Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Curious Case of Bill Murray

In a feature story in this week’s issue, Entertainment Weekly asks Bill Murray about his elusive, unpredictable ways and uncovers exactly what it takes for filmmakers to get him into their movies nowadays.
Bill Murray is Hollywood’s White Whale. There have always been sightings of the enigmatic actor, and a generation of young filmmakers came in to the biz with the Quixotic dream of eventually landing him for their passion projects. Wes Anderson (Rushmore) pulled it off. So did Sofia Coppola—though it took her months to get him to call her back before he even read Lost in Translation. Today, in lieu of an agent or publicist, Murray makes do with a 1-800 number, where producers, studio heads, and journalists can leave their messages at the beep. “Getting in touch with Bill Murray remains one of life’s greatest mysteries,” says Rob Burnett, executive producer of Late Show with David Letterman. “The plus/minus on that return call can be anywhere from 24 hours to six months. That’s just how it is.”
What’s odd is that Murray is often hiding in plain sight. There he is, toying with the gallery at Pebble Beach. There he is, playing himself in a web-short about hyper-vigilant fact-checkers. There he is, rooting for his beloved Cubs at Wrigley Field, or tending bar in Austin, or reading Emily Dickinson poems to beefy New York construction workers. Heck, he once showed up at Monmouth Park, the New Jersey racetrack where I worked while in college, and signed my brother’s program with the baffling but beautiful line, “Forty percent discount after 6 p.m. — Bill Murray.”
There’s a scene in Groundhog Day where Murray’s calendar-challenged Phil Connors plays chicken with an approaching train and then says, “I’m not going to live by their rules anymore!” Murray has done the same thing in his own career. He has his own code, and woe to the costar, the grip, or the studio executive who violates it. During the filming of Groundhog Day, producers pleaded with Murray that he hire a personal assistant to facilitate better communications between the studio and their star. Murray acquiesced, sort of, hiring a deaf-mute who spoke only American Sign Language. Don’t worry, Murray explained, I’m going to learn sign language. “That’s anti-communication,” says Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis. “You know, ‘Let’s not talk.’”
In a feature story in this week’s issue, Entertainment Weekly asks Bill Murray about his elusive, unpredictable ways and uncovers exactly what it takes for filmmakers to get him into their movies nowadays.
Bill Murray is Hollywood’s White Whale. There have always been sightings of the enigmatic actor, and a generation of young filmmakers came in to the biz with the Quixotic dream of eventually landing him for their passion projects. Wes Anderson (Rushmore) pulled it off. So did Sofia Coppola—though it took her months to get him to call her back before he even read Lost in Translation. Today, in lieu of an agent or publicist, Murray makes do with a 1-800 number, where producers, studio heads, and journalists can leave their messages at the beep. “Getting in touch with Bill Murray remains one of life’s greatest mysteries,” says Rob Burnett, executive producer of Late Show with David Letterman. “The plus/minus on that return call can be anywhere from 24 hours to six months. That’s just how it is.”
What’s odd is that Murray is often hiding in plain sight. There he is, toying with the gallery at Pebble Beach. There he is, playing himself in a web-short about hyper-vigilant fact-checkers. There he is, rooting for his beloved Cubs at Wrigley Field, or tending bar in Austin, or reading Emily Dickinson poems to beefy New York construction workers. Heck, he once showed up at Monmouth Park, the New Jersey racetrack where I worked while in college, and signed my brother’s program with the baffling but beautiful line, “Forty percent discount after 6 p.m. — Bill Murray.”
There’s a scene in Groundhog Day where Murray’s calendar-challenged Phil Connors plays chicken with an approaching train and then says, “I’m not going to live by their rules anymore!” Murray has done the same thing in his own career. He has his own code, and woe to the costar, the grip, or the studio executive who violates it. During the filming of Groundhog Day, producers pleaded with Murray that he hire a personal assistant to facilitate better communications between the studio and their star. Murray acquiesced, sort of, hiring a deaf-mute who spoke only American Sign Language. Don’t worry, Murray explained, I’m going to learn sign language. “That’s anti-communication,” says Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis. “You know, ‘Let’s not talk.’”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

There's more water on the moon than anyone thought


(Reuters) - There is far more water on the moon than just about anyone thought and it is likely widespread deep under its surface, according to a report released on Monday.


Recent moon missions have shown frozen water in shadowed craters on the moon's surface, and ice under the gray dust. It could have been carried there by bits of comets as asteroids hitting the surface, however.

But a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows there is much more water on the moon than that -- findings important for future moon missions.

"Water may be ubiquitous within the lunar interior," the researchers concluded in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"For over 40 years we thought the moon was dry," said Francis McCubbin of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who led the study.

"We found that the minimum water content ranged from 64 parts per billion to 5 parts per million -- at least two orders of magnitude greater than previous results."

The water is not immediately accessible -- it is incorporated in the rocky interior of the moon, according to the report, published here

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bilderberg 2010: What we have learned

A huge agenda of global issues was crammed into four days of 'secret' meetings by a mysterious group of power brokers. But who elected them and why are we paying for them?

Weary and bramble-scratched, elated by the press coverage, and sick of riot vans and lukewarm Spanish omelette baguettes, we return from Bilderberg 2010 with the following thoughts uppermost in our tired mind:
• 'Global cooling' is on the cards
Check out the agenda for Bilderberg 2010: "Financial reform, security, cyber technology, energy, Pakistan, Afghanistan, world food problem, global cooling, social networking, medical science, EU-US relations." That list is a window into your future. Don't think for one minute that it isn't. And don't ignore it, because it isn't ignoring you.
I love how "social networking" must fry the Bilderbergian mind. On the one hand, as Zuckerberg of Facebook says, privacy is no longer a social norm so it's okay to milk the networking sites for information, social trends and dissident thinking; however, you can't stop the people from arranging a meet-up to discuss internet censorship or the rights and wrongs of "global cooling". Speaking of which, Bill Gates (Bilderberg 2010) is funding "cloud whitening" technology; trials start soon. Global dimming isn't just something that happens every time Big Brother starts. On the basis of this agenda, I think we can expect a lot of statements about cutting-edge cloud-technology trials in the next 12 months. If it works in Dubai, it can work in Britain too...
• You can't keep a good story down
If I had to pick the point when Bilderberg finally broke through into mainstream news, it would be when the BBC News Blog published a round-up of Bilderberg reports. Twelve months ago, this would have been barely conceivable. This year, Kissinger must be spitting chips.
• People love their 'leaders'
I know this sounds peculiar, or at least it does to me, but this year's Bilderbloggings have quite commonly been met with outrage at the idea that we should submit Bilderberg to greater scrutiny. You hear people talk about the delegates at Bilderberg as their "leaders", and you see the delegates mythologised as the greatest and the best – whose benign Olympian machinations should progress untroubled by the interference of public and press. "Leaders" like the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, and the chairman of Kissinger Associates Inc.
I'm baffled to the point of punching tree trunks to witness the determination of some folk to throw themselves in front of these heads of corporations and presidents of banks and to wave their arms protectively, yelping: "Leave them alone! Let them strategise for the good of the world in peace! How could they possibly have a frank discussion with our politicians if we were privy to it? Stop this unseemly prying!" I mean, seriously. The day that Marcus Agius, chairman of Barclays, strategises for my good is the day he repays me the hundreds of pounds of bank charges he's been levying on me since my schooldays. The day that Peter Voser, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, sits around a table with the express concern of making the world a better, more beautiful place for all of us, is the day that my arse grows teeth and eats my hat.
Do this: Look at the list of participants and ask yourself one simple question: what's their bottom line?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

For ‘99ers,’ a job can feel like a mirage


They call themselves “99ers,” because they have exhausted the maximum 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.

Their savings have been depleted, along with their dreams of a comfortable financial future. In many cases, their credit is shot too after years of living on the financial edge and relying on plastic to cover the most basic expenses.

They have lost many things: homes, cars, valuables, relationships, health insurance, even the cell phones and computers that provide the lifeline to the one thing they need most — a job.

For some, it is any job — a job washing dishes, cleaning toilets or taking orders at McDonald’s. Others, even in the face of such dire financial hardship, still refuse to accept a menial job that offers far less money — and respect — than their previous positions as managers, teachers, architects or administrative assistants.

Desperate for work, some 99ers, such as Florida native Diana Johnston, have gone back to school in the hopes that they can reinvent themselves as nurses or technicians. But the cost of education deters some, including 35-year-old Jeremy Hawking, who questions the wisdom of taking on more debt when he is already struggling to make ends meet.

The 99ers lost their jobs in mid-2008 or before, meaning they were among the earliest victims of a tenacious recession that took hold in December 2007. Yet they could be among those who will have the hardest time getting a new job even now that companies have warily started hiring again.

That’s because being unemployed can build on itself as people lose the financial means to apply for jobs or go to job interviews, get worn down by the stress of being jobless and no longer have the most up-to-date skills.

As of May 1, there were around 419,000 people collecting “Tier IV” unemployment benefits — the last stage of payments before a worker exhausts all unemployment aid available under the federal unemployment extensions, according to the Department of Labor. The DOL does not have data on how many people have exhausted 99 weeks of benefits since the recession began.

The situation is especially worrisome in this recession, in which millions of jobs have been lost and few, so far, have come back. That has left employers free to be extremely picky about who they hire.

“We’re in this humongous hole, and we just hit bottom,” said Sylvia Allegretto, an economist with Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkeley. “We’re just starting to climb out of it.”