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Twins sign Ervin Santana for $54 million

Last offseason Ervin Santana had so much trouble securing a multi-year contract after turning down a qualifying offer that he settled for a one-year, $14.1 million deal with the Braves.

This time around it’s a much different story, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports that Santana has agreed to a four-year deal with the Twins worth around $54 million. That would be the largest free agent contract in Twins history, narrowly topping last year’s four-year, $49 million deal with Ricky Nolasco.

Santana actually had a better 2013 than 2014, but he still pitched well for Atlanta with a 3.95 ERA and 179/63 K/BB ratio at age 31. He had a 3.24 ERA for Kansas City in 2013 and prior to that Santana posted a 4.33 ERA in eight seasons with the Angels.

Peter Lik’s “Phantom” Image Sells for $6.5 Million

Image courtesy of PR Newswire
by Chris Gampat  12/10/2014
I’m sure that we all aspire to one day have an image sold for a giant wad of money. Today, that award goes to Peter Lik, who now has the record for the most expensive photo sold. Peter’s “Phantom” image is very famous and there have been many trying to recreate and copy the photo, but the original sold for a whopping $6.5 Million. But that’s not all.
According to PRNewsWire:
“The purchase also included Lik’s masterworks “Illusion” for $2.4 million and “Eternal Moods” for $1.1 million.  With this $10 million sale, Lik now holds four of the top 20 spots for most expensive photographs ever sold.  He already has a position in the ranking with a previous $1 million sale of famed image, “One.”
$10,000,000. So why so much money? Peter is well known for his landscape photography and his color work. To see landscape and black and white together is very rare. Combine that with the very ghost-like look due to dust and the little sliver and light, and you’ve got yourself a winner. Technically, this is a very tough image to accomplish because of the high amounts of contrast. According to Lik’s news post today, it was shot in the Southwest part of the United States.
The buyer preferred not to be publicly identified for security reasons. And considering how much money was dropped on the photo, we don’t blame them.
Via PRNewsWire

Read more at http://www.thephoblographer.com/2014/12/10/peter-liks-phantom-image-sells-6-5-million/#K0uaZohPXJfBu0hP.99

Amazon to Customers: Make an Offer

Not only is Amazon an online superstore, but it's also trying its hand at being a virtual flea market.
Amazon's latest message to customers: Let's make a deal.

The company unveiled a "make an offer" button today which will allow shoppers to haggle for more than 150,000 items, including collectibles and fine art.

Among the items already being offered are a Toby Keith signed guitar, an autographed Hunger Games photo and a 1938 Buffalo nickel. 

Sellers who are open to bargaining can enable the "make an offer" button. When a customer proposes a lower price, the seller will be notified and will have the option of accepting, rejecting or countering the offer.

Once a price is agreed on, the item is placed in the customer's cart and they're free to complete the transaction before their new deal is shipped to their doorstep.

Peter Faricy, vice president of Amazon Marketplace, said the company heard feedback from sellers who said they believed 1:1 negotiations would help drive more sales and loyal customers.

"The new 'Make an Offer' experience is a game-changer for Amazon customers looking for great prices on one-of-a-kind items, and for sellers looking to communicate and negotiate directly with customers in an online marketplace environment just like they do normally in their own physical store or gallery," Faricy said in a statement.

The eligible items can be found by browsing here. Amazon said it expects the price negotiating feature will be offered for hundreds of thousands of new items beginning next year.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Teaser Trailer Debuts

Star Wars Force Awakens Falcon H 2014
Walt Disney Studios

"There has been an awakening — have you felt it?"

by THR Staff
"There has been an awakening — have you felt it? The dark side, and the light," says an ominous voice, just before Hans Solo's Falcon soars into view and the franchise's iconic theme song plays.
For days, speculation has swirled about when and where the first look at the next Star Wars would debut. On Monday, Bad Robot's Twitter accounttweeted a note from the filmmaker confirming that that 88 seconds of footage would be debuting in theaters this Friday. Disney later revealed that the footage would be screening in just 30 theaters across the U.S. and Canada, with the teaser showing before every single showing of every single movie in the select theaters throughout the weekend.
In addition to the theatrical showings this weekend,the official Star Wars Twitter account also revealed that the teaser would arrive online on Friday. Watch it below.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set to hit theaters on Dec. 18, 2015.

Swiss to vote on massive gold-buying plan

GENEVA (AP) — In Switzerland, a campaign is on to protect the country's wealth by investing in gold — a lot of gold.
In a test of their sense of financial security, the Swiss are being asked to vote on a proposal to make the central bank hold a fifth of its reserves in gold within five years. That would mean buying about 1,500 metric tons, or 1,650 short tons, of gold worth more than $60 billion.
If the initiative wins the backing of a majority of voters this Sunday, the Swiss National Bank would also be prohibited from spending any of the treasure, which would have to be locked away in vaults entirely on Swiss soil. The prospect risks causing a spike in gold prices globally.
The nationalist Swiss People's Party, the country's largest, has brought the "Save our Swiss Gold" initiative, arguing it will restore trust in the central bank and its paper money. The proposal is opposed by the government and financial leaders but aims to capitalize on a growing sense of caution among the Swiss about the perceived dangers and increasing volatility of financial markets.
Though the country is among the world's most prosperous, the initiative argues that owning physical gold in vaults would protect the country's wealth from trouble in markets beyond the control of this small Alpine nation. The experience of the 2008 global financial crisis, triggered in part by complex investments that brought down multiple banks and bankrupted states, is fresh in people's memories.
Jacques Mayor, a Geneva accountant, said he was wary of the idea of Switzerland buying or selling gold in large amounts in international markets.
"The last time they sold gold, we had an enormous loss," Mayor said, referring to the central bank going $10 billion in the red in 2013, when the value of its gold holdings slumped.
Despite the perception that gold's value is protected by the fact it is a physical good, its market price can in fact be quite volatile. The metal is used often by speculators as a safe haven.
Recently, gold has lost much of its sheen. Its price has fallen 11 percent since the summer to around $1200 an ounce.
Swiss polling firm gfs.bern has found the initiative is likely to fail, with just 38 percent supporting it, short of the required majority. About 47 percent were opposed as of early November.
For investors, the vote is still too close for comfort.
"Initial market reaction to a yes vote would be a sharply higher price — a $50 dollar rise looks plausible," said Carsten Fritsch, commodity analyst at Commerzbank.
A greater impact may be felt over months, as global traders know the Swiss central bank will be a regular buyer. "It could provide the base for an upward trend in the years to come," said Fritsch.
Until 1973, Switzerland was part of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates and the value of the Swiss franc was defined in grams of gold. But the Swiss National Bank, or SNB, was criticized for holding excessive gold reserves that generated too little return. Moving away from this system allowed the bank to decide more freely how to invest its currency reserves.
Fritz Zurbruegg, a member of SNB's governing board, notes the Swiss still hold a relatively large amount of gold in reserve.
"At 125 grams per capita, Switzerland has the largest gold reserves per head of population of any country - triple those of Germany and quintuple those of the U.S.," he told a conference last week.
If the initiative were to pass, the SNB would need to dramatically increase its gold holdings, which currently amount to 1,040 metric tons or just fewer than 8 percent of its nearly $532 billion in reserves as of the end of September. Raising that to the required 20 percent of its official reserve assets would mean buying gold worth over $60 billion at current prices.
There would be the additional cost of repatriating gold Switzerland now stores overseas. About 30 percent of the SNB's gold is kept in U.K. and Canadian central banks. European countries historically store part of their gold with allies to protect it in case of war on the continent.
A gold-buying binge could also hurt the Swiss economy by reducing the amount of money the central bank has to spend on keeping a lid on the strong Swiss franc. The bank currently intervenes in currency markets to weaken the franc, with the ultimate aim of helping exporters and tourism.
Zurbruegg said the initiative to buy more gold could therefore disrupt the domestic economy. And the benefits would be dubious: "Gold which cannot be sold in a crisis no longer meets the definition of a reserve and thus offers no security at all."

Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. makes incredible one-handed touchdown catch

By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In Week 12 of a lost New York Giants season, rookie wide receiverOdell Beckham Jr. made the greatest catch I have ever seen.

It was the first play of the second quarter, a first-down play from the Dallas Cowboys' 43-yard line. Giants quarterback Eli Manning rolled out to his right and found Beckham sprinting down the right sideline, covered by Cowboys defensive backs. Manning fired the ball in Beckham's direction, possibly hoping for a pass-interference call, which was indeed made as Beckham was interfered with in his effort to make the leaping catch.

However, Beckham managed to catch the ball with only his right hand while twisting and falling to the ground on his back.

The catch sparked a remarkable Twitter reaction from players around the NFL and other sports leagues -- everyone from Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman to injured Giants wide receiverVictor Cruz to Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.

The play was reviewed, as all touchdown catches are, by replay officials, who ostensibly wanted to see whether Beckham stepped out of bounds before making it but may have just wanted to watch it over and over again. Who could blame them?

The catch gave the Giants a 14-3 lead over the Cowboys in the second quarter, and MetLife Stadium was still buzzing about it minutes later as the Cowboys drove down the field for a touchdown that cut the lead to 14-10.

Personally, I just wanted to get this written before the Giants' next possession to see what the kid might do next.

Odell Beckham JrAl Bello/Getty ImagesBeckham's amazing grab put the Giants up 14-3 over the Cowboys.

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.