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Showing posts from July 10, 2014

New form of U.S. healthcare saves money, improves quality, one insurer finds

In one of the largest tests of a novel way to deliver and pay for healthcare, insurer CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield announced on Thursday that 1.1 million people receiving care through its "patient-centered medical homes" last year were hospitalized less often and stayed for fewer days compared to patients in traditional fee-for-service care. Medical homes, a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform, have been heralded as one of the best hopes for reducing the cost of U.S. healthcare, the highest in the world, and improving its quality, which lags that of many other wealthy countries. Medical homes are basically groups of primary-care providers who pledge to coordinate care, adhere to guidelines meant to improve patients' health, and avoid unnecessary tests, among other steps. According to CareFirst, its medical home program, in its fourth year, also delivered high-quality care, measured by yardsticks such as whether doctors gave recommended can

One dead as powerful typhoon hits Japan's Okinawa

One man died, more than 500,000 people were urged to evacuate and hundreds of flights were canceled in Japan as a strong typhoon brought torrential rain and high winds to its southwestern islands and could bring heavy rain to Tokyo later this week. Typhoon Neoguri weakened from its original status as a super typhoon but remained intense, with gusts of more than 250 km per hour (155 mph). It was powering through the Okinawa island chain where emergency rain and high-seas warnings were in effect. The storm was at its most powerful when passing Okinawa, some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) southwest of Tokyo on Tuesday, but the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) warned of heavy rains and potential flooding in Kyushu, the westernmost of Japan's main islands, as well as heavy rain in the rest of the nation as the storm turns east later in the week. "People must take the utmost caution," Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of disaster management, told a news conference. One man

Amazon rainforest grew after climate change 2,000 years ago: study

Swathes of the Amazon may have been grassland until a natural shift to a wetter climate about 2,000 years ago let the rainforests form, according to a study that challenges common belief that the world’s biggest tropical forest is far older. The arrival of European diseases after Columbus crossed the Atlantic in 1492 may also have hastened the growth of forests by killing indigenous people farming the region, the scientists wrote in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). "The dominant ecosystem was more like a savannah than the rainforest we see today," John Carson, lead author at the University of Reading in England, said of the findings about the southern Amazon. The scientists said that a shift toward wetter conditions, perhaps caused by natural shifts in the Earth’s orbit around the sun, led to growth of more trees starting about 2,000 years ago. The scientists studied man-made earthworks, uncovered by recent logging in B

China's arid north feeds water-rich south: Kemp

Booming demand for food in China's southern and eastern cities is worsening water shortages in arid northern provinces, adding to the country's environmental problems, new research shows. "Consumption in highly developed coastal provinces is largely relying on water resources in the water-scarce northern provinces, such as Xinjiang, Hebei and Inner Mongolia, thus significantly contributing to the water scarcity in these regions," an international group of researchers wrote in the latest edition of the journal Environmental Science and Technology. "Rich coastal provinces gain economic profits from international exports at the expense of ecosystem quality in the less developed regions," the researchers from the University of Maryland and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis concluded ("Virtual Scarce Water in China" June 2014). Rain and snowfall is concentrated in south and south-western China, as well as along the east coast

U.N. climate talks more advanced second time around, says former head

U.N. climate negotiations have made greater progress towards agreeing a 2015 deal to bind all nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions than the lead-up to the previous attempt in 2009, former U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer told Reuters. Envoys from almost 200 nations are aiming to agree this year on the main elements of a text to be signed by their leaders in Paris in late 2015 to tackle the emissions from 2020 that U.N.-backed scientists say are causing more severe droughts, flooding and a rise in sea levels. "The process is definitely further advanced a year before Paris than it was a year before Copenhagen (in 2009)," de Boer said in an interview in London on Tuesday. The Dutch diplomat was the public face of the negotiations from 2006 but stepped down shortly after the Copenhagen talks almost broke down despite the attendance of more than 130 world leaders late into the final night. Late on Monday, the U.N. published several documents on its website meant to help gui

Lawsuit demands Calif. stop approving pesticides that harm honeybees

California regulators violated the law by approving expanded use of pesticides that have been shown to hurt honeybees needed for pollinating key American crops, according to a lawsuit filed against the state by environmental groups on Tuesday. The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting the state Department of Pesticide Regulation from approving any new neonicotinoid products or new uses of those products unless it completes a required re-evaulations of the pesticides. The environmental and food safety non-profit groups also seek to overturn the department's recent approval of expanded use of Venom Insecticide, manufactured by Valent USA, a unit of Sumitomo Chemical Co Ltd, and Dinotefuran 20SG, made by Mitsui Chemicals Agro. The Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and the Pesticide Action Network North America, filed the lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court. The Department of Pesticide Regulation, Valent USA and Mitsui Chemicals Agro did not respond to requests f

Severe storms leave four dead in New York state and Maryland

Thunderstorms and high winds swept through the U.S. Northeast on Tuesday following tornado warnings, killing three people in New York state and a boy who was crushed to death by a fallen tree in Maryland, weather and emergency officials said. One of the hardest-hit spots was a community outside the hamlet of Peterboro in Madison County, New York, 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Syracuse, where a severe storm with high winds struck at about 7 p.m. The full extent of damage there was not immediately clear. But the National Weather Service office in Binghamton, New York, said local emergency management authorities had confirmed three deaths "from three collapsed homes." The storm uprooted trees and tore down power lines across several counties in central New York, part of a broader expanse of extreme weather that stretched from the Ohio Valley and parts of New England through the mid-Atlantic region, police and weather officials said. CNN reported nearly 500,000 homes and

U.S., China ink coal, clean energy deals but climate differences remain

The United States and China on Tuesday signed eight partnership pacts to cut greenhouse gases that will bring the world's two biggest carbon emitters closer together on climate policy, but fundamental differences between the two sides remain. Consensus between the United States and China will be a crucial part of any new global climate pact to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but they have long struggled to come to an agreement on how the costs of cutting greenhouse gases should be distributed among rich and poor nations. Speaking in Beijing during the latest round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that the two sides remained committed to "close dialogue" on climate change negotiations. "The significance of these two nations coming together can't be understated.  We are working hard to find a solution together that can have an impact on the rest of the world." The deals, which involv

Weakened typhoon leaves two dead, heads north from Okinawa to main Japan islands

Torrential rains from a weakened but still dangerous typhoon battered Japan's Okinawa islands on Wednesday, leaving two dead and threatening widespread flooding as the storm headed for the nation's main islands. _0"> Typhoon Neoguri, a super typhoon as it bore down on Okinawa this week, had winds gusting up to 162 kph (100 mph) on Wednesday, but weather forecasters said the major concern now was rain, especially as parts of the westernmost main island of Kyushu have already been hit by heavy rain over the last week. Authorities warned of record rainfall in Okinawa as rivers in some areas overflowed. More than 200,000 residents were told to leave their homes, down from over 500,000 on Tuesday. "Given the situation, there is still potential for some serious damage," an official from the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) told a news conference. Some 30 people were injured, mainly from falls, but none of the injuries was life-threatening. Television foota

Natural disaster costs down so far in 2014: Munich Re

Floods, storms and other natural disasters claimed more than 2,700 lives and caused around $42 billion in damage worldwide in the first half of 2014, but this was well below the first half of last year and a 10-year average, reinsurer Munich Re said on Wednesday. _0"> The world's biggest reinsurer said landslides and flash floods in Afghanistan were the deadliest disasters, claiming more than 650 lives, while snow storms in Japan were the costliest, with insured losses of more than $2.5 billion. Storm "Ela", which hit parts of western Europe in early June, is expected to cost insurers about 1.8 billion euros ($2.5 billion), Munich Re said. In Germany alone, insured losses from the storm came to 650 million euros. But the $42 billion bill in the first half and the $17 billion in claims paid by insurers were below the average of the last 10 years of $95 billion and $25 billion, respectively, Munich Re said in its six-monthly review of natural disasters. The nu

East Coast wakes up to power cuts after storms kill five

Thousands of people in U.S. East Coast states woke up to power cuts and a major clean-up operation on Wednesday after severe storms and high winds killed five people. One of the hardest hit spots was the Syracuse-area community of Smithfield, New York, where four of the deaths were reported and at least four homes destroyed on Tuesday, Madison County Undersheriff John Ball said in a statement. In Maryland, one boy was killed and eight others, aged 15 and under, were injured when they tried to shelter from tree branches and other debris being whipped around by the wind. The storms uprooted trees and tore down power lines across several counties in central New York, as the extreme weather raged from the Ohio Valley and parts of New England through the mid-Atlantic region, police and weather officials said. Roughly 174,000 people were without power in the Philadelphia region, Pennsylvania utility PECO spokeswoman Jackie Thompson said. CNN reported nearly 500,000 homes and businesse

Global warming requires more frequent rethink of 'normal' weather: U.N.

The baseline for "normal" weather used by everyone from farmers to governments to plan ahead needs to be updated more frequently to account for the big shifts caused by global warming, the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization said on Wednesday. _0"> The WMO's Commission for Climatology believes rising temperatures and more heatwaves and heavy rains mean the existing baseline, based on the climate averages of 1961-90, is out of date as a guide, the WMO said in a statement. "For water resources, agriculture and energy, the old averages no longer reflect the current realities," Omar Baddour, head of the data management applications at the WMO, told Reuters. A government trying to decide where to build river flood defenses or a hydroelectric dam based on average rainfall could be misled by the 1961-90 data, for example, while a farmer studying average temperatures might plant crops that wilt in warmer conditions, he said. Under current rules, t

Storm leaves 244,000 in dark, shuts Buckeye pipeline in Pennsylvania

Over 244,000 homes and businesses in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states remained without power on Wednesday after severe thunderstorms rolled through the region overnight. _0"> Buckeye Partners LP, a U.S. petroleum pipeline operator, said in a notice to shippers that its Laurel refined products pipeline from Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, was shut due to a power failure. Officials at Buckeye were not immediately available for comment. Exelon Corp's PECO utility in the Philadelphia area said it expected to restore power to the Buckeye pipeline in about three hours. Exelon said the storm affected about 260,000 customers and the company expects to restore power to most of the 43,000 still without service on Wednesday and Thursday. PECO, however, said that some customers in the hardest-hit areas may have to wait until Friday for power to be restored. The following lists outages by utility: Power Company State Out Now

At least one tornado confirmed in East Coast storm that killed 5

At least one tornado touched down in an upstate New York town during a violent spate of weather that killed five people on the East Coast, officials said on Wednesday. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo toured the hard-hit town of Smithfield, outside Syracuse, where four people were killed and at least four homes were destroyed in storms on Tuesday. "It looks like literally a bomb went off in a house," Cuomo said. "We just see devastation everywhere." New York victims included a 35-year-old mother and her 4-month-old daughter who died when their double-wide mobile home was leveled by the tornado, and a man who died with his dog in a house around the corner, Madison County Sheriff Allen Riley told reporters. Barbara Watson, a National Weather Service meteorologist who inspected the Smithfield site, said the tornado that hit was at least an EF2, the second level of severity on the five-step Enhanced Fujita scale, with wind speeds well over 100 mph. In Carroll Co

Research shows Gulf of Mexico oil spill caused lesions in fish: scientists

Oil that matches the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been found in the bodies of sickened fish, according to a team of Florida scientists who studied the oil's chemical composition. "We matched up the oil in the livers and flesh with Deepwater Horizon like a fingerprint," lead researcher Steven Murawski, a professor at the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science in Tampa, told Reuters. He said the findings debunk arguments that fish abnormalities could have been caused by other factors including oil in coastal runoff and oil from naturally occurring seeps in the Gulf. BP, whose oil rig caused the spill, rejected the research, stating in an emailed response that it was "not possible to accurately identify the source of oil based on chemical traces found in fish livers or tissue." BP's statement added, "vertebrates such as fish very quickly metabolize and eliminate oil compounds. Once metabolized, the sourc

U.S. senators press for probe of report that oil companies blocked ethanol

Two U.S. farm-state Senators on Wednesday urged federal regulators to investigate allegations raised by a biofuel trade group that the oil industry uses "strong arm tactics" to prevent widespread use of higher blends of ethanol in gasoline. A report from the Renewable Fuels Association this week said major oil companies have discouraged the sale of ethanol at levels of 15 percent per gallon (E15) and 85 percent per gallon (E85) at retail stations, by using distribution contracts that make it expensive or nearly impossible for franchises to offer the blends. (RFA report: bit.ly/1mIvQi9 ) Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said on Wednesday that the report bolstered the case for the Federal Trade Commission to evaluate whether the oil industry has engaged in anti-competitive practices. "This new report underscores the need for the FTC to look into these allegations, and I will continue pushing to ensure that

U.S. lawmakers threaten to subpoena EPA over power plant regs

Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday threatened to subpoena the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to obtain documents related to rules on carbon pollution from power plants. _0"> Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy wrote to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, saying that despite meetings between committee staff and EPA staff, "EPA has been wholly unresponsive to the committee." The lawmakers have argued that the EPA's proposed carbon emission performance standards for new coal-fired power plants are not valid because they require the installation of carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology that is currently not available on a commercial scale in the United States. Upton and Murphy said a subpoena could be issued if the requested documents are not delivered by July 23. The request is part of a wider effort by House Republicans to stop the EPA from implement

Apple targets rising water use, production partners' emissions

Apple Inc acknowledged on Wednesday it needs to address manufacturing partners' carbon emissions and its own rising water consumption, though the iPhone maker said it had cut back sharply on greenhouse gas output. _0"> Apple last year hired former Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson to push cleaner initiatives, amid past criticism over its emissions and use of toxic materials. Observers say it has improved its practices and earned better scores from groups such as Greenpeace. On Wednesday, Apple released its 2014 environmental responsibility report, saying investments in renewable energy helped slash its carbon footprint from energy use by 31 percent from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2013. That's despite power consumption soaring 44 percent over the same period. ( here ) But the company, which is building its future main campus not far from its current base in Silicon Valley, said water usage had spiked as a result of general construction and expansion. It

Rain batters Japan as storm makes landfall, three dead

Heavy rain battered a wide swathe of Japan on Thursday, sending rivers over their banks and setting off a landslide as a weakened but still dangerous storm made landfall and headed east, leaving three people dead. _0"> Neoguri, which first threatened Japan as a super typhoon this week, had weakened to a tropical storm by the time it ploughed ashore on the westernmost main island of Kyushu. But it was still packing wind gusts of up to 126 kph (78 mph). Heavy rains prompted the cancellation of hundreds of flights and trains and closed schools. The storm also fed into a stalled seasonal rain front, threatening flooding in distant regions. A landslide sent mud and rock tumbling down a mountainside in the town of Nagiso in central Japan late on Wednesday, killing a 12-year-old boy and bringing to three the death toll from the storm. "At first I thought it was an earthquake, then the house started filling with mud," one Nagiso resident told NHK national television.

Parched California proposes steep fines for over-watering lawns

Regulators in drought-stricken California are proposing stringent new conservation measures to limit outdoor water use, including fines of up to $500 a day for using a hose without a shut-off nozzle. _0"> The most populous U.S. state is suffering its third year of drought and in January Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency, allowing the state to request federal aid. In some cities and towns about half the water residents use is for lawns and cleaning cars, according to the State Water Resources Control Board, which made the proposal public on Tuesday. Voluntary measures do not go far enough, it said. "It's not meant to spank people, it's meant to make people aware and say, 'This is serious; conserve'," said agency spokesman Timothy Moran, noting that the rules authorize local law enforcement agencies to write tickets imposing fines. The new restrictions prohibit watering gardens enough to cause visible runoff onto roads or walkways

'Clinton: The Musical' gets U.S. debut at NY theater festival

"Clinton: The Musical," a bawdy, raucous farce parodying the sex scandal that rocked the White House, with two actors portraying the dual sides of Bill Clinton, makes its U.S. debut this month during the New York Musical Theater Festival. Critics have described the show that premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland in 2012 before transferring to London as "witty, quirky" and a "delicious political satire." The musical depicts Bill and Hillary Clinton's attempts to save the presidency following his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. "Our play is a loving poke at Bill Clinton," Duke LaFoon, who portrays the Bill who gets into trouble, said at a preview. "He is quite the character, so there is a lot there to mine for jokes." Karl Kenzler, as WJ Clinton, is the idealistic politician who genuinely wants to change the country and help his fellow man. "Ultimately this show is a sharp farce. It&

Mideast political minefield keeps 'Tyrant' producer nimble

It's hard to keep up with the social and political hurly-burly of the Middle East, but U.S. TV producer Howard Gordon got a hit out of it with "Homeland" and hopes to do the same with new series "Tyrant", even if it requires last-minute tweaks.     While fellow Americans celebrated over the July 4 weekend, Gordon was back in Israel for his latest whirlwind visit to fine-tune upcoming episodes, based on feedback he has received about the series set in a Middle Eastern dictatorship buffeted by demands for change arising from the Arab Spring.     There were complaints from Muslim American groups to weigh, as well as input from Middle Eastern dissidents. They are factored in to Gordon's drive to empathize, though he wants the series to work as a universal drama divorced from actual events.     "I like to think that, as sort of amateur cultural diplomat, I create these stories as bridge-building," Gordon told Reuters.     "We are listening t

'Dawn of Planet of Apes' marks digital lib for actors

It's not easy playing an ape, even a highly intelligent one, but if Andy Serkis succeeds in captivating moviegoers, he will be thanking the obscure world of "motion capture," a digital technology that accurately translates performance into animation. For "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," opening in U.S. theaters this weekend, director Matt Reeves says he pushed the boundaries of motion capture to achieve "photo-reality" in rendering the apes, particularly in their facial expressions. In doing so, "Dawn" could usher in a new age for actors, allowing them to dream of delivering award-worthy dramatic performances using a technology generally utilized in sci-fi blockbusters. "One of the hardest things to do is to create characters which are emotionally engaging and truthful," said Serkis, a British actor who has become a seminal figure for motion capture by bringing to life creatures such as Gollum in "Lord of the Rings"

Hip hop duo Insane Clown Posse seek to lift gang label for fans

Hip hop duo Insane Clown Posse and the ACLU filed legal papers on Tuesday seeking to stop federal law enforcement authorities from categorizing their face-painted fan base known as the "Juggalos" as a criminal gang. The duo and the American Civil Liberties Union intend to ask the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the decision of a lower court in late June that blocked them from challenging the FBI's designation of the Juggalos as a gang with criminal intent. "The only way to remedy this injustice for all innocent Juggalos is to start with the root of the problem – the FBI’s arbitrary and erroneous branding of hundreds of thousands of music fans as gang members," said Michael Steinberg, an ACLU lawyer. The Justice Department was not immediately available for comment. The Michigan-based Insane Clown Posse paint their faces to look like clowns and are known for rebellious and provocative music that includes songs such "My Axe" and "

Vermeer portrait sells in London for 6.2 million pounds

A painting of Saint Praxedis by Johannes Vermeer, the 17th-century Dutch master who painted "The Girl with the Pearl Earring," sold at auction on Tuesday for 6,242,500 pounds ($10.62 million), Christie's said on its Twitter feed. _0"> The price achieved for one of only two Vermeers still in private hands was below the top of the guide price, which pegged the painting as being worth up to 8 million pounds. "The Road to Calvary" by 16th-century Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Breugel, another standout work in Christie's Old Masters Week sales, sold for 5,514,500 pounds, the auction house said. It said 18th-century Venetian painter Francesco Guardi's "Venice, the Bacino di San Marco with the Piazzetta and the Doge’s Palace" sold for 9,882,500 pounds while a portrait of Lady Frances Marsham by 18th-century British portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds sold for 4,786,500. The Vermeer came from the collection of the late American collector

U.N. Women names actress Emma Watson goodwill ambassador

The United Nations' gender equality body UN Women on Tuesday appointed British actress Emma Watson, best known for her role as Hermione in the "Harry Potter" film series, as a goodwill ambassador to advocate for the empowerment of young women. _0"> "Being asked to serve as UN Women's Goodwill Ambassador is truly humbling," Watson, 24, said in a statement. "Women's rights are something so inextricably linked with who I am, so deeply personal and rooted in my life, that I can't imagine an opportunity more exciting," she said. Watson's films have grossed more than $5.4 billion worldwide over the past decade, according to the Internet Movie Database. She graduated from Brown University in May with a bachelor's degree in English literature. Other UN Women goodwill ambassadors include Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman and Thailand's Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol. (Reporting by Mirjam Donath , editing by G Crosse)

Lloyd Webber to revive 'Cats' in London, hints at movie

Andrew Lloyd Webber is about to find out if felines have more than one life - and possibly a cinematic one as well - as he prepares to bring his 1980s hit musical "Cats" back to London's West End for a limited run. The creator of hit musicals including "Evita" and "Jesus Christ Superstar", announced plans this week to revive "Cats", his 1981 show based on poet T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats", for a 12-week run beginning on Dec. 6. "I think it's just a great opportunity for us to get a second edition ... with this show I think it would be great just to have a go at it again and give it a bit of a rethink," he said at a launch event held in a London theater on Monday. Lloyd Webber said he would also consider bringing back some of his other hits, such as "Phantom of the Opera" and "Starlight Express", and that movie versions were a possibility.     "Yes I think it&

Cute Japan pop star recruits soldiers as Abe boosts military

Just as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe beefs up Japan's military, the armed forces have turned to a 20-year pop idol for a softer touch in recruiting soldiers in a country that revels in all things cute. "Working for the Self-defense Forces presents boundless dreams - like the earth, ocean and the sea," says Haruka Shimazaki of the all-girl group AKB48 in a new 30-second commercial distributed by the Defense Ministry. "There's work that you can only do here," she says with a smile. A pink heart-shaped cherry petal spins as she points to the English phrase "You AND PEACE." The nationally broadcast ad was released last week on the same day that Abe made his latest move toward a more muscular military, easing restrictions on Japanese troops fighting overseas. In April he eased decades-old restrictions on military exports after ending a decade of defense-spending cuts, worrying giant neighbor China. It was just a coincidence that the ad, part of a bro

A Minute With: Mark Ruffalo on mixing it up in acting and film

Actor Mark Ruffalo has played characters ranging from a gay AIDS activist and a sperm donor to a recovering sex-addict and an FBI agent and will reprise his role as the Incredible Hulk in next year's "The Avengers: Age of Ultron." An Academy Award nominee for 2010's "The Kids Are All Right," Ruffalo, 46, is appearing in U.S. theaters in the musical film "Begin Again" and will be seen later this year as an Olympic wrestling champion in "Foxcatcher." The versatile actor has also worked behind the camera on the award-winning film "Sympathy for Delicious" and is the founder of the non-profit group Water Defense, which works to keep water clean. Ruffalo, whose brother was murdered in his California home in 2008, spoke to Reuters about his aversion to violent roles, his washed up record producer in "Begin Again" and a desire to return to Broadway. Q: In "Begin Again" you play Dan, who reassesses his life. Did

A Minute With: London's reigning queen soprano DiDonato is a kickboxer too

On stage and off, you don't want to tangle with Joyce DiDonato - American soprano extraordinaire and practiced kickboxer too. The 45-year-old diva has been leaving audiences at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden roaring for her singing and performing of the hugely demanding bel canto (beautiful singing) role of the doomed Queen Maria Stuarda - Mary Queen of Scots - in the second of Donizetti's three Tudor operas. There's hardly a more gripping and dramatic scene in opera than the one at the end of Act Two when DiDonato as Maria has a knock-down, drag-out confrontation with Queen Elizabeth I, sung by the up-and-coming Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio. They spit insults at each other, DiDonato hurls "vil bastarda" (evil bastard) at her rival and pulls the tablecloth from under Elizabeth's picnic lunch, sweeping all the food and dishes to the floor - all this in the full knowledge that it will ensure she has her head chopped off. "I feel complet

A Minute With: London's reigning queen soprano DiDonato is a kickboxer too

On stage and off, you don't want to tangle with Joyce DiDonato - American soprano extraordinaire and practiced kickboxer too. The 45-year-old diva has been leaving audiences at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden roaring for her singing and performing of the hugely demanding bel canto (beautiful singing) role of the doomed Queen Maria Stuarda - Mary Queen of Scots - in the second of Donizetti's three Tudor operas. There's hardly a more gripping and dramatic scene in opera than the one at the end of Act Two when DiDonato as Maria has a knock-down, drag-out confrontation with Queen Elizabeth I, sung by the up-and-coming Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio. They spit insults at each other, DiDonato hurls "vil bastarda" (evil bastard) at her rival and pulls the tablecloth from under Elizabeth's picnic lunch, sweeping all the food and dishes to the floor - all this in the full knowledge that it will ensure she has her head chopped off. "I feel complet

'Homeland' will still thrill despite Brody's death, creator says

"Homeland" may have lost its sleeper terrorist anti-hero Nicholas Brody to an Iranian gallows, but the hit U.S. television show will continue to thrill, its creator says. Howard Gordon described surviving cast members, led by the gutsy yet emotionally troubled CIA analyst Carrie Mathison, as having plenty of dramatic mileage in the fourth season due to premiere in the fall on premium cable channel Showtime. "Fortunately Carrie is still a very robust character, (as are fellow CIA spies) Saul and Quinn. And there are tertiary characters who are now stepping more to the fore," he told Reuters during a visit to Israel, where he was overseeing his new production, "Tyrant", an Arab Spring drama. Shot in Cape Town, South Africa, the fourth season of "Homeland" finds Carrie "on assignment, doing what she does. She is a person who is trying to stop terrorists doing bad things," Gordon said, without divulging further details of the plot. S

North Korea complains to U.N. about film starring Rogen, Franco

North Korea has complained to the United Nations about a film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, accusing the United States of sponsoring terrorism and committing an act of war by allowing production of a movie about a plot to kill its leader, Kim Jong Un. _0"> "The Interview" - due to be released later this year - is about an American television-show host and his producer who land an interview with Kim Jong Un, and are then recruited by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to assassinate the North Korean leader, according to Internet Movie Database (IMDb). The letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from North Korea's U.N. Ambassador Ja Song Nam, dated June 27 but made public this week, does not mention the name of the movie but talks about a plot that "involves insulting and assassinating the supreme leadership." "To allow the production and distribution of such a film on the assassination of an incumbent head of a sovereign state sho

Actor John Wayne's heirs sue university to use 'Duke' nickname

Heirs of film star John Wayne have sued Duke University over their right to use the late Academy Award winner's nickname, "Duke," to market a line of bourbon, describing the school's protests over such branding efforts as "ludicrous." John Wayne Enterprises said it fears being sued by the private university in Durham, North Carolina, for trademark infringement unless a U.S. court intervenes. The school has challenged the heirs' plans to use the name in connection with restaurant services and alcoholic beverages. "Duke University seems to think it owns the word 'Duke' for all purposes and applications," Wayne's heirs said in a federal complaint filed on July 3 in the Central District of California. The Wayne family business said it was "ludicrous" for the school to argue that inclusion of the nickname on commercial products would cause confusion, dilute the university's brand or falsely suggest a connection between

Detroit art sale could bring less than half collection's value -expert

The Detroit Institute of Arts collection may be worth as much as $4.6 billion, but a sale of art works would raise less than $2 billion to pay the bankrupt city's creditors, according to a report released on Wednesday. Michael Plummer, an art expert hired by the institute and the city to evaluate the collection and ways to raise cash from it, concluded that litigation and market conditions would depress prices. Liquidating the most valuable works would eventually force the museum to close, in his opinion. "Rather than being a source of cash to creditors or a burden on the current city, in fact, the DIA is the single most important cultural asset the city currently owns for rebuilding the vitality of the city," Plummer reported. Some of Detroit's hold-out creditors have been pushing the city to sell or monetize art works to increase settlement payments in the city's plan to adjust $18 billion of debt and exit the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.