married an African, had their baby and gotten divorced. At this juncture, her life could have become narrower—a young, marginalized woman focused on paying the rent and raising a child on her own. She could have filled her son's head with well-founded resentment for his absent father. But that is not what happened.

S. Ann Dunham Soetoro
When her son was almost 2, Ann returned to college. Money was tight. She collected food stamps and relied on her parents to help take care of young Barack. She would get her bachelor's degree four years later. In the meantime, she met another foreign student, Lolo Soetoro, at the University of Hawaii. ("It's where I send all my single girlfriends," jokes her daughter Soetoro-Ng, who also married a man she met there.) He was easygoing, happily devoting hours to playing chess with Ann's father and wrestling with her young son. Lolo proposed in 1967.

Mother and son spent months preparing to follow him to Indonesia—getting shots, passports and plane tickets. Until then, neither had left the country. After a long journey, they landed in an unrecognizable place. "Walking off the plane, the tarmac rippling with heat, the sun bright as a furnace," Obama later wrote, "I clutched her hand, determined to protect her."

Lolo's house, on the outskirts of Jakarta, was a long way from the high-rises of Honolulu. There was no electricity, and the streets were not paved. The country was transitioning to the rule of General Suharto. Inflation was running at more than 600%, and everything was scarce. Ann and her son were the first foreigners to live in the neighborhood, according to locals who remember them. Two baby crocodiles, along with chickens and birds of paradise, occupied the backyard. To get to know the kids next door, Obama sat on the wall between their houses and flapped his arms like a great, big bird, making cawing noises, remembers Kay Ikranagara, a friend. "That got the kids laughing, and then they all played together," she says.

Obama attended a Catholic school called Franciscus Assisi Primary School. He attracted attention since he was not only a foreigner but also chubbier than the locals. But he seemed to shrug off the teasing, eating tofu and tempeh like all the other kids, playing soccer and picking guavas from the trees. He didn't seem to mind that the other children called him "Negro," remembers Bambang Sukoco, a former neighbor.

At first, Obama's mother gave money to every beggar who stopped at their door. But the caravan of misery—children without limbs, men with leprosy—churned on forever, and she was forced to be more selective. Her husband mocked her calculations of relative suffering. "Your mother has a soft heart," he told Obama.

As Ann became more intrigued by Indonesia, her husband became more Western. He rose through the ranks of an American oil company and moved the family to a nicer neighborhood. She was bored by the dinner parties he took her to, where men boasted about golf scores and wives complained about their Indonesian servants. The couple fought rarely but had less and less in common. "She wasn't prepared for the loneliness," Obama wrote in Dreams. "It was constant, like a shortness of breath."

Ann took a job teaching English at the U.S. embassy. She woke up well before dawn throughout her life. Now she went into her son's room every day at 4 a.m. to give him English lessons from a U.S. correspondence course. She couldn't afford the élite international school and worried he wasn't challenged enough. After two years at the Catholic school, Obama moved to a state-run elementary school closer to the new house. He was the only foreigner, says Ati Kisjanto, a classmate, but he spoke some Indonesian and made new friends.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, but Obama's household was not religious. "My mother, whose parents were nonpracticing Baptists and Methodists, was one of the most spiritual souls I ever knew," Obama said in a 2007 speech. "But she had a healthy skepticism of religion as an institution. And as a consequence, so did I."

In her own way, Ann tried to compensate for the absence of black people in her son's life. At night, she came home from work with books on the civil rights movement and recordings of Mahalia Jackson. Her aspirations for racial harmony were simplistic. "She was very much of the early Dr. [Martin Luther] King era," Obama says. "She believed that people were all basically the same under their skin, that bigotry of any sort was wrong and that the goal was then to treat everybody as unique individuals." Ann gave her daughter, who was born in 1970, dolls of every hue: "A pretty black girl with braids, an Inuit, Sacagawea, a little Dutch boy with clogs," says Soetoro-Ng, laughing. "It was like the United Nations."

In 1971, when Obama was 10, Ann sent him back to Hawaii to live with her parents and attend Punahou, an élite prep school that he'd gotten into on a scholarship with his grandparents' help. This wrenching decision seemed to reflect how much she valued education. Ann's friends say it was hard on her, and Obama, in his book, describes an adolescence shadowed by a sense of alienation. "I didn't feel [her absence] as a deprivation," Obama told me. "But when I think about the fact that I was separated from her, I suspect it had more of an impact than I know."

A year later, Ann followed Obama back to Hawaii, as promised, taking her daughter but leaving her husband behind. She enrolled in a master's program at the University of Hawaii to study the anthropology of Indonesia.

Indonesia is an anthropologist's fantasyland. It is made up of 17,500 islands, on which 230 million people speak more than 300 languages. The archipelago's culture is colored by Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Dutch traditions. Indonesia "sucks a lot of us in," says fellow anthropologist and friend Alice Dewey. "It's delightful."

Around this time, Ann began to find her voice. People who knew her before describe her as quiet and smart; those who met her afterward use words like forthright and passionate. The timing of her graduate work was perfect. "The whole face of the earth was changing," Dewey says. "Colonial powers were collapsing, countries needed help, and development work was beginning to interest anthropologists."

Ann's husband visited Hawaii frequently, but they never lived together again. Ann filed for divorce in 1980. As with Obama's father, she kept in regular contact with Lolo and did not pursue alimony or child support, according to divorce records.

"She was no Pollyanna. There have certainly been moments when she complained to us," says her daughter Soetoro-Ng. "But she was not someone who would take the detritus of those divorces and make judgments about men in general or love or allow herself to grow pessimistic." With each failed marriage, Ann gained a child and, in one case, a country as well.

Ann Dunham Sutoro
After three years of living with her children in a small apartment in Honolulu, subsisting on student grants, Ann decided to go back to Indonesia to do fieldwork for her Ph.D. Obama, then about 14, told her he would stay behind. He was tired of being new, and he appreciated the autonomy his grandparents gave him. Ann did not argue with him. "She kept a certain part of herself aloof or removed," says Mary Zurbuchen, a friend from Jakarta. "I think maybe in some way this was how she managed to cross so many boundaries."

In Indonesia, Ann joked to friends that her son seemed interested only in basketball. "She despaired of him ever having a social conscience," remembers Richard Patten, a colleague. After her divorce, Ann started using the more modern spelling of her name, Sutoro. She took a big job as the program officer for women and employment at the Ford Foundation, and she spoke up forcefully at staff meetings. Unlike many other expats, she had spent a lot of time with villagers, learning their priorities and problems, with a special focus on women's work. "She was influenced by hanging out in the Javanese marketplace," Zurbuchen says, "where she would see women with heavy baskets on their backs who got up at 3 in the morning to walk to the market and sell their produce." Ann thought the Ford Foundation should get closer to the people and further from the government, just as she had.

Her home became a gathering spot for the powerful and the marginalized: politicians, filmmakers, musicians and labor organizers. "She had, compared with other foundation colleagues, a much more eclectic circle," Zurbuchen says. "She brought unlikely conversation partners together."

Obama's mother cared deeply about helping poor women, and she had two biracial children. But neither of them remembers her talking about sexism or racism. "She spoke mostly in positive terms: what we are trying to do and what we can do," says Soetoro-Ng, who is now a history teacher at a girls' high school in Honolulu. "She wasn't ideological," notes Obama. "I inherited that, I think, from her. She was suspicious of cant." He remembers her joking that she wanted to get paid as much as a man, but it didn't mean she would stop shaving her legs. In his recent Philadelphia speech on race, in which he acknowledged the grievances of blacks and whites, Obama was consciously channeling his mother. "When I was writing that speech," he told nbc News, "her memory loomed over me. Is this something that she would trust?" When it came to race, Obama told me, "I don't think she was entirely comfortable with the more aggressive or militant approaches to African-American politics."

In the expat community of Asia in the 1980s, single mothers were rare, and Ann stood out. She was by then a rather large woman with frizzy black hair. But Indonesia was an uncommonly tolerant place. "For someone like Ann, who had a big personality and was a big presence," says Zurbuchen, "Indonesia was very accepting. It gave her a sense of fitting in." At home, Ann wore the traditional housecoat, the batik daster. She loved simple, traditional restaurants. Friends remember sharing bakso bola tenis, or noodles with tennis-ball-size meatballs, from a roadside stand.

Today Ann would not be so unusual in the U.S. A single mother of biracial children pursuing a career, she foreshadowed, in some ways, what more of America would look like. But she did so without comment, her friends say. "She wasn't stereotypical at all," says Nancy Peluso, a friend and an environmental sociologist. "But she didn't make a big deal out of it."

Ann's most lasting professional legacy was to help build the microfinance program in Indonesia, which she did from 1988 to '92—before the practice of granting tiny loans to credit-poor entrepreneurs was an established success story. Her anthropological research into how real people worked helped inform the policies set by the Bank Rakyat Indonesia, says Patten, an economist who worked there. "I would say her work had a lot to do with the success of the program," he says. Today Indonesia's microfinance program is No. 1 in the world in terms of savers, with 31 million members, according to Microfinance Information eXchange Inc., a microfinance-tracking outfit.

While his mother was helping poor people in Indonesia, Obama was trying to do something similar 7,000 miles (about 11,300 km) away in Chicago, as a community organizer. Ann's friends say she was delighted by his career move and started every conversation with an update of her children's lives. "All of us knew where Barack was going to school. All of us knew how brilliant he was," remembers Ann's friend Georgia McCauley.

Every so often, Ann would leave Indonesia to live in Hawaii—or New York or even, in the mid-1980s, Pakistan, for a microfinance job. She and her daughter sometimes lived in garage apartments and spare rooms of friends. She collected treasures from her travels—exquisite things with stories she understood. Antique daggers with an odd number of curves, as required by Javanese tradition; unusual batiks; rice-paddy hats. Before returning to Hawaii in 1984, Ann wrote her friend Dewey that she and her daughter would "probably need a camel caravan and an elephant or two to load all our bags on the plane, and I'm sure you don't want to see all those airline agents weeping and rending their garments." At his house in Chicago, Obama says, he has his mother's arrowhead collection from Kansas—along with "trunks full of batiks that we don't really know what to do with."

In 1992, Obama's mother finally finished her Ph.D. dissertation, which she had worked on, between jobs, for almost two decades. The thesis is 1,000 pages, a meticulous analysis of peasant blacksmithing in Indonesia. The glossary, which she describes as "far from complete," is 24 pages. She dedicated the tome to her mother; to Dewey, her adviser; "and to Barack and Maya, who seldom complained when their mother was in the field."

In the fall of 1994, Ann was having dinner at her friend Patten's house in Jakarta when she felt a pain in her stomach. A local doctor diagnosed indigestion. When Ann returned to Hawaii several months later, she learned it was ovarian and uterine cancer. She died on Nov. 7, 1995, at 52.

Before her death, Ann read a draft of her son's memoir, which is almost entirely about his father. Some of her friends were surprised at the focus, but she didn't seem obviously bothered. "She never complained about it," says Peluso. "She just said it was something he had to work out." Neither Ann nor her son knew how little time they had left.

Obama has said his biggest mistake was not being at his mother's side when she died. He went to Hawaii to help the family scatter the ashes over the Pacific. And he carries on her spirit in his campaign. "When Barack smiles," says Peluso, "there's just a certain Ann look. He lights up in a particular way that she did."

After Ann's death, her daughter dug through her artifacts, searching for Ann's story. "She always did want to write a memoir," Soetoro-Ng says. Finally, she discovered the start of a life story, but it was less than two pages. She never found anything more. Maybe Ann had run out of time, or maybe the chemotherapy had worn her out. "I don't know. Maybe she felt overwhelmed," says Soetoro-Ng, "because there was so much to tell."
With reporting by Zamira Loebis and Jason Tedjasukmana/Jakarta

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Pet Rock: The Pop Culture Blog

Artie Lange walks off the Howard Stern Show


By Adam Abramson

Howard Stern Show fixture Artie Lange walked out of the studio after an argument and subsequent outburst at his personal assistant on the air.

Lange, who became a part of the show's daily routine in October of 2001, was spotted disputing with his assistant in the hallways off the air. When it was brought up to Stern, he asked the assistant Teddy to come into the studio and discuss the situation on the air.

Lange began to express his disdain for his assistant of nearly two years because of recent money issues. Teddy retorted by implying there's more to the job than meets the eye.

Howard Stern photos
Howard Stern photos
The two are slated to travel to Amsterdam this evening and the squabble began over setting up Lange's travel accommodations. However, the in-studio dispute quickly escalated into a discussion about how much Lange finances Teddy, who is affectionately called "Teddy Microphone" around the studio.

As the argument continued, Lange became enraged and physically lashed out at Teddy, but the physical confrontation was apparently defused by other members in the studio.

When Lange returned, he said Teddy would be "dead" had he reached him and he would be in jail.

Stern then expressed his feelings on the situation, saying he cannot condone Lange's actions. The comedian, who has had a similar outburst on the air in the past, said he cannot guarantee he can refrain from acting out in the future. Upon hearing that, Stern said he cannot have Lange around with the potential of such actions looming.

Artie then offered his resignation; Stern accepted, but told Lange to leave and cool off. Just before Lange left he told Stern: "I'm not a good person ... I gotta leave ... I love you"

Teddy returned to the studio several minutes later and said there was overreacting from everyone, but did not downplay the seriousness of the situation.

Show producer Gary Dell'Abate came in to analyze the situation, but he and Stern admitted they "did not know what to make of it all."

Stern does not host a live show on Fridays and the crew is on vacation next week.

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New Photos of Elvis in 1972 Surface

NEW YORK (AP) - Never-before-seen photos have surfaced of Elvis Presley rocking Madison Square Garden in all his jumpsuited glory. The images were taken in 1972 by George Kalinsky, the official photographer of the famed arena, the singer's estate said Wednesday.

Kalinsky came across the photos while working on a campaign for a billboard company called "Great Moments in New York." Now one of them is on display as part of the campaign on a three-story billboard atop the Virgin Megastore in Times Square; it shows The King glancing up, his outstretched arms holding the cape of his glittering jumpsuit.

Kalinsky needed to get permission from Elvis Presley Enterprises, the business arm of the performer's estate, to reproduce Presley's image for the campaign. The estate asked if he had any more photos, and Kalinsky came back with about 40 unpublished images from Elvis' second-night performance at the Garden in 1972, said Kevin Kern, spokesman for Elvis Presley Enterprises.

Kern said a team of archivists well-acquainted with publicized images of Presley were quite impressed with Kalinsky's photos.

"What came from their mouths was `Wow!'" Kern said. "These are very crisp, clear, professional photos of Elvis. It's such a rare find."

The collection will be displayed at Graceland starting Memorial Day weekend as part of "Elvis Jumpsuits: All Access," an exhibit that will also feature more than 50 of Elvis' famous jumpsuits.

Kalinsky said he didn't realize at the time that he had so many good shots.

"When I photographed the show, I thought I only had a few good ones," he said. "I just never really looked at the files until recently."

Kalinsky has been the official Garden photographer for more than 40 years. He's also the official photographer of Radio City Music Hall and a special photographer for the New York Mets.

He has photographed scores of celebrities and famous athletes, including Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti and Pope John Paul II, and his images have appeared in Life, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Time and Newsweek. Kalinsky's images of Jimi Hendrix and Sinatra are also part of the Times Square billboard campaign.

Back in '72, he went backstage to meet Presley.

"He was electrifying in his white jumpsuit, with his cape on," Kalinsky remembered. "He was quite humble, but he had an aura. There are very few people who have triple-X charisma, and Elvis was one."

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