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MMJ, Stephen Malkmus, Cutout Bin, Jerry the Dachshund   Printer-friendly page   Send this story to someone
Friday, March 21, 2008 - 08:00 AM
Posted by: Karl

Karl

THE WEEKEND STARTS HERE:

...with MY MORNING JACKET!  Breakfast on Tour has video of eight new MMJ songs from the band's upcoming Evil Urges LP -- performed live in Houston -- for your viewing and listening enjoyment.

VAMPIRE WEEKEND singer-guitarist Ezra Koenig talks to the L.A. Times about being a "blog buzz band": "You'll hear about bands on blogs now," he observes, "because that's just a new form of media. Yeah, some bloggers really got behind us, which is awesome. But I think that before, like, 90% of any blogs wrote about us, we had a piece in the New York Times. So does that make us, like, 'a newspaper band'?"

STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS stopped by The Current for a chat and mini-set you can stream on demand via MPR.  Malkmus also talks to the Nashville Scene about new drummer Janet Weiss, his parents' record collection and being "the Pavement dude."

THE INDIE ROCK 25:  Entertainment Weekly compiles its list of the adventurous artists and albums that defined each year from 1984 to the present outside the major label sphere.

BOB MOULD is pressured into a round of "Who'd You Rather Dü?"

THE MUSIC EXPLO SION sync their way through the classic "Little Bit O'So ul."

MOUNTAIN GOATS mastermind John Darnielle does a presser on the difference between songwriting and writing prose.

FOURTEEN OVERBLOWN CHARITY/ADVOCACY SONGS, besides "We Are The World" (with embedded videos) courtesy of The A.V. Club.

TIFT MERRITT brings her country-Americana to Studio 4A for chat and mini-set you can stream via NPR.

AMY WINEHOUSE, nekkid.  More like a Wendy O. Williams duct tape special, really.

THE CUTOUT BIN:  From Strauss to Billy Bragg, from Muddy Waters to the dBs, from Johnny Cash to The Kinks, to AC/DC unplugged and the arrival of spring announced by Thin Lizzy, this Good Friday's fortuitous finds can be jukeboxed or streamed individually on the Pate page at the ol' HM.

BRITNEY SPEARS is worth 120 million dollars to the US economy, according to big business magazine Portfolio.  After an exhaustive study, the magazine has published statistics that make the pop wreck a boost to American finances.

JAMIE LYNN SPEARS, Britney's 16-year-old knocked up sister,  is living it up - shopping, hanging out with her friends and behaving like any other normal teenage girl with less than three months left before she becomes a mom.

NOW SHOWING:  This weekend's wide releases include Drillbit Taylor, an Owen Wilson comedy currently scoring 21 percent on the ol' Tomatometer, plus the horror flik Shutter and Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns, which were either embargoed or not screened for critics.

JENNIFER LOPEZ's babies are finally going public in this week's issue of People, but several sources familiar with the early stages of bidding among the many interested magazines said that the arrangement wasn't an easy deal to strike.

BRADGELINA:  Jolie is said to be "ecstatic" to be expecting a boy and a girl, according to the Daily Mail.

THE McCARTNEYS:  I think I forgot to note that Heather Mills, after being awarded £700/hr. in her divorce from Sir Paul McCartney, responded by throwing a glass of water over the hair of Sir Paul's lawyer.  Mills may not have cared for the High Court ruling, which stated that Mills had a "warped perception" of the world, "indulged in make-believe," was "not just inconsistent and inaccurate but also less than candid" and criticized her "explosive and volatile character."

OWEN WILSON & KATE HUDSON are definitely rekindling their romance in Miami, according to the NYP's Page Six.  On Monday, the duo "ate off each other's plates" at a local restaurant, according to a source.

LINDSAY LOHAN's ex boyfriend Calum Best denies that images making the rounds are from a sex tape of them.  Meanwhile, the ever-reliable Star magazine claims two Hollywood lesbians are fighting for her affections.

RYAN PHILLIPPE, a/k/a Reese Witherspoon's ex, told Jay Leno he has stopped Googling himself: "Some of the stuff that you see when you are someone who is known is so depressing. Just the comments. People make really hateful comments sometimes, because there's anonymity and you can get away with it."  And that's even before you get to movie critics.

WHY IS THIS SATURDAY DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHER DAYS?  Because ABC has its annual showing of The Ten Commandments.  A critic once called it "sublime hootchy-kootchy hokum," a description that can't be improved upon.  Most people will immediately think of Charlton Heston as Moses, but the grand DeMille spectacle also featured acting from Edward G. Robinson and Anne Baxter that is so over-the-top that Yul Brenner starts to look good by comparison.  And while Robinson's Dathan never actually spoke the line "Where's your Messiah now?" at the Red Sea in the movie, it  -- like "Play It Again, Sam" (not spoken in Casablanca) -- has become part of a part of our culture. The line actually comes from Billy Crystal (sample), originally a bit from the Oscars, iirc. It later turned up o­n The Simpsons, with Chief Wiggum playing Dathan to Ned Flanders' Moses.

GLOBAL WARMING:  Josh Willis at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says the oceans are what really matter when it comes to global warming.  But some 3000 diving instruments suggest that the oceans have not warmed up at all over the past four or five years.

OUR FRIENDS, THE SAUDIS plan to retrain its 40000 prayer leaders - also known as imams - in an effort to counter militant Islam.

IRAQ:  A growing number of foreign fighters are leaving or attempting to flee Iraq as US and Iraqi forces have weakened AQI and forced its members from former strongholds, US military officials say.  The departure of some fighters doesn't mean al-Qaeda is quitting the fight, said Brig. Gen. Brian Keller, the chief intelligence officer for the US command in Iraq.  Gen. David Petraeus said Iran continues to support Iraqi insurgents and Syria is allowing foreign fighters passage into Iraq.  The NYT looks at Mosul as a test of the reborn Iraqi Army.

IRAQ and the MEDIA:  Canada's Globe & Mail does a genre piece on the Anbar Awakening: "While U.S. political leaders like to highlight President George W. Bush's 'surge' strategy of more U.S. troops on the ground to explain the relative calm, local commanders say much of the credit has to go to the Sahwa, as well as a decision last year by radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to impose a temporary ceasefire on his militia, the Mahdi Army."  Yet the same reporter also quotes one of the Awakening's leaders: "We have suffered for two years from al-Qaeda in Anbar. Most of Anbar was destroyed," said Sheik Ali al-Hatem, the head of Iraq's powerful Dulaimi tribe, explaining his decision to help form the Sahwa, or "Awakening," councils. There was another reason too, he confesses: "The American army right now is the power on the ground. We have to be realistic."  The Awakening likely would not have happened without year after year of gritty, relentless patrolling by US troops that convinced the tribes the American military was, as one tribal leader said to Bing West, "the strongest tribe."  Similarly, al-Sadr's ceasefire has a little something to do with the way the Mahdi Army got its rear end handed to it in any engagement with the US and the realization that the US wasn't leaving immediately.

JERRY the DACHSHUND plays fetch with himself.  Awww...

PANDA is a miniature seeing-eye pony in North Carolina.  Awww...

THE MOUSE-DEER of Sri Lanka finally has been photographed to a ‘publishable standard' under truly wild conditions.  Awww...

A 75-LB STINGRAY killed a Michigan woman Thursday when it flew out of the water and struck her face as she rode a boat in the Florida Keys, officials said.  Oooh!

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On the road to recovery   Printer-friendly page   Send this story to someone
Thursday, March 20, 2008 - 08:00 AM
Posted by: Karl

Karl

I'm still not 100% healthy, even by my standards.  Nevertheless, here is some linkage to keep us all on top of the news of the semi-popular...

THE RUTLES put yet another spin on pop-music reality with a 30th-anniversary event Monday in Hollywood that included what turned out to be the first performance ever by the four members of the ersatz Liverpudlian rock group.  The Prefab Four are also appearing in Rutlemania in L.A.  Let's go to the video.

SxSW VIDEO:  Acts ranging from Sons & Daughters, the Ting Tings and X to Daryl Hall are streaming via Crackle.

BEACH HOUSE talks to Pitchfork about how the duo gelled over "that cockroach song."

THE SPINTO BAND did a set you can stream from No Love For Ned.

THE LONG BLONDES: Drummer Screech takes time out of rehearsals for a chat with ClickMusic about their new album, their live act and his first ever stage-dive.

GARY NUMAN is interviewed by the Guardian where he reveals -- among other things -- that "At heart I'm just a frustrated ... Racing driver."  That much we could have guessed.

BASIA BULAT stopped by the World Cafe for a chat and mini-set you can stream on demand via NPR.

SNORKY of the Banana Splits is Dead?  Or is it a McCartney-esque hoax?

BRITNEY SPEARS's divorced parents joined forces again last night in their continued efforts to restore normality to their troubled daughter's life.

HEATH LEDGER's uncles are speaking out against his father Kim's handling of the actor's assets, saying Kim has a bad track record of estate management.

KRISTIN DAVIS of Sex & The City is denying that NSFW pics floating around the Internet are of her, but TMZ is thinking differently.

SARAH JESSICA PARKER says that both she and her husband, Matthew Broderick, were equally upset when they learned that Maxim had voted the Sex & The City star the "unsexiest woman in the world."

OWEN WILSON & KATE HUDSON & JENNIFER ANISTON are a triangle, according to the ever-reliable Star magazine.

MAD MEL UPDATE:  Law enforcement sources tell TMZ a construction worker committed suicide at one of Mel Gibson's homes yesterday.

WINONA RYDER was spotted leaving a Hollywood store with make-up on her that she hadn't paid for, according to the ever-reliable National Enquirer.

BENICIO DEL TORO seemed like a natural to play the Wolfman in the remake of the Lon Cheney, Jr. classic, and the pic bears that out, but six-time Oscar winning makeup maven Rick Baker tells Entertainment Weekly that Del Toros already lupine looks made his way more thorny.

KRISTEN, a/k/a Ashley Alexandra Dupre, already shot footage for "Girls Gone Wild."  Her lawyer now says that Dupre was 17 when the footage was filmed, but other reports suggest she may be ten years older than she says.

AUDRINA PARTRIDGE of MTV's "The Hills" has not been on my radar screen, but NSFW Playboy audition pictures almost always are.  Call it Very Gratuitous Thursday.

ARTHUR C. CLARKE went to the big space station in the sky.

OUR FRIENDS, THE SAUDIS have opened a women-only hotel in Riyadh, designed to encourage Saudi businesswomen to invest in the tourism industry.  Nevertheless, women who would like to reach the capital from remote cities will still find this task difficult to accomplish, as they are banned from driving cars.

CARTOON JIHAD against the European Union is the main subject of a new audio message attributed to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.  His last public statement was an audio message issued in December, when he urged his followers in Iraq to continue battling US troops there.  Guess he needs to change the subject.

CHINA faces an internal threat from Al Qaeda.  If only China had not invaded Iraq...

IRAN:  A new Freedom House study of Iranian textbooks finds that the Islamic Republic is teaching its children to embrace Islamic supremacism, preparing them to enter a political system that discriminates against women and non-Muslims.  Meanwhile, many Iranian youths rallied in streets across the country, shouting "Death to Ahmadinejad," in celebrations marking the end of the Persian calendar year.

IRAQ:  The NYT's John Burns took stock upon the fifth anniversary if the invasion, while VoA remembered the 20th anniversary of Saddam Hussein's chemical bombing and gassing of Iraqi Kurds in the northeast city of Halabja.  Iraq's main Sunni bloc boycotted a conference Tuesday aimed at reconciling the nation's sectarian groups, a sign of the deep schisms still facing this country.  The L.A. Times reports on the country's high-tech boom (which is one reason electricity demand continues to outstrip supply).  The AP calls Iraq the first "I-War."

PETRA UPDATE:  The plastic pedal boat once loved by a swan named Petra has been given away.

GOAT kills a prominent Montgomery County, TN pastor.

BABY GALAPGOS TURTLE:  Awww...

APOLLO, a Cooktown bull-terrier, gets testicular implants.

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I Break Out... in a Cold Sweat!   Printer-friendly page   Send this story to someone
Wednesday, March 19, 2008 - 08:00 AM
Posted by: Karl

KarlAccordingly, I'm taking the day off.  I hope to be back with the usual stuff for Thursday.  In the meantime, the Godfather of Soul. H-UH!!!

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Spoon, New Releases, 3 O'Clock, Dancing Walrus   Printer-friendly page   Send this story to someone
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - 08:00 AM
Posted by: Karl

Karl

SPOON has a new video for "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb," a song that still puts up the hair on the back of my neck.

NEW RELEASES:  New albums from The B-52s, Destroyer, DeVotchKa, the Dodos and more are streaming in full this week via Spinner.  Zooey Deschanel and M Ward, a/k/a She & Him, are streaming via Merge, as is the multi-disc anthology from Big Dipper.

THE FIVE FACES of LOU REED, courtesy of The A.V. Club.

SxSW REDUX: Largehearted Boy (of course) is compiling a comprehensive list of streaming and downloadble sets from the Austin fest.

THE BREEDERS:  Kim Deal talks to Harp magazine about working with her sister.

THE THREE O'CLOCK:  It's a trippy Twofer Tuesday with "I Go Wild" and "Jet Fighter."  BONUS: "Her Head's Revolving."  Just because.

R.E.M.  Idolator has an advance review of Accelerate: "Anyone who is expecting a 2008 version of Life's Rich Pageant will be sorely disappointed, but Accelerate's certainly a solid modern rock album, and probably will fall near the top of the bottom third of their catalog, if you're into ranking those sort of things..."

STATE of the INDUSTRY:  Like most purveyors of media, music labels are flailing about for a new business model -- but they do not want to give it away on blogs.

ABBA:  A former drummer for the Swedish pop band was found dead with cuts to his neck in the garden of his house on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Police said Monday an autopsy showed it was an accident.

TUPAC SHAKUR:  I don't normally cover the hppedy-hop much, but The L.A. Times has a lengthy, gripping piece on the rapper's 1994 shooting: "Now, newly discovered information, including interviews with people who were at the studio that night, lends credence to Shakur's insistence that associates of rap impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs were behind the assault. Their alleged motives: to punish Shakur for disrespecting them and rejecting their business overtures and, not incidentally, to curry favor with Combs..."

BRITNEY SPEARS is getting advice and support from Mel Gibson.  No, really.  Former confidante Sam Lutfi has agreed to stay away from the pop wreck for another month, according to People magazine.  It appears the deal was struck as a way of warding off a courtroom confrontation with Spears's parents over the TRO against Lutfi.  And Spears was ordered by a court commissioner Monday to pay Fed-Ex 375K to cover his attorney fees in their child-custody dispute.

THE McCARTNEYS:  Heather Mills said she was "very, very happy" with her 48.6 million dollar divorce settlement, but will appeal, after launching a non-stop rant on the steps of the High Court against Sir Paul, the judge and McCartney's lawyer Fiona Shackleton.

GEORGE CLOONEY has reportedly agreed to be godfather to Nicole Kidman's baby.  Both Clooney and Kidman are notoriously hostile to the paparazzi, so perhaps this will be their chance to settle all family business.

BRADGELINA:  Pitt met with former President Bill Clinton and hundreds of volunteers in the Lower 9th Ward of N'awlins on Sunday at the site where a foundation headed by Pitt plans to begin building affordable homes for Hurricane Katrina victims.

ANNA NICOLE SMITH IS STILL DEAD, but Larry Birkhead has just testified in the Bahamas in the inquest involving the death of her son that Daniel used to steal the supermodel's Methadone.

CHARLIE SHEEN may have been another Client of "Kristen."

WILL & JADA PINKETT SMITH are the new celebrity faces of Scientology? The case is made in "Scientology Under Siege," Radar magazine's April cover story.  Courtney Hazlett notes that d espite a fervent denial from Smith's rep, sources close to Smith earlier told MSNBC that the actor definitely is becoming a member of the religion.  The NYDN previously reported that Smith gave the crew of next summer's comedy "Hancock" a card good for a personality test at your local Scientology center as a "wrap" gift.

HARRY POTTER and the DEATHLY CANCER:  Daniel Radcliffe has recently been smoking up to 20 cigarettes a day, according to the ever-reliable Sun.

HEAVY METAL:  Director David Fincher wants a reutrn-trip ticket to midnight.

ENCHANTED comes out on DVD today; it's full of Disney-fied Easter eggs.

PAUL GIAMATTI talks to the Philadelphia Daily News about starring in the new HBO mini-series John Adams, the debut of which I fully enjoyed.  "Most people have thought of John Adams and many still think of him as a rich, Boston blue blood," author John McCullough said. "A cold Puritan. And he was none of those."  If you want to catch up on Eps. 1 & 2, here is the full schedule.

KRISTIN DAVIS may be giving a whole new meaning to shooting "Sex in the City" on video.  (pretty darn close to NSFW, btw.)  If that is not Davis, it is a remarkable resemblance.  Either way, it's a Very Gratuitous Tuesday.

CREEPY GNOME terrorizes the town of General Guemes, in the province of Salta, Argentina.  Video at the link.

TIBET:  Protests against Chinese rule in Tibet culminated Friday when Tibetans attacked ethnic Chinese and torched their shops in Lhasa, the region's capital. Tibet's governor, Champa Phuntsok, said 16 people were killed and dozens injured. Unconfirmed reports from Tibetan exile groups put the death toll at 80.  Witnesses say Lhasa had been turned into a war zone, with both sides suffering casualties.  Both the Chinese and the radical protesters are angry with the Dalai Lama.  The Chinese government is restricting foreign journalists from entering Tibet and neighboring areas; CNN, the BBC, Google News, Yahoo and YouTube have been blocked or have faced temporary blackouts or service disruptions in some parts of China.  The UN Security Council will likely keep silent about China's crackdown, mostly due to worries that provoking Beijing would accomplish nothing, diplomats said on Monday.

PAKISTAN:  The newly-elected parliament convened Monday and within minutes, it was apparent that the session in the coming days will devolve into a showdown between the newly-elected lawmakers and beleaguered President Pervez Musharraf.

IRAQ:  A new national poll by ABC News, the BBC, ARD German TV and the Japanese broadcaster NHK finds 55 percent of Iraqis say things in their own lives are going well, well up from 39 percent as recently as August. More, 62 percent, rate local security positively, up 19 points. And the number who expect conditions nationally to improve in the year ahead has doubled, to 46 percent.  The number of Iraqis who feel entirely unsafe in their own area has dropped by two-thirds, to 10 percent. With Sunni Arab buy-in, US-funded Awakening Councils, are more popular than the Iraqi government itself.  Just under half of Iraqis now have confidence in the government, but that is up from 39 percent in March 2007.  In almost all cases, however, the improvement since August and March still has not brought Iraqi sentiment back to its pre-2007 levels.

GOO GOO GOO JOOB?  Actually, this walrus grooves to "Smmoth Criminal."

THE SWARM!  A truck flipped on its side Sunday on a highway in Sacramento, California, releasing between six and 16 million bees.  The bees stung cops and firefighters who tried to corral them. They buzzed toward nearby businesses and forced them to shut their doors. They prompted authorities to warn drivers to roll up their windows and turn off their air conditioning.  Video at the link.

HORNY TOADS cause a weeklong highway shutdown in Wales.

EVE UPDATE:  The one -legged pet chicken is recovering at home after becoming the UK's first hen to have radiotherapy for cancer.

A BLUE HEELER MIX DOG is rescued after spending four months in the desert.

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SxSW, Gutter Twins, Long Blondes, Surfing Mice   Printer-friendly page   Send this story to someone
Monday, March 17, 2008 - 08:00 AM
Posted by: Karl

Karl

SxSW VIDEO:  Festival keynote speaker Lou Reed takes a "Walk on the Wild Side" by joining his own tribute concert.  WXPN also has clips of The Weakerthans, Kaki King, and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.

SxSW REDUX:  You can stream the full sets from The Weakerthans, Kaki King, and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (among others) on demand via NPR.  The Current is streaming mini-sets from (among others) The Raveonettes, Jesca Hoop, DeVotchKa, She & Him, Billy Bragg, The Heavy, Nicole Atkins and the Sea, and John Doe.

R.E.M. is an Irish band?  Who knew?  Meanwhile, Flogging Molly, fronted by Dubliner Dave King and Bridget Regan, now Billboard's independent and internet charts -- but are largely unkown on the Emerald Isle.

THE GUTTER TWINS:  Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan tell Newsday their latest effort began a s a joke, but they hope to keep it going -- like Sam & Dave, or the Captain & Tenille.

THE LONG BLONDES are set to unveil their sophomore album, Couples" on May 6. Drummer Mark Turvey gives The Scotsman some backstory on the title and the impact of teaming with electro DJ Erol Alkan: "The dance element is more dancier certainly, but at the same time we want the faster songs to be even faster and punkier."  Advance tracks like "Here Comes the Serious Bit" and "Century" have already surfaced on the Internet.

PETER MacBETH, a founding member and bass player with the Foundations until 1970, who had a worldwide hit with "Build Me Up Buttercup," has been jailed for child sex offenses.  The 71-year-old from Trefriw near Llanrwst in the Conwy valley may die in prison because he has terminal cancer.

LOS LOBOS has undertaken a new project - a children's album for Disney of songs from the sudio's animated features.

MOUNTAIN GOATS frontman John Darnielle talks to the New York Press about moving forward as a trio: "I don't want to do what I used to do, not because I have anything against it, but because the shark must move or die."

KEITH RICHARDS, LORD of the UNDEAD, has revealed the only modern pop star he rates is troubled Amy Winehouse -- but warned she "wouldn't be around for long" unless she cleaned up her act.

HARP magazine is kaput, though we have yet to hear the full story.

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE:  Horton Hears a Who takes the top slot with 45 million -- a bit less than tracking figures projected, a bit more than the opening for Cat in the Hat (even accounting for inflation).  10000 BC dropped 54 percent with 16.4 million, which is pretty bad, but probably not as bad as it deserved.  Never Back Down debuted in third with 8.6 million, while the other new release, Doomsday, opened in seventh place with 4.7 million.  Vantage Point continued to hold well in fifth place, as did The Bank Job in sixth.  The rest was unremarkable.

HALLE BERRY had a baby girl Sunday and "is doing great," her rep has confirmed.

BRITNEY SPEARS:  According to the L.A. Times, the UCLA Medical Center is taking steps to fire at least 13 employees and has suspended at least six others for snooping in the confidential medical records of the pop wreck during her recent hospitalization in its psychiatric unit.

THE McCARTNEYS:  Heather Mills is to receive a divorce settlement of up to £46 million from Sir Paul, including an immediate lump sum payment of £25million from the ex-Beatle.

MINNIE DRIVER is expecting her first child, joking her morning sickness is so bad it actually occurs "morning, noon and night."  The father remains anonymous.

BRADGELINA were spotted at a natural food conference (of all places) on Friday afternoon.

TOM-KAT UPDATE:  Gawker has a brand new-to-you wackalicious Scientology video, in which Cruise celebrates his birthdat on board the Scientology cruise ship, Freewinds.  Cruise dances and duets on "Old Time Rock & Roll" from Risky Business.

LINDSAY LOHAN faces rumors of cash problems again -- spending 70K on tanning will do that.

SAMANTHA MORTON:  told a music magazine she had been "close to death" following a stroke she suffered after part of the ceiling at her London home collapsed on her... but is it true?

JACKO has pulled off a monetary moonwalk to save his dilapidated Neverland Ranch from the auction block.

ANNE HATHAWAY, formerly of the Princess Diaries, was spotted stocking up on five bottles of newly legal Lucid absinthe at Park Avenue Liquors the other day.

THE TIPPING POINT:  Timed for St. Patrick's Day.

OUR FRIENDS, THE SAUDIS:  The Kingdom's most revered cleric said in a rare fatwa this week that two writers should be tried for apostasy for their "heretical articles" and put to death if they do not repent.  Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak was responding to recent articles in al-Riyadh newspaper that questioned the Sunni Muslim view in Saudi Arabia that adherents of other faiths should be considered unbelievers.

PAKISTAN:  After secret interrogations, the CIA transferred to US military custody a high-level al-Qaeda figure who helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan in 2001, the Pentagon announced Friday.  Mohammad Rahim became the 16th "high-value" suspect handed over to the military by the CIA and held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

IRAN:  Iran's hardliners maintained their political upper hand after Friday's parliamentary poll, which was a foregone conclusion after more than 1500 pro-reform candidates were banned from running and reformists were only allowed to compete for 120 of 290 seats.  Despite these obstacles reformers said they were expecting to win 50 to 70 of the seats in the assembly, which could make them a stronger minority.  ALSO: The Washington Post's William M. Arkin lists "Six Signs the U.S. Is Not Headed for War in Iran."

IRAQ:  Anthony J. Diaz, who has a master's degree in strategic studies and international economics from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, writes about the hard-won progress in Baghdad he has seen since August.  His combat outpost sits in Adhamiyah, which was the scene of protests over the security wall built there at the outset of the "surge."  Iraqi security forces clashed with a breakaway faction of the Mahdi Army in Kut again on Saturday, leaving five dead and 15 injured.  Dozens of arrests of militiamen followed in the wake of the violence.  AQI is nowhere near being in position to regain momentum, but is likely to persist in Iraq for the foreseeable future.  The NYT reports that black market oil revenue is "the money pit of the insurgency."  The Times of London talks to a loyal officer under Saddam Hussein who became an insurgent, but switched sides recently and is cooperating -- albeit reluctantly -- with the US military as part of its grassroots security drive.

SURFING MICE DOWN UNDER:  Bunsen, Harry, Curly and Chopsticks are a viral hit on the Tube.

MOKO the DOLPHIN saved two pygmy sperm whales, a mother and a male calf, who had become stranded on Mahia Beach, about 300 miles north-east of Wellington, New Zealand.

HOUSE of BEES!  A million bees and hundreds of pounds of honey in the walls of a San Marino estate can only be summed up one way: Un-bee-lievable.  And, after 25 years as housemates, the bees have left a reminder of their existence: honey purging through the wall.

RATS gnawed away almost one-third of an Ethiopian farmer's life savings.  Lesson:  Do not stash your cash in a haystack.

BRONX the BULL TERRIER been sacked from a stage production of Oliver after he kept stealing the limelight.

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