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    Tuesday, June 30, 2009

    Michael Jacksonin Wonderland

    AP Exclusive: Insomniac Jackson begged for drug
    AP, Jun 30, 2009 8:23 pm PDT
    Michael Jackson was so distraught over persistent insomnia in recent months that he pleaded for a powerful sedative despite warnings it could be harmful, says a nutritionist who was working with the singer as he prepared his comeback bid.

    Cherilyn Lee, a registered nurse whose specialty includes nutritional counseling, said Tuesday that she repeatedly rejected his demands for the drug, Diprivan, which is given intravenously.

    But a frantic phone call she received from Jackson four days before his death made her fear that he somehow obtained Diprivan or another drug to induce sleep, Lee said.

    While in Florida on June 21, Lee was contacted by a member of Jackson's staff.

    "He called and was very frantic and said, `Michael needs to see you right away.' I said, 'What's wrong?' And I could hear Michael in the background ..., 'One side of my body is hot, it's hot, and one side of my body is cold. It's very cold,'" Lee said.

    "I said, `Tell him he needs to go the hospital. I don't know what's going on, but he needs to go to the hospital ... right away."

    "At that point, I knew that somebody had given him something that hit the central nervous system," she said, adding, "He was in trouble Sunday and he was crying out."

    Jackson did not go to the hospital. He died June 25 after suffering cardiac arrest, his family said. Autopsies have been conducted, but an official cause of death is not expected for several weeks.

    "I don't know what happened there. The only thing I can say is he was adamant about this drug," Lee said.

    Following Jackson's death, allegations emerged that the 50-year-old King of Pop had been consuming painkillers, sedatives and antidepressants. But Lee said she encountered a man tortured by sleep deprivation and one who expressed opposition to recreational drug use.

    "He wasn't looking to get high or feel good and sedated from drugs," she said. "This was a person who was not on drugs. This was a person who was seeking help, desperately, to get some sleep, to get some rest."

    Jackson was rehearsing hard for what would have been his big comeback — his "This Is It" tour, a series of performances that would have strained his aging dancer's body. Also, pain had been a part of his life since 1984, when his scalp was severely burned during a Pepsi commercial shoot.

    "The Incredible Hulk" star Lou Ferrigno, who's been working out with Jackson for the past several months, said Jackson was focused on health.

    "When he was with me, he wasn't different. He wasn't stoned. He wasn't high. He wasn't being aloof or speedy. Never talked about drugs," Ferrigno said. "I've never seen him take drugs. He was always talking about nutrition."

    Several months ago, Jackson had begun badgering Lee about Diprivan, also known as Propofol, Lee said. It is an intravenous anesthetic drug widely used in operating rooms to induce unconsciousness. It is generally given through an IV needle in the hand.

    Patients given Propofol take less time to regain consciousness than those administered certain other drugs, and they report waking up more clear-headed and refreshed, said University of Chicago psychopharmacologist James Zacny.

    It has also been implicated in drug abuse, with people using it to "chill out" or to commit suicide, Zacny said. Accidental deaths linked to abuse have been reported. The powerful drug has a very narrow therapeutic window, meaning it doesn't take doses much larger than the medically recommended amount to stop a person's breathing.

    An overdose that stops breathing can result in a buildup of carbon dioxide, causing the heart to beat erratically and leading to cardiac arrest, said Dr. John Dombrowski, a member of the board of directors of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

    Because it is given intravenously and is not the kind of prescription drug typically available from pharmacists, abuse cases have involved anesthesiologists, nurses and other hospital staffers with easy access to the drug, Zacny said.

    In recent months, Lee said, Jackson waved away her warnings about it.

    "I had an IV and when it hit my vein, I was sleeping. That's what I want," Lee said Jackson told her.

    "I said, 'Michael, the only problem with you taking this medication' — and I had a chill in my body and tears in my eyes three months ago — 'the only problem is you're going to take it and you're not going to wake up," she recalled.

    According to Lee, Jackson said it had been given to him before but he didn't want to discuss the circumstances or identify the doctor involved.

    The singer also drew his own distinctions when it came to drugs versus prescription medicine.

    "He said, `I don't like drugs. I don't want any drugs. My doctor told me this is a safe medicine,'" Lee said. The next day, she said she brought a copy of the Physician's Desk Reference to show him the section on Diprivan.

    "He said, 'No, my doctor said it's safe. It works quick and it's safe as long as somebody's here to monitor me and wake me up. It's going be OK,'" Lee said. She said he did not give the doctor's name.

    Lee said at one point, she spent the night with Jackson to monitor him while he slept. She said she gave him herbal remedies and stayed in a corner chair in his vast bedroom.

    After he settled in bed, Lee told Jackson to turn down the lights and music — he had classical music playing in the house. "He also had a computer on the bed because he loved Walt Disney," she said. "He was watching Donald Duck and it was ongoing. I said, `Maybe if we put on softer music,' and he said, `No, this is how I go to sleep.'"

    Three and a half hours later, Jackson jumped up and looked at Lee, eyes wide open, according to Lee. "This is what happens to me," she quoted him as saying. "All I want is to be able to sleep. I want to be able to sleep eight hours. I know I'll feel better the next day."

    Lee, 56, is licensed as a registered nurse and nurse practitioner in California, according to the state Board of Registered Nursing's Web site. She attended Los Angeles Southwest College and the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Sciences in Los Angeles.

    Comedian Dick Gregory, who knows Lee and her work, said he believes Jackson's insomnia had its roots in the pop star's 2005 trial on child molestation charges. Jackson's health had deteriorated so much that his parents called Gregory, a natural foods proponent, for help.

    Gregory said Jackson wasn't eating or drinking at the time and, after he was persuaded by Gregory to undergo testing, ended up hospitalized for severe dehydration.

    But Jackson obviously was healthy enough to withstand the level of medical scrutiny needed to insure him for the upcoming high-stakes London concerts, Gregory said. "That you don't trick," he said of the exams.

    Lee, who has also worked with Stevie Wonder, Marla Gibbs, Reynaldo Rey and other celebrities, said she was introduced to Jackson by the mother of one of his staff members. Jackson's three children had minor cold symptoms and their pediatrician was out of town.

    Lee said she went to the house in January, the first of about 10 visits there through April, and treated the children with vitamins. Michael, intrigued, asked what else she did and took her up on her claim she could boost his energy.

    After running blood tests, she devised protein shakes for him and gave him an intravenous vitamin and mineral mixture — known as a "Myers cocktail," after Dr. John Myers — which Lee said she uses routinely in her practice.

    "It wasn't that he felt sick," she said. "He just wanted more energy."

    Lee said she decided to speak out to protect Jackson's reputation from what she considers unfounded allegations of drug abuse or shortcomings as a parent.

    "I think it's so wrong for people to say these things about him," she said. "He was a wonderful, loving father who wanted the best for his children."

    ___

    AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner in Chicago and AP Television Writer David Bauder in New York contributed to this report.click here for more news and cool stuff
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    Reuters - Sweden's Global Gaming snaps up Pirate Bay

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    Sweden's Global Gaming snaps up Pirate Bay

    Tuesday, Jun 30, 2009 2:36PM UTC

    By Veronica Ek and Mia Shanley

    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A little-known Swedish software firm has snapped up file-sharing website The Pirate Bay with the hope of turning the source of legal controversy into a money-spinner that appeals to both users and content providers.

    Global Gaming Factory X AB, which operates internet cafes and provides software, said Tuesday that it had agreed to buy Pirate Bay for 60 million Swedish crowns ($7.7 million).

    The website made world headlines in April when the three Swedish founders and a financial backer were each sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay a combined $3.6 million in damages for breaching copyright law with the free downloading site, which was one of the biggest sites of its kind on the Internet.

    Swedish News Agency TT cited one of the founders, Peter Sunde, as saying that the money would not go directly to him or any of the others sentenced in April.

    Sunde told TT that the money would be placed in a company outside Swedish borders and it would be used for internet projects other than downloading sites.

    Pirate Bay could not be immediately reached for comment.

    Global Gaming said it believed the website was a viable business with its plans for a new, legal business model.

    "We would like to introduce (business) models which entail that content providers and copyright owners get paid for content that is downloaded via the site," the company said in a statement.

    USERS AS EARNERS

    Global Gaming Chief Executive Hans Pandeya told a news conference that the revamped website would generate money via advertising, supplying storage space and helping telecom operators optimize internet traffic.

    He also said users would be able to earn money by supplying storage space, which would encourage people to use the site.

    "That's what is interesting. If you can earn money by file-sharing, it's no big deal to pay for what you download," Pandeya said.

    Analysts were unimpressed by the move, comparing it to Napster, an online file-sharing site that quickly lost popularity after it started to charge its users.

    "It looks like they are going to Napsterize it," said Leigh Ellis, intellectual property partner at Gillhams Solicitors.

    Mark Mulligan, vice president at research firm Forrester, said that many of Pirate Bay's around 20 million users would move on to other free downloading options.

    "The bottom line is that most people who use file-sharing networks use it because it's free. They are not likely to start paying just because the owners have a new business model," he said.

    "There has not yet been a single example of a legal file-sharing network which has made a successful transition to a legal business."

    ($1=7.826 Swedish Crown)

    (Editing by Jon Loades-Carter and Karen Foster)

    Monday, June 29, 2009

    Reuters - TV "pitchman" Mays had heart disease, no trauma

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    TV "pitchman" Mays had heart disease, no trauma

    Monday, Jun 29, 2009 6:24PM UTC

    By Robert Green

    TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - Billy Mays, well known for pitching a variety of products in U.S. television commercials, had heart disease but did not appear to have suffered head trauma in a rough airplane landing prior to dying in his sleep on Sunday, a medical examiner in Florida said on Monday.

    The bearded, black-haired Mays, 50, who gained fame as an enthusiastic TV "pitchman" advertising an array of commercial products, was found dead by his wife at their home in Tampa, Florida.

    On Saturday, Mays was among the passengers aboard a U.S. Airways flight from Philadelphia that landed roughly at Tampa International Airport after apparently blowing a tire.

    Mays told local TV shortly afterward that objects had dropped from the ceiling of the plane upon impact and he had received a blow on the head, although he said at the time he felt fine.

    In a preliminary statement on Monday after an initial autopsy, Hillsborough County medical examiner Vernard Adams said his examination found that Mays had "hypertensive heart disease," which refers to heart disease caused by high blood pressure, but "there was no evidence of any head trauma."

    Adams said this heart ailment "was certainly capable of causing the sudden death." He said Mays had died in his sleep.

    "It's not unusual for persons with heart disease to die this young," Adams said, adding that a formal report on the cause of death would be issued only after the results of toxicology tests were considered.

    Toxicology tests can show the presence of drugs in the body.

    Tampa police said no foul play was suspected.

    Executives from the television home-shopping industry praised Mays' role in promoting TV salesmanship.

    "DRTV (the direct-response television industry) has grown to be a $300 billion business during the last 20 years, and Billy Mays played a key role in making this possible," Julie Coons, president and CEO of the Electronic Retailing Association, said in a statement.

    (Reporting by Robert Green; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Will Dunham)

    Sunday, June 28, 2009

    Variety.com - Wood, Cumming set for 'Spider-Man'

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    http://wwwvariety.com/article/VR1118005441.html?c=15

    Variety.com

    Posted: Fri., Jun. 26, 2009, 1:00pm PT

    Wood, Cumming set for 'Spider-Man'

    Duo to star in Broadway play mega-spectacle

    It's official: Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming will star in the upcoming Broadway mega-spectacle "Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark."

    Deals were wrapped up late in the week for both thesps, who have been expected to confirm their stints in the show for a while now.

    Performance dates for the technically complicated tuner have been pushed back from Feb. 18 to Feb. 25, when previews will begin.

    Wood will play Spidey's paramour Mary Jane Watson, while Cumming will portray bad guy Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the Green Goblin.

    Julie Taymor ("The Lion King"), who helms the tuner and co-pens the book, has worked with both actors. Wood starred in Taymor's movie-musical "Across the Universe," while Cumming appeared in Taymor pics "Titus" and "The Tempest."

    The actor donning the tights of the wall-crawler himself has yet to be announced; open auditions for the role were held earlier this year. Wood's co-star in "Across the Universe," Jim Sturgess, has been mentioned as a possibility for the part.

    Delay of performances at the Hilton Theater gives the show's creators more time to sort out construction elements, which are said to be moving slower than anticipated.

    Read the full article at:
    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118005441.html

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    Variety.com - Infomercial pitchman Billy Mays dies

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    http://wwwvariety.com/article/VR1118005469.html?c=14

    Variety.com

    Posted: Sun., Jun. 28, 2009, 9:29am PT

    Infomercial pitchman Billy Mays dies

    Co-host of Discovery's 'Pitchmen' series

    Billy Mays, the energetic product salesman of infomercial fame and co-host of Discovery Channel's "Pitchmen" series, was found dead early Sunday at his home in Tampa, Fla. He was 50.

    Mays was well-known and well-regarded in the biz for his "larger-than-life personality, generosity and warmth," Discovery Channel said in a statement.

    "Billy was a pioneer in his field and helped many people fulfill their dreams," the cabler said.

    Known as the "king of the infomercial," Mays got his start hawking products on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. He moved on to traveling the country with home and garden shows and other sales-oriented exhibitions. In 1996, he was tapped to pitch the Orange Glo cleaning solution live on the Home Shopping Network. His career in direct response advertising stemmed from his successful appearances on HSN. He became known for his loud, rhythmic and relentless delivery.

    Mays teamed with popular British personality Anthony Sullivan to host "Pitchmen" for Discovery earlier this year. The show revolves around a competition among aspiring inventors to develop marketable products. There's no word yet from Discovery on the fate of the show.

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    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118005469.html

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    Reuters - Michael Jackson's death sparks bus brawl

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    Michael Jackson's death sparks bus brawl

    Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 2:21AM UTC

    MIAMI (Reuters) - A fight broke out on a Florida bus when news of Michael Jackson's death sparked debate over whether he should be remembered as a great musical talent, and one passenger was charged with assault, police said on Friday.

    The bus was moving through the city of North Lauderdale on Thursday when passenger James Kiernan received a text message about Jackson's death on his cell phone, and he read it aloud on the bus, the Broward County Sheriff's Department said.

    The unidentified bus driver opined that "Michael Jackson should have been in jail long ago," prompting Kiernan, 60, to retort that "the world just lost a great musical talent," the police report said.

    It said the last remark enraged another passenger, Henry Wideman, who started a swearing match with Kiernan, then pulled out a knife and chased Kiernan down the aisle with it.

    The driver called his dispatcher and pulled over near a convenience store to wait for sheriff's deputies, who arrested Wideman, 54. He remained in jail on Friday on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

    (Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)

    Reuters - Google CEO says worst of crisis is over

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    Google CEO says worst of crisis is over

    Friday, Jun 26, 2009 4:56PM UTC

    CANNES (Reuters) - A U.S. recovery is likely to begin this autumn, the worst of the crisis has passed and it is "reasonable to be optimistic for 2010," internet search giant Google's chief executive Eric Schmidt said on Friday.

    Speaking at the Cannes Lions advertising festival in southern France, Schmidt said U.S. jobless claims indicated "the beginning of the bottom."

    "The rate of jobless claims is decreasing although the absolute number is increasing," he explained.

    Schmidt said he did not want to comment on a report that Google had set up a team of engineers to study the technical specifications of Bing, the search engine launched recently by Google rival Microsoft, as he had not seen it.

    But he added: "Bing is a competitor. We have absolutely looked at Bing; we have actually studied what they do as Microsoft studied what Google does."

    Microsoft's Bing search engine has been winning U.S. market share from its rivals but is still trailing Google and Yahoo Inc.

    Bing will be launched in the UK in the autumn and a test version is already available in Europe.

    (Reporting by Cyril Altmeyer; Writing by Helen Massy-Beresford; editing by John Stonestreet)

    Saturday, June 27, 2009

    Reuters - Hello Goodbye: Jackson's Beatles rights at risk

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    Hello Goodbye: Jackson's Beatles rights at risk

    Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 10:29AM UTC

    By Gina Keating

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Beatles For Sale?

    The Fab Four's prized catalog -- specifically 267 songs mostly written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney -- is embarking on a long and winding road of ownership uncertainty following the death of Michael Jackson on Thursday.

    The pop singer and Sony Corp's Sony Music arm operated a lucrative joint venture that either owns or administers the copyrights to about 750,000 compositions written by the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Taylor Swift and the Jonas Brothers.

    Industry analysts estimate that Sony/ATV Music Publishing is worth at least $1 billion, making Jackson one savvy entertainer. His initial investment cost him $47.5 million in 1985. Music publishing is considered a license to print money. Not quite as exciting as the piracy-ravaged recorded-music side, it involves collecting royalties from such diverse avenues as downloads, radio airplay and videogames.

    But mystery now surrounds the beneficial ownership of Jackson's stake. According to a lawsuit filed in 2002 by a creditor, he secured bank loans totaling $270 million two years earlier using both his Sony/ATV stake and the copyrights to his own songs as collateral.

    Jackson lived an extravagant lifestyle, even as his commercial appeal dwindled amid damaging child-abuse allegations and changing music tastes. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2005 that his cash reserves ran so low earlier that year that he worried about paying his electric bill. The paper reported earlier this month that he had racked up about $500 million of debt.

    "VERY COMPLEX" VALUATIONS

    A clearer picture of his finances will emerge during the administration period of his estate that usually lasts about 18 months, said Renee Gabbard of the law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker in Costa Mesa, California.

    Jackson's executors will evaluate his assets, file the estate tax return and invite creditors to submit invoices, said Gabbard, who has a number of wealthy clients with entertainment-related estates.

    The process of valuing estate assets, especially intellectual property like music copyrights, is "very complex" and often takes "quite a while," said Gabbard.

    "When you have entertainers and musicians they usually have quite extensive royalty contracts. It's very tough to put a value on a catalog of songs," she said.

    Jackson and Sony formed their joint venture in 1995, with the singer contributing ATV Songs, whose 4,000 tunes included most of the Beatles catalog. He had bought ATV a decade earlier from Australian businessman Robert Holmes a Court, famously outbidding McCartney in the process.

    Jackson was not involved in the day-to-day operations of Sony/ATV, but as a lover of the songwriting process was known to be "incredibly proud" of the company and its fast growth, according to a publishing industry source.

    A spokesman for Sony/ATV declined to comment.

    His stakes in both Sony/ATV and in Mijac, which holds his own copyrights, were owned by trusts. It was not clear if they were irrevocable or not. If they are revocable, then they could be dismantled to satisfy creditors, Gabbard said.

    The estate would first pay federal taxes owed on Jackson's assets, most notably the publishing companies. The remaining assets then would go to satisfy creditors and the balance probably would be placed into separate trusts for his beneficiaries, most likely his children, Gabbard said.

    But the publishing industry source said it was too premature to speculate about a possible change in ownership at Sony/ATV, which is run by music industry veteran Martin Bandier.

    Additionally, each side is reportedly entitled to make a counter-offer if the other side lines up a buyer, or to bid for the other half it does not own.

    The Beatles catalog, meanwhile, just keeps raking in money. The group's CDs will be reissued on September 9, the same day that a Fab Four version of the "Rock Band" videogame hits stores.

    (Additional reporting by Dean Goodman, Editing by Anthony Boadle)

    Reuters - U.S. seen opposing LiveNation, Ticketmaster deal

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    U.S. seen opposing LiveNation, Ticketmaster deal

    Friday, Jun 26, 2009 11:11PM UTC

    By Diane Bartz - Analysis

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ticketing giant Ticketmaster's <TKTM.O> deal to buy concert promoting giant Live Nation <LYV.N> will most likely be opposed by the Justice Department, which means that its fate would rest with the courts and the companies' willingness to litigate.

    The deal has been criticized by superstar Bruce Springsteen, politicians like Senator Charles Schumer, and legions of music fans commenting in Internet chatrooms.

    "This deal's not going through if antitrust laws mean anything," said David Balto, a former FTC policy director and antitrust lawyer.

    Some state attorneys general also have shown an interest in the merger, with Ohio leading the way, said a source who is familiar with the situation but reluctant to be named because of its sensitivity.

    Add to its woes, a promoter filed suit in Maryland accusing Live Nation of "unlawful anticompetitive, predatory and exclusory practices." The promoter, Seth Hurwitz, accuses Live Nation of booking artists only in venues that it owns or operates.

    Ticketmaster and Live Nation had no immediate comment for this story.

    And the Justice Department's new antitrust chief, Christine Varney, has said she would take a tougher look at mergers than her predecessors in the Bush administration.

    The best that Live Nation and Ticketmaster could hope for in the approximately $400 million deal is a tough fight with the Justice Department, said Marc Schildkraut, a former assistant director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition and antitrust lawyer with Howrey LLP.

    "I just always thought the merging parties had a tough row to hoe. The lawyers for those parties are going to have to be pretty good," said Schildkraut.

    Varney is taking a tough stance on vertical mergers, where one company buys another in the same supply chain. In this case, Live Nation primarily promotes concerts and Ticketmaster sells the tickets.

    But each company has reached into the other's area of expertise, so the merger also has elements of a horizontal deal. Live Nation launched its own ticketing service on January 1 after it ended a 10-year relationship with Ticketmaster and Ticketmaster last year bought Front Line Management, which manages the affairs of more than 200 artists.

    Live Nation chief executive Michael Rapino said last month that he expected the deal to close in the third or fourth quarter. Antitrust regulators outside the United States are also looking into it.

    Antitrust experts Steve Axinn of Axinn, Veltrop and Harkrider LLP and Andre Barlow of Doyle, Barlow and Mazard PLLC predicted that the Justice Department would sue to stop the merger, but could not agree on the outcome if Ticketmaster and Live Nation opted to battle regulators in court.

    "I think they (the Justice Department) probably uncovered evidence that Live Nation wanted to compete against Ticketmaster," said Barlow, who added: "I think Ticketmaster would win in court."

    Axinn didn't agree, saying. "I think that their odds of winning in such a challenge are impossible to predict."

    (Reporting by Diane Bartz; editing by Carol Bishopric)

    Reuters - VW gives Porsche ultimatum to accept merger: report

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    VW gives Porsche ultimatum to accept merger: report

    Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 1:38PM UTC

    FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Volkswagen and its key shareholder, the state of Lower Saxony, have confronted Porsche with an ultimatum to accept a tie-up of the two carmakers under VW's tutelage or else face more severe financial turmoil, Web site Spiegel online reported.

    Porsche Chief Executive Wendelin Wiedeking and Chairman Wolfgang Porsche have been urged to agree by the end of June that VW takes a 49 percent stake in Porsche's sports car business for 3-4 billion euros ($4.2-$5.6 billion), Spiegel magazine reported in its online edition on Saturday, without saying who provided the information.

    According to the proposal, the Emirate of Qatar would buy Porsche's stock options in VW, which would subsequently integrate the Porsche sports car business into its operations.

    VW would not comment on the report. Porsche was not immediately available for comment, neither was the Emirate of Qatar.

    The new merged carmaker would eventually be 40 percent owned by the Porsche and Piech families, 20 percent owned by Lower Saxony, 15 percent owned by Qatar with another sovereign wealth fund holding a further 5 percent, Spiegel reported.

    VW threatened it could insist on redemption in September of a 700 million euro loan it granted to Porsche, should Porsche reject the offer, Spiegel online said.

    Porsche racked up 9 billion euros of debt trying to swallow its much bigger peer Volkswagen before the financial crisis turned the tables and threatened to unravel the deal.

    Porsche, which owns 51 percent in VW, had abandoned plans to raise its stake to 75 percent but still owns options to buy VW shares.

    The tie-up proposal was devised by Christian Wulff, the state premier of Lower Saxony, which holds a blocking minority of 20 percent in VW, as well as Porsche co-owner Ferdinand Piech and by the CEO and CFO of VW, Spiegel online said.

    Qatar would only pursue an investment in a merged VW and Porsche if all major shareholders agree on the set-up, the Web site added.

    In a separate article, daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Saturday that Qatar plans to buy Porsche's stock options in VW and is no longer interested in buying an interest in Porsche alone, citing unspecified sources.

    Porsche had said on Friday it was close to reaching a deal with Qatar that could help solve its financial problems.

    (Reporting by Ludwig Burger, Hendrik Sackmann and Arno Schuetze)

    Reuters - Microsoft, VivaKi team up in digital and TV advertising

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    Microsoft, VivaKi team up in digital and TV advertising

    Thursday, Jun 25, 2009 6:49PM UTC

    PARIS (Reuters) - Microsoft and VivaKi, the digital arm of Publicis, on Thursday unveiled a broad cooperation deal spanning the fast-growing digital advertising sector to targeted television advertising.

    The deal will lead to the creation of a customized VivaKi advertisement exchange for television advertising delivered via Microsoft's Admira software, the statement said.

    "This will enable more 'audience-specific' television buying by VivaKi, creating an audience on demand for television" it said.

    As part of the agreement, VivaKi's units Starcom MediaVest Group, Zenith Optimedia and Digitas, will use Admira technology to help clients plan and buy media ads when Admira goes live in the fourth quarter 2009.

    Admira, developed by Microsoft's Navic division, helps advertisers target specific television audiences, thus saving on the costs of placing ads in front of consumers who are unlikely to buy their products.

    Publicis, the world's third-largest advertising group by revenue, launched VivaKi a year ago.

    VivaKi, which pools the digital capabilities of various Publicis units, aims to help advertisers access a single target audience through a global campaign.

    Publicis aims to generate 25 percent of its revenue from digital activities by 2010 against 20.5 percent in the first quarter of this year.

    (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Jason Benham)

    Reuters - Sony eyes cellphone/game gear hybrid - Nikkei

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    Sony eyes cellphone/game gear hybrid - Nikkei

    Saturday, Jun 27, 2009 4:59AM UTC

    TOKYO (Reuters) - Sony Corp is considering developing a cellphone-game gear hybrid in a bid to better compete with Apple Inc's highly popular iPod and iPhone, the Nikkei business daily said on Saturday.

    The Japanese electronics and entertainment conglomerate launched its first Walkman three decades ago, dominating the portable music player market, but it has been running far behind the iPod and iPhone in recent years.

    Sony plans to set up a project team as early as July to develop a new product that combines functions of its portable game player and Sony Ericsson's mobile phones, the Nikkei said.

    Sony Ericsson is a cellphone joint venture between Sony and Sweden's Ericsson.

    A growing number of game-makers including Capcom Co Ltd and Square Enix Holdings are now offering software for the iPod and iPhone to take advantage of the Apple products' popularity, posing a threat to Sony's PlayStation Portable and Nintendo Co Ltd's DS.

    A Sony spokesman declined to comment on the report.

    (Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

    Reuters - Google slammed as China and U.S. quarrel over Internet

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    Google slammed as China and U.S. quarrel over Internet

    Friday, Jun 26, 2009 1:0PM UTC

    By Chris Buckley and Emma Graham-Harrison

    BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Thursday stepped up accusations that Google is spreading obscene content over the Internet, a day after U.S. officials urged Beijing to abandon plans for controversial filtering software on new computers.

    The growing friction over control of online content threatens to become another irritant in ties at a time the world is looking for the United States and China to cooperate in helping to pull the global economy out of its slump.

    China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday accused Google's English language search engine of spreading obscene images that violated the nation's laws, less than 24 hours after disruptions to the company's search engines and other services within China.

    Spokesman Qin Gang did not directly say whether official action was behind the disruptions, but he made plain the government's anger and said "punishment measures" taken against Google were lawful.

    "Google's English language search engine has spread large amounts of vulgar content that is lascivious and pornographic, seriously violating China's relevant laws and regulations," he told a regular news conference.

    A spokesman for Google in China declined to comment.

    Separately, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Wednesday voiced concerns over the "Green Dam" software in a letter to Chinese officials.

    "China is putting companies in an untenable position by requiring them, with virtually no public notice, to pre-install software that appears to have broad-based censorship implications and network security issues," Locke said in a statement.

    China says the "Green Dam" filtering software is to protect children from illegal images and insists the deadline of July 1 for new computers to be sold with the software will not change.

    An official at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, which handles trade rows, said the ministry had no immediate response to the U.S. criticism and referred questions to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which also had no comment.

    Critics have said the program, sold by Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co, is technically flawed and could be used to spy on users and block sites Beijing considers politically offensive.

    The proposed new rules raised fundamental questions regarding the transparency of China's regulatory practices and concerns about compliance with WTO rules, the U.S. officials said.

    GOOGLE DISRUPTED

    The software plan coincides with criticisms of Google by China's Internet watchdog and access disruptions in China to the U.S. company's websites.

    The watchdog last week ordered the world's biggest search engine to block overseas websites with "pornographic and vulgar" content from being accessed through its Chinese-language version.

    Late on Wednesday evening, Internet users in China were unable to open several Google sites for around an hour, and some reported disruptions throughout Thursday.

    A company spokeswoman at Google in the United States said the firm was checking reports of problems with access in China.

    The disruption -- coming soon after Google was criticized by China -- "seems beyond mere coincidence," said Mark Natkin, Managing Director of Marbridge Consulting, a Beijing-based company that advises on telecommunications and IT.

    Google's problems reflect the difficulties of foreign Internet firms competing in the world's biggest online market while facing controversy over censorship.

    Chinese officials have said their Internet moves are driven by worries about exposing children to disturbing online images, but an official newspaper reported on Thursday that a plan to recruit volunteers to scour the Internet for banned content and report to officials also has a political element.

    The Legal Daily reported that 10,000 volunteers sought by Beijing would also search for "harmful content" that includes "threats to state security," "subverting state power," and "spreading rumours and disturbing social order."

    Natkin, the consultant, said the official pressure was most unlikely to deter Google and other Internet companies from continuing to operate in China.

    "Google has to be looking at China as a long-term play," he said. "The allure of the Chinese market, not just for Google and not just for Internet companies, is so compelling, so alluring."

    (Additional reporting by Doug Palmer and Mohammad Zargham in Washington, Emma Graham-Harrison in Beijing and Lucy Hornby in Shanghai; Editing by David Fox..)

    CNN - Jacksons rely on strength of family

    Sent from bombastic4000@yahoo.com's mobile device from http://www.cnn.com.

    Jacksons rely on strength of family


    There's a photo of the Jackson family on the cover of the September 24, 1971, issue of Life magazine. In it, Joseph and Katherine Jackson stand at the foot of a set of stairs, their star children -- known as the Jackson 5 -- arrayed behind them.

    They appear to be the all-American clan, gold records arranged behind them, the boys loose and smiling, the parents more awkward and serious in their demeanor.

    Over the years, that fa├žade crumbled. The brothers bickered; some made accusations of abuse. But the group remained tight-knit through crises, including Thursday's tragedy, when Michael Jackson collapsed at his house and later died at UCLA Medical Center.

    The journey began with music in Gary, Indiana. Joseph Jackson, the patriarch, played in a short-lived band called the Falcons (no relation to the Detroit-based group featuring Wilson Pickett) in the 1950s. His primary job, however, was as a crane operator at U.S. Steel.

    Katherine Jackson, the musical and devoutly religious woman who he married in 1949, tended to the couple's large family: Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Michael and Randy, all born between 1950 and 1961. Daughter Janet arrived in 1966.

    By that time, the three oldest boys -- Jackie, Tito and Jermaine -- had started their own group, which Marlon and Michael eventually joined. Joseph Jackson saw a chance for his sons to have the musical career he'd found elusive.

    Joseph Jackson admitted being a harsh taskmaster. He drove his sons hard, forcing them to rehearse with a James Brown-like intensity. He wasn't above emphasizing his feelings to his seventh child, Michael.

    "My father teased me and I just hated it and I cried every day," Michael told Oprah Winfrey in 1993. He said his father also beat him: "He was very strict, very hard, very stern. ... There's been times when he'd come to see me, I'd get sick, I'd start to regurgitate."

    He quickly said, imagining his father's reaction, "Please don't be mad at me."

    Joseph Jackson disputed the word "beat," but didn't question Michael's account.

    "I whipped him with a switch and a belt," he told the BBC in 2003. He added, "I never beat him. You beat someone with a stick."

    In a 2005 interview with CNN's Larry King, Jermaine defended his father's actions.

    "We grew up like any other black family. You did something, you got your butt tore up, and it wasn't tore up, it was just, you got a spanking," he said. "I will say this. He kept us off of the streets. He kept us away from drugs. He kept us away from gangs and ... we've been able to project a talent out there and have the support of strong people to entertain the world."

    By 1968, when Michael turned 10, the Jackson 5 was a professional musical machine. They'd won an Apollo Theater talent night the previous year and were working the "chitlin circuit" of black clubs when producer Bobby Taylor urged Motown to sign the group. Motown founder Berry Gordy was impressed and made them "the last big stars to come off my assembly line," according to a biography on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Web site.

    The group shot out of the gate with four No. 1 hits and gained a huge fan base, along with an animated TV show. But success took its toll, particularly when it wasn't so easy to come by.

    In the mid-1970s, the band -- minus Jermaine, who'd married Gordy's daughter Hazel -- moved to Epic Records, where they were produced by the Philadelphia soul-funk team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The two remember nothing but good times from the sessions, which produced two albums and the Top 10 hit "Enjoy Yourself."

    "It was a collaboration," Gamble said. "They all participated in creating. Tito was a great guitarist -- they were all great musicians."

    Huff said he visited the Jackson compound during a trip to California and remembered a warm family setting, complete with a "fantastic meal" cooked by Katherine Jackson.

    "I've got nothing but respect for the father," added Gamble. "He's a great man. He made something out of nothing."

    Even during that era, however, Michael was standing out. Gamble and Huff recalled him taking a keen interest in recording technology and the way he sounded. Going solo with Quincy Jones producing, as he did in 1979, was the right move, Gamble and Huff said.

    The family dynamics kept changing as the siblings grew older. After Michael's "Thriller" became the biggest album of all time, the brothers -- including Jermaine -- regrouped for a new album, "Victory," and accompanying tour. But Michael, now the undisputed draw, disagreed with some of the tour plans and ended up donating his earnings to charity.

    Michael's brightened spotlight boosted the careers of his siblings; even Rebbie had a hit. But it was Janet who broke out with the most success, including the No. 1 singles "Miss You Much," "Black Cat" and "Again" in the 1980s and '90s.

    With the increased interest in the Jacksons came tabloid scrutiny of the family's every move. When La Toya appeared nude in Playboy magazine, the story made headlines. She later criticized Michael and was on the outs for several years.

    Jermaine put out a song called "Word to the Badd," an attack on Michael, in 1991; he later changed the lyrics. Janet's relationships were probed in detail, as were the brothers' marriages.

    And Michael, of course, was seen as increasingly eccentric, his personality overwhelming his music.

    But for all their own bickering, the family closed ranks when a member was attacked. In 1992, Jermaine co-produced "The Jacksons: An American Dream," a TV miniseries based on Katherine Jackson's memoir, which chronicled their rise to stardom. When Michael faced molestation allegations in the early '90s and was tried in 2005, the family rallied around.

    "The Jackson family was groomed to be a team," said Linda Johnson Rice, president and CEO of Ebony and Jet magazines' Johnson Publishing and a longtime family friend. "As you can see through their performances, they were always there for each other."

    In recent years, La Toya has appeared on the reality shows "Armed and Famous" and the UK "Celebrity Big Brother." She originally had a scene in the forthcoming Sacha Baron Cohen movie, "Bruno," but CNN confirmed the scene has been cut, "out of respect for Jackson's family," the studio told The (UK) Guardian.

    Jermaine, who converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Abdul-Aziz, appeared on "Celebrity Big Brother" in 2007. Jackie runs a record label, Tito remains involved in the music business, and according to a 2008 article in the New York Post, Marlon and Randy have struggled financially.

    In the hospital emergency room Thursday, Randy and Jermaine were witnessed hugging and crying over their late brother.

    "We're a family," Jermaine told Larry King in the 2005 interview. "We're no different than any other family who has feuds and problems. ... But at the same time, we're united, and we have a united front that is very, very strong, and it's supported by God.

    "My mother and father did a great job in instilling the morals and principles in us from the very beginning. We feel that with that, that's all you need to go through life."

    Friday, June 26, 2009

    Reuters - Drug use key question in Michael Jackson's sudden death

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    Drug use key question in Michael Jackson's sudden death

    Friday, Jun 26, 2009 5:21PM UTC

    By Mary Milliken and Laura Isensee

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One day after Michael Jackson's sudden death, speculation turned to what killed the 50-year-old "King of Pop" on the cusp of a long-awaited comeback concert series.

    A family attorney said on Friday he had been concerned that Jackson's use of prescription drugs for dancing-related injuries would eventually prove fatal and that the entertainer's inner circle had ignored his warnings.

    A Jackson family member told celebrity website TMZ.com the singer had been given an injection of the painkiller Demerol before he went into full cardiac arrest at his rental home around midday on Thursday. TMZ soon after broke the news that Jackson had died at a Los Angeles hospital.

    The Los Angeles County Coroner's office said the autopsy would begin Friday morning, but it could take six to eight weeks to determine a cause of death, which will likely have to wait for the return of toxicology tests. Those tests will determine if Jackson had any drugs, alcohol or prescription medications in his system.

    LEGIONS OF FANS

    At dawn on Hollywood Boulevard, fans gathered at Jackson's star on the Walk of Fame to honor the former child prodigy who became one of the best-selling pop artists of all time before descending into a strange and reclusive lifestyle amid accusations of child molestation.

    "His music was the soundtrack of my childhood," said Tassa Hampton, 32, as she knelt to light a white votive candle amid a growing pile of flowers and posters. "I didn't realize what a loss it was until he was gone."

    Jackson's passing was front-page news around the world as airwaves filled with his greatest hits from "Thriller" to "Billie Jean" and social networking sites were bombarded with messages and tributes from fans and musicians.

    "It's so sad and shocking," former Beatle Paul McCartney said. "I feel privileged to have hung out and worked with Michael. He was a massively talented boy man with a gentle soul. His music will be remembered forever."

    The family has yet to announce details of funeral services. Jackson's body was flown by helicopter from the hospital to the coroner's office late Thursday.

    Lawyer Brian Oxman, a spokesman for the Jackson family, told CBS's "The Early Show" on Friday that he had been concerned about the prescription drugs that Jackson took due to injuries suffered while performing.

    "I had warned everyone that I could warn and I told them that one day, Michael Jackson is going to wake up dead, which is a very odd way of putting it," Oxman said.

    "I do not want to point fingers at anyone because I want to hear what the toxicology report says and the coroner says but the plain fact of the matter is that Michael Jackson had prescription drugs at his disposal at all times," he said.

    Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery Homicide division searched Jackson's home in the upscale Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles at the behest of Chief William Bratton.

    The doctor who lived at Michael Jackson's house is missing, TMZ reported. A law enforcement source told TMZ that the doctor, whose name is not known, gave Jackson an injection before he died.

    Facing a battered reputation and a mountain of debt which The Wall Street Journal reported ran to $500 million, Jackson had spent the last two months rehearsing for the London concerts, including Wednesday at the huge Staples Center arena, home to the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.

    A complex process began in London to refund ticketholders, including people who bought tickets for sell-out shows from unauthorized dealers. A pair of "VIP" passes was offered on e-Bay recently for 16,000 pounds (over $25,000).

    In death, Jackson's music enjoyed a commercial renaissance that had eluded him for years. His songs surged to the top 15 slots on online retailer Amazon.com Inc's best-selling albums within hours.

    TAINTED TALENT?

    Jackson dominated the charts in the 1980s and was one of the most successful entertainers of all time, with a lifetime sales tally estimated at 750 million records, 13 Grammy Awards and several seminal music videos.

    "Michael was and will remain one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived," said Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, Jackson's first label boss. "He was exceptional, artistic and original. He gave the world his heart and soul through his music."

    Jackson's reputation as a singer and dancer was overshadowed in recent years by his increasingly abnormal appearance and bizarre lifestyle, which included his friendship with a chimp and a preference for the company of children.

    He named his estate in the central California foothills Neverland Valley Ranch, in tribute to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan stories, and built amusement park rides and a petting zoo.

    Jackson was twice accused of molesting young boys and was charged in 2003 with child sexual abuse. He became even more reclusive following his 2005 acquittal and vowed he would never again live at Neverland.

    Despite reports of Jackson's ill health, the promoters of the London shows, AEG Live, said in March that Jackson passed a 4-1/2 hour physical examination with independent doctors.

    Jackson was born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana, the seventh of nine children, and first performed with his brothers as a member of the Jackson 5.

    His 1982 album "Thriller" yielded seven top-10 singles. The album sold 21 million copies in the United States and at least 27 million internationally.

    The following year, he unveiled his signature "moonwalk" dance move, gliding across the stage and setting off an instant trend, while performing "Billie Jean" during an NBC special.

    In 1994, Jackson married Elvis Presley's only child, Lisa Marie, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1996.

    Jackson married Debbie Rowe the same year and had two children, before splitting in 1999, and he later had another child with an unidentified surrogate mother.

    He is survived by three children named Prince Michael I, Paris Michael and Prince Michael II, known for a brief public appearance when his father displayed him to fans in Germany by holding him over the railing of a hotel balcony.

    (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

    Reuters - "Transformers" in high gear already

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    "Transformers" in high gear already

    Friday, Jun 26, 2009 2:21AM UTC

    By Gregg Kilday

    LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Debuting Wednesday to an estimated $60.6 million, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" already has begun its triumphal rounding of the box office bases that should see it set a record or two by weekend's end.

    Once Michael Bay's sequel to the 2007 hit based on the Hasbro toy line staked out the upcoming weekend, there was never any question that it would dominate overall sales. Competitors steered clear of the date, with only Warner Bros. fielding the feel-good weepie "My Sister's Keeper" in a modest bit of counterprogramming.

    So the new "Transformers" -- machine-tooled with the help of a budget said to have approached $200 million -- isn't really competing against the other current releases: The Paramount release is out to do battle against the record book.

    If Paramount's first-day sales estimate holds, the sequel already can claim the distinction of the biggest Wednesday opening ever. It vaulted ahead of 2007's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which bowed to a one-day gross of $44.2 million.

    It came unexpectedly close to challenging "The Dark Knight," which holds the records for biggest opening-day gross and best single-day gross: It collected $67.2 million when it opened last year on a Friday. And it squeezed ahead of 2007's "Spider-Man 3," which debuted to $59.8 million, which had enjoyed runner-up status to "Knight" in the best single opening-day list.

    "Transformers'" accelerated takeoff was turbo-charged with the help of $16 million from midnight screenings, included in that $60.6 million opening number.

    Entering the weekend, the Paramount/DreamWorks co-production -- which is looking to draw in a wide audience base with the help of its fast-rising stars, Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox -- looks on track to surpass the debut of the first "Transformers," which opened on a Monday evening and collected $155.4 million in its first 6-1/2 days. By the close of business Sunday, the sequel probably will have passed that mark and in just its first five days.

    In doing so, it also would overshadow 2004's "Spider-Man 2," which holds the record for the best Wednesday-through-Sunday opening with $152.4 million.

    "Transformers" still would have a hard time challenging "Dark Knight" for the best five-day gross of all time, $203.8 million. "Dark Knight" was a hit with the fans and critics. Not so "Transformers," which as of Thursday had a low-ball 22 percent approval rating at Rottentomatoes.com.

    But Bay's movies have never depended on critics. During the Friday-to-Sunday portion of its debut, the first "Transformers" pulled in $70.5 million. If its sequel maintains its momentum, it will best that number, attracting $80 million-$90 million and possibly more as it heads toward a five-day gross of at least $150 million-$175 million.

    The holdovers at the multiplex will have to settle for doing business in "Transformers'" shadow. Disney's rom-com "The Proposal," last weekend's top grosser, Warners' breakout comedy "The Hangover" and Disney/Pixar's animated "Up" should all move down a notch, as they register numbers in the high-teen millions.

    "Sister's Keeper," starring Cameron Diaz in the tale of a family dealing with one daughter's leukemia, is aiming to lure older female moviegoers from the "Transformers" juggernaut. One of its selling points is that it's directed by Nick Cassavetes, who directed "The Notebook," a leggy, summer sleeper. "Keeper," though, is probably looking at a gross around the $10 million mark for its opening weekend.

    For the handful of moviegoers who turn a deaf ear to "Transformers," the specialty arena will host several new titles.

    Miramax will present Stephen Frears' period romantic drama "Cheri," starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates and Rupert Friend.

    Roadside Attractions may benefit from the world's focus on events in Iran as it releases Cyrus Nowrasteh's "The Stoning of Soraya M.," which examines the plight of one Iranian woman.

    And Summit Entertainment introduces Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq-set "The Hurt Locker," a critical hit on the festival circuit, in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. On Rottentomatoes.com, that film's approval rating had reached an enthusiastic 97 percent on Thursday.

    (Editing by Dean Gooodman at Reuters)

    Reuters - Mystery surrounds Michael Jackson's sudden death

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    Mystery surrounds Michael Jackson's sudden death

    Friday, Jun 26, 2009 12:41PM UTC

    By Dan Whitcomb and Bob Tourtellotte

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One day after Michael Jackson's sudden death, speculation was already turning on Friday to what killed the 50-year-old "King of Pop" just weeks before his long-awaited series of comeback concerts.

    Jackson, a former child star who became one of the best-selling pop artists of all time before a descending into a strange and reclusive lifestyle, died on Thursday afternoon at a Los Angeles hospital, where he had been rushed in full cardiac arrest after collapsing at his nearby rental home.

    His passing was front page news around the world, airwaves were filled with his greatest hits from "Thriller" to "Billie Jean," social networking sites were bombarded with messages and tributes from fans and musicians continued to pour in.

    "It's so sad and shocking," said former Beatle Paul McCartney. "I feel privileged to have hung out and worked with Michael. He was a massively talented boy man with a gentle soul. His music will be remembered forever."

    Few details were known about the circumstances surrounding Jackson's death, but the entertainer was reportedly unconscious and not breathing by the time he arrived at UCLA Medical Center, and doctors were unable to revive him.

    His body was flown by helicopter from the hospital to the coroner's office late on Thursday.

    Brian Oxman, a spokesman for the Jackson family, told CNN on Thursday the family had been concerned about his health and had tried in vain to take care of him for months.

    "Michael appeared at rehearsals a couple of times, he was very seriously trying to be able to do those rehearsals," Oxman said of Jackson's preparations for a series of 50 concerts that were scheduled to begin in London in July.

    "His use of medications had gotten in the way, his injuries which he had sustained performing, where he had broken a vertebrae and he had broken his leg from a fall on the stage, were getting in the way," Oxman told CNN.

    Authorities have scheduled an autopsy for Friday. But they cautioned it could take weeks to determine a cause of death, which will likely have to wait for the return of toxicology tests. Those tests will determine if Jackson had any drugs, alcohol or prescription medications in his system.

    Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery Homicide division searched Jackson's home in the upscale Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles at the behest of Chief William Bratton. But they called the investigation an "every day" event.

    TAINTED TALENT?

    Jackson dominated the charts in the 1980s and is considered one of the most successful entertainers of the past century, with a lifetime sales tally estimated at 750 million records, 13 Grammy Awards and several seminal music videos to his name.

    "Michael was and will remain one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived," said Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, Jackson's first label boss.

    "He was exceptional, artistic and original. He gave the world his heart and soul through his music."

    But Jackson's reputation as a singer and dancer was overshadowed in recent years by his increasingly abnormal appearance, and bizarre lifestyle, which included his friendship with a chimp and a preference for the company of children.

    He named his estate in the central California foothills Neverland Valley Ranch, in tribute to the J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan stories, and filled it with amusement park rides and a petting zoo.

    Jackson was twice accused of molesting young boys and was charged in 2003 with child sexual abuse. He became even more reclusive following his 2005 acquittal and vowed he would never again live at Neverland.

    Facing a battered reputation and mountain of debts the Wall Street Journal reported ran to $500 million, Jackson had spent the last two months rehearsing for the London concerts, including Wednesday night at the huge Staples Center arena, home to the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.

    Despite reports of Jackson's ill-health, the promoters of the London shows, AEG Live, said in March Jackson passed a 4-1/2 hour physical examination with independent doctors.

    "I can't stop crying over the sad news," Madonna said in a statement. "I have always admired Michael Jackson. The world has lost one of the greats but his music will live on forever."

    Jackson was born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana, the seventh of nine children and first performed with his brothers as a member of the Jackson 5.

    His 1982 album "Thriller" yielded seven top-10 singles. The album sold 21 million copies in the United States and at least 27 million internationally.

    The following year, he unveiled his signature "moonwalk" dance move, gliding across the stage and setting off an instant trend, while performing "Billie Jean" during an NBC special.

    In 1994, Jackson married Elvis Presley's only child, Lisa Marie, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1996.

    "I'm so very sad and confused with every emotion possible. ... This is such a massive loss on so many levels, words fail me," Presley said in statement.

    Jackson married Debbie Rowe the same year and had two children, before splitting in 1999, and he later had another child with an unidentified surrogate mother.

    He is survived by three children named Prince Michael I, Paris Michael and Prince Michael II, known for his brief public appearance when his father held him over the railing of a hotel balcony, causing widespread criticism.

    (Editing by Dean Goodman, Anthony Boadle and Matthew Jones)

    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    Reuters - Pop star Michael Jackson dead: report

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    Pop star Michael Jackson dead: report

    Thursday, Jun 25, 2009 10:30PM UTC

    By Bob Tourtellotte

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Pop giant Michael Jackson, who took to the stage as a child star and set the world dancing to exuberant rhythms for decades, died on Thursday, TMZ website reported. He was 50.

    There was no official confirmation of the reported death and spokespersons for Jackson could not be reached for comment.

    "We've just learned Michael Jackson has died," TMZ said.

    "Michael suffered a cardiac arrest earlier this afternoon at his Holmby Hills home and paramedics were unable to revive him. We're told when paramedics arrived Jackson had no pulse and they never got a pulse back," the entertainment site said.

    It added, "A source tells us Jackson was dead when paramedics arrived."

    Earlier, the Los Angeles Times said the singer had been rushed to a Los Angeles-area hospital by fire department paramedics who found him not breathing when they arrived at the singer's home.

    The newspaper said paramedics performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the scene before taking him to the UCLA Medical Center hospital.

    Jackson had been due to start a series of comeback concerts in London on July 13 running until March 2010. The singer, whose hits included "Thriller" and "Billie Jean," had been rehearsing in the Los Angeles area for the past two months.

    The shows for the 50 London concerts sold out within minutes of going on sale in March.

    His lifetime record sales tally is believed to be around 750 million, which, added to the 13 Grammy Awards he received, makes him one of the most successful entertainers of all time.

    He lived as a virtual recluse since his acquittal in 2005 on charges of child molestation.

    There were concerns about Jackson's health in recent years but the promoters of the London shows, AEG Live, said in March that Jackson had passed a 4-1/2 hour physical examination with independent doctors.

    CHILD STAR TO MEGASTAR

    Jackson was born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana, the seventh of nine children. Five Jackson boys -- Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael -- first performed together at a talent show when Michael was 6. They walked off with first prize and went on to become a best-selling band, The Jackson Five, and then The Jackson 5.

    Jackson made his first solo album in 1972, and released "Thriller" in 1982, which became a smash hit that yielded seven top-10 singles. The album sold 21 million copies in the United States and at least 27 million worldwide.

    The next year, he unveiled his signature "moonwalk" dance move while performing "Billie Jean" during an NBC special.

    In 1994, Jackson married Elvis Presley's only child, Lisa Marie, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1996. Jackson married Debbie Rowe the same year and had two children, before splitting in 1999. The couple never lived together.

    Jackson has three children named Prince Michael I, Paris Michael and Prince Michael II, known for his brief public appearance when his father held him over the railing of a hotel balcony, causing widespread criticism.

    (Additional Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Writing by Frances Kerry, Editing by Jackie Frank)

    Michael Jackson Dies

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    Reuters - Michael Jackson rushed to hospital: report

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    Michael Jackson rushed to hospital: report

    Thursday, Jun 25, 2009 9:29PM UTC

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Pop star Michael Jackson has been rushed to a Los Angeles-area hospital by fire department paramedics who found him not breathing when they arrived at the singer's home, the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday.

    The newspaper said paramedics performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the scene before taking him to the UCLA Medical Center hospital.

    No further details were immediately available, and spokespersons for Jackson could not be reached for comment.

    Jackson, 50, is due to start a series of comeback concerts in London on July 13 running until March 2010. The singer, whose hits include "Thriller" and "Billy Jean," has been rehearsing in the Los Angeles area for the past two months.

    The shows for the 50 London concerts sold out within hours of going on sale in March.

    Jackson, who started out as a child star in the band "The Jackson 5" more than 40 years ago, has lived as a virtual recluse since his acquittal in 2005 on charges of child molestation.

    There have been concerns about Jackson's health in recent years but the promoters of the London shows, AEG Live, said in March that Jackson had passed a 4-1/2 hour physical examination with independent doctors.

    (Additional Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Jackie Frank)

    CNN - Farrah Fawcett, sex symbol and actress, dies

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    Farrah Fawcett, sex symbol and actress, dies


    Farrah Fawcett, the blonde-maned actress whose best-selling poster and "Charlie's Angels" stardom made her one of the most famous faces in the world, died Thursday. She was 62.

    Fawcett's death was confirmed by Paul Bloch, one of her representatives at Rogers and Cowan, an entertainment public relations firm.

    Fawcett, who checked into a hospital in early April, had been battling anal cancer on and off for three years.

    Bloch told CNN that Ryan O'Neal, Fawcett's romantic partner since the mid-1980s, and her friend Alana Stewart were with Fawcett at Saint John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, when she died.

    "Although this is an extremely difficult time for her family and friends, we take comfort in the beautiful times that we shared with Farrah over the years and the knowledge that her life brought joy to so many people around the world," O'Neal said in a written statement. Read more tributes to Fawcett

    O'Neal is the father of Fawcett's son, Redmond O'Neal, born in 1985. Redmond O'Neal is in an intense rehabilitation program conducted in the Los Angeles county jail, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore told CNN on Thursday.

    Fawcett's son was informed on Wednesday night by a grief counselor and a chaplain that his mother's death was imminent, and a grief counselor and chaplain also told him when she died, Whitmore said.

    The young man, who is currently with a chaplain, has spoken with his father, Whitmore said.

    Ryan O'Neal had recently told People magazine that the sex symbol was declining.

    "She stays in bed now. The doctors see that she is comfortable. Farrah is on IVs, but some of that is for nourishment. The treatment has pretty much ended," he said in a story posted May 7.

    Fawcett's cancer journey has been documented in a television special partly shot by the actress. Fawcett began shooting "Farrah's Story," by taking a camera to a doctor's appointment. Eventually, the film expanded to include trips overseas in hopes of treating the cancer.

    The documentary aired on NBC on May 15.

    Fawcett's beauty -- her gleaming smile was printed on millions of posters -- initially made her famous. But she later established herself as a serious actress. She starred as a battered wife in the 1984 TV movie "The Burning Bed." She appeared on stage as a woman who extracts vengeance from a would-be rapist in William Mastrosimone's play "Extremities."

    She reprised the "Extremities" role on film in 1986. Other Fawcett films include "Logan's Run" (1976), "Saturn 3" (1980), "The Cannonball Run" (1981), "The Apostle" (1997) and the Robert Altman-directed "Dr. T and the Women" (2000).

    To many, Fawcett will always be best known for her red-swimsuited image on the pinup poster, which sold a reputed 12 million copies after its release in 1976. iReport: Share your memories of Farrah Fawcett

    Fawcett was a model best known for bit parts, commercials and as "Six Million Dollar Man" actor Lee Majors' wife when she shot the poster in early 1976 at the behest of Pro Arts, a Cleveland, Ohio, company.

    Photographer Bruce McBroom placed Fawcett -- then known as Farrah Fawcett-Majors -- in the Indian blanket-draped front seat of his 1937 Chevy and snapped away. Fawcett did her own hair -- a long, tousled cascade of blonde locks -- picked out the red bathing suit and chose the frame later used for the poster, according to a story in the Toronto Star.

    The poster, with Fawcett's million-dollar smile front and center, became a sensation.

    Soon after the photo shoot, Fawcett was asked to join the cast of a new Aaron Spelling TV show, "Charlie's Angels," about a trio of female detectives who work for a mysterious man named Charlie, whose only appearance in the show was through his voice (supplied by John Forsythe).

    Fawcett, who played Jill Munroe, was the last to be cast. Co-star Kate Jackson was the known name at the time, but thanks to her poster, Fawcett became the breakout star.

    The highly rated TV series kicked off what came to be known as "jiggle TV," series full of pretty actresses who appeared in bikinis at the drop of a hat.

    "Denunciations of 'massage parlor television' and 'voyeurism' only brought more viewers to the screen, to see what the controversy was about," wrote Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh about "Charlie's Angels" in their indispensable reference, "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows."

    ABC's "Three's Company" and CBS's "The American Girls" were among the shows that immediately followed, and shows such as "Baywatch" owe "Charlie's Angels" a debt.

    But Fawcett didn't stay with "Angels" long. At the end of the first season, unhappy with her contract, she left the show and was replaced by Cheryl Ladd.

    Fawcett's career stagnated for a time after "Charlie's Angels." She appeared in a handful of forgettable films and divorced Majors.

    But her career received a major boost with her starring role in "The Burning Bed," a 1984 TV movie co-starring Paul Le Mat. Fawcett played an abused wife who sets fire to her husband's bed as he lies sleeping. Fawcett received an Emmy nomination for her performance.

    Fawcett also became romantically involved with O'Neal around this time. The pair had a son, Redmond, in 1985.

    In recent years, Fawcett has appeared sporadically in the public eye. She posed nude for Playboy in 1995. In 1997, she appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman," an interview that became notorious for Fawcett's apparent incoherence. She later said she was just having fun with Letterman.

    She reunited with her "Charlie's Angels" co-stars, Jackson and Jaclyn Smith, for an awards show in 2006.

    Fawcett was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1947. She married Majors in 1973; they divorced nine years later.

    She was diagnosed with cancer in 2006.

    Reuters - Mobile money seen as chance for world's poorest

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    Mobile money seen as chance for world's poorest

    Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009 4:6PM UTC

    By Georgina Prodhan

    BARCELONA (Reuters) - Being able to use a mobile phone for money transfers, bill payments and even savings would give some of the world's poorest people the chance to become part of the financial system, telecom providers and bankers have said.

    While microfinance is estimated to have reached about 100 million people through institutions such as Grameenbank and small-scale community projects, telecoms industry group the GSM Association (GSMA) reckons that almost four times that number, who currently have no bank account, could benefit from mobile financial services.

    "The Grameenbank model works, but the scalability is limited," said Hannes van Rensburg, chief executive of mobile financial services provider Fundamo said on Wednesday.

    "The problem is about the inertia of money. It's very difficult to move very small amounts of money fast," he said in an interview with Reuters at the GSMA's Mobile Money summit in Barcelona.

    South Africa-based Fundamo is the world's leading provider of software and services for mobile money to network operators and banks, with about a quarter of the global market. More than 100 million transactions were made using its platforms last year.

    These transactions can be as small as 30 cents at a time, as mobile financial services providers aim to reach more of those living on less than $2 per day.

    EASIER BY PHONE

    Currently, about 3.5 billion people, more than half the world's population, have no access to banking services. However, 1 billion of those people do have mobile phones and the GSMA sees that figure rising to 1.7 billion by 2012.

    Access to financial services could not only remove the need for long, costly and risky journeys to move money around, but also reduce the burden of constant, active money management endured by those living on tiny amounts and in constant danger of financial crisis.

    "Poor people are doing a tremendous amount of financial transactions just to survive," says Stephen Rasmussen, who runs a mobile banking program for CGAP, an association of non-profit organizations under the auspices of the World Bank that seeks to help to increase financial access for the poor.

    "People at the very bottom spend far more energy and mental time on managing these systems than we do," Rasmussen told Reuters.

    Mobile money deployments have huge momentum, with the number expected to double to 120 by the end of the year, according to the GSMA.

    High-profile initiatives announced in recent months include South African operator MTN's plans to roll out mobile money using Fundamo's technology in 23 countries across Africa and the Middle East and Kuwaiti operator Zain's plan to extend its Zap money service from Kenya across its network, which spans 24 countries.

    Eventually, these services could provide some of the world's poorest people the chance to save money safely and to obtain credit, although the bulk of transactions currently taking place are simple money transfers.

    "We haven't even cracked step one correctly yet," said Fundamo's van Rensburg.

    Rasmussen agreed.

    "The prepaid phone has completely changed the world in the last five years," Rasmussen said. "But we're still talking potential."

    "It's not going to instantly bring people out of poverty, but it's one more thing in the tool kit," he said.

    (Editing by Karen Foster)

    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Reuters - "Friends" stars reunite online

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    "Friends" stars reunite online

    Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009 11:47AM UTC

    By Andrew Wallenstein

    LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A "Friends" reunion of sorts is coming to the Internet courtesy of Lexus.

    The carmaker is launching a second season of "Web Therapy," an online comedy series starring Lisa Kudrow for its branded-entertainment network, L Studio. Returning June 23, "Therapy" will feature Kudrow's fellow "Friends" alum Courteney Cox as a guest star. Don Roos directs.

    With the release of 15 new short-form episodes of "Therapy," Lexus has also retooled its strategy to syndicate the series to iTunes, YouTube and Hulu. When L Studio launched last September, all of its content was confined to the website, which has also since been redesigned to incorporate high-definition video that loads faster and can be shared on social networks.

    Kudrow, who won a Webby Award in June for outstanding comedic performance for "Therapy," stars as Fiona Wallice, a shrink who employs pretty shaky methods on a clientele she counsels over Webcam. In addition to Cox, Kudrow will play opposite Alan Cumming, Steven Weber and Victor Garber in the second season.

    Beginning with the July 6th episode, Cox plays a psychic who seeks Wallice's help because the dreams she relied on to deliver her psychic vision no longer occur. It's a comic wink to the role played on CBS' "Medium" by her sister-in-law Patricia Arquette -- Cox even alludes in character to the famous family into which she married. "Good god, how many of them are there really?" she jokes about the Arquette clan.

    While episodes will continue to be available at LStudio.com, bundles of three episodes will be available on iTunes for $1.99; a season pass for "Therapy" will cost $7.99. On YouTube and Hulu, Lexus will be in the unusual position of being an advertiser who will sell spots within "Therapy" to other advertisers.

    (Editing by Dean Gooodman at Reuters)

    (please visit our entertainment blog via www.reuters.com or on http://blogs.reuters.com/fanfare/)

    CNN - Neda: Latest iconic image to inspire

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    Neda: Latest iconic image to inspire


    A 14-year-old girl stoops and screams above the body of a Kent State University student killed in 1970 by an Ohio National Guardsman.

    A police chief aims his gun at a Vietcong prisoner's head in 1968, just before executing him on a Saigon, Vietnam, street.

    And in 1989, an unarmed man in Beijing, China, stands defiantly in front of a column of tanks as they rolled into Tiananmen Square.

    These are iconic images, the kinds of shots that changed the way people viewed history as it unfolded. They put human faces on conflicts and became rallying cries for movements, inspiring those who demanded change.

    But while these photographs -- chronicling a single, silent moment -- were taken by seasoned photographers, two of whom won Pulitzer Prizes, this time amateur cell phone video is grabbing worldwide attention. It captures the death of a young woman named Neda Agha-Soltan, galvanizing protesters in Iran and shaping perceptions of a land and people few Westerners know.

    "Every revolution needs icons and symbols -- an image that embodies a sense of universality of blight and at the same time innocence," said Roya Hakakian of Connecticut, a writer, poet and journalist who was born and raised in Iran. "The image of Neda does both."

    The graphic video of Neda's death, caused by a gunshot fired during a protest in Tehran, Iran, records her final moments: Her eyes turn toward the camera, people scream and struggle to revive her while blood streams across her face.

    Having gone viral with the help of social networking sites such as Twitter, the video of Neda's death has earned her the highly revered status of martyr. The woman who by all counts was an innocent bystander is now known as the "Angel of Iran" and is inspiring poetry. She is mourned publicly despite Revolutionary Guard threats, and her likeness graces posters.

    For Hakakian, who left Iran about 25 years ago, the significance of Neda's image runs deep. She said it's part of a larger picture of current protests being propelled by women, and a reflection of the Iran and the Iranians she knows.

    What outsiders have seen over the past three decades, she said, are fist-pumping men decrying America, images of hostages and "the burning of Uncle Sam effigies." Americans, she continued, have gotten to know little beyond the talk of Hezbollah and Hamas support, discussions of nuclear bombs and the rants of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling for, among other things, the destruction of Israel.

    "We come from different corners of the world, but we see the same thing," Hakakian said of the video of Neda's death. "You don't need to be Iranian. You don't need to be her neighbor. You don't need to know her name. ... Anyone can watch this and come away with the sense of injustice and what's taking place, and I think that's why it's catching on."

    Graphic images have long played a role in driving social awareness and change, said Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

    The skeletal figures of concentration camp victims drove home the horrors of the Holocaust. And the brutalized body of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy killed in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman, was shown at the insistence of his mother at his funeral, galvanizing the civil rights movement, Shapiro said.

    In more recent years, amateur video was credited with capturing the 1991 beating by Los Angeles police of Rodney King. And the first images out of Virginia Tech during the 2007 campus shooting were taken by students before professionals could hit the scene, added Nora Paul, founding director of the Institute for New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota.

    The challenge today, in a time when anyone can post images, is making sure graphic photos or videos are put in context and used by news organizations in a way that moves stories forward, both Paul and Shapiro agreed.

    While news outlets may blur faces, offer warnings to viewers or not even use some images, the vastness of the Internet means that once they are out there -- no matter how horrifying or inappropriate for viewers -- it's next to impossible to stop them from being circulated.

    "Even if you try to control access, the dam is already broken," Paul said.

    As for the impact on viewers, the effect of disturbing and violent images is hard to measure, said Elana Newman, who teaches psychology at the University of Tulsa and is a specialist in psychological trauma.

    An image often can communicate "the depths of pain" in a way that words alone cannot, Newman said. But she added scholars often debate whether such images turn people away from news, desensitize them or bolster a story's credibility. And there is also the challenge to consider of "balancing the privacy of the victim with the importance of telling the story."

    Her own opinion?

    "These images are helpful when these events are far away," she said, because they can bring home a story. They, however, are "not helpful to people when they're in their own backyard."

    And the impact on the person who captures the image is often untold.

    John Filo was a senior photography student at Kent State when he snapped the photo that became a symbol of the shootings on campus and helped propel the anti-war movement at the time.

    He doesn't remember going through six rolls of film that day, but he remembers being shot at and is all too aware that a mere feet -- even inches -- separated him from life or death. In 13 seconds, four students were killed and nine were wounded.

    It took "a good nine years" for him to sort through the experience, he told CNN. His relationships suffered, as did his confidence as a photographer. He grappled with survivor's guilt, the images he saw but didn't share and the anxiety about how his work affected other people's lives.

    "Everyone that was there that day was affected," said Filo, now director of photography for CBS media relaitons. "At least I had something to do that day. There were people who felt totally helpless -- people who tried to hide behind a four-inch street curb."

    When no one could believe what was happening around them, he had the power to show it.

    "You sit there as a journalist and say, 'If it was my brother or my mother, would I have taken this picture?' " he reflected out loud. It's "your purpose of being there. So yes, if it was my brother, if it was my mother, I'd still shoot the picture."

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

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    ThisMoment.com is the newest social networking debutante

    Vince Broady insists his new site, Thismoment.com, isn't just another way for you to share videos and pictures with friends, and find out about their likes and dislikes.

    The site, which debuts today after six months in a private beta, is a place to create "moments," similar to what you might do on Facebook or Twitter, but also making use of the various media all over the Net.

    "I got really frustrated using the other services," says Broady, a former CNET and Yahoo executive. "One is oriented towards photos, another toward video. One is all about status updates, another is about friending. There hasn't been a service yet that lets you break out of the format, to share what's most important to you, and incorporate stuff from the Net to help tell your story."

    Broady raised $3.5 million to start the venture, with assistance from former CNET chief Shelby Bonnie, former MTV digital exec Mika Salmi and current MySpace exec Jason Hirshhorn.   Making it pay off will be a challenge, however.  The social networking market is notoriously crowded, and many sites are not profitable.

    At thismoment.com, you put video, pictures and web content (from Flickr, YouTube, Picassa Web Albums, the New York Times and Time Inc.) into a "moment," telling a story of, say, a recent vacation, night out at the movies, graduation or other event.

    "It's not a photo album, it's not a blog post, it's a moment," says Broady. "It gets to the essence of the human experience, which is emotion."

    Broady says he started the site because he found himself "wasting" so much time constantly updating his status, and uploading pictures to sites, "and having nothing to show for it. It was all going into a digital shoebox, no one was looking at them, and I knew I could create something richer and more meaningful than what Facebook and Twitter were doing."

    Broady has several personal "moments," on display. including one about taking his kids to see the old Mel Gibson film Mad Max, complete with YouTube clips from the film, Flickr photos of the movie theater and commentary about the Broady's  meal. 

    The amount of time to create these multimedia blog posts could be quite time-consuming, but Broady is convinced folks will put in the effort.  "They're doing it now," he says. "They put in the time everyday."

    He hopes to make money via advertising, and by selling promo content that can be used for moments. At launch, he's got stuff from the New York Times, Time and Road and Track magazine. The content will be free for the first 90 days.

    By Jefferson Graham

    Photo: Thismoment.com

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    Phanfare gives up on social networking

    Andrew Erlichson thought fans of his premium photo sharing site Phanfare would embrace social networking features like instant updates to friends whenever new pictures were posted, or news feeds about their pictures

    .

    Instead, his base of over 11,000 paying customers voted a resounding "no."

    They wanted their old Phanfare back.

    So Thursday, Phanfare goes "back to our roots," as pure photo sharing, says Erlichson. Phanfare users will once again be able to showcase their work with personalized URLs (such as http://jeff.phanfare.com) to share albums, with optional passwords instead of pesky registrations and notifications.

    The social networking features are still there -- if wanted -- "but we don't expect for them to be used much," nor will they promoted, says Erlichson.

    Phanfare competes with Smugmug for folks who want their photos presented online sans ads, in a more pleasing layout than at sites that exist just to sell prints.

    Mighty Smugmug -- which serves consumers and pro photographers as a place to also sell prints -- has over 100,000 paying customers. Phanfare has a little more than 11,000 subscribers, mostly folks with their first digital SLR who who are photo enthusiasts.

    So in a bid to increase market share, Phanfare began last year offering a free service, with storage of up to 1 gigabyte of photos -- hoping users would love the service so much they would sign up for the upgrade.

    It didn¹t happen.

    So now Phanfare is lowering its prices, to $49.99 yearly from $54.99 and heavily touting its acclaimed free iPhone app.  It lets you tap into your entire Phanfare photo library on your phone, even if offline (such as when you're on an airplane).

    Erlichson says he added social networking features before Facebook really took off, and that in the interim, he's learned that social networking is a "natural monopoly. You want to join a network where all your friends are, so the biggest one continues to get bigger."  Phanfare fans can still share their pictures instantly to Facebook and Twitter, he says, so there was no need to have social features on Phanfare.

    By Jefferson Graham

    Photo: Phanfare's new home page.

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    Napster creator tears down walls for social gaming

    A decade ago, Shawn Fanning gained fame and turned an industry upside down with his music-sharing service, Napster. His latest project aims to remake the video game world, connecting players not only with content but also with one another.

    Long before he began work on Napster, Fanning, now 28, was a gamer. And he was frustrated that he could not maintain contact with players outside of games like World of Warcraft. "You meet new people and friends and lose touch with them," Fanning says. "All these game platforms are walled gardens, and so you often only know someone you play with under their game alias."

    So Fanning began work on a network he called Rupture to connect players across various game systems, individual online PC games such as Warcraft and even some casual Web games, "breaking down those barriers," he says. "Once you are a part of Rupture, you can track your friends and what your friends are playing, and find new games."

    Electronic Arts acquired Rupture last year; Fanning remains general manager. "Shawn brought an entirely fresh, new way of thinking to our social gaming initiative," says EA CEO John Riccitiello. "It's exciting to see how his next venture, Rupture, applies his disruptive thinking to social gaming."

    Currently in public testing, Rupture collects game identities and tracks your career. Once a player creates a Rupture account, profiles can be expanded upon with in-depth information harvested, for instance, from across PC, console, and Web gaming platforms. And Electronic Arts plans to supply information from its games, which range from sports to casual, on all platforms.

    Game publishers could integrate Rupture to provide real-time updates. A Rupture desktop application meant to run while you are playing PC games lists friends' statuses (online or not).

    Rupture's website provides social networking features such as friends and followers, plus recent games and challenges issued by other gamers (such as "Survive in Zombie mode co-op to level 20" in Call of Duty: World at War). "You get all the stuff your friends are posting, plus all of (their) achievements, high scores, new weapons or items," Fanning says.

    Testing focuses on what data to publish automatically in the "feed" and what to leave for further searching. "You want to be able to digest that stuff really easily at a high level," he says. "Then, if you are interested in drilling down on a certain game or person, you have that ability."

    These challenges pale in comparison with those Fanning faced in the past. Napster kicked off the peer-to-peer music-swapping craze and spurred a landmark copyright infringement decision before shutting down in 2001. A subscription Napster service eventually went into bankruptcy; this year, Best Buy relaunched the fee-based service.

    Looking back, Fanning says, he was "completely blown away by the amount of interest and controversy. I wouldn't say I regret anything. It's easy in hindsight to look back at how such a complex situation unfolded and how you might have been able to make better decisions, but all in all, it was a great experience."

    He says that in the music industry, "it is really hard to do anything innovative. (You're) dealing with a lot of people who aren't jumping at the prospect of their business model changing." But the gaming world, he says, is "a hybrid of technology and media, and their success depends on them incorporating and evolving new technology. You find people are far more open-minded."

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