Items filtered by date: Sunday, 17 December 2017

Triathlete and Fixed-Gear Crit Racer Tanja Erath Wins the 2017 Zwift Academy

Erath, 28, beat out the competition to become the second amateur to win the virtual-reality series and join the Canyon-SRAM pro women's team

Tanja Erath
Tanja Erath, the 28-year-old winner of this year's Zwift Academy, trained for the series by taking on fixed-gear crits. Photograph courtesy of Zwift
More than 2,100 women applied, but only one rode away with a pro contract. Tanja Erath, a German former triathlete and criterium racer, this week became the second athlete to win the Zwift Academy and graduate to the Canyon-SRAM women's team.

The Zwift Academy started last year as a way to leverage the virtual-reality cycling game into a competition for skilled amateur riders ready to turn pro. American Leah Thorvilson won the series last year and also joined Canyon-SRAM, Zwift's partner in the endeavor.

"My triathlon teammate told me about Zwift Academy in 2016," Erath says. "She knew I had problems with running due to a leg injury, and that cycling has always been my strongest discipline."

It was too late to enroll last year, so Erath started racing fixed-gear crits with the goal of joining the Zwift Academy in 2017. After four months of training, including in-person sessions with the finalists, the 28-year-old emerged victorious.

"I was overwhelmed, happy, in tears, in disbelief, in shock, speechless," Erath says. "All in one moment! It felt so unreal."

Erath scored the big contract after five rounds of competition, impressing her future teammates.

"Tanja has shown her strength both physically and tactically on the bike," Thorvilson says. "On top of the power and skill set she brings to the team, she also fits in with everyone very naturally. I think she has the potential to really go far, and help this team to achieve their goals for the season."

As with Thorvilson last year, Erath’s schedule will be determined by Canyon-SRAM management and may include some non-team races to bring her up to speed. Her previous crit experience should serve her well: Expect to see her at a UCI race in her new team kit by spring, with teammates like Australia's Tiffany Cromwell and former world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot.

Erath's tips for crushing Zwift challenges? Get your environment dialed. "Always enough water and enough fresh air—that's a good foundation," she says. "What also helps me to perform well is the right music, and loud music. Just make sure your neighbors or roommates are OK with the noise."

The ink has barely dried on this year's contract, but Zwift and Canyon-SRAM have already confirmed the Zwift Academy will return in 2018.

“We took a chance with the Zwift Academy last year and we’re very happy with what it brought to our team,” Ronny Lauke, Canyon-SRAM's team manager, said in a press release. “Seeing Tanja’s dedication, drive, and strength only reminds us we’ve got a great program here to bring talent into the women’s peloton.”


  • Published in Sports

Sharon Laws, former British cycling road race champion, dies aged 43

• ‘The cycling world lost a champion,’ says statement from family
• Laws announced she had cervical cancer in October 2016
Sharon Laws was a professional racer for almost a decade. Photograph: Getty Images
Press Association

The former Great Britain cyclist Sharon Laws has died aged 43 after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in October 2016.

Laws, British road race champion in 2012, was a professional racer for almost a decade, helping Nicole Cooke to Olympic gold in 2008.

Born in Kenya, Laws was based in Girona, Spain – a favoured location for professional cyclists – until last October, when she returned to live with her mother in Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds.

A statement issued by Voxwomen on behalf of Laws’ family read: “This morning the cycling world lost a champion, a friend, a rider with a huge smile and a fantastic laugh. Sharon Laws passed away early this morning after her fight with cancer. Her mum Joy and her family have asked for privacy at this time. RIP Sharon Laws 1974-2017.”

A British Cycling spokesperson added: “Everyone who loves cycling will be affected by Sharon’s passing. She was as big-hearted and determined in life as she was on a bike, and represented her country and her sport with distinction. The thoughts of everyone at British Cycling are with her friends and family.”

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SMB downs Phoenix to kick off Philippine Cup title defense

PBA Media Bureau
The San Miguel Beermen kicked off their Philippine Cup title defense on a high note, dispatching the Phoenix Fuel Masters, 104-96, in the league’s 43rd season opener on Sunday at SMART-Araneta Coliseum.

Four-time MVP June Mar Fajardo dominated for 23 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and four blocks to lead the defending champions’ deadly All-Filipino five which looked sharp from start to finish.

Alex Cabagnot added 22 points; Marcio Lassiter tallied 20 points, five boards and four assists; Chris Ross poured in 16 points, six boards and nine dimes; and Arwind Santos collected a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds to go along with three steals.

San Miguel showed no rust on the first day of the new season, starting things off with a blistering 8-0 run that stunned the new-look Phoenix which paraded its new coach Louie Alas.

The Fuel Masters woke up and stole the lead, 29-28, early in second period. The Beermen however launched a 19-8 run to end the first half with a 47-37 cushion.

San Miguel never looked back since then, building its biggest lead at 19 points to keep the Fuel Masters at bay.

The scores:

SAN MIGUEL 104 – Fajardo 23, Cabagnot 22, Lassiter 20, Ross 16, Santos 14, Pessumal 5, Rosser 4, Heruela 0, Mamaril 0, Vigil 0, Agovida 0, Lanete 0, Mabulac 0.

PHOENIX 96 – Chan 18, Wright 12, Alolino 11, Chua 11, Wilson 11, Perkins 10, Dehesa 8, Kramer 6, Jazul 4, Intal 2, Eriobu 2, Revilla 1.

Quarters: 23-18, 47-37, 79-68, 104-96.

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James sparks Cavaliers to win over Wizards

NO MERCY. King James posts another triple-double, his 4th in the last 5 games that he played. File photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP

LOS ANGELES, USA – LeBron James posted his 4th triple-double in 5 games with 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 15 assists as the streaking Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Washington Wizards 106-99 on Sunday, December 17.

Kevin Love scored a team-high 25 points, while Jeff Green had 15 points for the Cavaliers who have won 18 of 19, including the past 5 NBA games.

The Eastern Conference giants engaged in a hard-fought battle as the teams were tied at the end of the second and third quarters.

James's 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter put the Cavaliers in front for good and sparked an 8-0 run.

Green's 3-point play capped the surge as Cleveland led 95-89 with 6:55 remaining.

Bradley Beal scored 27 points for the Wizards, who had won two in a row.

John Wall had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Washington made 12 3-pointers but finished 9-of-16 on free throws. –

  • Published in Sports

Track Palin, son of Sarah Palin, arrested on domestic violence charges in Alaska

Image: Track Palin
Track Palin in 2008. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images, file

The oldest son of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was arraigned Sunday on domestic violence charges, according to online court records.

Track Palin, was arraigned Sunday morning on charges of felony burglary, assault in the fourth degree and criminal mischief for causing property damage in Wasilla, Alaska, according to court records. The criminal mischief charge was for causing between $250 and $999 in property damage.

The alleged incident occurred on Saturday, according to the court records, which indicated that all charges were related to domestic violence.

Further details on the nature of the alleged incident were not immediately available.

An attorney for Todd and Sarah Palin said on behalf of the two that the Palins were unable to comment on the incident.

“Given the nature of actions addressed last night by law enforcement and the charges involved, the Palins are unable to comment further,” attorney John Tiemessen said in a statement to NBC News on Sunday. “They ask that the family’s privacy is respected during this challenging situation just as others dealing with a struggling family member would also request.”

A woman who answered the phone at Mat-Su Pretrial Facility in Palmer, Alaska, said Track Palin was listed as being held there as of Sunday evening. The woman would not give her name or title with the facility.

Track Palin was also arrested in January 2016 on domestic violence charges in Wasilla. Palin was charged with assault in the fourth degree, interfering with a domestic violence report, and misconduct involving weapons in the fourth degree.

An officer who responded to a 911 call at the Palin household in Wasilla during the 2016 incident wrote that when he met Track Palin in the driveway he was "uncooperative, belligerent and evasive with my initial line of questioning," according to court documents.

Palin’s girlfriend told the officer that he "struck her on the left side of her head near her eye with a closed fist," sending her to the ground, according to court documents. He then allegedly kicked his girlfriend, threw her cell phone and threatened suicide with his AR-15 rifle, according to the documents.

Palin pleaded guilty to misconduct involving weapons charge for possessing a weapon while intoxicated, online court records show. The assault charge and interfering with a report of domestic violence charge were dismissed by the prosecution.

Sarah Palin suggested at the time that her son’s arrest stemmed from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She said her son came back “different” after his year-long deployment in Iraq.

"My son, like so many others, they come back a bit different, they come back hardened, they come back wondering if there is that respect for what it is that their fellow soldiers and airmen every other member of the military so sacrificially have given to this country," she said at the time after alluding to the arrest.

Palin ran unsuccessfully for vice president on the Republican Party’s ticket alongside Sen. John McCain of Arizona in 2008 against then-Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Joe Biden of Delaware.

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GOP faces 5-day scramble to pass tax bill, avoid government shutdown

Politicians continued to debate the merits of the Republican tax overhaul on Dec. 17. The House could vote on the bill as soon as Dec. 20. (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)
By Jeff Stein, Mike DeBonis and Patrick Reis December 17 at 6:35 PM
Republicans return to Congress on Monday facing a packed agenda with little time to enact it, as party leaders aim to quickly pass their massive tax plan and then cut a budget deal with Democrats before the end of Friday to avert a government shutdown.

Republicans’ tight timing on taxes is self-imposed. GOP lawmakers have for months been racing to meet President Trump’s demand that they send him tax legislation before Christmas — a timeline that gained new urgency when Alabama Democrat Doug Jones won the Senate seat currently occupied by Sen. Luther Strange (R).

GOP leaders hope to hold tax votes early in the week before moving to the budget bill. They need Democrats’ help to pass the budget measure through the Senate, and thus far they have made little progress bringing them aboard amid disagreements over spending levels, protection from deportation for certain undocumented immigrants and a federal health insurance program for low-income children.

The outcome of the tax votes, however, appears certain after Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.) on Friday pledged their support. The two gave the GOP the Senate votes to pass the bill, even as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, returned to Arizona on Sunday. He is not expected to vote on the final bill.

The measure’s passage would mark the first major legislative accomplishment for Trump and GOP leaders in a year of stumbles, the products of months of negotiations and late adjustments aimed at winning over the last holdouts.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday as part of a continued efforts to sell the public on the tax bill. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)
Republicans fanned out across the national news shows Sunday as part of their continued efforts to sell the public on the bill, promising benefits to the middle class both from tax cuts and ensuing economic growth.

“We think as a result of lowering business taxes, wages will go up. So, this is a huge opportunity for creating jobs, for creating tax cuts for working families,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Congress’ nonpartisan tax analysts, joining several other nonpartisan assessments, concluded that the bulk of the bill’s benefits would go to the wealthy and corporations. Those analyses have also projected that the cuts will produce far less economic growth than Trump and administration officials are promising.

The plan, unveiled in its final form Friday, would make the biggest changes to the tax code in three decades. Most significant, it would drop the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. The bill also would cut taxes for nearly all individuals, giving the biggest trims to the wealthy but in most cases providing some relief for the middle class.

Polls suggest that the public is skeptical of the promised major gains for the middle class. In a recent CBS poll, 76 percent of respondents said the bill’s biggest benefits would go to the largest corporations. Democrats, who were shut out of the bill’s construction and find themselves all but powerless to prevent its passage, attempted to hammer home that point Sunday.

“What we are seeing here is a real massive attack on the middle class,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

For Republicans, the bigger drama may come later in the week, after the planned tax votes in the House and Senate, when leaders from both parties weigh a spending deal to avoid a partial government shutdown before funding runs out at the end of the day Friday.

As the tax debate has consumed Congress, there has been scant progress toward a spending deal.

House Republican leaders filed a spending bill last week that would temporarily extend funding for most government agencies at current levels until Jan. 19, while providing longer-term military funding at higher levels — $650 billion through Sept. 30. That bill is considered dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats can block it because of the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster threshold.

To cut a long-term spending deal, Democrats are pushing for an equivalent increase in defense and nondefense funding above the spending caps set under a 2011 agreement — one similar to deals reached in 2013 and 2015 to raise the caps for the following two years. But bipartisan negotiations that have been open for weeks have yet to produce an accord.

Democrats railed against the House GOP gambit last week. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), in floor remarks Thursday, called the proposal “a spectacle, a charade, a sop to some militant, hard-right people who don’t want the government to spend money on almost anything.”

He added, “And it is a perilous waste of time as the clock ticks closer and closer and closer to the end of the year.”

The spending talks are suffused with other issues. For instance, Democrats and some Republicans want legislation providing legal status to “dreamers” — immigrants brought to the United States as children without documentation — to be attached to the year-end deal.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) struck a deal with Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to provide subsidies for the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplaces in return for her vote on the tax bill, but it remains to be seen whether those provisions will be included in any final accord.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program expired Sept. 30, and states have been warning for weeks that coverage could be threatened if Congress does not reauthorize it soon.

And a key surveillance authority used by U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor noncitizens abroad expires Dec. 31, prompting fears of a lapse in national security.

Even if a bipartisan agreement is reached on some or all of these issues, the timeline is tight: The House is not expected to vote on its spending bill until Wednesday at the earliest. That would leave little time for the Senate to take that bill, amend it, and send it back to the House, and any hiccup could mean a breach of the Friday shutdown deadline.

Congress averted a partial shutdown earlier in the month with a two-week deal that left spending constant and punted on all other policy questions, but it’s unclear if either side has interest in another short-term deal.

For Democrats, the vote represents a moment of leverage in a Congress in which Republicans have used their control of government to shut the minority party out of the legislative process almost entirely. With enough Senate votes to filibuster any deal, the Democrats’ leaders, Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), are under intense pressure from their base to protect spending on domestic programs and secure concessions on immigration.

The young people, many of whom have lived in the United States for nearly their entire lives, were afforded temporary protection from deportation via an executive order from President Barack Obama. The Trump administration is changing that policy, and Democrats — as well as some Republicans, such as Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — are eager to replace it with new protections.

Republicans face their own intraparty tensions.

Hard-line conservatives in the House want GOP leaders to stand firm against Democrats’ insistence on raising nondefense spending, arguing that Republicans ought not bow down to those demands when the GOP holds the White House and both chambers of Congress.

If House leaders bow to those demands, the showdown could push an extension past the Friday deadline. Come Saturday morning, many agencies dealing with the public would close their doors, including national parks and federal buildings, though many personnel deemed “essential” to national security and public safety would continue to work.

Republicans of all stripes have campaigned on cutting spending, but since the 2011 accord, federal outlays have continued to rise.

The tax bill, meanwhile, is projected to increase the deficit by at least $1 trillion over the next decade, a figure that would expand greatly if Republicans are correct that future Congresses will extend the plan’s many income tax cuts set to expire in eight years.

Few Republicans have raised major concerns about the tax bill based on its fiscal impact. GOP leaders assert the plan will generate enough economic growth to pay for itself, though virtually every independent analysis of the plan has found that it will fall short of that goal. One prominent senator who raised deficit concerns, Tennessee’s Corker, reversed his opposition to the bill on Friday, saying he had concluded that the country would be “better off with it” than without it.

  • Published in U.S.

Image of Cooperation Between White House and Mueller Starts to Fracture

As the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has helped produce a series of indictments and guilty pleas, Republicans have increased their attacks on him, saying his investigation is being run by partisans. Credit Alex Wong/Getty Images
WASHINGTON — For much of the seven months since Robert S. Mueller III was appointed special counsel, President Trump’s lawyers have stressed their cooperation with him, believing that the more they work with his investigation, the sooner the president will have his name cleared.

But in recent weeks, as the investigation has reached deeper into Mr. Trump’s inner circle, that image of cooperation has begun to fracture. Mr. Trump’s lawyers and supporters have significantly increased their attacks on Mr. Mueller, especially as the F.B.I. has handed them fresh ammunition to claim that the agents investigating the president may be biased.

The latest salvos came over the weekend, when a top Republican senator said Mr. Mueller should examine his team’s political leanings, and a lawyer for Mr. Trump sent a letter to lawmakers saying that the special counsel had improperly gotten emails from the presidential transition team.

“Not looking good, it’s not looking good — it’s quite sad to see that, my people were very upset about it,” Mr. Trump said on Sunday when asked about the emails. “I can’t imagine there’s anything on them, frankly, because, as we’ve said, there’s no collusion, no collusion whatsoever.”

While Mr. Trump also said he was not considering firing Mr. Mueller, the mounting attacks have fueled concerns among Democrats that he is preparing to do so. Eric H. Holder Jr., President Barack Obama’s first attorney general, said on Twitter on Sunday that any such move would be an “ABSOLUTE RED LINE.”


Legal experts said there was no indication that Mr. Mueller, who has wide power to obtain documents through written requests, subpoenas and search warrants, improperly obtained the transition emails. But amid the barrage of criticism, Mr. Mueller’s office issued a rare statement on Sunday defending how the information had been obtained during the inquiry into Russian election meddling.

“When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office.

A lawyer for Mr. Trump said in a letter to Congress on Saturday that the General Services Administration, the government agency that had the transition team’s emails, had handed them over to Mr. Mueller’s investigators in August without allowing lawyers transition team lawyers to review them. The documents, the lawyer argued, should have been shielded by various privileges, like attorney-client privilege.

The materials, said the lawyer, Kory Langhofer, were the property of the transition team, and therefore it should have had the chance to decide what was given to investigators.

The letter came days after the Justice Department took the unusual step of releasing to the news media anti-Trump text messages that an agent overseeing the investigation had sent to a colleague. Although Mr. Mueller had moved quickly this past summer to remove the agent from the inquiry, Republicans seized on the disclosure to criticize Mr. Mueller and the F.B.I.

One Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway, said it was evidence that “the fix was in against Donald Trump from the beginning.”

White House officials sought to play down the significance of the letter about the transition emails, insisting it was an issue for the transition team, not the West Wing. They said the president had not changed his approach to cooperating with the special counsel, and that he had not discussed dismissing Mr. Mueller.

“We have been cooperative and transparent with the special counsel’s office and will continue to be — we look forward to an expeditious conclusion to this matter,” said Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Mr. Trump.

Still, the letter to Congress from Mr. Langhofer sounded a discordant note. His assertion that the emails were privileged and should have been shielded stood in contrast to the stance of White House officials, who said that Mr. Trump’s lawyers had not invoked any such privilege on any White House documents that Mr. Mueller had requested.

Among the materials obtained from the transition team by Mr. Mueller were emails, laptops and cellphones for nine members who worked on national security and policy matters, according to the letter. Mr. Mueller’s investigators have used the documents during interviews with transition team officials when questioning them about calls between Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, and the Russian ambassador in which they discussed American sanctions.

One of the emails shows that several transition officials were aware that Mr. Flynn was going to be speaking with the ambassador on Dec. 29 after the Obama administration had imposed new sanctions on Russia for its election meddling. Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty this month to lying to the F.B.I. about his interactions with the Russian official.

“The materials produced by the G.S.A. to the special counsel’s office therefore included materials protected by the attorney-client privilege, the deliberative process privilege, and the presidential communications privilege,” Mr. Langhofer, the counsel to Trump for America, said in his letter, which was sent to the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate and House oversight committees.

Over the summer, Mr. Trump publicly dangled the possibility of firing Mr. Mueller, stoking concerns among some of his advisers who believed that Mr. Trump would further imperil his presidency if he did so.

But two people who have spoken to the president recently said that he was far more frustrated with the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, than Mr. Mueller. Mr. Trump has said that Mr. Wray has not moved quickly enough to rid the bureau of senior officials who were biased against Mr. Trump and had worked for James B. Comey, the director whom Mr. Trump fired in May.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers assured the president throughout the fall that Mr. Mueller’s investigation would be over by the end of the year. But on Dec. 1, Mr. Flynn entered his guilty plea and agreed to cooperate with Mr. Mueller’s investigation, an indication that the inquiry will not soon close.

Two weeks ago, The New York Times reported that Mr. Mueller had removed one of the top agents working on the investigation, Peter Strzok, after the discovery of text messages between him and a colleague in which they described the possibility of an election victory by Mr. Trump as “terrifying” and said that Hillary Clinton “just has to win.”

Republicans have seized on Mr. Strzok’s text messages, saying that they were the clearest evidence that the F.B.I. had been out to get Mr. Trump and that Mr. Mueller’s investigation was filled with partisans. Along with attacking Mr. Stzrok, Republicans have said that one of Mr. Mueller’s top prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, may also be biased against Mr. Trump because he commended the acting attorney general in a January email for not enforcing Mr. Trump’s travel ban.

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, praised Mr. Mueller in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday for removing Mr. Strzok but said “there are others” whom Mr. Mueller needs to examine.

“There are plenty of F.B.I. agents and prosecutors who have not been politically involved on behalf of Democrats or overtly critical of the president that can serve in this important investigation,” Mr. Cornyn said.

He added: “So I have confidence in Director Mueller. I would just think he would be concerned about the appearance of conflicts of interest that would undermine the integrity of the investigation.”

  • Published in U.S.

‘The Last Jedi’ opens with $220M, 2nd best weekend all-time


This image released by Lucasfilm shows Daisy Ridley as Rey in ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi.’ The latest Star Wars installment is off to a death star-sized start at the box office. Disney says Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, that eighth installment in the space franchise has earned an estimated $45 million from Thursday night showings. AP

NEW YORK, United States — “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” will happily settle for second.

Rian Johnson’s second installment in the third “Star Wars” trilogy rocketed to a debut of $220 million at the North American box office, according to studio estimates Sunday. That gives “The Last Jedi” the second-best opening ever, slotting in behind only its predecessor, “The Force Awakens.”

The Disney blockbuster became just the fourth film to open above $200 million domestically. Aside from “The Force Awakens” ($248.8 million), the others are “The Avengers” ($207.4 million) and “Jurassic World” ($208.8 million). Accounting for inflation, the debut of 2012’s “The Avengers” would roughly tie with “The Last Jedi.”

“The Last Jedi” is off to a similar start overseas, too, with $230 million in international ticket sales, said Disney. That brings its three-day global haul to $450 million.

The opening also gave the Walt Disney Co. the opportunity to flex its muscles on the heels of the deal announced Thursday for it to purchase 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion. As part of the deal, Disney will take control of 20th Century Fox, one of Hollywood’s six major studios.

“The weekend that we’re in is a byproduct of the foresight and vision from our CEO Bob Iger to bring Lucasfilm into the fold,” said Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis, alluding to Disney’s 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm. “So as we think about the possibility of other things being added, you can’t help but be excited about the possibilities.”

Fox, as it happens, was the only studio to open another new wide-release film against “The Last Jedi.” Its family film, “Ferdinand,” was essentially stampeded by “The Last Jedi,” grossing $13.3 million. “Ferdinand” and other upcoming holiday season releases will look for more room in the coming weeks, once the “Star Wars” tsunami has waned.

While Abrams’ reboot capitalized on a decade’s hiatus for “Star Wars,” Johnson’s sequel didn’t have the same benefit of freshness. It follows not only “The Force Awakens” (which ultimately grossed $2.1 billion) but last year’s spinoff, “Rogue One.” That release opened with $155.1 million, and grossed in total little more than $1 billion globally.

Johnson, who wrote and directed, instead aimed to distinguish “The Last Jedi” by introducing some new tones to George Lucas’ space opera. “The Last Jedi” is more irreverent than previous chapters. And it has drawn plaudits for its diverse cast, including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran.

“The results speak to the power of representation,” said Hollis. “The film really reflects our world and beyond. It becomes something people can see themselves in, whether they see themselves in Rey or Finn or Poe or Rose or Captain Phasma. They can relate to all those characters.”

Johnson’s approach has seemed to work. Critics gave Johnson’s film a 93 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences endorsed it, too, with an A CinemaScore, though not all fans are on board with Johnson’s innovations. As of Sunday, “The Last Jedi” has scored a dismal 56 percent rating from some 95,000 Rotten Tomato users.

Yet the haul for “The Last Jedi” dwarfed most all releases in the two years since “The Force Awakens.” By comparison, it has in three days already bested the five-week gross of Warner Bros.’ “Justice League” ($219.5 million).

“Seeing a movie like this in the movie theater, getting the collective goose bumps and having the OMG-moments, that’s something you cannot replicate at home on the small screen,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. “Rian Johnson has made a movie that showcases the movie theater experience in a truly brilliant way.”

Signaling its faith in Johnson’s course for “Star Wars,” Lucasfilm earlier announced that Johnson will develop the next trilogy for the franchise, the first of which he’ll write and direct. Abrams is set to return to direct Episode IX after he was brought in to replace Colin Trevorrow. A separate spinoff centered on a young Han Solo is due out next summer.

The massive debut for “The Last Jedi” singlehandedly brightens what has been a disappointing year for Hollywood. The weekend was far and away the highest grossing of the year. According to comScore, the industry was down about 3.9 percent from last year before this weekend. Now it’s 2.9 percent off the 2016 pace. Dergarabedian estimates the year will end about 2 percent down with a little over $11 billion in ticket sales.

“The Last Jedi” may be playing the role of savior at the box office, but the news isn’t all rosy for exhibitors. Given the demand, Disney put more onerous demands on some theater owners for “The Last Jedi,” including a higher percentage — 65 percent — of ticket sales. And Disney’s acquisition of Fox is seen by analysts as a bid, in part, to strengthen the studio’s in-development streaming platform, set to debut in 2019.

Disney and Fox combined for five of the top 10 movies on the weekend and together accounted for approximately 90 percent of ticket sales.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday. /cbb

“The Last Jedi,” $220 million ($230 million international).
“Ferdinand,” $13.3 million ($6.2 million international).
“Coco,” $10 million ($27.4 million international).
“Wonder,” $5.4 million ($9.4 million international).
“Justice League,” $4.2 million ($5.3 million international).
“Daddy’s Home 2,” $3.8 million ($5.8 million international).
“Thor: Ragnarok,” $3 million ($1.1 million international).
“The Disaster Artist,” $2.6 million.
“Murder on the Orient Express,” $2.5 million ($10.8 million international).
“Lady Bird,” $2.1 million.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to comScore:

“The Last Jedi,” $230 million.
“Youth,” $44 million.
“The Thousand Faces of Dunjia,” $27.9 million.
“Coco,” $27.4 million.
“Steel Rain,” $11.6 million.
“Murder on the Orient Express,” $10.8 million.
“Paddington 2,” $9.7 million.
“Wonder,” $9.4 million.
“Ferdinand,” $6.2 million.
“Daddy’s Home 2,” $5.8 million.



Opinion: Christmas depression

“I saw, in gradual vision through my tears, The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,…”
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861), British poet.
Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850)

The Victorian poet continued, “Those of my own life, who by turns had flung a shadow across me,” and while this is English of another time, it’s clear that it’s a reference to depression. Right here and now, two weeks before Christmas Eve and I’m writing about clinical depression? It may not be as unrelated as you think.

Definition. Depression is not mere sadness. Just about everyone gets “the blues” once in a while; others a little more often than others. But the cause of sadness is usually unearthable – an unfortunate event, an accident, a slight, failing grades, a nasty marital fight –and proximate. If you will ask a psychiatrist, the good clinician will agree that Christmas is a classic trigger to a major depressive illness. In this season, there is the heightened expectation of happiness and excitement. After all, it is the time of reunions and all-night partying. If the anticipation leads to nothing or disappointment, the depression-prone individual suffers. Christmas to her becomes miserable. Sensitive souls feel the emptiness of gift-giving and the crass materialism that goes with it. Others find the tiangge (flea market) shopping and traffic intolerable.

Symptoms and Signs. Are you depressed? In major depression, the person is affected to an extent that his work and private life are all but impaired. Duration is critical because normal dejection lasts for a few days before the person somehow snaps out of it. In real depression, the condition carries on for more than two weeks. A man or woman suffering from clinical depression must exhibit five out of the following nine symptoms, including one of the first two listed:

Depressed mood.
Loss of interest and pleasure in usual daily activities (anhedonia).
Loss of appetite and weight changes (loss or gain).
Insomnia or hypersomnia (too little or too much sleep).
Restlessness or sluggishness.
Profound fatigue.
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
Inability to think clearly, make decisions, or complete tasks.
Thoughts of death or suicide.
Possible Causes. Currently, researchers believe that in depression there is an imbalance of neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin. These are natural chemicals needed in the communication of brain cells with each other. Genetics has been implicated. Scientists have shown that depression like diabetes and hypertension filter through generations. Finally, and this brings us back to the holidays, environmental cues can push a susceptible person into depression.

Treatment. There are two things to remember about conquering depression. First, there are no “happy pills.” Medications for depression are not “uppers” or stimulants. If that were so, there’s going to be a seller’s market for fluoxetine or sertraline. Second, self-medication is out of the question. A person with true depression must be seen by a psychiatrist. Treatment comes in the form of medication, psychotherapy, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) or a combination of these. The usual drugs used are from three groups: TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants), MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) and SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Your doctor will determine what will be best.

Christmas and depression – certainly it’s a sad combination. But, recognized early, it can be treated before it becomes life-threatening (violence to self and others).

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Duterte asserts support for same-sex marriage in PH

President Rodrigo Duterte (Manila Bulletin)


President Duterte reiterated yesterday his support for same-sex marriage in the country, saying he cannot hinder what will make his countrymen happy.

This came months after Duterte said he cannot allow same-sex marriage in the Philippines as this would violate the law of a Catholic country.

Duterte, in his speech at the 7th LGBT Year-End Gathering in Davao City Sunday night, said he is supporting gay marriage and that he cannot do anything if that is what will make the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community happy.

“I am for [same] sex marriage. If that will add to your happiness, I am for it. Who am I [to hinder]?” Duterte said, earning the applause of his audience.

“Kung ano kaligayahan ng tao, bakit ko pigilan (Why will I stop that which will make our people happy)? Why impose a morality that is almost passe?” he added.

Duterte also assured the LGBT community that they will not be oppressed under his term.

“There will be no oppression under my term and we will recognize your importance to society,” he said.

Duterte also said that he would like to appoint someone from the LGBT community to the Philippine Commission on the Urban Poor (PCUP), giving them until the second week of January of next year to name their nominee.

“Nominate somebody who is honest, hardworking, and I would like to show that any bakla o tomboy (gay or lesbian) can always work just like an ordinary human being,” he said.

According to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Duterte is a president of all Filipinos and one who makes no distinctions.

“This administration has long espoused inclusivity and sensitivity. We make no distinction. We are all Filipinos enjoying our rights, freedom and equality before the law,” Roque said in a statement.

Duterte’s recent remarks were in stark contrast with his earlier statements opposing gay marriage back in March 2017 saying that it would violate the law.

“Tingnan mo ‘yung Time [Magazine]. Wala nang gender, because you can be he or she. ‘Yan ang kultura nila. Kayo lang. ‘Di ‘yan puwede sa amin, Katoliko kami (Look at Time Magazine. There’s no more gender because you can be a he or a she. That’s their culture. That cannot be applied to us because we’re Catholics),” he said back in March.

“At (And) there is the Civil Code, which is you can only marry a woman for me, and for woman to marry a man. ‘Yan ang batas natin (That’s our law),” he added.

Duterte, however, clarified that he has nothing against the homosexuals as he has gay relatives himself.

“Dalawang brother-in-law ko gay. May mga pinsan ako na gay, wala akong ano, pero kung saan ka pinuwesto ng Diyos, diyan ka lang (Two of my brothers-in-law are gay. I have a cousin who’s gay. I have nothing against them but you have to stick where God placed you),” he said.

During his presidential campaign, Duterte expressed openness to possible legislation allowing gay marriage in the country.

“The gays were created by God… God made them so medyo nagkamali ‘yung bilangan diyan sa Bible (there is a slight error in the Bible). [It should be] Adam, Eve, and the gays,” Duterte said in January, 2016.

The Philippines is one of the countries in the world that do not recognize same-sex marriages and civil unions. In October, 2016, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said he will file a bill supporting gay civil union.

However, the New People’s Army has been performing same-sex marriages since 2005. The first gay marriage under the NPA was between two guerrilla fighters Ka-Andres and Ka-Jose.

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