Tom Brady Retires, Insisting This Time It’s For Good

Tom Brady, who won a record seven Super Bowls for New England and Tampa, has announced his retirement from the U.S. National Football League.

Brady — the most successful quarterback in NFL history, and one of the greatest athletes in team sports — posted the announcement on social media Wednesday morning, a brief video lasting just under one minute.

“Good morning guys. I’ll get to the point right away,” Brady says as the message begins. “I’m retiring. For good.”

He briefly retired after the 2021 season, but wound up coming back for one more year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He retires at age 45, the owner of numerous passing records in an unprecedented 23-year career.

A year ago when he retired, it was in the form of a long Instagram post. But about six weeks later, he decided to come back for one more run. The Buccaneers — with whom he won a Super Bowl two seasons ago — made the playoffs again this season, losing in their playoff opener. And at the time, it begged the question about whether Brady would play again.

Only a couple weeks later, he has given the answer.

“I know the process was a pretty big deal last time, so when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press record and let you guys know first,” Brady says in the video. “I won’t be long-winded. You only get one super emotional retirement essay and I used mine up last year.

“I really thank you guys so much, to every single one of you for supporting me. My family, my friends, teammates, my competitors. I could go on forever. There’s too many. Thank you guys for allowing me to live my absolute dream. I wouldn’t change a thing. Love you all.”

Brady is the NFL’s career leader in yards passing (89,214) and touchdowns (649). He’s the only player to win more than five Super Bowls and has been MVP of the game five times.

Brady has won three NFL MVP awards, been a first-team All-Pro three times and selected to the Pro Bowl 15 times.

Brady and supermodel Gisele Bündchen finalized their divorce this past fall, during the Bucs’ season. It ended a 13-year marriage between two superstars who respectively reached the pinnacles of football and fashion.

It was announced last year that when Brady retires from playing, he would join Fox Sports as a television analyst in a 10-year, $375 million deal.

‘Laverne & Shirley’ Actor Cindy Williams Dies at 75

Cindy Williams, who played Shirley opposite Penny Marshall’s Laverne on the popular sitcom “Laverne & Shirley,” has died, her family said Monday.

Williams died Wednesday in Los Angeles at age 75 after a brief illness, her children, Zak and Emily Hudson, said in a statement released through family spokeswoman Liza Cranis.

“The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed,” the statement said.

“Knowing and loving her has been our joy and privilege. She was one of a kind, beautiful, generous and possessed a brilliant sense of humor and a glittering spirit that everyone loved.”

Williams also starred in director George Lucas’ 1973 film “American Graffiti” and director Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” from 1974.

But she was by far best known for “Laverne & Shirley,” the “Happy Days” spinoff that ran on ABC from 1976 to 1983 that in its prime was among the most popular shows on TV.

Williams played the straitlaced Shirley to Marshall’s more libertine Laverne on the show about a pair of roommates who worked at a Milwaukee bottling factory in the 1950s and ’60s.

Marshall, whose brother, Garry Marshall, co-created the series, died in 2018.

“Laverne & Shirley” was known almost as much for its opening theme as the show itself. Williams’ and Marshall’s chant of “schlemiel, schlimazel” as they skipped together became a cultural phenomenon and oft-invoked piece of nostalgia.

‘Avatar 2’ Tops Box Office for 7th Weekend

“Avatar: The Way of Water” claimed the No. 1 spot on the domestic box office charts for the seventh weekend in a row with an additional $15.7 million, according to studio estimates on Sunday. 

It was a quiet weekend overall, notable mostly for the Hindi language blockbuster “Pathaan” that broke into the top five and the post-Oscar nominations rereleases of films like “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and “The Fabelmans.” 

“Avatar 2’s” first-place North American run has only been matched by the first “Avatar,” and, in the past 25 years, bested by “Titanic” (which stayed in first place for 15 weeks). All three were directed by James Cameron. 

Globally, “The Way of Water” has now grossed an estimated $2.1 billion, passing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” to become the fourth-highest grossing film of all time (of which Cameron has directed three). 

“James Cameron just keeps ticking off all the records and milestones,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. “And it’s still got a wide-open marketplace.” 

Second place went to Universal and DreamWorks’ family-oriented offering “Puss In Boots: The Last Wish,” which made $10.6 million in its sixth weekend. The animated spinoff has earned over $140.8 million in North America and was recently made available to stream at home, too. 

Third place went to Sony’s “A Man Called Otto” with $6.8 million from 3,957 locations. The meme-able horror “M3GAN,” a Universal release, snuck into fourth place with $6.4 million in its fourth weekend, bringing its domestic total to $82.3 million. 

The Indian film “Pathaan,” starring Shah Rukh Kha in his first role in five years, settled in fifth place with $5.9 million from only 695 screens. 

“A top five appearance is really impressive,” Dergarabedian said, noting that the marketplace over the past several years has presented opportunities for Indian films to break into the domestic top 10. 

Neon also launched the horror movie “Infinity Pool,” written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg and starring Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård, in 1,853 locations following its Sundance debut. It made an estimated $2.7 million. The romantic comedy “Maybe I Do,” with Diane Keaton, Richard Gere and Susan Sarandan, made $562,000 from 465 screens. And Lukas Dhont’s Cannes-winning boyhood drama “Close” opened on four screens in New York and Los Angeles, earning $68,143. 

Many studios boasting best picture nominees also chose to capitalize on the buzz of Tuesday’s Oscar nominations with sizable re-releases. “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” which got a leading 11 nominations, came back to theaters in force playing on 1,400 screens where it earned another $1 million. The A24 release has made $71 million domestically to date. Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” nominated for seven Oscars, also expanded to 1,962 screens in North America and took in an additional $760,000, bringing its domestic total to $16 million. And Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” also added a few hundred screens, earning $1 million over the weekend. It’s made $2.4 million to date. The Oscar boosts could continue over the coming weeks, too — the show isn’t until March 12. 

“We are seeing in real time the halo effect of the Oscar nominations on these best picture nominees,” Dergarbedian said. “The Oscar bounce is back, something we haven’t seen over the past couple of years.” 

Several of the highest profile releases of the weekend were both star-driven comedies that went straight to streaming: Netflix had “You People,” with Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jonah Hill and Lauren London and Amazon Prime Video offered “Shotgun Wedding,” with Jennifer Lopez, Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Coolidge. 

Seven weekends into “Avatar 2,” theater owners are also likely looking for the next big blockbuster, which is still a ways off. “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania” doesn’t arrive in theaters until Feb. 17. 

But, as Dergarabedian said, “2023 is already looking more like 2019 rather than the last three years.” 

“This is great news for theaters,” he said. “You have the Oscar bounce in play, an Indian film in the top 5 and ‘Avatar’ breaking records left and right.” 

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore, with Wednesday through Sunday in parentheses. Final domestic figures will be released Monday. 

  1. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” $15.7 million. 

  2. “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” $10.6 million. 

  3. “A Man Called Otto,” $6.8 million, 

  4. “M3GAN,” $6.4 million. 

  5. “Pathaan,” $5.9 million. 

  6. “Missing,” $3.8 million. 

  7. “Plane,” $3.8 million. 

  8. “Infinity Pool,” $2.7 million. 

  9. “Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist,” $2.4 million. 

  10. “The Wandering Earth 2,” $1.4 million. 

Barrett Strong, Motown Artist Known for ‘Money,’ Dies at 81

Barrett Strong, one of Motown’s founding artists and most gifted songwriters who sang lead on the company’s breakthrough single “Money (That’s What I Want)” and later collaborated with Norman Whitfield on such classics as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “War” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” has died. He was 81.     

His death was announced Sunday on social media by the Motown Museum, which did not immediately provide further details.     

“Barrett was not only a great singer and piano player, but he, along with his writing partner Norman Whitfield, created an incredible body of work,” Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement.     

Strong had yet to turn 20 when he agreed to let his friend Gordy, in the early days of building a recording empire in Detroit, manage him and release his music. Within a year, he was a part of history as the piano player and vocalist for “Money,” a million-seller released early in 1960 and Motown’s first major hit. Strong never again approached the success of “Money” on his own, and decades later fought for acknowledgement that he helped write it. But, with Whitfield, he formed a productive and eclectic songwriting team.     

While Gordy’s “Sound of Young America” was criticized for being too slick and repetitive, the Whitfield-Strong team turned out hard-hitting and topical works, along with such timeless ballads as “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).” With “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” they provided an up-tempo, call-and-response hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips and a dark, hypnotic ballad for Marvin Gaye, his 1968 version one of Motown’s all-time sellers.      

As Motown became more politically conscious late in the decade, Barrett-Whitfield turned out “Cloud Nine” and “Psychedelic Shack” for the Temptations and for Edwin Starr the protest anthem “War” and its widely quoted refrain, “War! What is it good for? Absolutely … nothing!”     

“With `War,’ I had a cousin who was a paratrooper that got hurt pretty bad in Vietnam,” Strong told LA Weekly in 1999. “I also knew a guy who used to sing with (Motown songwriter) Lamont Dozier that got hit by shrapnel and was crippled for life. You talk about these things with your families when you’re sitting at home, and it inspires you to say something about it.”     

Whitfield-Strong’s other hits, mostly for the Temptations, included “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “That’s the Way Love Is” and the Grammy-winning chart-topper “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” (Sometimes spelled “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”). Artists covering their songs ranged from the Rolling Stones (“Just My Imagination”) and Aretha Franklin (“I Wish It Would Rain”) to Bruce Springsteen (“War”) and Al Green (“I Can’t Get Next to You”).    

Strong spent part of the 1960s recording for other labels, left Motown again in the early 1970s and made a handful of solo albums, including “Stronghold” and “Love is You.” In 2004, he was voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which cited him as “a pivotal figure in Motown’s formative years.”      

Whitfield died in 2008.     

The music of Strong and other Motown writers was later featured in the Broadway hit “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.”    

Strong was born in West Point, Mississippi and moved to Detroit a few years later. He was a self-taught musician who learned piano without needing lessons and, with his sisters, formed a local gospel group, the Strong Singers. In his teens, he got to know such artists as Franklin, Smokey Robinson and Gordy, who was impressed with his writing and piano playing. “Money”’ with its opening shout, “The best things in life are free/But you can give them to the birds and bees,” would, ironically, lead to a fight — over money.      

Strong was initially listed among the writers and he often spoke of coming up with the pounding piano riff while jamming on Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” in the studio. But only decades later would he learn that Motown had since removed his name from the credits, costing him royalties for a popular standard covered by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and many others and a keepsake on John Lennon’s home jukebox. Strong’s legal argument was weakened because he had taken so long to ask for his name to be reinstated. (Gordy is one of the song’s credited writers, and his lawyers contended Strong’s name only appeared because of a clerical error).      

“Songs outlive people,” Strong told The New York Times in 2013. “The real reason Motown worked was the publishing. The records were just a vehicle to get the songs out there to the public. The real money is in the publishing, and if you have publishing, then hang on to it. That’s what it’s all about. If you give it away, you’re giving away your life, your legacy. Once you’re gone, those songs will still be playing.” 

Gregory Allen Howard Who Wrote ‘Remember the Titans’ Dies 

Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, who skillfully adapted stories of historical Black figures in “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington, “Ali” with Will Smith and “Harriet” with Cynthia Erivo, has died. He was 70.

Howard died Friday at his home in Miami after a brief illness, according to a statement from publicist Jeff Sanderson.

Howard was the first Black screenwriter to write a drama that made $100 million at the box office when “Titans” crossed that milestone in 2000. It was about a real-life Black coach coming into a newly integrated Virginia school and helping lead their football team to victory. It had the iconic line: “I don’t care if you like each other or not. But you will respect each other.”

Howard said he shopped the story around Hollywood with no success. So he took a chance and wrote the screenplay himself. ″They didn’t expect it to make much money, but it became a monster, making $100 million,” he said. “It made my career,” he told the Times-Herald of Vallejo, California, in 2009. The film made the Associated Press’ list of the best 25 sports movies ever made.

Howard followed up “Remember the Titans” with “Ali,” the 2002 Michael Mann-directed biopic of Muhammad Ali. Smith famously bulked up to play Ali and was nominated for a best actor Oscar.

Howard also produced and co-wrote 2019′s “Harriet,” about abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Erivo lead a cast that included Leslie Odom Jr., Clarke Peters and Joe Alwyn.

“I got into this business to write about the complexity of the Black man. I wanted to write about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Marcus Garvey. I think it takes a Black man to write about Black men,” he told the Times-Herald.

Born in Virginia, his family moved often due to his stepfather’s career in the Navy. After attending Princeton University, graduating with a degree in American history, Howard briefly worked at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street before moving to Los Angeles in his mid-20s to pursue a writing career.

He wrote for TV and penned the play “Tinseltown Trilogy,” which focused on three men in Los Angeles over Christmastime as their stories interconnect and inform each other.

Howard also wrote “The Harlem Renaissance,” a limited series for HBO, “Misty,” the story of prima ballerina Misty Copeland and “This Little Light,” the Fannie Lou Hamer story. Most recently, he wrote the civil rights project “Power to the People” for producer Ben Affleck and Paramount Pictures.

He is survived by a sister, Lynette Henley; a brother, Michael Henley; two nieces and a nephew.

Church Helps Mining Community Evolve in Dark, Warming Arctic

The warm glow of Svalbard Kirke’s lights gleams on the snow-covered mountain slope from where the church stands like a beacon over this remote Norwegian Arctic village, cloaked in the polar night’s constant darkness.

A century after it was founded to minister to the coal miners who settled Longyearbyen, the Lutheran house of faith is open 24/7, serving as a crucial gathering point for a community navigating a drastic change in its identity.

The last Norwegian coal mine in Svalbard – an archipelago that’s one of the world’s fastest warming spots – was slated to close this year and only got a reprieve until 2025 because of the energy crisis driven by the war in Ukraine.

For the lone pastor in this fragile, starkly beautiful environment, the challenge is to fulfill the church’s historical mission of ministering to those in crisis while addressing a pressing and divisive contemporary challenge.

“We pray every Sunday for everyone who’s affected by climate change,” the Rev. Siv Limstrand said. “We also have a role to play as church when it comes to thinking theologically, about what are we doing to the creation.”

On treeless land hemmed by glaciers, mountains and deep fjords, Longyearbyen is a town of visible paradoxes.

The open water of the rapidly warming sea laps up against old coal mining conveyors. Tourists come by the environmentally unfriendly planeload to seek pristine wilderness they can only explore with guides armed against polar bears.

Right below where the first mine was built, Svalbard Kirke beckons to its fireplace-warmed lounge that opens into the sanctuary. A cup of coffee or hymnbooks in multiple languages are always available – as long as visitors first remove their shoes in the entryway, as miners used to do with soot-covered boots.

“You don’t have to be very religious. They have room for everybody,” said Leonard Snoeks, whose daughter sings in Polargospel, the church’s children’s choir, and whose wife is working on the city’s transition to renewable energy.

The switch this year from coal-fired to diesel-powered energy production at the plant – which prompted the mine’s original decision to shut down – is expected to halve carbon dioxide emissions even as the search for long-term, cleaner alternatives continues, said Torbjørn Grøtte, Longyearbyen’s energy transition project leader.

As change swirls faster than the snowdrifts covering Longyearbyen’s few miles of paved roads, the church’s anchoring role seems poised to remain the only constant.

It attracts miners who have attended funerals for colleagues who died on the job over the decades, as well as newly arrived scientists and tourism workers seeking to integrate in the increasingly diverse community where people now tend to stay only a couple of years.

Store Norske, the Norwegian company still operating the remaining mine, built the first church in 1921 in Longyearbyen – which translates as “the town of Longyear,” the surname of the American who established the first mining operation here.

For decades, the town’s two supreme authorities were the mine’s executive and the church’s pastor, old-timers say.

The first pastor was also the teacher in the company town that for most of the 20th century was inhabited by single miners and the mining executives’ families. Outside town limits, a few trappers continued to hunt, a long tradition in these glacier-covered islands.

Miners and their families also made up the Russian towns in Svalbard. At the surviving one, Barentsburg, coal is still extracted under a century-old international treaty that grants rights to all signatory countries. Relations with Longyearbyen, which had normalized after the end of the Cold War as miners traded visits by boat and snowmobile, have been strained again by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.

Trond Johansen was 17 when he arrived in Longyearbyen in 1971 on a plane chartered by the mining company that landed on an ice field – the airport would be built a few years later.

Sipping black coffee on a mid-January morning in the town’s sleek café that offers knitted wear and artisanal chocolates, the retired miner recalled when the main entertainment was at the church.

Before TVs, let alone anything like the plush cinema soon to open in the town’s new art gallery, Johansen and fellow miners gathered on Wednesdays to watch four-week-old videocassettes of news broadcasts from the mainland – though they skipped over the weather forecast, Johansen added with a chuckle.

“It was a fantastic place to grow up, more free probably than many places, and you had the wild and the excitement with polar bears lurking around,” said Bent Jakobsen, who was born on Svalbard and works at the Norwegian coal mine like his father and brothers before him.

But today he jokes the mine’s closing will turn him into an endangered species just like the iconic Arctic predator.

“I can be stuffed and put in the museum, me and the polar bear,” Jakobsen said.

Svalbard’s natural environment has been changing fast, too. There’s no more ice on Isfjorden, which translates as “ice fjord” and whose feet-thick ice cover used to be traversed by polar bears in winter until a dozen years ago.

“Everything except the darkness has changed,” said Kim Holmén, a special advisor to the Norwegian Polar Institute who has researched climate in Svalbard for decades. At this latitude, only the January moon glows around the clock.

Swept by the Gulf Stream ocean current and increasingly surrounded by open water, which accelerates heating, Svalbard is warming even faster than the rest of the Arctic, according to both Holmén and data from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

Compared to the 1961-1990 normal, winter temperatures of the last decade averaged 7.3 degrees Celsius (13.2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer. It’s been a dozen years since Svalbard hit -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit), which used to happen regularly decades ago.

“Plants, animals, birds, the whole ecosystem is changing,” Holmén added, as cold-adjusted species struggle and new ones arrive.

Unusual winter rains unsettle the snowpack, which has led to more avalanches, including a deadly one a few days before Christmas in 2015 that ripped through town, killing two people.

One of them was a friend of Svalbard Kirke’s then-pastor, the Rev. Leif Magne Helgesen, who had already been working on raising awareness of the changes he was observing on the island.

“As a pastor on Svalbard, you’re the northernmost religious leader in the world. That gives you a pulpit,” Helgesen said.

“There are three main ethical challenges we need to deal with and have a prophetic voice in the church: Poverty, conflict, and climate,” he added. “It’s hypocritical to only talk about life after death. We also strongly believe in life on earth and life today.”

He started including prayers about climate in regular worship services. He also worked with the church’s then music director, Espen Rotevatn, to create vocals and instrumentals for a climate change Mass – including a rite of penance for piano with deep, haunting notes and upbeat, Blues-inspired passages.

“Some lyrics are dark, but much of it is filled with hope,” said Rotevatn. He has been lobbying for the mine to close, which he said was a very unpopular cause just a few years ago.

From a Christian perspective, some might argue that God can fix everything – but Rotevatn shares a different view he believes is more common in the Norway’s churches.

“We have a responsibility for the earth that is given to us, to (not) destroy it, which is what we may be doing now,” he said.

Rotevatn is now the principal of Svalbard Folkehøgskole, an alternative higher-ed institution in Longyearbyen that he hopes to run as “green” as possible, including with solar panels. For several months in the spring and summer, the sun never sets in Svalbard, just like it never rises in winter.

In that constant darkness, keeping a light burning becomes more than a metaphor for Svalbard Kirke.

“Physical openness and accessibility to me not only symbolizes, but it is also … an ideal for what a church should be,” said Limstrand, who became pastor here in 2019, nearly thirty years after her ordination. “People can come in totally on their own terms.”

Among a couple dozen congregants at a mid-January Sunday afternoon Mass was a Hindu family from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh – two scientists and their 18-month-old daughter, whom they named Svalbie after the archipelago.

“God is God, it doesn’t matter which religion. We feel good, peaceful and calm, similar to how we feel when we go to temple,” said environmental chemist Neelu Singh.

She and Svalbie started coming to church for the weekly “baby song hour.” To the church piano’s accompaniment, new parents sing to their babies in a circle before sharing lunch with the pastor and church staff.

“You feel connected with the community and get a chance to be social,” said Singh, who believes hers was the only Indian family in Longyearbyen when they moved here four years ago.

What Limstrand calls “spiritual hospitality” also extends outwards from the red-slatted church.

Before the pandemic, she hosted regular visits by Catholic and Orthodox priests to minister to their congregations – including Poles at remote research stations, Russians and Ukrainians in Barentsburg, and a few Filipino workers at the town’s only supermarket who happily reminisced recently about those moments.

The pastor herself travels to celebrate services beyond the church – including once at Green Dog, a dogsledding outfit half a dozen miles from Longyearbyen in a broad valley.

“How many priests can you ask to come to a dog yard in -11 (degrees Celsius, 12 degrees Fahrenheit) to baptize two kids?” said their mother, Karina Bernlow, who runs Green Dog with her husband and arrived in Svalbard 11 years ago after a stint in Greenland.

In this time, Bernlow has already seen Longyearbyen transform from a community where mining families lived for generations and extended a warm welcome to outsiders, to a mix of short-term workers who hardly ever meet outside their jobs.

“A place without history, that’s what it’s turning into. I can see how it’s disappearing,” she said as the wind, and the dogs, howled outside a log cabin near her yard. Bright lights marked the entrance to the last Norway-operated mine on the opposite mountainside.

“The church is a bridge-builder. A place like this, with so many nationalities, it’s really important to have,” she added. “I don’t go to church very often, but I know it’s there if I need it.”

That is exactly the kind of church Limstrand wants to foster in order to serve this changing community.

Here, people feel at home when they come to worship by the rose-filled altar, because they have already attended a concert, or a community gathering, or the Tuesday night coffee hour, when hot-off-the-griddle waffles are smothered in brunost, Norway’s traditional caramel-tasting cheese.

“It’s not the pastor’s church, it’s not the Church’s church, it’s not the church council’s church, but it’s our church,” Limstrand said. “It’s something that is shared, it’s not something that is guarded.”

‘Remember the Titans’ Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard Dies

Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, who skillfully adapted stories of historical Black figures in “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington, “Ali” with Will Smith and “Harriet” with Cynthia Erivo, has died. He was 70.
Howard died Friday at his home in Miami after a brief illness, according to a statement from publicist Jeff Sanderson.

Howard was the first Black screenwriter to write a drama that made $100 million at the box office when “Titans” crossed that milestone in 2000. It was about a real-life Black coach coming into a newly segregated Virginia school and helping lead their football team to victory. It had the iconic line: “I don’t care if you like each other or not. But you will respect each other.”

Howard said he shopped the story around Hollywood with no success. So, he took a chance and wrote the screenplay himself. ″They didn’t expect it to make much money, but it became a monster, making $100 million,” he said. “It made my career,” he told the Times-Herald of Vallejo, California, in 2009. The film made The Associated Press’ list of the best 25 sports movies ever made.

Howard followed up “Remember the Titans” with “Ali,” the 2002 Michael Mann-directed biopic of Muhammad Ali. Smith famously bulked up to play Ali and was nominated for a best actor Oscar.

Howard also produced and co-wrote 2019′s “Harriet,” about abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Erivo led a cast, that included Leslie Odom Jr., Clarke Peters and Joe Alwyn.

“I got into this business to write about the complexity of the Black man. I wanted to write about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Marcus Harvey. I think it takes a Black man to write about Black men,” he told the Times-Herald.

Born in Virginia, his family moved often due to his stepfather’s career in the Navy. After attending Princeton University, graduating with a degree in American history, Howard briefly worked at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street before moving to Los Angeles in his mid-20s to pursue a writing career.

He wrote for TV and penned the play “Tinseltown Trilogy,” which focused on three men in Los Angeles over Christmastime as their stories interconnect and inform each other.

Howard also wrote “The Harlem Renaissance,” a limited series for HBO, “Misty,” the story of prima ballerina Misty Copeland and “This Little Light,” the Fannie Lou Hamer story. Most recently, he wrote the civil rights project “Power to the People” for producer Ben Affleck and Paramount Pictures.

He is survived by a sister, Lynette Henley; a brother, Michael Henley; two nieces and a nephew.

Ancient Tomb Discovered in Egypt

An excavation team in Egypt has unearthed an ancient tomb containing a mummy believed to be 4,300 years old. It is among dozens of artifacts recently discovered.

After a year-long excavation, renowned archaeologist Zahi Hawass announced the findings at Gisr al-Mudir, also known as the Great Enclosure, one of the oldest known stone structures in Egypt. Among them – Khmumdjedef – a priest from the fifth dynasty, Meri, a palace official who held the title “keeper of the secrets,” and a man named Hekashepes.

“This mummy may be the oldest and most complete mummy found in Egypt to date,” Hawass said about Hekashepes, in a statement. Other major discoveries from the excavation included statues, amulets, and a well-preserved sarcophagus.

“I put my head inside to see what was inside the sarcophagus: A beautiful mummy of a man completely covered in layers of gold,” said Hawass.

Over the past week, researchers have made many other discoveries, such as dozens of burial sites from the New Kingdom Era, which dates from 1800 to 1600 B.C., near the southern city of Luxor.   

Additionally, a group of scientists from Cairo University announced details Tuesday about a previously uncovered mummified teenage boy. Through the use of CT scans, they were able to shed new light on the boy’s high social status by examining the intricate details of the amulets inserted in his mummified body as well as the type of burial he received.

The Egyptian tombs are a large tourist draw and the North African country often advertises them as a way to bring in more money. The number of visitors, however, has been negatively affected since an uprising in 2011, the coronavirus pandemic, and, most recently, the war in Ukraine. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.   

Late Poet Credited with Rescue of Kashmiri Language 

The literary world of Indian-administered Kashmir is mourning the death of a beloved poet and champion of the Kashmiri language, which he is largely credited with rescuing from obscurity.

Abdur Rehman Rahi, an acclaimed writer and professor of literature who died earlier this month at age 97, is being hailed as a living testament to Kashmir’s literary prestige who helped establish a unique identity for the once-endangered language.

“With Rahi’s death, we have lost one of the crown jewels from Kashmir’s literary landscape. His death marks an end of an era,” remarked Shad Ramzan, himself a highly regarded writer and Kashmiri-language scholar.

Rahi’s talents were recognized with numerous awards, including India’s leading literary prize, the Jnanpith Award, in 2007 for his poetic collection Siyah Rood Jaeren Manz (In Black Drizzle), and India’s fourth-highest civilian honor, the Padma Shri, in 2000.

But his more lasting legacy will stem from his tireless efforts to preserve and popularize the Kashmiri language, which is spoken today by some 6 million people in the Kashmir Valley and surrounding region.

The native tongue had fallen into deep decline in the decades after the end of British rule in 1947, with the federal government discontinuing its teaching in elementary schools in 1955.

The language “has always been given less preference from the rulers of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. There is no mention from the political parties in their manifestos regarding the planning and development of the Kashmiri language,” says an article in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Linguistics, a publication of the University of Kashmir.

Ramzan says a key to Kashmiri’s renewed life was the establishment 1974 of a research cell for the study of the language at the University of Kashmir. Five years later, Rahi oversaw the conversion of the research cell into a full-fledged postgraduate department.

“Rahi introduced critical thinking of East and West poetry in the curriculum of the postgraduate program,” Ramzan said in an interview.

Continued agitation by Rahi and other scholars, social and cultural groups led to the language being taught more broadly, and by 2008, it had become mandatory in the former state of Jammu and Kashmir for students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Outside the classroom, Rahi also worked to introduce the language to a global audience through his poetry. “He shifted the focus from the classical Kashmiri poetry that had previously dominated the literary landscape,” explained Salim Salik, an editor at the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.

Muhammad Maroof Shah, another Kashmiri writer, agreed that Rahi’s success lay in his ability to write Kashmiri-language poetry worthy of international attention in the contemporary idiom. He praised Rahi for presenting the Kashmiri tradition in terms that could be understood and appreciated universally.

Despite his unquestioned literary genius, Rahi was criticized at times for not applying his talents to the political tensions that bedevil Kashmir, the focus of a long-running insurgency and repeated wars between India and Pakistan.

“I felt that he observed self-censorship fearing reprisal from both state and non-state actors,” said Bilal A. Jan, an award-winning filmmaker from Srinagar who directed a biographical documentary on Rahi’s life and works titled, “The Poet of Silence.”

“Rahi shared some incidents with me when he was threatened for his work,” added Jan, who told VOA he believes Rahi’s poetry was influenced by Marxist ideology while focused on the human predicament and day-to-day life issues of humans.

One of Rahi’s colleagues at the University of Kashmir, Shafi Shauq, challenged the notion that Rahi avoided the most challenging issues, saying, “One of his best poems is ‘Thyanvi Ros Sadaa’ (A Call without Sound) which speaks of the contemporary situation.”

Rahi was essentially a distinguished poet who tried to create his own style by mixing personally coined words, archaisms, allusions and verbal rhythms, Shauq told VOA.

“Although his popularity is based on a few lyrics sung by our best singers, the serious poetry contained in his three collections is beyond the comprehension of common readers. His two collections of literary essays are in keeping with his individual notion of poetic composition.”

Rahi is survived by three sons, all of whom work in the medical profession, and a daughter who worked for a time at the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.

One of the sons, Dildar Ahmad, told VOA his father was a gentle and soft-spoken man who used to treat people equally irrespective of class, caste or age.

The daughter, Rubina Ellahi, said Rahi had been not only a father but also her best friend. “We used to discuss poetry for hours together,” she said in an interview. “He has left some unpublished work, which I will publish at an appropriate time.”

Lloyd Morrisett, Who Helped Launch ‘Sesame Street,’ Dies

Lloyd Morrisett, the co-creator of the beloved children’s education TV series Sesame Street, which uses empathy and fuzzy monsters like Abby Cadabby, Elmo and Cookie Monster to charm and teach generations around the world, has died. He was 93.

Morrisett’s death was announced Monday by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit he helped establish under the name the Children’s Television Workshop. No cause of death was given.

In a statement, Sesame Workshop hailed Morrisett as a “wise, thoughtful, and above all kind leader” who was “constantly thinking about new ways” to educate.

Morrisett and Joan Ganz Cooney worked with Harvard University developmental psychologist Gerald Lesser to build the show’s unique approach to teaching that now reaches 120 million children. Legendary puppeteer Jim Henson supplied the critters.

“Without Lloyd Morrisett, there would be no Sesame Street. It was he who first came up with the notion of using television to teach preschoolers basic skills, such as letters and numbers,” Cooney said in a statement. “He was a trusted partner and loyal friend to me for over 50 years, and he will be sorely missed.”

 

Sesame Street is shown in more than 150 countries, has won 216 Emmys, 11 Grammys and in 2019 received the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime artistic achievement, the first time a television program got the award (Big Bird strolled down the aisle and basically sat in Tom Hanks’ lap).

Born in 1929 in Oklahoma City, Morrisett initially trained to be a teacher with a background in psychology. He became an experimental educator, looking for new ways to educate children from less advantaged backgrounds. Morrisett received his bachelor’s at Oberlin College, did graduate work in psychology at UCLA, and earned his doctorate in experimental psychology at Yale University. He was an Oberlin trustee for many years and was chair of the board from 1975-81.

The seed of Sesame Street was sown over a dinner party in 1966, where he met Cooney.

“I said, ‘Joan, do you think television could be used to teach young children?’ Her answer was, ‘I don’t know, but I’d like to talk about it,’” he recalled to The Guardian in 2004.

The first episode of Sesame Street, sponsored by the letters W, S and E and the numbers 2 and 3, aired in the fall of 1969. It was a turbulent time in America, rocked by the Vietnam War and raw from the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the year before.

Children’s programming at the time was made up of shows like Captain Kangaroo, Romper Room and the often-violent cartoon skirmishes between Tom & Jerry. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was mostly teaching social skills.

Sesame Street was designed by education professionals and child psychologists with one goal: to help low-income and minority students aged 2-5 overcome some of the deficiencies they had when entering school. Social scientists had long noted kids who were white and from higher-income families were often better prepared.

The show was set on an urban street with a multicultural cast. Diversity and inclusion were baked into the show. Monsters, humans and animals all lived together peacefully.

It became the first children’s program to feature someone with Down syndrome. It’s had puppets with HIV and in foster care, invited children in wheelchairs, dealt with topics like jailed parents, homelessness, women’s rights, military families and even girls singing about loving their hair.

It introduced the bilingual Rosita, the first Latina Muppet, in 1991. Julia, a 4-year-old Muppet with autism, came in 2017 and the show has since offered help for kids whose parents are dealing with addiction and recovery, and children suffering as a result of the Syrian civil war. To help kids after 9/11, Elmo was left traumatized by a fire at Hooper’s store but was soothingly told that firefighters were there to help.

The company said upon the news of his death that Lloyd left “an outsized and indelible legacy among generations of children the world over, with Sesame Street only the most visible tribute to a lifetime of good work and lasting impact.”

He is survived by his wife, Mary; daughters Julie and Sarah; and granddaughters Frances and Clara.

BBC Film About India’s PM Modi, 2002 Riots Draws Government Ire

Days after India blocked a BBC documentary that examines Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role during 2002 anti-Muslim riots and banned people from sharing it online, authorities are scrambling to halt screenings of the film at colleges and universities and restrict clips of it on social media. Critics decry the move by as an assault on press freedom.

Tensions escalated in the capital, New Delhi, on Wednesday at Jamia Millia University where a student group said it planned to screen the banned documentary, prompting dozens of police equipped with tear gas and riot gear to gather outside campus gates.

Police, some in plain clothes, scuffled with protesting students and detained at least half a dozen of them, who were taken away in a van.

Jawaharlal Nehru University in the capital cut off power and the internet on its campus on Tuesday before the documentary was scheduled to be screened by a students’ union. Authorities said it would disturb peace on campus, but students nonetheless watched the documentary on their laptops and mobile phones after sharing it on messaging services like Telegram and WhatsApp.

The documentary has caused a storm at other Indian universities too.

Authorities at the University of Hyderabad, in India’s south, have begun a probe after a student group showed the banned documentary earlier this week. In the southern state of Kerala, workers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party held demonstrations on Tuesday after some student groups affiliated with rival political parties defied the ban and screened the film.

The two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question” has not been broadcast in India by the BBC, but India’s federal government blocked it over the weekend and banned people from sharing clips on social media, citing emergency powers under its information technology laws. Twitter and YouTube complied with the request and removed many links to the documentary.

The first part of the documentary, released last week by the BBC for its U.K. audiences, revives the most controversial episode of Modi’s political career when he was the chief minister of western Gujarat state in 2002. It focuses on bloody anti-Muslim riots in which more than 1,000 people were killed.

The riots have long hounded Modi because of allegations that authorities under his watch allowed and even encouraged the bloodshed. Modi has denied the accusations, and the Supreme Court has said it found no evidence to prosecute him. Last year, the country’s top court dismissed a petition filed by a Muslim victim questioning Modi’s exoneration.

The first part of the BBC documentary relies on interviews with victims of the riots, journalists and rights activists, who say Modi looked the other way during the riots. It cites, for the first time, a secret British diplomatic investigation that concluded Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity.”

The documentary includes the testimony of then-British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who says the British investigation found that the violence by Hindu nationalists aimed to “purge Muslims from Hindu areas” and that it had all the “hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing.”

Suspicions that Modi quietly supported the riots led the U.S., U.K. and E.U. to deny him a visa, a move that has since been reversed.

India’s Foreign Ministry last week called the documentary a “propaganda piece designed to push a particularly discredited narrative” that lacks objectivity and slammed it for “bias” and “a continuing colonial mindset.” Kanchan Gupta, a senior adviser in the government’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, denounced it as “anti-India garbage.”

The BBC in a statement said the documentary was “rigorously researched” and involved a wide range of voices and opinions.

“We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series — it declined to respond,” the statement said.

The second part of the documentary, released Tuesday in the U.K., “examines the track record of Narendra Modi’s government following his re-election in 2019,” according to the film’s description on the BBC website.

In recent years, India’s Muslim minority has been at the receiving end of violence from Hindu nationalists, emboldened by a prime minister who has mostly stayed mum on such attacks since he was first elected in 2014.

The ban has set off a wave of criticism from opposition parties and rights groups that slammed it as an attack against press freedom. It also drew more attention to the documentary, sparking scores of social media users to share clips on WhatsApp, Telegram and Twitter.

“You can ban, you can suppress the press, you can control the institutions … but the truth is the truth. It has a nasty habit of coming out,” Rahul Gandhi, a leader in the opposition Congress party, told reporters at a press conference Tuesday.

Mahua Moitra, a lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress political party, on Tuesday tweeted a new link after a previous one was taken down. “Good, bad, or ugly — we decide. Govt doesn’t tell us what to watch,” Moitra said in her tweet, which was still up Wednesday morning.

Human Rights Watch said the ban reflected a broader crackdown on minorities under the Modi government, which the rights group said has frequently invoked draconian laws to muzzle criticism.

Critics say press freedom in India has declined in recent years and the country fell eight places, to 150 out of 180 countries, in last year’s Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. It accuses Modi’s government of silencing criticism on social media, particularly on Twitter, a charge senior leaders of the governing party have denied.

Modi’s government has regularly pressured Twitter to restrict or ban content it deems critical of the prime minister or his party. Last year, it threatened to arrest Twitter staff in the country over their refusal to ban accounts run by critics after implementing sweeping new regulations for technology and social media companies.

The ban on the BBC documentary comes after a proposal from the government to give its Press Information Bureau and other “fact-checking” agencies powers to take down news deemed “fake or false” from digital platforms.

The Editors Guild of India urged the government to withdraw the proposal, saying such a change would be akin to censorship.

‘Everything Everywhere’ Tops Oscar Nominations With 11

The multiverse-skipping sci-fi indie hit “Everything Everywhere All at Once” led nominations to the 95th Academy Awards as Hollywood heaped honors on big-screen spectacles like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” a year after a streaming service won best picture for the first time.

Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once” landed a leading 11 nominations on Tuesday, including nods for Michelle Yeoh and comeback kid Ke Huy Quan.

The 10 movies up for best picture are: “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “The Fabelmans,” “Tár,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Elvis,” “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Women Talking” and “Triangle of Sadness.”

A year after a streaming service won Hollywood’s top honor for the first time, big-screen spectacles are poised to dominate nominations to the 95th Academy Awards on Tuesday.

Nominations were announced Tuesday from the academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California, by Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams.

If last year’s Oscars were dominated by streaming — Apple TV+’s “CODA” won best picture and Netflix landed a leading 27 nominations — movies that drew moviegoers to multiplexes after two years of pandemic make up many of this year’s top contenders.

The nominees for best actress are: Ana de Armas, “Blonde”; Cate Blanchett, “Tár”; Andrea Riseborough, “To Leslie”; Michelle Williams, “The Fabelmans”; Michelle Yeoh, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

The nominees for best actor: Brendan Fraser, “The Whale”; Colin Farrell, “The Banshees of Inisherin”; Austin Butler, “Elvis”; Bill Nighy, “Living”; Paul Mescal, “Aftersun”

The nominees for best supporting actress are: Angela Bassett, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”; Hong Chau, “The Whale”; Kerry Condon, “The Banshees of Inisherin”; Jamie Lee Curtis, “”Everything Everywhere All at Once”; Stephanie Hsu, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

The nominees for best supporting actor are: Brian Tyree Henry, “Causeway”; Judd Hirsch, “The Fabelmans”; Brendan Gleeson, “Banshees on Inisherin”; Barry Keoghan, “Banshees of Inisherin”; Ke Huy Quan, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

The nominees for international film are: “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Germany); “Argentina, 1985” (Argentina); “Close” (Belgium); “EO” (Poland); “The Quiet Girl” (Ireland).

The nominees for original screenplay are: “Everything Everywhere All at Once”; “The Banshees of Inisherin”; “The Fabelmans”; “Tár”; “Triangle of Sadness.”

The nominees for best original score are: Volker Bertelmann, “All Quiet on the Western Front”; Justin Hurwitz, “Babylon”; Carter Burwell, “The Banshees of Inisherin”; Son Lux, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”; John Williams, “The Fabelmans.”

The nominees for best animated film are: “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”; “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”; “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”; “The Sea Beast”; “Turning Red.”

If last year’s Oscars were dominated by streaming — Apple TV+’s “CODA” won best picture and Netflix landed 27 nominations — movies that drew moviegoers to multiplexes make up many of this year’s top contenders.

Also at the front of the pack is “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Martin McDonagh’s Ireland-set dark comedy, which is set to score as many as four acting nods, including nominations for Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” struggled to catch on with audiences, but the director’s autobiographical coming-of-age tale is set to land Spielberg his 20th Oscar nomination and eighth nod for best-director. John Williams, his longtime composer, extended his record for the most Oscar nominations for a living person. Another nod for best score will give Williams his 53rd nomination, a number that trails only Walt Disney’s 59.

Last year’s broadcast drew 15.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen, up 56% from the record-low audience of 10.5 million for the pandemic-marred 2021 telecast. This year, ABC is bringing back Jimmy Kimmel to host the March 12 ceremony, one that will surely be seen as a return to the site of the slap.

But larger concerns are swirling around the movie business. Last year saw flashes of triumphant resurrection for theaters, like the success of “Top Gun: Maverick,” after two years of pandemic. But partially due to a less steady stream of major releases, ticket sales for the year recovered only about 70% of pre-pandemic business. Regal Cinemas, the nation’s second-largest chain, announced the closure of 39 cinemas this month.

At the same time, storm clouds swept into the streaming world after years of once-seemingly boundless growth. Stocks plunged as Wall Street looked to streaming services to earn profits, not just add subscribers. A retrenchment has followed, as the industry again enters an uncertain chapter.

In stark contrast to last year’s Academy Awards, this year may see no streaming titles vying for the Oscars’ most sought-after award — though the last spots in the 10-movie best-picture field remain up for grabs. Netflix’s best shots instead are coming in other categories, notably with animated film favorite “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” and the German submission, “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

Lisa Marie Presley Mourned in Memorial Service at Graceland 

Hundreds of mourners gathered at Graceland on Sunday morning to pay their respects to singer Lisa Marie Presley in a memorial service at the mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, she inherited from her father, rock legend Elvis Presley.

Presley died on Jan. 12 at the age of 54. Earlier that day, she had been rushed to a Los Angeles-area hospital after reportedly suffering cardiac arrest at her home.

“Our heart is broken, Lisa, and we all love you,” her mother, Priscilla Presley, said at the service on the front lawn of Graceland. “Lisa Marie Presley was an icon, a role model, a superhero to many people all over the world.”

Singers Alanis Morissette, Billy Corgan and Axl Rose performed.

Lisa Marie Presley is survived by her daughters, actress Riley Keough and 14-year-old twins Finley and Harper Lockwood.

Two days before her death, she had appeared with her mother, Priscilla Presley, at the Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, where actor Austin Butler won the best actor award for portraying her father in the film “Elvis.” Butler paid tribute to both women in his acceptance speech.

Presley began her music career in the 2000s with two albums, “To Whom It May Concern” and “Now What,” that made the top 10 of the Billboard 200 album chart.

She was married and divorced four times, including to pop star Michael Jackson and actor Nicholas Cage.

She was the only child of one of the greatest stars in American music, and was 9 years old when Elvis Presley died of heart failure at age 42 in 1977 at Graceland. The mansion is now a popular tourist attraction.

Elvis Presley and other members of his family are buried at Graceland’s Meditation Garden.

Lisa Marie Presley was buried there before the memorial service alongside the grave of her son, Benjamin Keough, who died in 2020 at age 27, a death ruled a suicide by the Los Angeles County coroner. In a recent essay, she had described herself as “destroyed” by her son’s death.

After the memorial service, mourners were due to form a procession past Lisa Marie Presley’s grave.

Big Waves to Deliver Storied Hawaii Surf Contest The Eddie

One of the world’s most prestigious and storied surfing contests is expected to be held Sunday in Hawaii for the first time in seven years.

And this year female surfers will be competing alongside the men for the first time in the 39-year history of The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.

The event — alternatively known simply as The Eddie — is a one-day contest held in Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore only when the surf is consistently large enough during the winter big wave surfing season from mid-December through mid-March. The wind, the tides and the direction of the swell also have to be just right.

“Large enough” means 6 meters by Hawaii measurements. That’s equivalent to about 12 meters when measured by methods used in the rest of the U.S. Before this year, conditions have only aligned for it to be held nine times since the initial competition in 1984.

Organizer Clyde Aikau said at a news conference Friday that he was expecting waves to reach 7.6-9 meters by Hawaii measurements or 15-18 meters on the national scale.

“Yes, The Eddie will go on Sunday,” he said.

Other places around the world have big wave surfing events: Mavericks in California, Nazare in Portugal and Peahi on Hawaii’s Maui Island. But author Stuart Coleman says The Eddie is distinguished by how it honors Eddie Aikau, a legendary Native Hawaiian waterman, for his selflessness, courage and sacrifice.

“What makes this contest the most unique is that it’s in memory of a particular individual who really has transcended his time and place when he lived,” said Coleman, who wrote Eddie Would Go, a biography of Aikau.

Edward Ryon Makuahanai Aikau rose to prominence as the first lifeguard hired by Honolulu to work on Oahu’s North Shore and was revered for saving over 500 people during his career. He’s also famous for surfing towering waves that no one else would dare ride.

Aikau died in 1978 at the age of 31 during an expedition to sail a traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe from Honolulu to Tahiti. Just hours out of port, the giant double-hulled canoe known as the Hokulea took on water and overturned in stormy weather. Aikau volunteered to paddle several miles to nearby Lanai Island on his surfboard to get help for the rest of the crew but was never seen again.

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued the remaining crew a few hours later after being alerted by a commercial plane that spotted the canoe.

Coleman said The Eddie is about the best of big wave surfing and the best of Hawaiian culture.

“They always say at the opening ceremony, where they gather to launch the holding period, ’This is not just a contest. We’re not surfing against each other. We’re surfing in the spirit of Eddie,’” Coleman said.

This year organizers have invited 40 competitors and 18 alternates from around the world, including Kelly Slater, who has won a record 11 world surfing titles. John John Florence, who hails from the North Shore and who has won two back-to-back world titles, has also been asked to join.

Keala Kennelly of Kauai, a women’s big wave surf champion, is among the female invitees.

Mindy Pennybacker, a surf columnist for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and author of the upcoming book Surfing Sisterhood Hawaii: Wahine Reclaiming the Waves said there’s long been an assumption that Waimea was too dangerous for women and they couldn’t surf there.

She said they’ve had to fight to be included and have meanwhile shown that they could handle big waves in spots around the world.

“To see women — not only women surfing Waimea but women and men sharing the same event together, with mutual respect and equality — I’m just really thrilled at the thought,” Pennybacker said.

The contest is expected to attract tens of thousands of spectators to the two-lane highway winding through the North Shore and the small towns that dot the coastal community.

Kathleen Pahinui, the chairperson of the North Shore Neighborhood Board, said it will be good for businesses, restaurants and shops. She urged visitors to carpool and take the bus because the roads will be congested.

“I wish all the participants the best of luck,” she said.

Why Vietnam Is Celebrating the Year of the Cat, Not the Rabbit

As China gears up to welcome the Year of the Rabbit, Lunar New Year looks slightly different in Vietnam, where the Year of the Cat is about to begin.

Across the country, streets are decked out with statues of felines and shops are stocked full of cat-themed decorations, popular gifts during Vietnamese New Year, known as Tet.

Vietnam and neighboring China share 10 of the zodiac calendar’s 12 signs — the rat, tiger, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

But the Vietnamese honor the cat instead of the rabbit, and the buffalo instead of the ox.

There are a host of theories to explain why the Vietnamese opted for the cat.

Nguyen Hieu Tin, an expert on traditional Vietnamese culture, said the answer may lie in the rice fields prized by farmers.

“Rice is a huge part of Vietnam’s agriculture, but with the threat of many rats in the fields, the cats [that hunt them] are a popular animal for the Vietnamese,” he told AFP.

“Another explanation is that the Vietnamese don’t want to observe two years with a similar animal. They see the mouse and the rabbit as being closely linked,” Tin said.

There is also a theory the Vietnamese made their own interpretation of the Chinese word for rabbit, “mao.” In Vietnamese, this sounds like “meo,” which means cat.  

The Year of the Cat is believed to bring good luck and smooth sailing in Vietnam.   

Hoang Thi Huong Giang, an office worker in Hanoi, a city filled with traditional orange kumquat trees and pink blossoms ahead of Tet, said she had never paid attention to the reasons that Vietnamese honored a different zodiac animal to the rest of the world.  

But she believes that those who were born in the Year of the Cat, like her, have things easier than most.  

“It seems to be true that those who are born in the Year of the Cat are often more active, hard-working and easy to get on with,” Giang said proudly.

At Lunar New Year, Desserts Can Be Customary or ‘Cute-ified’

Every Lunar New Year without fail, Kat Lieu’s mother would make her steamed nian gao, which is a sweet rice — or mochi — cake. It was a tasty tradition of having dessert for breakfast.

The Seattle-based author of the “Modern Asian Baking at Home” cookbook and founder of the Subtle Asian Baking online group switches things up for her 9-year-old son. He gets mochi waffles made with bright green pandan the first morning of the new year.

“This year again I’m going to make the waffles,” said Lieu, who is half Chinese and half Vietnamese. “I’m also going to make the steamed nian gao and things like that, and try to have him appreciate it more, too.”

Unlike Thanksgiving, when pie is a given at many households, desserts and confections at Lunar New Year are as varied as the Asian diasporas around the world that celebrate it.

Families from China to the U.S. to Vietnam will mark the new year on Sunday with the usual customs such as elaborate dinners and red envelopes with money for children. There will be customary sweet snacks like nian gao. But in this age of social media, food savviness and cultural pride, younger generations of Asians also are getting more inspired to have dessert courses that are whimsical and creative — from black sesame financiers to peanut butter miso cookies.

In Beijing, residents have been flocking to the flagship store of Daoxiangcun, one of the city’s best-known bakeries, for new year-themed dessert gift boxes in which some of the pastries were shaped like a rabbit, the animal of the upcoming year’s Chinese zodiac.

On Saturday, people stood in line outside the store for hours for the chance to buy baked goods, according to a staffer. Even at a less popular branch half a block away, customers still had to wait 40 minutes.

For Lexi Li, it was about bringing a little something to loved ones even though it meant waiting in the line for seven hours in sub-freezing temperatures.

“I don’t really like desserts and pastries, but I just want to bring something home as a gift,” said the 30-year-old, who walked out with a stack of eight boxes for friends and family in her hometown Taiyuan, in central China’s Shanxi province.

Known for its diverse food culture, China offers a variety of Lunar New Year desserts that are usually rice-based or flour-based. They include tang yuan, which are mochi-esque rice balls with black sesame or peanut paste in soup, as well as sesame balls, almond cookies, candied lotus seeds and fat goh — steamed cakes also known as prosperity cakes.

Nian gao remains one of the most popular options. Its key ingredient is glutinous rice flour, along with other things such as taro, dates, jujube and red bean paste, depending on the variety. Its name is a homonym for “higher year” in Chinese, meaning a more prosperous year ahead and expressing wishes for children to grow taller.

The well-preserved tradition plays a vital role in passing on Chinese culture because it keeps alive a food culture honoring grains and reminding people of how festivals are celebrated going back to the seventh century, according to Siu Yan Ho, a Hong Kong-based expert in Chinese food culture.

“Food is memory, and this memory is connected with festivals,” Siu said.

In Vietnam, which is celebrating the Year of the Cat, sweets also differ by region. Vietnamese people eat nian gao, which they call banh to. They also eat che kho gao nep, a pudding made with sticky rice and a mixture of water, ginger and either sugar or molasses. Other delectables include che kho dau xanh — a mung bean pudding made with coconut milk and sugar — and banh tet chuoi, a glutinous rice cake with bananas.

“On Lunar New Year, for three days you go visit family, friends and teachers,” said Linh Trinh, a Vietnamese food historian who is getting a PhD in the subject at the University of Michigan. “So everybody has to store a lot of snacks in their house for people to come visit and have tea. It becomes like the pride of the household to serve their traditional snacks.”

More U.S. companies are finding a sweet spot in incorporating Lunar New Year elements. Cupcake chain Sprinkles, in collaboration with the pan-Asian cultural support nonprofit Gold House, is selling red velvet cupcakes with an almond cookie crust and almond cream cheese frosting. At Disney California Adventure Park, guests can order milk tea cheesecake with taro mousse.

Judging by the 150,000-plus membership of the Subtle Asian Baking Facebook group, a lot of Asians are more about showing off something they made for the holiday rather than bought. The community has come a long way from when Lieu started it in 2020. For the third year, there has been a virtual Lunar New Year bake-off on Facebook and Instagram where members share photos of stunning macarons, chiffon cakes and other pastries.

“You’re innovating. You’re bringing appreciation to all these amazing ingredients,” Lieu said. “And then you’re you’re making it your own traditions, which is amazing.”

Kelson Herman, of San Francisco, crafted a sourdough boule with an illustration of Miffy, a girl bunny from a popular Dutch children’s book series, for the Lunar New Year. Already an avid baker, the 44-year-old got inspired by seeing online what other people were doing.

“I see a lot of boundaries being pushed, people trying to not just one-up each other but be more creative,” Herman said. “I feel like it always comes down to flavors that bring back kind of familial memories. … It could be things that just evoke conversation and family.”

In Queens, New York, Karen Chin made a two-tier cake frosted in coconut buttercream topped with a white chocolate rabbit. One layer was vanilla with red bean paste. The other was spiced cake with cardamom and mango curd. It’s a far cry from the fat goh her grandmother makes.

“I told my grandma that I was going to make a cake. And she’s like, ‘Don’t make it too complicated,'” Chin said, chuckling.

Yet, Chin’s creativity yielded some special family moments.

“I was so touched because last time when she came and she ate something, she’s like ‘You make good food.’ I was like, ‘Wow, that’s the first time she complimented me,'” Chin said.

Sue Ng, who was born and raised in Canada but now lives in Hong Kong, loves to “cute-ify” pastries for special occasions. During the pandemic, she found a passion for combining baking and her love of Asian pop culture. Past Lunar New Year creations included a rolled cake that looked like a White Rabbit Creamy Candy, a Chinese brand as iconic as the Hershey bar.

Ng said that because her two school-age daughters have grown up in Hong Kong, they’ve learned the importance of the Lunar New Year, including the food. But she also likes to throw in something different, such as black sesame financiers and salted egg yolk cookies.

“A Lunar New Year dessert to me is something made using Asian elements with reference to traditionally-made goods during this time,” Ng said in an email. “Now we can be creative and make something like nian gao-filled cookies and the ideas are limitless! Sweet treats are a must during this time because it symbolizes a sweet life.”

AI Tools Can Create New Images, But Who Is the Real Artist?

Countless artists have taken inspiration from “The Starry Night” since Vincent Van Gogh painted the swirling scene in 1889.

Now artificial intelligence systems are doing the same, training themselves on a vast collection of digitized artworks to produce new images you can conjure in seconds from a smartphone app.

The images generated by tools such as DALL-E, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion can be weird and otherworldly but also increasingly realistic and customizable — ask for a “peacock owl in the style of Van Gogh” and they can churn out something that might look similar to what you imagined.

But while Van Gogh and other long-dead master painters aren’t complaining, some living artists and photographers are starting to fight back against the AI software companies creating images derived from their works.

Two new lawsuits —- one this week from the Seattle-based photography giant Getty Images —- take aim at popular image-generating services for allegedly copying and processing millions of copyright-protected images without a license.

Getty said it has begun legal proceedings in the High Court of Justice in London against Stability AI — the maker of Stable Diffusion —- for infringing intellectual property rights to benefit the London-based startup’s commercial interests.

Another lawsuit filed Friday in a U.S. federal court in San Francisco describes AI image-generators as “21st-century collage tools that violate the rights of millions of artists.” The lawsuit, filed by three working artists on behalf of others like them, also names Stability AI as a defendant, along with San Francisco-based image-generator startup Midjourney, and the online gallery DeviantArt.

The lawsuit said AI-generated images “compete in the marketplace with the original images. Until now, when a purchaser seeks a new image ‘in the style’ of a given artist, they must pay to commission or license an original image from that artist.”

Companies that provide image-generating services typically charge users a fee. After a free trial of Midjourney through the chatting app Discord, for instance, users must buy a subscription that starts at $10 per month or up to $600 a year for corporate memberships. The startup OpenAI also charges for use of its DALL-E image generator, and StabilityAI offers a paid service called DreamStudio.

Stability AI said in a statement that “Anyone that believes that this isn’t fair use does not understand the technology and misunderstands the law.”

In a December interview with The Associated Press, before the lawsuits were filed, Midjourney CEO David Holz described his image-making subscription service as “kind of like a search engine” pulling in a wide swath of images from across the internet. He compared copyright concerns about the technology with how such laws have adapted to human creativity.

“Can a person look at somebody else’s picture and learn from it and make a similar picture?” Holz said. “Obviously, it’s allowed for people and if it wasn’t, then it would destroy the whole professional art industry, probably the nonprofessional industry too. To the extent that AIs are learning like people, it’s sort of the same thing and if the images come out differently then it seems like it’s fine.”

The copyright disputes mark the beginning of a backlash against a new generation of impressive tools — some of them introduced just last year — that can generate new images, readable text and computer code on command.

They also raise broader concerns about the propensity of AI tools to amplify misinformation or cause other harm. For AI image generators, that includes the creation of nonconsensual sexual imagery.

Some systems produce photorealistic images that can be impossible to trace, making it difficult to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s AI. And while most have some safeguards in place to block offensive or harmful content, experts say it’s not enough and fear it’s only a matter of time until people utilize these tools to spread disinformation and further erode public trust.

“Once we lose this capability of telling what’s real and what’s fake, everything will suddenly become fake because you lose confidence of anything and everything,” said Wael Abd-Almageed, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Southern California.

As a test, The Associated Press submitted a text prompt on Stable Diffusion featuring the keywords “Ukraine war” and “Getty Images.” The tool created photo-like images of soldiers in combat with warped faces and hands, pointing and carrying guns. Some of the images also featured the Getty watermark, but with garbled text.

AI can also get things wrong, like feet and fingers or details on ears that can sometimes give away that they’re not real, but there’s no set pattern to look out for. And those visual clues can also be edited. On Midjourney, for instance, users often post on the Discord chat asking for advice on how to fix distorted faces and hands.

With some generated images traveling on social networks and potentially going viral, they can be challenging to debunk since they can’t be traced back to a specific tool or data source, according to Chirag Shah, a professor at the Information School at the University of Washington, who uses these tools for research.

“You could make some guesses if you have enough experience working with these tools,” Shah said. “But beyond that, there is no easy or scientific way to really do this.”

But for all the backlash, there are many people who embrace the new AI tools and the creativity they unleash. Searches on Midjourney, for instance, show curious users are using the tool as a hobby to create intricate landscapes, portraits and art.

There’s plenty of room for fear, but “what can else can we do with them?” asked the artist Refik Anadol this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he displayed an exhibit of his AI-generated work.

At the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Anadol designed “Unsupervised,” which draws from artworks in the museum’s prestigious collection — including “The Starry Night” — and feeds them into a massive digital installation generating animations of mesmerizing colors and shapes in the museum lobby.

The installation is “constantly changing, evolving and dreaming 138,000 old artworks at MoMA’s Archive,” Anadol said. “From Van Gogh to Picasso to Kandinsky, incredible, inspiring artists who defined and pioneered different techniques exist in this artwork, in this AI dream world.”

For painters like Erin Hanson, whose impressionist landscapes are so popular and easy to find online that she has seen their influence in AI-produced visuals, she is not worried about her own prolific output, which makes $3 million a year.

She does, however, worry about the art community as a whole.

“The original artist needs to be acknowledged in some way or compensated,” Hanson said. “That’s what copyright laws are all about. And if artists aren’t acknowledged, then it’s going to make it hard for artists to make a living in the future.”