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Mike Nichols, director of 'The Graduate,' dead at 83


Director Mike Nichols, who brought fierce wit, caustic social commentary and wicked absurdity to such film, TV and stage hits as "The Graduate," ''Angels in America" and "Monty Python's Spamalot," has died. He was 83.
The death was confirmed by ABC News President James Goldston on Thursday. Nichols died Wednesday evening. Goldston said the family was holding a small private service this week.
During a career spanning more than 50 years, Nichols, who was married to ABC's Diane Sawyer, managed to be both an insider and outsider, an occasional White House guest and friend to countless celebrities who was as likely to satirize the elite as he was to mingle with them. A former stand-up performer who began his career in a groundbreaking comedy duo with Elaine May and whose work brought him an Academy Award, a Grammy and multiple Tony and Emmy honors, Nichols had a remarkable gift for mixing edgy humor and dusky drama.
"No one was more passionate than Mike," Goldston wrote in an email announcing Nichols' death.
His 1966 film directing debut "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" unforgettably captured the vicious yet sparkling and sly dialogue of Edward Albee's play, as a couple (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) torment each other over deep-seated guilt and resentment.
Nichols, who won directing Emmys for his works "Angels in America" and "Wit," said he liked stories about the real lives of real people and that humor inevitably pervades even the bleakest of such tales.
"I have never understood people dividing things into dramas and comedies," Nichols said in a 2004 interview with The Associated Press. "There are more laughs in 'Hamlet' than many Broadway comedies."
He was a wealthy, educated man who often mocked those just like him, never more memorably than in "The Graduate," which shot Dustin Hoffman to fame in the 1967 story of an earnest young man rebelling against his elders' expectations. Nichols himself would say that he identified with Hoffman's awkward, perpetually flustered Benjamin Braddock.
At the time, Nichols was "just trying to make a nice little movie," he recalled in 2005 at a retrospective screening of "The Graduate." ''It wasn't until when I saw it all put together that I realized this was something remarkable."
Nichols won the best-director Oscar for "The Graduate," which co-starred Anne Bancroft as an aging temptress pursuing Hoffman, whose character responds with the celebrated line, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me."
Divorced three times, Nichols married TV journalist Diane Sawyer in 1988. He admitted in 2013 that many of his film and stage projects explored a familiar, naughty theme.
"I keep coming back to it, over and over — adultery and cheating," he says. "It's the most interesting problem in the theater. How else do you get Oedipus? That's the first cheating in the theater."
Not just actors, but great actors, clamored to work with Nichols, who studied acting with Lee Strasberg and had an empathy that helped bring out the best from the talent he put in front of the camera.
Nichols often collaborated with Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson. Other stars who worked with Nichols included Al Pacino ("Angels in America"), Gene Hackman and Robin Williams ("The Birdcage"), Harrison Ford, Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver ("Working Girl") and Julia Roberts ("Closer"). In 2007, Nichols brought out "Charlie Wilson's War," starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
Just as he moved easily among stage, screen and television, Nichols fearlessly switched from genre to genre. Onstage, he tackled comedy ("The Odd Couple"), classics ("Uncle Vanya") and musicals ("The Apple Tree," ''Spamalot," the latter winning him his sixth Tony for directing).
On Broadway, he won nine Tonys, for directing the plays "Barefoot in the Park" (1964), "Luv" and "The Odd Couple" (1965), "Plaza Suite" (1968), "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1972), "The Real Thing" (1984), and Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" (2012). He has also won in other categories, for directing the musical "Monty Python's Spamalot" (2005), and for producing "Annie" (1977) and "The Real Thing" (1984).
"I think a director can make a play happen before your eyes so that you are part of it and it is part of you," he said. "If you can get it right, there's no mystery. It's not about mystery. It's not even mysterious. It's about our lives."
Though known for films with a comic edge, Nichols branched into thrillers with "Day of the Dolphin," horror with "Wolf," and real-life drama with "Silkwood." Along with directing for television, he was an executive producer for the 1970s TV series "Family."
Nichols' golden touch failed him on occasion with such duds as the anti-war satire "Catch-22," with Alan Arkin in an adaptation of Joseph Heller's best-seller, and "What Planet Are You From?", an unusually tame comedy for Nichols that starred Garry Shandling and Annette Bening.
Born Michael Igor Peschkowsky on Nov. 6, 1931, in Berlin, Nichols fled Nazi Germany for America at age 7 with his family. He recalled to the AP in 1996 that at the time, he could say only two things in English: "I don't speak English" and "Please don't kiss me."
He said he fell in love with the power of the stage at age 15 when the mother of his then-girlfriend gave them theater tickets to the second night of the debut of "A Streetcar Named Desire" starring Marlon Brando in 1947.
"We were poleaxed, stunned. We didn't speak to each other. We just sat like two half-unconscious people. It was so shocking. It was so alive. It was so real," he said. "I'm amazed about our bladders because we never went to the bathroom and it was about 3 1/2 or 4 hours long."
Nichols attended the University of Chicago but left to study acting in New York. He returned to Chicago, where he began working with May in the Compass Players, a comedy troupe that later became the Second City.
May and Nichols developed their great improvisational rapport into a saucy, sophisticated stage show that took on sex, marriage, family and other subjects in a frank manner that titillated and startled audiences of the late 1950s and early '60s.
"People always thought we were making fun of other people when we were in fact making fun of ourselves," Nichols told the AP in 1997. "We did teenagers in the back seat of the car and people committing adultery. Of course, you're making fun of yourself. You're making jokes about yourself. Who can you better observe?"
Their Broadway show, "An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May," earned them a Grammy for best comedy recording in 1961.
The two split up soon after, though they reunited in the 1990s, with May writing screenplays for Nichols' "Primary Colors" and "The Birdcage," adapted from the French farce "La Cage aux Folles."
After the break with May, Nichols found his true calling as a director, his early stage work highlighted by "Barefoot in the Park," ''The Odd Couple," ''Plaza Suite" and "The Prisoner of Second Avenue," each of which earned him Tonys.
Other honors included Oscar nominations for directing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", "Silkwood" and "Working Girl," a best-picture nomination for producing "The Remains of the Day," and a lifetime-achievement award from the Directors Guild of America in 2004.
Never one to analyze his career and look for common themes, Nichols would shrug off questions that sought to link his far-flung body of work.
"What I sort of think about is what Orson Welles told me, which is: Leave it to the other guys, the people whose whole job it is to do that, to make patterns and say what the thread is through your work and where you stand," Nichols told the AP in 1996. "Let somebody else worry about what it means."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Federal drug agents launch surprise inspections of NFL teams following games


By Sally Jenkins and Rick Maese

Federal drug agents conducted surprise inspections of National Football League team medical staffs on Sunday as part of an ongoing investigation into prescription drug abuse in the league. The inspections, which entailed bag searches and questioning of team doctors by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, were based on the suspicion that NFL teams dispense drugs illegally to keep players on the field in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, according to a senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation.
The medical staffs were part of travel parties whose teams were playing at stadiums across the country. The law enforcement official said DEA agents, working in cooperation with the Transportation Security Administration, inspected multiple teams but would not specify which ones were inspected or where.
The San Francisco 49ers confirmed they were inspected by federal agents following their game against the New York Giants in New Jersey but did not provide any details. “The San Francisco 49ers organization was asked to participate in a random inspection with representatives from the DEA Sunday night at MetLife Stadium,” team spokesman Bob Lange said in an e-mailed statement. “The 49ers medical staff complied and the team departed the stadium as scheduled.”
The Seattle Seahawks were subject to an inspection following their game in Kansas City, and the DEA met with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Baltimore-Washington International airport following their win over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. It didn’t appear a full inspection took place, however.
“Authorities checked in w/our travel party @ BWI & after a 5 min. delay, we proceeded onto our plane w/o incident,” a tweet by the team’s media relations staff said.

An NFL official said multiple teams met with federal authorities on Sunday. “Our teams cooperated with the DEA today and we have no information to indicate that irregularities were found,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement.
The DEA had reason to look at the teams inspected Sunday in particular, but the investigation is not restricted to them, according to the law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing. The official said the investigation focuses on practices across the 32-team league, including possible distribution of drugs without prescriptions or labels and the dispensing of drugs by trainers rather than physicians.
Lawsuit triggers the probe
Federal law prohibits anyone but a physician or nurse practitioner from distributing prescription drugs, and they must meet myriad regulations for acquiring, storing, labeling and transporting them. It is also illegal for a physician to distribute prescription drugs outside of his geographic area of practice. And it is illegal for trainers to dispense or even handle controlled substances in any way.
DEA spokesman Rusty Payne confirmed the existence of the investigation and said it was triggered by a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in May by more than 1,300 retired NFL players. In the suit, they allege that NFL medical staffs regularly violate federal and state laws in plying their teams with powerful addictive narcotics such as Percocet and Percodan, sleeping pills such as Ambien and the non-addictive painkiller Toradol to help them play through injuries on game days.
Agents began “interviewing NFL physicians in several locations,” Payne said, after reviewing material contained in the lawsuit. Players described being given unlabeled medications in hazardous combinations, teams filling out prescriptions in players’ names without their knowledge, trainers passing out pills in hotels or locker rooms and medications handed out on team planes after games while alcohol was consumed.
“The DEA has a responsibility under the Controlled Substances Act to ensure that registrants who possess, prescribe and dispense control substances are following the law,” Payne said. He characterized the DEA actions Sunday as “administrative” in nature, aimed at discerning whether NFL medical staffs adhere to federal regulations governing the dispensing of controlled substances across state lines. He would not speculate on any future action the DEA might take based on what it found. Penalties can range from suspension or revocation of licenses, civil fines or prosecution.
“The NFL team doctors strive to comply with all regulations in prescribing and dispensing drugs to our patients, the players,” Matt Matava, the St. Louis Rams’ team doctor and president of the NFL Physicians Society, said in a statement.
The DEA has investigated individual NFL physicians and teams on prior occasions. In 2010, the DEA inspected the offices of the San Diego Chargers after safety Kevin Ellison was found with 100 Vicodin pills during a traffic stop. Last year the New Orleans Saints agreed to a fine for failing to properly store, control and dispense medication, based on a 2010 incidentin which security tapes showed a coach stealing Vicodin from a cabinet by the handfuls and a team official suggesting records be altered to cover it up. Asked to comment on those DEA cases last year, NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash said, “The whole issue of pain meds is a big, important issue in our society well outside the NFL. . . . It is something our doctors are looking at.”
Those with knowledge of the case said the DEA is working with the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and met with investigators from that office recently.
Stephen A. Miller, a former federal prosecutor for that office, said the Southern District is historically a popular destination for investigators with complex and high-profile cases. “That office is known for being aggressive and having very talented, highly motivated people,” Miller said in an interview.
The former prosecutor said it was not unusual for NFL teams to have no knowledge of the investigation until the DEA showed up. “All of the stuff they would do is behind the scenes, where the targets wouldn’t know,” Miller said.
Those familiar with the probe said the DEA is investigating, in addition to NFL doctors, all other staffers on the NFL teams who may have access to prescription medications who should not — especially trainers, who regularly treat players’ ailments and injuries.
Sunday’s inspections were based on information the DEA had gathered over the past few months in interviews about the NFL’s practices.
A blueprint for the DEA’s lines of inquiry can be found in the specifics of the class-action lawsuit filed in northern California. Prominent plaintiffs such as former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, former 49ers center Jeremy Newberry and former defensive end Marcellus Wiley, who is now an ESPN commentator, detailed physicians and trainers handing out addictive painkillers without prescriptions, in dangerous combinations, to mask injuries. The NFL last month asked U.S. District Judge William Alsup to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that teams — not the league — are responsible for the medical decisions and that litigation isn’t the proper mechanism for an NFL grievance under terms of the collective bargaining agreement between players and owners.  Alsup has yet to rule on the NFL’s request.

Woolly mammoth could be cloned by South Korean scientists


By 

Scientists are considering an attempt to ressurect the extinct woolly mammoth. But concerns have been raised about the ethics of such a project

The fierce debate over whether to clone a woolly mammoth has been reignited by a fresh attempt to bring the species back from the dead.
South Korean scientists believe the extinct 'Mammuthus' can be brought back to life using the DNA of an extremely well preserved mammoth found in the Siberian snow.
Insung Hwang, a geneticist at Sooam, the South Korean biotech company working on the project, said this week his team think it is an achievable goal, using the fresh blood samples they have recovered.
“We’re trying hard to make this possible within our generation”, he told a Channel 4 documentary team who have been charting the project’s progress.
However, many in the science community oppose the idea of bringing an extinct species back to life.
Dr Tori Herridge, a palaeobiologist and mammoth specialist at the Natural History Museum, described the moment she came face to face with the mammoth, nicknamed Buttercup, as “one of the most incredible experiences of my life”.
“It’s up there with my wedding day”, she enthused.
“The information gleaned from Buttercup’s autopsy about her life and death, and the future discoveries that will come from analyses of her muscles and internal organs, will add to our understanding of these magnificent Ice Age beasts.”
But Dr Herridge said the cloning process would be cruel, and the benefits of creating a living breathing woolly mammoth do not outweigh the ethical problems.
She believes an elephant would have to act as a surrogate, carrying the mammoth for 22 months before giving birth to something that may soon die or damage her in the process.
"The most fundamental step and ethical concern with this kind of procedure is that you need to have an Asian elephant surrogate mum at some point”, she said.
“Cloning a mammoth will require you to experiment on probably many, many Asian elephants."
She added: “I don’t think they are worth it – the reasons just aren’t there.”
Jack Ashby, the manager of Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London, backed her stance on Twitter, adding: “There is no good reason to clone mammoths and many reasons not to, including forcing elephants to carry young.”
A new-born woolly mammoth would likely find itself immediately designated an endangered species, and have to cope with modern environments as well as life in captivity.
According to research, mammoths were inherently social creatures, leaving the new-born mammoth to a potentially lonely existence.
The team in South Korea have accepted any cloning attempt would be a long, drawn out process over many years, and it is not yet clear whether the remains of Buttercup have provided the necessary blood cells.
But a cloned mammoth would add considerably to the understanding of the species that last walked the Earth around 10,000 years ago.
Sir Ian Wilmut, the Edinburgh-based professor behind the world’s first cloned mammal – Dolly the Sheep – believes it is a worthwhile endeavour.
"I think it should be done as long as we can provide great care for the animal”, he said last year.
“If there are reasonable prospects of them being healthy, we should do it. We can learn a lot about them.”
Buttercup was found on Malyi Lyakhovsky Island in May 2013, with three legs, most of her body, and parts of her head and trunk still intact.
She is among a number of recent mammoth discoveries, as parts of the vast snow and ice covered areas are melted through global warming.
Since the discovery of Buttercup, scientists have already learned she lived around 40,000 years ago, gave birth to around eight calves, and was in her fifties when she died.
Buttercup is also the size of an Asian elephant, much smaller than the mammoth’s usual reputation for being massive.
Mr Hwang said several scientific institutes are already working on blood samples to try to find a complete nucleus, including an intact genome, that can be used for cloning.
And he urged for the ethical discussion to begin in earnest.
“There are inherent ethical questions we have to address”, he said.
“That’s why we have to start discussing the implications now.”
The Channel 4 documentary, called Woolly Mammoth: The Autopsy, is due to be shown at 8pm on November 23.

Stanton Agrees To Record $325M Deal With Marlins


(CBSMiami/AP) — The Miami Marlins appear ready to begin chasing pennants and join the high-spending world of baseball relevance.
The Marlins are no longer pinching pennies, and Giancarlo Stanton won’t be, either.
Stanton agreed to terms with the team Monday on a $325 million, 13-year contract, Miami owner Jeffrey Loria said. It’s the most lucrative deal for an American athlete and averages $25 million per season, or $154,321 per game.
The deal includes a no-trade clause, and Stanton can opt out after six years, Loria said. A news conference was planned Wednesday.
“It’s a landmark moment for the franchise and Giancarlo, and it’s for the city and fans to rally around,” Loria said.
Any kind of multiyear deal is a big departure for the Marlins and Loria, whose frugal ways in the past alienated fans, angered the players’ union and made the franchise the butt of jokes.
Given such thriftiness, the Marlins’ generosity toward Stanton becomes even more stunning. His contract tops the $292 million, 10-year deal Miguel Cabrera agreed to with the Detroit Tigers in March. Alex Rodriguez signed the largest previous deal, a $275 million, 10-year contract with the Yankees before the 2008 season.
Stanton, who turned 25 on Nov. 8, is perhaps the game’s most feared slugger. He has 154 career homers despite playing home games in spacious Marlins Park.
“Giancarlo Stanton has come of age, and he’s going to be here a long time,” Loria said in a phone interview. “It’s wonderful to have a young man this caliber, integrity and ability, and I’m very happy.”
Stanton wasn’t due to become eligible for free agency until after the 2016 season, and signing him to a long-term deal was considered a long shot for the Marlins. They haven’t reached the playoffs since 2003, and he was distrustful of the franchise’s direction.
The Marlins’ 2014 payroll of $52.3 million was the lowest in the majors. The last time they spent big was before the 2012 season, the first in their new ballpark. Then came another salary purge, intensifying fan animosity toward Loria.
The owner hopes that will start to subside with the Stanton deal.
Stanton’s 2014 season ended Sept. 11 when he was hit in the face by a pitch. Despite missing the final 17 games, he led the NL with 37 homers and a .555 slugging percentage for the Marlins, who went 77-85 but ended a three-year streak of last-place finishes in the NL East.
The Marlins have said they’re not concerned the injuries will have lingering effects. They made locking up Stanton their top offseason priority and overcame his skepticism about their efforts to fielding a winning team.
The Marlins believe they’re poised to contend next year with a young roster than includes right-handers Jose Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez, Gold Glove left fielder Christian Yelich, center fielder Marcell Ozuna and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
Stanton made a team-high $6.5 million in 2014. The two-time All-Star right fielder recently won the NL Hank Aaron Award and was voted the NL’s outstanding player in balloting by his fellow major leaguers. He won a Silver Slugger Award and finished second to Clayton Kershaw in NL MVP voting.
Stanton likes to travel in the offseason and spend time in his native California. But he attended the Miami Hurricanes’ home football game Saturday against Florida State, and now he’ll be staying in town for a news conference.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

People Trust Social Media Less Than Any Other Form of Communication

BY JACK SMITH IV
(Photo via Getty)
(Photo via Getty)

No matter how much Facebook messes with our emotions and pressures us to give up our data to their advertisers, they’ve hardly done anything serious enough to drive us away. Most people trump it up to apathy — we don’t care how much we’re violated if we get to use the service for free. But a new study poses another possible answer.

Last week, Pew Research Center released a report on privacy in the “post-Snowden era” and how Americans see government surveillance, social media sites and advertisers. Unsurprisingly, 91 percent of everyone surveyed believe “consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.”

In the report, Pew gathered a number of factlets without pulling them together for the key insight about why we still use social media sites even though we know they’re taking and selling our information to advertisers.

No one trusts social media
Across all channels of communication — including texts, emails, cell phone calls, landlines and instant messaging clients — social media came out as the leading champion of distrust, and the only method of communication that a majority of people gave the condemnation of “not at all secure.”

(Chart via Pew Research)
(Chart via Pew Research)

This probably has something to do with Facebook’s mood-manipulation experiments, Snapchat’s security foibles and other related cloud-based debacles.

In terms of who actually gets the information, advertisers actually came out slightly behind the government in terms of who can be trusted, which isn’t surprising in the age of Edward Snowden, NSA spying and the constant threat of cybersecurity breaches.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 11.31.57 AM

So why are we still using social networks if they’re the least secure way of communicating and they openly collaborate with advertisers we trust less than the federal government?

It turns out, we don’t care about what we’re giving them.

One man’s trash is Facebook’s treasure

On a later page in their report, Pew asked exactly what kinds of personal information is most sensitive. Ranked at the top of the things people are most protective of was medical history, the content of phone calls and, obviously, social security numbers.

At the bottom half of that chart are things like the music and shows you like, your political and religious views, and who your friends are:

(Chart via Pew Research)
(Chart via Pew Research)

These things that we don’t think of as sensitive are exactly the kinds of data social media sites are interested in for the sake of their advertisers. It turns out, we just don’t think we’re giving Facebook anything valuable.

Additionally, Pew shows that people are also aware that giving up this kind of info greases the wheels for the social media machine:
Social media users were also particularly likely to “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are willing to exchange some of their personal data for free online services. Some 60 percent said so, compared with 46 percent of those who do not use social media.
So even if we don’t trust these channels or their business partners, as long as we think we’re feeding them garbage, we don’t mind handing over our browsing history and social graph.

But ad revenue isn’t necessarily what the future for social media looks like. Facebook and Snapchat are seperately pursuing new lines of business in payment processing and baning on private messaging as the cash cow — exactly the kind of information people think twice before handing out.

If social media sites start moving into this territory with the tone-deafness to privacy concerns that has cast them as surveillance-mongers in the eyes of the public, the most damning revelations in the “post-Snowden” era won’t have anything to do with the NSA or the government, but what private corporations and advertisers are willing to take from us to profit.

Follow Jack Smith IV on Twitter or via RSSjsmith@observer.com

Read more at http://betabeat.com/2014/11/people-trust-social-media-less-than-any-other-form-of-communication/#ixzz3JMs2xmPd
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