Britney Spears Returns Back To Hospital For Psychiatric Treatment

Spears was taken to the UCLA Medical Centre about 1.30am Los Angeles time to be held against her will because she was deemed a danger to herself or others.

A psychiatrist treating the singer contacted Los Angeles police to set the events in motion, celebrity website TMZ.com said, quoting law enforcement sources.

A Los Angeles Fire Department ambulance transporting the 26-year-old was escorted by dozens of police on motorcycles, accompanied by a police helicopter, the Los Angeles Times said.

The operation appeared to be thoroughly planned, it said.

A motorcade the length of a football field surrounded the pop star and kept photographers and onlookers at bay.

Spears was told of her impending confinement by her psychiatrist and did not resist when paramedics arrived and placed her on a gurney, TMZ said.

The doctor told police of concerns about her reckless driving and erratic behaviour.

Spears had not slept since Saturday, the website said.
Continue Below
video
Video By Reuters
She was stripped of access to her two young boys at the beginning of January after another hospital drama.

During that incident Spears was wheeled out of her home on a stretcher after a stand-off that began when she reportedly refused to release her two children, Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1, to former husband Kevin Federline's bodyguard.

Spears was taken to the Cedars Sinai Medical Centre for mental evaluation before she discharged herself two days later.

The reasons for Spears' admission have not been revealed, although speculation has raged that the singer is suffering from a long-standing mental illness.

Spears, one of the most successful singers of her generation, has been locked in a custody fight with Federline since the couple separated in 2006.

A judge limited the star's access to her children in October after she failed to submit to random drug testing as demanded at an earlier hearing.

Her latest attempt to regain visiting rights to her two sons was rejected last week after she failed to appear for a Los Angeles court hearing.

Haitian Women And The Pangs Of Sexual Abuse

According to the UN, 50 per cent of young women in the violent shantytowns of Haiti have been raped or sexually assaulted. Of the handful of victims who seek justice, a third are under 13. Alex Renton reports from a Caribbean hell crippled by poverty and torn by gang violence, and talks to the women who live in daily fear of sexual abuse

Cité Soleil is called the worst slum in the western hemisphere. It's an ant hill of a third of a million people that seethes and swelters on the salt marshes between the blue Caribbean and the outskirts of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. Soleil lies, as third-world slums so often do, next to the international airport, under the irony-laden roar of jets taking off to leave the country.

One of these, a small passenger plane, crashed into the slum in September, the day we arrived. No one died, but it was front-page news in Haiti's daily papers. They told how, within an hour of the crash, everything had been stripped from the plane: the luggage, copper wiring, the fuel from the tanks, the passengers' seats, 'despite the blood still fresh upon them'.

I thought about this a few days later, after some time spent wandering around the slums talking to people who live in them, and to some of the Haitians who try to help them. We were there to find out what, in a place whose incessant violence has meant years of neglect by government and the aid agencies, can be done to tackle a scary Aids rate, coupled with a mind-boggling ignorance about the basics of sexual health. That meant talking about sex in Haiti, and that, we soon discovered, meant talking about rape - and why rape is so horrifyingly common.

According to the United Nations' collation of research, almost half of all the girls in Cité Soleil and the country's other 'conflict-zone' slums have been raped or subjected to other sexual violence. These figures compare with those that emerge from the wars in Congo and Darfur - but this is not a country at war. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Americas, but it has a functioning democratic government, courts, police and a free press, all assisted by a three-year-old United Nations stabilisation mission that has been widely hailed as a success.

If the UN's figures are correct, there could be some 80,000 young women in Cité Soleil - a suburb smaller than Croydon - who have been sexually assaulted. What could turn a population to such voracious and cruel abuse of itself? Annacius Duportal, an aid worker funded by Oxfam who looks after HIV-positive women in the slums, told me the answer is simple - that the stripping of the plane and the high incidence of rape were caused by the same thing. Not culture, not tradition, but poverty. 'It is the source of all this. Poverty stops these young people from using their abilities, from fulfilling their promise. It compromises their sexuality, it forces the young women to use their sexuality so they can get money and assistance from the young men. And that has meant those who steal property seem to think it's also acceptable to steal women.'

Stealing women. This is no metaphor: one of the curses of the slums of Haiti over the past couple of years has been an epidemic of people-theft - of kidnapping for ransom, or for intimidation and control. At the beginning of this year, kidnaps in Cité Soleil alone were running at over 100 a month. Rape or the threat of it is a feature of kidnap, a key tool of those gangs. No one knows how much rape there is in Haiti - until very recently places like Cité Soleil were no-go areas for the Haitian police, and even the UN peacekeeping soldiers patrol the shantytown only in armoured personnel carriers.

So, clearly, the reporting and proper follow-up of alleged rape attacks is not exactly systematic. Only one of a dozen or so rape cases we looked into had been reported; in that instance, the gang-rape of a 12-year-old, the police had told the family it would be too dangerous to carry out an investigation. One American researcher on violence against children in Haiti told me that no rape victim she had ever met in the country had told the police about the crime.

Thus the only definitive statistics on rape in Haiti come from the legal system. They don't tell you much, but what they tell you is terrible. Like this: in the first judicial semester of 2007 in Port-au-Prince, 41 cases of rape came to trial. Twenty-one of them concerned teenage women, and 13 others girls who were younger. But only one resulted in a conviction. This is a conviction rate twice as bad as Britain's - which in itself is shamefully low, at just one in 20 of all cases. And a third of the victims were under 13.

Rape's entry in any honest history of Haiti is a long one. Columbus's men raped and murdered the indigenous tribes they found when they landed on Hispaniola in 1492; French planters used the slaves they shipped from Africa for sex; and when those slaves threw out the French and declared the first Republic, rape and murder accompanied the event. In the 200 years since then, Haiti has seen nearly half its 60-odd heads of state overthrown or assassinated - and sexual violence has been a feature of most of that turmoil. But rape, until just two years ago, was not even a serious crime in the country; and to this day many Haitians - including some in the police and judicial system - believe that forced sex is only 'rape' if the victim is a virgin.

The rich and the lucky of Haiti - which is largely a few businessmen, the staff of the United Nations and the diplomats - live high up above Port-au-Prince in the leafy suburbs that rise on the hillsides. Here the breeze is cool and the great slums below are hidden in a haze of dust and cooking smoke. As you descend into the old city, the streets get shabbier and noisier - then you head towards the airport and the sea. When you've got nearly as far as you can go the streets turn flat and the breezeblock walls are eroded like bad teeth, the result of too much salt in the cement.

This is Cité Soleil. Haiti is the only country, you're often told, that needs international peacekeepers even though it isn't actually at war. But Cité Soleil looks like somewhere used to battle. The façades of the few buildings more than a storey high are pocked with bullet holes, like wormy old driftwood. Burnt-out cars lie axle-deep in the drifts of rubbish that rise in every open space.

Myryam, Oxfam's translator, is wide-eyed at the scene. 'We have a culture here, that when things go wrong, people decide to destroy,' she mutters to herself. This is her first visit to this part of her hometown in 12 years; indeed she is one of the few middle-class Haitians I met who had ever been there. As Myryam stares, a UN armoured personnel carrier, brilliant white in the blinding sunlight, roars past us and on down the road through an open market. Guns and blue helmets poke from its apertures.

Our car pushes through the razor-wired security gates of the suburb's chief hospital, St Catherine Labouré. We're told how, until January this year, it was virtually impossible for humanitarian agencies to do any work inside Cité Soleil, and it still remains a no-go zone for the United Nations organisations and most embassies. That has been the case since 2004, when, with the ousting of president Bertrand Aristide, street gangs fiercely loyal to his popularist vision rose to fight the new regime. They became notorious as the Chimères - the Ghosts. But when it became clear that Aristide was not coming back, the gangs turned to kidnap, rape and extortion to raise money to buy weapons; that violence in turn gave birth to vigilante gangs and neighbourhood protection groups, also hungry for weapons. Increasingly children and women became targets of violence.

We wander through the streets near the hospital with some of the young men and women who have been trained by Oxfam's partner agency, Vidwa, to act as advisers in sexual health and as condom distributors in Cité Soleil. This is crucial work. Haiti has the world's highest Aids rate outside Africa, and Vidwa's director, Dr Jacklin St Fleur, has found that one in 12 of the pregnant women who have visited his clinic at the hospital is HIV-positive.

It's calm on the streets and we're able to chat to the teenagers who huddle in any patch of shade available. When we've talked, about sex a little and rather more about politics - every Haitian's obsession - I ask each of them what they want more than anything else. Though a couple say 'a job', or money to go to school, nine out of 10 say that what they really want is some food.

One of Vidwa's health agents is an older woman, Rosemarie Duplessis. I ask her about rape in Cité Soleil - I've heard it's a problem. She looks at me as though I've just told her the sewage system in the slum isn't much good: 'Of course it's a problem,' she says. 'It is everywhere, every day, every night. Every woman is at risk.' Would I like to see the violated women's centre, she asks? As we walk, she tells me that 50 or 60 women arrive in Vidwa's office weekly, having been raped. 'I give them counselling, arrange for them to see the doctor and, if they need it, shelter.' She has no idea how many rapes there are every night in Cité Soleil - all she knows is that, since she started working with Vidwa nine months ago, the numbers coming to her have risen every week.

The 'centre' turns out to be Rosemarie's two-room home. It's cold, almost devoid of furniture and the cement floors are wet with flood water from last night's storms. Sitting between the puddles are two girls, Marie, 18, and Jose-Ange, 15. Rosemarie has been looking after the pair, who are sisters, since they were attacked by a gang a week ago. Heads lowered in the gloom, they tell us their story.

They'd gone to the area where they used to live to see their old home. Some boys dragged them into the bushes. They were beaten with sticks. Marie was raped three times, Jose-Ange once. It would have been more but a man came along and disturbed the boys. Neither had ever had sex before. Now they can't go home, because the boys told everyone what they had done, and the kids are singing songs about them.

'We have been dishonoured,' says Marie. The words, in French, sound curiously Victorian. And then I think, there's no playing down this problem as a cultural normality. It is a horror for each and every woman, and it means the same to them, wherever in the world they have been abused. Though there are differences - when I ask the girls if they have had an Aids test after the assault, they don't really know what I am talking about. But they have both had a pregnancy test, and that was negative.

'I've never had a lover,' says Marie as she finishes her story, her voice low, 'and now I'll never have one.' Rosemarie says sharply: 'You are young, you cannot say you won't have a boyfriend. Don't say your life is over. It is not.' As we open the door and some light enters the room, I realise that Marie was hiding her face not just because she was crying, as I thought, but because it is discoloured and puffy with bruises.

Why is there so much rape? Rosemarie shrugs. The layout of the streets in Cité Soleil, the lack of electricity and street lighting, make the place dangerous for women. Women have to walk in the dark to get water and food. Lack of education and most important, lack of jobs. Ninety-five per cent of the young people in Cité Soleil are unemployed. 'And the young men who are unemployed are often in gangs.'

The slums of Port-au-Prince and other Haitian cities are indeed dominated by gangs - in Cité Soleil, between 2004 and the beginning of 2007, gangs were the only authority. And the gangs do indeed use rape as a tool in their control of their districts. Some, according to a report on armed violence and women in Haiti produced for the United Nations in 2006, exist in order to rape. The report's author, Wiza Loutis, identified teenage groups like the Vagabonds and the Chimères whose principal activity is gang-rape of young girls and adolescent women.

She found groups of older men, the Bandits, who use rape as a means to intimidate and control the local population, to punish women who will not sleep with them, or as a means of extorting money. Other reports talk of the Cannibal Armies, a pro-Aristide paramilitary group who carried out rape for political reasons. These gangs are not all male, either. Loutis writes of organised groups of adolescent lesbians who carry out rapes of young women, sometimes acting in concert with the male gangs.

In a public report on children and armed conflict, produced by the UN Secretary General for the Security Council in October 2006, there is a section on Haiti that makes astonishing reading. According to 'research of the UN and other aid agencies', almost half of all the girls in Haiti's conflict areas, like Cité Soleil, have been victims of rape or sexual violence. In other slums the phenomenon of gang rape is common.

The report goes on to accuse the Haitian National Police of the rape of female children in custody, and of murder and the mutilation of children living on the street - this the very force that the UN, since 2004, has been in Haiti to help reform. I ask one senior UN staffer in Haiti why these amazing allegations have not been acted on, or publicised further. 'You cannot imagine the lack of interest there is in the UN system in this problem,' he says. He blames lack of education in the organisation, and diplomatic fears of upsetting the Haitian government, with whom the UN mission is mandated to cooperate.

At this point, I find myself wondering if Haiti's epidemic of sexual violence can really be explained as simply as it is by Rosemarie and Annacius. Poverty and boredom equals rape? As a man, I have to confess I don't understand rape, in the sense that I do understand, say, murder. By this I mean that I can imagine killing, especially in hot blood; I can see how I might react to an attack, on me or my family, seize a weapon, lash out in anger or in fear. But rape? No, I can't picture myself doing that. Joanna Bourke, in her fascinating and recently published Rape: A History from the 1860s to the Present, analyses stories of the behaviour of groups of GIs during the Vietnam war, men who later regretted their rapes of Vietnamese civilians, but clearly were driven by fear, hatred and, most of all, peer pressure to commit a crime they would never have believed possible. But, still, no, I don't believe that I am - as conventional feminist thinking has it - a potential rapist.

The classic feminist interpretation of the act of rape was - and is - that it is about power, domination and control. 'Rape is not a sexual but an aggressive act,' the feminist writer Ruth Seiffert puts it. That puts an interesting light on the behaviour of those soldier-gangs raping in Vietnam; I've reported wars in the Balkans and in Africa and I know that the exaggerated sense of self that a gun gives to a soldier results in a lot of rape - well, I know that war means rape. Bourke quotes a rape prosecutor, Alice Vachss, who maintained that people who 'think rape is about sex' are confusing 'the weapon with the motivation'. And certainly the acts of the bandit gangs in the Haiti slums, using rape as a means of controlling and disciplining the female population of their quartiers can be explained by the thesis that they are using their penises as weapons to assert authority. But I'm not sure that's the whole picture.

The most striking thing about discussing rape in Haiti, which I did with a lot of Haitians, including some members of gangs in the slums, was not that anyone denied its importance as an issue (as some researchers did), but how everyone explained it in the same way - it's the lack of policing, of proper governance, the unemployment, and the failed economy. Rape did not have the special status, as the psychopathic gender crime, that feminist theory has given it. Rather, and quite simply, people described it as part of the general breakdown in society. 'We have kidnappers and gangs for whom rape is a habit,' said Natacha Joaccine, 33, a counsellor working on HIV/Aids awareness and young people's sexual habits in the Carrefour-Feuilles slum area. 'I think it's because the state doesn't take responsibility - the bandits feel they can do what they like.' Natacha also mentioned, as did several other aid workers, that among the urban Haitian youth there is an obsession with sex.

I began to think this might be significant during a bizarre encounter at a clinic run by an Oxfam-supported local NGO, Aprosifa, in Carrefour-Feuilles. Patrick, 31, an air-conditioning engineer, was there with his girlfriend Marly, 20, because she had recently had a miscarriage. I'd noticed them because, during the compulsory Aids-awareness lecture given by Natacha Joaccine before the clinic opened, Patrick had been one of the few people who admitted knowing someone who had died of Aids. This is a big taboo in Haiti, where the disease's popular name is diare masisi - homosexual's diarrhoea.

We talked about Patrick's friend, a heterosexual, who had tried to kill himself after finding out he was HIV-positive. And then we moved more generally into Haitian men's sexual practices. Patrick said he thought that Haitian men were sex addicts. Rape and 'sodomy' were their favourite activities. 'There's a habit among young men who live at home and don't have anything to do to go out and do these things, It's one of the reasons young men who don't earn a living go out and join gangs.'

Perhaps because he wanted to impress Myryam, my interpreter, Patrick was soon going into more detail than we really wanted to hear. This is straight from my notebook:

'I'm not that keen on sex so I only have one girlfriend. So I don't use a condom - skin to skin is best [Marly giggles shyly when we ask if this OK with her]. My friends don't believe in condoms though, they say Aids is a rumour invented by white men to stop people having fun and making love. My friends have more girlfriends and they use drugs so they last longer when they have sex... They have a little bottle with a bean called pwa and they spray the liquid on their penis, and they can go for an hour without ejaculating. And they also take a gasket from a Suzuki Tracker headlight [he looks in his wallet and brings out a black rubber ring] and put it on the end of their penis..."

The Suzuki Tracker is a cheapish four-wheel-drive, much used by the middle classes to negotiate Port-au-Prince's rutted roads. And yes, Myryam confirmed later, Suzuki Trackers do have a problem. Vandals are always smashing their headlights. 'Now I know why!' she laughed.

Two men working in NGOs confirmed some of these details. And one, an Italian, said that he found Haitian male sexuality bizarre to the point of disturbing. The habit of slicing open the skin of the penis and inserting pieces of metal was very common, and a source of health problems. Another area of concern was the use of hougans - voodoo priests - both for love potions and for Aids prophylactics, and then for cures to sexual diseases.

I spent one jaw-dropping afternoon in a room in the Carrefour-Feuilles slum watching Aprosifa staff trying to educate young people about Aids and problems associated with it. By the end of the 90-minute session it was clear that two of the teenage girls, both of them mothers, would not be budged from their conviction that they knew two sure-fire ways to avoid Aids. One was by having sex in the sea. The other: getting their boyfriends to drink a potion made of the water they had used to wash their private parts. Nothing, it seemed, was going to persuade them otherwise. And neither had much hope of persuading their boyfriends to use a condom.

To be fair, Oxfam's street-level NGO partners like Aprosifa and Vidwa seem to be doing effective work in getting information out to these young people, and in persuading them to use condoms. All this in the face of a non-existent public-health system and considerable opposition, not least from the Catholic church. The NGOs have run training sessions with the voodoo priests, too - particularly in order to try and address the dangerous practice of the priests sleeping with women in order to cure them of their sexual diseases. 'We tell the hougan that, even if they diagnose that the possessing spirit has Aids, to send the person to us after they have done their voodoo treatment,' said Natacha Joaccine.

Joanna Bourke's book makes a point of rejecting the traditional feminist view of rape. 'I think the power-sex dichotomy is a red herring. Clearly rape is about both,' she told me. And in order to understand rapists properly and address the problem in any way that will have results, she believes that the fact that rapists themselves see rape as a sexual and pleasurable act must be tackled. 'The person who sexually tortures others is a reasoning being who has made choices; those can change... Rapists are not born, they become,' she writes. If we begin by demystifying the rapist, she argues, 'we can forge a future without sexual violence'.

I was interested to talk to Professor Bourke because she spent part of her childhood in Haiti, where her father was a doctor. She lived there long enough to remember how violence seemed a part of ordinary life, in that 'everyone had a weapon - knives, guns, machetes'. Her schoolfriends never talked about rape. 'But you couldn't avoid seeing violence and knowing that sexual violence was around. My girlfriends were always being beaten up, they were bruised, by the guy next door, their brothers, their fathers.'

But she is stern in rejecting the cultural explanations of this violence. 'It's too easy to say, and people did, "oh, this problem is just about primitive Haitians. They're ungovernable, black, freed slaves, what do you expect?" But the problem comes out of poverty; brutalised lives. It's because it's a war zone.'

Professor Bourke could be echoing the words of Annacius Duportal, the wise Oxfam/Aprosifa worker I met at the drop-in centre for HIV-positive women in Carrefour-Feuilles. He had talked of how poverty compromises the sexuality of the poor - allows women and their sexuality to be something that can be stolen. Bourke says: 'For the poor, the whole notion of sexuality is difficult: it's not a matter of identity as we see it in a modern, affluent Western society. Rather, in poor societies sexuality is something you use to find shelter, food and safety. It has a use; it has a value.'

Defeating poverty and providing education, says Professor Bourke, are the only way to rescue Haiti's women from having their sexuality used to help them survive. 'It's so clear - you can show in all societies that the lower the rape rate is, the higher the employment figures will be. The greater the equality between the sexes, the lower the statistics for violence against women.' Luc St Vil, Oxfam's programme development officer in Haiti, backs this view. 'The imbalance of power here between men and women is aggravated by the lack of social and economic opportunities. If women are not autonomous in deciding the mode and type of sexual relationship, then it's difficult for them to control other issues, like health and HIV.'

And there perhaps lies a cure to Haiti's plague of violence against women. But first - and here again Bourke agrees with everyone I spoke to in Haiti who does work on the ground on violence and women's rights - rape has to be taken more seriously by the authorities in Haiti and especially by the United Nations mission. It has a duty, mandated by the Security Council, to assist and promote reform of the country's policing and judicial systems, as it does to restore the rights of ordinary Haitians, especially women and children.It is clear by any standard that it is not succeeding in that.

A couple of foreign researchers on violence against women in Haiti told me that women there see rape as a secondary problem - they're more worried about their children's security or the difficulty of feeding them. But, as Joanna Bourke says, rape is a source of poverty, too. 'It affects women's ability to work, or to find a husband. They may be injured, their health may be harmed. They may be pregnant. Reading the testimony of Victorian rape victims, as I have, again and again you come across one phrase that illustrated their fears about what the assault meant for their future: "He left me wet". Meaning, the man had ejaculated - they might be pregnant. Rape does harm way beyond the act itself.' In Haiti it may have damaged an entire generation of women.


Two 14-Year-Old Girls Dominate The United States Figure Skating Finals

Translated from Chinese. Read original article below.
Two 14-year-old girl held in Sao Paulo on the 26th of the United States Figure Skating Championships podium on the board finals, which become a future champion Cheung Chau won the national championship the following year low athletes.

"I was too excited, Words can not express it," When the Japanese-American girl next Cheung Chau see Scoreboard on the show after his win, and said happily.

Nagano Winter Olympic Games champion Tara Lipinski Head Maintained the former won the national championship the youngest records.

Cheung Chau future national champion automatically receive the identity of this year's world championships held in March the entry requirements, but does not meet the minimum age requirement World Championships (15 years old), she had to watch her defer to the runner-up places.

Rachel also can be runner-up and world championships because of age requirements of the 15-year-old difference of three weeks, not qualified to. The results, which ended Ashley eventually reach the hands of the third.

Because Kwan's ethnic retired, the United States figure skating in recent years there has been severed. In order to settle down, the United States figure skating community to actively encourage the parties to the children, starting with the first runner-up last year世青赛Cheung Chau is one of the leader in the next one. 世 青赛champion last year, the Chinese girl Zhang Liang Jing-round and the United States, and so is the current ice altar dazzling stars.

新華網華盛頓1月26日電(記者梁金雄)兩位14歲少女26日在聖保羅舉行的美國花樣滑冰錦標賽上登上冠亞軍領獎臺,其中冠軍長洲未來成為奪得全國冠軍第二年少的運動員。

“我太興奮了,簡直無法用言語表達,”當美籍日裔少女長洲未來看到記分牌上顯示出自己奪冠後高興地說。

1998年長野冬奧會冠軍塔拉·利平斯基目


前保持著奪得全美冠軍最年輕的紀錄。

長洲未來雖以全國冠軍的身份自動獲得今年3月舉行的世錦賽參賽資格,但由于未達到世錦賽最低年齡要求(15歲),她只好看著她的名額順延到亞軍。

可亞軍得主拉切爾也因年齡與世錦賽要求的15歲相差三周,沒資格前往。結果,這一名額最終落到了第三名阿什利手中。

由于華裔名將關穎珊退役,美國花樣滑冰近幾年出現了斷層。為了重整旗鼓,美國花樣滑冰界積極鼓勵各方從兒童抓起,去年世青賽亞軍長洲未來就是其中的佼佼者之一。而去年世青賽冠軍、華裔少女張圓圓和梁靖賢等也是美國冰壇目前的璀璨之星。

Japanese Women: Using Music, TV And Movies To Flaunt Their Sexuality


Robert Poole and Chikako Kato
Serenely and alluringly, the lotus flower opens. Unabashed, the temptress strides out, brimming with sexual beauty and proclaiming that the age of the Japanese lolita has passed. She has blossomed instead into a modern Aphrodite, a woman whose physical beauty exudes power, confidence and charisma. The "kawaii" generation watches in awe as she transforms into something startlingly sexy yet still adorable. She is erotic yet cool — "ero-kakkoii."

J-pop star and fashion icon Kumi Koda may be the omnipresent face of the new Japanese woman, but she certainly isn’t alone. R&B stars like Double helped bring Western-style sexiness in Japan, paving the way for independent-minded women to recognize that seductive needn’t be synonymous with submissive. TV actresses like Aya Sugimoto are reversing the tables by flaunting their extreme sexuality in middle age, symbolizing the feminine empowerment that’s been sweeping Japan. And if Aphrodite had a real life embodiment today, she’d reside in the world of adult films, where railblazing AV stars like Sola Aoi are earning respect and being celebrated by both sexes as pioneers.

Billboards around Shibuya are plastered with the face of R&B diva Double, and the singer herself is dressed to the nines for a pending photo-book shoot. Settling into a back street cafe, the “Queen of Japanese R&B” is delighted to discuss the new fashion for sexual independence. “It’s a good thing because Japanese women used to be really shy, always waiting for the man, following after them,” she says. Double will shortly celebrate an impressive 10 years as an artist in Japan’s fickle show business, and she’s sustained that success by staying ahead of the game.

“It was natural for me to be sexy because when I was a little girl, I loved Madonna, so I thought that’s usual,” says the singer, who was brought up on American influences that usually filter slowly to the world of J-pop. “Most of the people here can’t get my CD because they feel shy. Especially 'Spring Love.' The jacket was shocking, and fans were confused: ‘Should I take that or will somebody think I am dirty?’” Even Double’s song and album titles play up to the innuendo. “'Virgin Mix' is my manager's idea — he is like a pervert, but I thought it’s a really good idea and cute, so I agreed with him,” she says.

With scantily clad artists now becoming the norm in a society renowned for its public prudishness, the question must be asked: Is this openness merely a passing fad? Double thinks not. “I think that Japanese people have a feeling or longing for someone like Kumi Koda, with strong sexuality. It’s not only a boom. Even if she disappears, the trend and style will stay.”

Leading J-pop idols of the day have always inspired girl street-fashion: Namie Amuro’s Okinawan background gave us the deep-tanned "ganguro," and Ayumi Hamasaki’s uber-cuteness took color and glitter to the extreme. Until Koda, cute and acquiescent were the ever-defining traits, but her influence derives from an overt self-confidence in her body rather than the style of her clothes.

Consequently, the streets of Tokyo now see hot pants, sultry thigh-length boots, low-cut blouses and tube tops combined with transparent bras, bareback dresses and the tightest of tight jeans. And it’s not only clothes: tattoos, tanning, hair colors and makeup reveal signs of a shift from cute to seductive.

Age of sexless divorces

Yet to think that "ero-kakkoi" is purely a youth phenomenon would be a mistake. Women remain the lesser sex in chauvinistic Japan, and in various research studies — most famously that of condom-maker Durex — Japanese prove the least sexually satisfied of any people, particularly the women. Little surprise, then, that when renowned actress and tango dancer Aya Sugimoto announced her divorce in 2003, the reason she gave was lack of sex. “I didn’t think it was such a big deal.I actually thought that it was a healthier reason for wanting out than a lot of other mud-dragging types of divorce,” she says. The move coined the term “sexless divorce” and inspired many like-minded women to follow suit. Sugimoto, 39, has since become something of a spokeswoman for sexual well-being, candidly discussing the topic on the late-night talk shows like TV Tokyo’s "Yearnings of the Goddess."

Sugimoto’s performances on-screen buck the trend of Japan’s lolita obsession, as she flaunts her sexuality while earning plaudits for her self-assuredness. In an extraordinary remake of Masaru Konuma’s 1974 “pink” film "Hana to Hebi" (Flower and Snake, 2003), the actress worked closely with bondage master Go Arisue. Though Sugimoto spent roughly 75% of her screen time unclothed and participating in humiliating acts, she appeared every bit in control of her sexual composure. The actress’ influence as a strong-minded role model for women doesn’t preclude her from being the object of desire for men, either. Playboy voted her second only to Ziyi Zhang as the sexist woman in Asia, affirming her status as one of Japan’s most prominent feminist torchbearers.

If “cool erotica” has a real home, though, it can be found in Japan’s adult entertainment industry. Having cast aside its reputation as sleazy and yakuza-infested, the AV scene is now a place where stars enjoy reputations and careers their counterparts in the West could never dream of. As a launching pad to TV fame and beyond, the industry provides its personalities with a worldly-wise reputation that’s in direct contrast to the usual TV-idol fodder.

Perched on the edge of a sofa at a Shibuya cafe, wearing a leather hat and mock tiger-print dress, Sola Aoi is every bit the kitten her on-screen persona suggests. Gleeful, playful and undeniably cute, the 24-year-old exudes a smart, streetwise femininity. Having already conquered the AV world, Aoi has graduated to a successful career in TV and film, gracing mainstream magazine covers and launching a pop-music career. “In the industry, there has been no one like me,” she declares, while her young male manager sits nearby and lets her do all the talking.

Symbol of AV industry

Indeed, Aoi is the first of a new breed, a symbol of the AV industry that was rocked in 2000 by actress Ai Iijima’s tell-all book, "Platonic Sex," which revealed the business to be as seedy as everyone had suspected. According to Iijima, AV was awash with girls picked up off the streets, unable to say no to lurid propositions or simply in need of cash. "Platonic Sex" inspired a change in the industry and propelled Iijima to stardom as a TV commentator, while new, “clean” companies revolutionized the business with no yakuza involvement at all.

Within moments, it’s clear Aoi is almost completely disassociated from the world Iijima depicted. She took her education seriously before making her adult film debut, and she speaks with eloquence and conviction. “There is no personal influence on me from [Iijima], because I had no negative preconceptions of the AV industry from before I joined it. Once I started, it was fun ... There was also a possibility of going into TV and other parts of the entertainment industry. If there was only the AV industry, I couldn’t do it.

“Originally, I wanted to become famous, so I decided to do anything I could. I have big breasts, but I am very slim and I didn’t want to waste that,” she continues. “I assumed that most people didn’t acknowledge acting in adult films as a career, but now it’s considered to be a proper job. The people in the past had shady backgrounds, but I was loved by my parents and brought up in a compassionate family. I might be the first person with a normal background. I wanted to be the pioneer. Eventually I want to get married and have children. No other successful actresses from adult videos have become a mother, so in this sense I want to be a pioneer as well.”

Aoi’s appearance in the 2005 television drama "Jyouou" (Cabaret Queen) confirmed that her pioneering ambitions could be fulfilled. “I’ve acquired new skills from TV and film acting. The attitude toward each job is different, unlike in AV, where I just need to think about the camera angles.” The actress’ experience can also benefit co-stars who have a more traditional professional background. “I can do things naturally where they would feel ashamed, so I can teach them how to be considered beautiful as a woman or how to be erotic. When they have photo shoots, I can show them how to pose.”

Aoi may be a symbol of a powerful, independent woman, but she is also protective, cautious and accepting of the fact that not everyone approves of her lifestyle. “Maybe most people look down on me from deep within their hearts. Yet even though I am criticized, I don’t feel I have to defend myself.”

Wielding her sexuality in the pursuit of stardom has earned Aoi unexpected respect and empathy from women. She is, naturally, flattered and surprised. “I don’t want to be looked down on and don’t want to feel contempt. I don’t want to be fake and flatter men to be loved. But my job is mainly for men, so I have to be shown properly and I have to be sexy. I am very happy to be supported by women because I didn’t expect it at all.”

Aoi is proud of her achievements — and has every right to be. Like an athlete or a singer, she has chosen to use her skills and strengths to her best advantage. She is proud to have used her natural beauty to become more alluring and beguiling over time, earning women’s support in the process. But complete acceptance is still hard to come by. “It’s on the way, but in Japan it’s still difficult. Starring in adult films is not yet fully accepted as a proper work.”

Cool erotica, then, is much more than just a buzzword. It represents a sea change in the way of thinking that is affecting women all across the country, creating a sense of confidence not seen in the modern era. Aoi, for one, hopes it will affect sexual attitudes too — and not just of women demanding more passionate marriages. “If the increasing independence makes women in Japan the leaders in their sexual life, it will be very satisfying.”

Like all cultural trends, Japan’s new openness to sexuality is not due to any one person — it has taken a combination of influential women from various fields to be wholly accepted. Kumi Koda is the leading light and most visible face of "ero-kakkoii," but the reason it’s here to stay is the efforts of figures throughout the entertainment industry. Double, Aya Sugimoto and Sola Aoi are blazing a trail for independent-minded women, and by using their very femininity to earn respect and adoration, Japan’s new goddesses are stepping out of a flourishing field of lotus flowers.

Double’s best-of CD, "10 Years Best — We R&B," will be released Feb 6.

Kumi Koda’s new single, “Anytime,” was released Jan 22, and a CD/DVD compilation, "Kingdom," will appear Jan 30.

Muslim Women Leading the Charge In France

Sylvia Poggioli
France is Europe's most rigidly secular society, relegating religion to the sidelines.

Paradoxically, of all the Muslims in Europe, it's the French ones who most closely identify with France's values, despite widespread social discrimination.

And it's French Muslim women who are in the forefront of grassroots political activism and in forging their own interpretation of Islam.

Muslim Women Leading the Charge

After taking office, President Nicholas Sarkozy announced the appointment of the first Muslim — who is also a woman — as justice minister. Rachida Dati, 41, was the 12th child of a Moroccan laborer and an Algerian mother.

And she is not the only Muslim woman with a senior portfolio.

The foreign undersecretary for human rights is Senegal-born Rama Yade. The undersecretary for urban affairs is Fadela Amara, an activist from the immigrant housing projects.

Amara is visiting Epinay Sur Seine, one of the many immigrant ghettoes that encircle Paris. Here, poverty, unemployment and youth violence are endemic.

Amara, 43, known as the ghetto warrior, organized the first town hall meeting in this desolate, graffiti-laced project. Facing a mostly female audience, Amara lashed out at sexist patriarchal cultures that, she says, harm young women.

She tells the audience members that they must speak out and denounce violence against women in the ghetto — and against the growing number of forced marriages. And, Amara warns, they must be more vigilant against Islamist preachers who pollute the heads of young men with fundamentalism.

The daughter of Algerian immigrants, Amara was a political activist as a teen.

After a young Muslim girl was burned alive by a Muslim thug who thought she was too independent, Amara founded a movement with a provocative name: Ni Putes Ni Soumises, or Neither Whores Nor Submissives.

It put the spotlight on abuse of women in the high-rise ghettoes.

Searching for Inclusion

Amara is a firm believer in the secular values of mainstream French society, and she demands that France live up to its ideals of liberty, equality and brotherhood for all its citizens.

One young woman echoes the challenge.

"Nouveau Francais" is the latest hit single by 22-year-old Amel Bent, the French-born daughter of North African parents who became famous on the French version of the U.S. reality television program American Idol.

Her tune echoes the national anthem and describes the desire of immigrants to be accepted under the same flag.

"We don't ask for special recognition," Bent sings. "We're neither more nor less a child of France."

In fact, rioting ghetto youths don't brandish religious symbols but rather their French ID cards.

This desire for inclusion was also expressed by French Muslims surveyed in a major Pew poll in 2006, in which 78 percent said they want to adopt French customs.

And the 2004 law banning headscarves in schools was much more sharply criticized abroad than by French Muslims.

Today, the presence of minority women in Sarkozy's cabinet shows young Muslim women it's possible to make a mark in France.

Gap Between Aspirations and Reality

But Sihem Habchi, the new president of Ni Putes Ni Soumises, laments the wide gap between aspirations and reality. None of the ministers were elected. There's only one Muslim representative in parliament and no Muslim mayors.

Habchi says discrimination against men and women of foreign origin is widespread.

"We don't understand why they want to build this wall between us and the rest of society," she says. "I can represent all the French. I am French since long time, and I can defend the values of progress also."

Habchi believes the only outlet for women in the ghettoes is political activism.

Empowerment Through Religious Study

But some French Muslim women are following another path.

Nadia, a young woman whose head is covered with a tightly folded black headscarf, glides over the smooth marble floor in the grand mosque of Paris toward the woman's gallery.

She says she does not feel better represented now that there are three minority women in the cabinet.

"It is a real choice of faith to be Muslim, and it is not enough to be just of Arab origin," Nadia says.

Nadia is among a growing number of French Muslim women who are seizing the Koran for themselves.

The grand mosque made an unprecedented move five years ago. Courses were introduced to train young Muslim women as spiritual counselors for hospitals and prisons.

Today, most students in France's Islamic studies institutes are women.

One graduate is Noura Jaballah, mother of five and spokeswoman for the French League of Muslim Women.

She wears the Islamic headscarf, but she has no patience with certain traditional interpretations of Islam.

"I don't know how in the world they came up with the claim that women were created to stay home and take care of household chores and cooking. It's absolutely false," she says. "Women, like men, have the responsibility to make order reign on earth."

Jaballah is proud of her achievements and the fact that, at home, she's the one who leads family prayers.

The 'New Female Islamic Consciousness'

Dounia Bouzar, a sociologist and a Muslim, studies the new female Islamic consciousness, in which, she says, the Muslim woman has discovered her individuality and learned to say "I."

Bouzar believes that by growing up in a secular society, French Muslim women have shared experiences and blended with the rest of the French population.

"By working side by side with men, with non-Muslim women, with people who do not believe in God, by being friends with an Elizabeth who might be Buddhist … well, this totally contradicts traditional teachings," Bouzar says. "No preacher or father can convince you that your close friend Elizabeth is an infidel. This kind of argument just doesn't carry weight anymore."

Bouzar says it's not religion but social and economic discrimination that threatens this society's cohesion.

France's immigrant suburbs are social, economic ghettoes, she says, not separate Islamic enclaves such as those that exist in Germany and Britain.

This has enabled France's high intermarriage rate between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, which is taboo under strict Islamic practice.

Bouzar believes Muslim women can become the engine of integration.

Winnwear Designer Provide Designs for Saturday’s Miss America pageant.


In a way, Sueanne Winn has already won Saturday night’s Miss America pageant.

In fact, she’s all the runnersup — or at least on them.

Winn’s custom-swimsuit company, Winnwear Designs at 9242 S. Sheridan Road, is the national swimsuit sponsor for Miss America 2008. And you can see her suits for yourself during “Miss America Live 2008,” which is broadcast from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday on TLC, cable channel 56.

Winn has a history with pageants, she told us recently before leaving for Las Vegas, where the new Miss America will be crowned at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

She’s been designing swimsuits for 13 years, she said, but her background in fashion goes back farther than that. While a student at the University of Tulsa, she competed in pageants and, of course, wore the required swimsuits for each one she competed in.

For 10 years, she operated her own store, specializing in pageantry attire, prom and special occasions. During that time, she developed her own line of swimwear. Based on her experience, her design process was “by trial and error,” she said.

Now, she designs custommade swimsuits in high-end fabrics, which she wholesales to about
50 stores in the country, Winn said. Her suits are worn by hundreds of pageant contestants annually.

Until recent years, Miss America never had a specific swimwear sponsor, as the contestants usually brought their own suits, Winn said. Last fall, her company was chosen.

Since then, she’s worked hard at providing two suits — including an extra one as back-up — for 50-plus contestants, she said. She selected several different styles with mix and match bottoms. All are black, but most have an accent color of the contestant’s choice.

Her suits have already been on TV, specifically in the third episode of TLC’s “Miss America Reality Check,” a behindthe- scenes pageant series, she said. The back-up suits were shown during the show — you’ll have to wait for the pageant to see the real suits.

The toughest part of the design process, at least for this project, was not being able to meet each of the contestants, Winn said. Logistically speaking, it was practically impossible.

Even though all her swimsuits are customized, Winn had “100 percent success” with her suits for all contestants — including Miss Oklahoma Makenna Lee Smith from Oklahoma City. Every former Miss Oklahoma for the past 10 years has worn Winn’s swimwear, as well as some Miss USA contestants.

Winn also designs swimsuit collections for both spring and fall, she said. The European fabrics are four-way stretch — which, in case you’re ever in a pageant or on stage, are made to function fabulously under hot, glaring lights.

During Saturday’s live broadcast, Winn will debut her spring collection, she said. The theme incorporates “pop ’80s colors,” such as turquoise, lime green, yellow, peacock blue and neon pink, as well as gold and silver hardware.

The collection includes string tops and bottoms, plus fully lined, structured swimwear with push-up tops and underwire, she said. Everything is hand-detailed, no two suits are the same

Miss America Beauty Pageant 2008 Takes A Different Turn

KATHLEEN HENNESSEY
She's been dressed up, dressed down, relocated and updated.

Now she's being mocked.

The latest chapter in Miss America's ever-evolving search for viewers and cultural relevance finds the heroine at the butt of the joke.

Her hair is too big, her hairspray totally '80s. Her makeup is clownish. Her gown belongs on an ice skater.

This year's 52 Miss America contestants haven't just been getting judged, they've been getting zinged in "Miss America: Reality Check," a four-part reality series leading up to Saturday's 8 p.m. EST crowning on TLC.

The series, whose final installment airs Friday, has tracked the transformation of beauty queens from old-fashioned "Pageant Pattys," as some in the pageant world say, to modern "It girls."

It's out with the bouffant hair, the canned smile and the parade wave. Time to knock the beauty pageant on its sash, the show's tag line goes.

The live crowning also attempts to introduce a bit of edge. "Reality Check" viewers have been asked to vote via text message for their favorite contestant, who will automatically become one of the top 16 finalists. The losers will be asked for their commentary on the finalists, perhaps a chance to fire some zingers of their own. The contestants will wear jeans (gasp!) during the venerable opening act, the parade of states.

It's long past time for some new style and new sass, some say. The 87-year-old Miss America Pageant has seen a slow and steady decline of viewers for more than a decade. Discovery Channel-owned TLC is its second cable network since ABC dropped the pageant from its lineup in 2005. It moved from its longtime home in Atlantic City, N.J., to Las Vegas in 2006 in an attempt to build some momentum. It's already tried a menu of reality TV gimmicks, dropped the sashes, brought back the sashes and promised a return to old-school glamor.

But it rarely laughed at itself.

"I don't think the past attempts were enough; they were little Band-Aids," said Sam Haskell, Miss America Organization chairman. "In order for us to survive _ and I want us flourish, not just survive _ we need a younger generation to support it and find it entertaining."

That means competing with reality television and, producers say, finding a Miss America who can go toe-to-toe with the Britneys and the Parises on the red carpet _ though not at the night club.

"It's someone who doesn't go out and get drunk, but goes out and makes people laugh and has fun on the red carpet," said Sarah Iven, editor in-chief of OK! Magazine and a pageant judge, describing her choice for the tiara. "Not a young woman stuck in an old woman's suit."

Producers also are taking a cue from the YouTube phenomenon that was Miss Teen USA South Carolina. Video of the geographically challenged beauty queen struggling to find her way out of an on-stage question rocketed around the Internet in August. Many, many were entertained _ at her expense.

So, along with receiving makeover advice, the contestants in "Reality Check" were quizzed about history and science in a segment called "Are you smarter than a Miss USA Girl?" Those who weren't were made to take a dive in a pool.

It failed to produce a YouTube moment, although Friday's episode in which some hopefuls struggle to remember the words to the "Star-Spangled Banner" has potential.

Setting the contestants up for potential humiliation and cracking jokes at their expense, however tame by reality TV standards, has ruffled the feathers of some longtime pageant devotees.

Born of a bathing suit revue on Atlantic City's Boardwalk, the pageant is fueled by a vast web of earnest and devoted volunteers who put on and judge pageants in small towns across the U.S. State "prep committees," often made up of middle-aged women, pick out and pay for their contestant's ensemble, perhaps an explanation for the stuffy suits. They've schooled their contestant in a tradition and a look _ and it doesn't have much to do with red carpet style.

"I want them to be professional ladies," said Lois Elaine Smith-Zoll, a 70-year-old pageant volunteer from Vancouver, Wash., with 41 years of judging behind her. "They are mocking the old system. This young woman is going to represent our country, we want to be proud of her."

Jill Massee, whose niece is Miss Georgia Leah Massee, said more than a dozen family members traveled to Las Vegas to see the competition. Massee's hometown of Fitzgerald, Ga. has been sporting "Good Luck, Leah!" signs in shop windows. Pageant fans aren't fans of the reality show.

"I don't think it's going over so well," Jill Massee said. "I personally think it's a little bit degrading to the Miss America Pageant."

Haskell dismissed such complaints. The old school crowd may be the soul of the pageant, but it can't become the only television audience if Miss America is to have a future.

"If I brought Bert Parks back from the dead to host it, some people would be unhappy about that, he said.

Entertainment Tonight's Mark Steines will host the pageant from the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.

The winner takes home a $50,000 scholarship and embarks on a year of steady appearances and charity work on behalf of her platform issue and the Children's Miracle Network, a pageant partner.

On hand for the crowning will be Miss America 2007, Lauren Nelson. The former Miss Oklahoma has spent the past year traveling the country to promote Internet safety, and appeared on the TV show, "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader." Like so many other contestants, she wasn't, though she did manage to win $175,000 for the Miss America Organization scholarship fund.

video

Sperm Shortage Hits Australian Sperm Banks

Ellen Connolly
Career women in Sydney are creating a nationwide sperm shortage as they race to have a family before turning 40.

With demand for sperm growing rapidly - particularly from single Sydney women - clinics are importing vials from the US on a monthly basis.

"The demand is incredible and continually rising," said John Braine, from Fertility East in Bondi Junction.

The most surprising trend has been a 40 per cent rise in the number of single women seeking sperm donors.

"These are women, aged from 35 to 40, who are single, attractive career women, who cannot find a man to have a baby with," he said.

While Sydney's man-drought had compounded the problem, new laws giving children the right to know the identity of donor parents was a big factor in the decline in donor numbers. As a result, there are fewer than five registered sperm donors in NSW.

Sydney couple Catherine and Stefanie, (pictured), have two children, aged two and 11 weeks, thanks to a donor.

"We were fortunate enough to be able to use an Australian donor, whereas others we know have been forced to search overseas to fulfill their dreams of parenthood," Catherine said.

"We were the seventh family for this donor. When we started, there was a limit of 10 families, so he was nearly up to his quota when we started three years ago. I think he's off the books now."

Dr Anne Clark, from Fertility First Hurstville, said the sperm shortage would be compounded by new laws, which restrict a man's sperm to only five families, down from 10. It was not known if, or how, this could have an impact on the use of overseas sperm.

Dr Joel Bernstein, medical director at Fertility East, believes social change was driving the rise in single women seeking sperm donors.

Dr Bernstein said Fertility East, which is affiliated with a US sperm bank, offers women and couples a vast array of donors to choose online, providing childhood photos and audio interviews of donors.



How To Handle The Situation When Your Wife Commits Adultery?

Pierre Coda
Bobby from Gainesville, Florida, writes, "I am pretty sure that I am a victim of my wife's adultery. I haven't made an effort to catch her. I have tried to talk to her about it and she denies it. Despite the fact that I'm not perfect, I feel I give her the things that she needs emotionally and physically. She has also admitted that I completely satisfy her. How can I find out why she is committing adultery and what should I do about it?"

Adultery can have disastrous consequences on the relationship, particularly the impact it will have on your children, if you were to get a divorce. Thus, you are doing the right thing by trying to find what the reasons are so that something can be done about it. While you feel that you are doing everything that a good husband is supposed to do, there are still several reasons why a woman might resort to adultery:

1. She lacks moral values
2. While you feel that you provide her with what is needed, she feels otherwise
3. She has just met someone who is more desirable than you in certain respects and she cannot help it.

So what can you do about your wife's adultery?
1. If she lacks moral values, there is not much you can do. If you confide in a family member or someone at the church, you should do so immediately. It is also a good idea to indirectly influence her thinking that adultery is immoral and not conducive to a strong marriage. This can be done by elderly family members or friends.
2. Only your wife can tell you if she is not getting from what you need. A marriage counselor and/or therapist can help both of you communicate better with each other so that you can better understand what is missing from your relationship and how you can work together to provide it.
3. There is very little that you can do if she has found someone who is just better than you. In our society, when one meets someone better than the current spouse, most people want to move on. However, it seems that in your case, since she is not admitting to adultery, it is clear that she does not want that relationship to become public and she wants to stay in the marriage with you (for whatever reasons). Thus, unless you have solid evidence of her adultery, you cannot even confront her. Hopefully, she will soon realize that adultery was a bad idea and will end the relationship.

Finally, please do not forget that you still do not have solid evidence of her adultery. While it is difficult to keep a relationship a secret for too long, she might be able to do it for a while if the man is cooperative and discreet. But there is no reason for you to go crazy trying to collect evidence since you will become too preoccupied with it and destroy your own life till you catch her. If she is committing adultery, the truth will soon come out.

The Irony Of Cate Blanchett's Win At The 65th Annual Golden Globes Award



There was more than a touch of irony in Cate Blanchett's win at today's strike plagued 65th Annual Golden Globes for her best supporting role in the film, I'm Not There.

Blanchett was not there to pick up her statuette. Nor were any of the other big winners thanks to the two-month screenwriters' strike that has crippled film and TV production in the US.

Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis, Javier Bardem, Glenn Close, David Duchovny and Ricky Gervais were also no-shows inside the Beverly Hilton Hotel's ballroom, despite all winning Golden Globes.

In fact the most famous people in the room were the US entertainment show hosts invited to announce the winners during the 30-minute press conference that replaced the traditional three-hour star studded awards dinner.

With no stars, no red carpet and no long-winded acceptance speeches, the presentation had all the appeal of watching paint dry.

"I wish circumstance would allow me to be there," said Blanchett in a statement after learning she'd won.

So does anyone who tuned in to watch the winners announced at break-neck speed and with nothing more entertaining than a few attempted jokes from the hosts alluding to the strike.
A threatened actor's boycott in support of screenwriters forced the cancellation of the Globes' traditional red carpet extravaganza and lavish champagne dinner.

The collapse of the Globes ceremony is an ominous sign for the Academy Awards, which are scheduled to air on February 24. The Writers Guild of America has already refused to grant waivers for its members to work on the Oscars, but organisers have insisted the show will go on.

Blanchett must be hoping so.

Her best supporting actress Golden Globe - for her remarkable portrayal of music legend Bob Dylan in the drama, I'm Not There - cements her position as the outright favourite to win the Oscar.
As dull as today's press conference was, this year's Golden Globes should still have an impact on the Oscars, with studios behind films such as I'm Not There plastering full page ads and TV commercials with references to their Golden Globe wins.

Blanchett did suffer a setback in her bid to make Oscar history with two wins.

The Sydney-based actor was also nominated today for the best actress Golden Globe for her lead role in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, but the award went to veteran British actress Julie Christie for Away from Her.

Christie is the frontrunner for the Oscar.

The shock Golden Globe winner was Atonement, a romantic drama starring Keira Knightley, which scored the best film drama award, beating favourites No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

Day-Lewis and Depp firmed as the frontrunners for the best acting Oscar after their wins.

Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood) was named best actor in a drama and Depp (Sweeney Todd) won best actor in a comedy/musical.

The Oscars do not give separate awards for drama and comedy/musicals, so Day-Lewis and Depp will likely go head-to-head for the best actor Academy Award, with Clooney an outside chance for his thriller, Michael Clayton.

Sweeney Todd also won best comedy/musical film.

French actress Marion Cotillard, for her role as songstress Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, won the best actress in a comedy/musical Golden Globe and appears the biggest threat to Christie for the best actress Oscar.

Spanish actor Bardem, after his Globe win, is the runaway favourite to claim the best supporting actor Oscar for his frightening role as a killer in No Country for Old Men.

The foreign language film award went to French production, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and animated film, Ratatouille was victorious.

In the TV awards, Duchovny won best actor in a comedy/musical TV series for Californication and Close was named actress in a TV drama winner for her TV series, Damages.

Most of the TV awards went to relatively unknown shows on minor US TV cable channels, including Mad Men, which won best TV drama and best dramatic TV actor for John Hamm, who beat House's Hugh Laurie and Dexter's Michael C. Hall.

There were two other Australians nominated - Rachel Griffiths for Brothers & Sisters and Rose Byrne for Damages - in the best supporting actress TV category, but both were bypassed.

Another British actress was triumphant in the category, Samantha Morton, for Longford.

British comedian Gervais remains a favourite of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the journalists' organisation that decides the Golden Globes.

Gervais' TV series Extras was named best TV comedy or musical series.

Amid fears next month's Oscars will also fall victim to the strike, Clooney, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are believed to be ready to step in and act as mediators.

The screenwriters are locked in a battle with movie studios and TV networks over new contracts, with new media royalties the main sticking point.

Poor Egyptian Sold Wife's Kidney Without Her Concent

A 17-year-old Egyptian woman reported her husband to the police for secretly selling her kidney in cahoots with a doctor at a private hospital, press reports said.

The wife, Warda Al-Sayed, said her husband was going through financial difficulties.

She told police he drugged her by putting sleeping pills in her juice, then took her to hospital, where he took away her jewelry and the doctor removed her kidney.

When she came to, the husband made her believe she had a car accident, Al-Sayed told the Egyptian daily Al-Masaa last Wednesday.

The young woman said she was not aware of what happened until 20 days after the surgery, when she suffered complications and went to see a doctor, who told her that her right kidney was missing.

High poverty rates in Egypt coupled with other social problems has prompted many people to sell their organs for money, giving rise to a human organ trafficking mafia.

British daily The Guardian reported that organ trade goes by a set price list – kidneys, the most expensive, fetch around 80,000 dollars each, which is shared by the donor, doctor, and several intermediaries.

The paper said penalties in Egypt were not harsh enough. Doctors involved in the trade can have their medical licenses revoked at most, if proven guilty in the first place.

The paper added that culprits usually get away with their crimes as a team of professional lawyers specializes in these cases.

Judge Bar Britney Spears From Visiting Her Kids

A JUDGE has refused to restore Britney Spears' right to visit her two sons, a court spokesman said, after the troubled pop star showed up outside court but never made it into the hearing.

Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon left in place a ruling that barred Spears from visiting with her young sons at least until another hearing on February 19, lawyers for her ex-husband Kevin Federline said outside court.

Mr Gordon issued the original order earlier this month, after police were summoned to the troubled pop star's home when she became distraught and refused to return the boys to Federline's representatives.

Spears, 26, was taken away on a stretcher and hospitalised for two days.

She arrived hours late for today's hearing and was mobbed by photographers as she stepped out of a sport utility vehicle outside the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.

But instead of heading into the building where the hearing was under way with Federline in the courtroom, Spears climbed quickly back in the car and drove off again.

"Move back, I'm scared. Stop it. Stop it. I want to get back in the car. Just stop it. Let me get in the car, please!" Spears shouted at photographers, according to the celebrity Web site TMZ.com.

It was the latest in a series of strange episodes involving Spears since she divorced Federline in late 2006. She lost custody of their two sons, 1-year-old Jayden James and 2-year-old Sean Preston, last year.

The incident in early January that led to Spears' hospitalisation prompted Mr Gordon to suspend her visitation rights with the children until Monday's hearing - which legal experts considered critical for Spears to attend.

She did not show up for a morning session, and made her brief appearance outside the courthouse after a noon break.

The hearing was closed to the press and public, but Federline, his hair styled into a Mohawk, was seen coming and going.

His attorney, Mark Vincent Kaplan, said outside court that Federline's wish was "that he could one day parent both of these children with the mother."

He said Spears was not required to attend the hearing and her brief appearance outside court did not affect the ruling by the judge, who took testimony from five witnesses.

Spears became a teen pop phenomenon nine years ago, and enjoyed a brief comeback in October with her new single, Gimme More and an album, Blackout, which briefly hit No. 2 on US pop album charts before falling off.

Daria Zhukova Is So Sweet That Roman Abramovich Can't Resist A Little Nibble Of Her


NIALL FIRTH
She might be tasty, but his stunning girlfriend Daria Zhukova proved too good for Roman Abramovich to resist as the couple went for a dip off the billionaire's luxury yacht.

The Chelsea owner couldn't help taking a cheeky bite out of his 26-year-old girlfriend's behind as they climbed up the ladder of his super-yacht Ecstasea, anchored off the port of a Caribbean holiday island.

Abramovich was spotted with the former Russian model in the port of Gustavia, on the French West Indies Island of St Bart's, a favourite holiday destination for the rich and famous.

After strolling around the seaside resort, where the two are said to be property hunting, the heavens opened and they had to beat a hasty retreat to the comfort of Abramovich's luxury yacht anchored in the harbour.

Born in Moscow and privately schooled in Britain, socialite and former model Zhukova studied homeopathy at the London College of Naturopathic Medicine, and has launched a clothing line that featured in Vogue.

She and Abramomvich have much in common, not least their fortunes.

Like Abramovich, her father Alexander made his millions in oil in the 1990s.

St Bart's is a well known refuge for celebrities in need of some serious relaxation and pampering.

Kelly Brook and Billy Zane also spent their holiday in St Bart's last week and Dustin Hoffman took a break to recharge his batteries on the luxury islands over Christmas.

Steven Spielberg and Denzel Washington also celebrated New Year in the sun-kissed Caribbean islands this year.

Britney Spears Escapes To Mexico With Adnan Ghalib In Fear Of Rehab



Britney Spears has fled the U.S. after fearing her family were about to take drastic action to force her into emergency psychiatric care.

The singer hit the road with her Brummie photographer boyfriend and apparently resurfaced in Mexico.

The star was with Ghalib and at least one of his colleagues. And late last night video of Britney and the photographer hit the internet and appeared to show the pair in Mexico.

Britney's camp staged an elaborate plan in an attempt to throw the media off her scent.

The word went out that the pop superstar was flying to New York - as well as Hawaii, Las Vegas, Barbados and Mexico.

It involved at least two private jets, several teams of security, numerous limos - and even police.

One insider said: "She has lost contact with her two sons and her family is so scared for her mental health they fear she's a suicide risk and she's out flying or driving around the world playing games.

"It's just beyond belief."

Britney and Adnan were said to have been seen at L.A.'s Van Nuys Airport getting a private jet at 4pm on Wednesday.

The jet she was said to be on was booked to travel to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, the main private airport serving Manhattan.

There, security built up, with staff taking down number plates of photographers in the area and calling in police for back up.

"We know why you're here," one officer laughed, seemingly under the impression themselves that the superstar was landing any minute.

Then, at the time the flight was expected, two large SUV were seen racing away from the airport - including one known to be used regularly by Britney while she is in New York.

"Everything added up - it had to be her," one photographer said.

It would normally be more than enough proof to believe the star was in the Big Apple - had not the exact same scene been playing out in Hawaii.

Numerous people close to Britney's camp started insisting the star was actually heading to Maui, not Manhattan.

And there, too, security were running in circles trying to block photographers, even sending in fuel trucks to block the view - then finally allowing a blacked-out SUV to speed through a back entrance.

"They were taking extreme measures to block us and let this car go away - and everyone knew we were there for Britney”, said one photographer.

"It's just so bizarre." Then, the grainy video in, allegedly filmed in Mexico seemed to finally answer all the questions.

But after the hoaxes, could this be one too?

One of Adnan's paparazzi colleagues laughed: "All I'll tell you is that you'll never find us."

But as her personal life continues to disintegrate, in strange twist, the dramatic events which occurred last week appear to have contributed to a boost in Britney's musical fortunes.

Her new song 'Piece of Me' is set to rocket to number two in the UK charts when it comes out on Monday.

And music bible Rolling Stone is putting her on the cover of next month's edition – an honour she hasn't been given since she was just 17 when she appeared in a bra and hotpants holding a Teletubby toy.

A source told The Mirror: "This horrible mess has taken over and ironically helped to boost sales."

But the source was quick to deny accusations that the record label had manipulated her to boost sales.

"Britney is close to record label head Barry Wise and tells him exactly what she wants him to do.

"After her latest breakdown it was too late to pull the single from release. And if it had that would have only serbed in upsetting her more."

But she added ominously: "No one knows what the Rolling Stone piece is going to be like – or if Britney has been directly involved – she's like a loose cannon.

"It would have been better if they scrapped the idea all together."

Britney's bizarre antics came as she was issued with a restraining order by police following her emotional meltdown last week.

The 26-year-old was arrested and removed from her Malibu, California house on a stretcher last Thursday night following a four-hour stand-off with police when she refused to hand over her two young son to her ex-husband Kevin Federline.

Following the drama, the pop star was stripped of her visitation rights to see Sean Preston, two; and Jayden James, one; while aspiring rapper Federline has been granted sole custody of the boys.

As well as losing the right to see her sons, Spears was also issued with a temporary restraining order known as an "emergency protective order", preventing her from coming 100 feet within the vicinity of Federline, U.S. magazine People reports.

Federline's lawyer said he did not request the restraining order, insisting it was enforced by police officers.

His attorney Mark Vincent Kaplan said: "The order helped to stabilise the situation."

LAPD spokesman Mike Lopez explained: "The person it's placed upon would have to stay approximately 100 feet from the other person, or face arrest. In most cases, it's issued by officers when there's the possibility of imminent and immediate danger to the victim."

Despite winning sole custody of the two boys until the couple's next court hearing on January 14, Federline insists he wants his sons to have a relationship with their mother.

Kaplan added: "Kevin doesn't want to keep his kids from being involved in [Spears's] life.

"But foremost is that the kids be in an environment of structure [and] stability. The next goal is to get things to a point where both parents are able to participate fully in their [children's] lives."

Spears spent nearly two days in the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center before discharging herself on Saturday.

Nicolas Sarkozy Is "Ridiculous, Badly Behaved & Not Fit To Be President" - Ex-Wife

SARAH SANDS
For the French President, it was hardly the endorsement he had been looking for.

As Nicolas Sarkozy grew ever more publicly vocal this week in his protestations of love for model Carla Bruni his former wife delivered her own, damning, verdict.

Sarkozy is "ridiculous, badly behaved and not fit to be president" Cecilia Sarkozy says in a new book, adding for good measure that the women in his life are just a 'bunch of slappers' (or des petasses fardees, as the French would have it).

Even the president's female political colleagues do not escape her barbed tongue: they are just "boring wallflowers, and now that there is no First Lady, he needs to surround himself with pretty young things dressed in Dior".

It has taken just a few short weeks for the revenge of Cecilia to begin.

Sarkozy, 52, began dating Bruni, 40, just one month after his divorce from Cecilia following a 12-year marriage and his election last May as France's new president.

Now it is Carla who stays with the president at the Elysee Palace and has been given a £10,000 ring - embarrassingly similar to one he once bought Cecilia.

Her highly damaging remarks about her former husband come in a biography of her by French journalist Anna Bitton. But Cecilia is now trying to prevent publication on the basis that the conversations she had with Bitton were private and, she says, not for publication.

Bitton rejects this and adds her own verdict on Cecilia, whom she describes as an "ice-cold, blue-blooded empress' and a 'poor little rich girl who is addicted to shopping".

So the French are treated to an embarrassing farce being played out at the highest levels. The ex-model and ex-wife damns the ex-model soontobe new wife while the president rushes around like a love- sick teenager.

He's been president less than a year and already three books and a deluge of magazine articles have been devoted to his love life.

It is not at all what the French expect from their head of state. As one Paris-based friend of mine remarked, Sarkozy has "betrayed the national code of honour".

Despite its sybaritic image, France is a fundamentally provincial country which respects social order and prefers affairs to be secret - a situation helped by draconian privacy laws.

"Sarkozy has opened the curtains on a country which was happily eating cheese and climbing up the backstairs to visit mistresses," says my friend gloomily. "France likes hypocrisy. It does not like sexual openness. We are not Italy."

Sarkozy, of course, has a different interpretation. "I broke with a deplorable tradition in our country, that of hypocrisy and lies," he said yesterday.

"With Carla, we decided not to lie. We don't want to hide."

So are we witnessing an enormous cultural shift in France or a president who has taken leave of his senses?

Sarkozy was shattered by Cecilia's decision to leave him weeks into his presidency. He worshipped this beautiful, highly strung woman, introducing her to the world as a modern-day Jackie Kennedy.

Indeed, after their divorce in October, Sarkozy was secretly admitted to hospital, suffering from a stress-related throat abscess and a fever. He called pitifully for his wife to visit him. Cecilia came but would not return to her husband. She is believed instead to have taken up with her old love, the Moroccan-born PR executive Richard Attias.

Then, last November Sarkozy met Carla (often referred to as 'The Maneater') at a private dinner. Within weeks, he was said to have proposed to her before whisking her off to Egypt and Jordan in a friend's private jet.

On Tuesday, he arrived back from his holiday to tell the nation that this was a "serious relationship" and to hint that a wedding was imminent.

His behaviour - cancelling meetings, housing his new lover in the Elysee Palace with her own music room and telling the world that he is in love - is upsetting Sarkozy's political colleagues.

The Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, reportedly complains: "When you talk to the president he doesn't always listen. He cancels meetings, which is not like him. I wonder how this is going to end."

The French public have their suspicions, and his personal popularity is plummeting, not helped by the fact that Carla's past conquests include Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Donald Trump.

Laetitia Cash, who is a well known figure in Euro society and a prospective Tory MP, fears that Bruni could become the president's nemesis.

"Is she going to knuckle down to being a First Lady or will she be indulged like a kind of Marie Antoinette? The French expect women to have their place, they will not want someone who is an emotional drain on the president."

Unfortunately the phrase "low maintenance" does not apply to Bruni. Even in her modelling days, her privileged background - she is the step-daughter of an industrialist in Turin - was apparent to everyone.

"It was always clear that she didn't have to be doing this," says one fashion editor who worked with her. "Carla was perfectly professional but if she was tired or bored, then everyone knew about it."

Her tastes were never cut-price. At the end of one fashion shoot she was asked if she would like to keep any of the skimpy pieces of fabric she had been wearing. She chose instead a full-length fur coat.

Sarkozy, on the other hand, has rather ascetic tastes. Aides say that he is not interested in food, he barely drinks and is a workaholic.

Yet he borrowed a private plane from a rich friend to fly Bruni to Egypt and is buying her wildly expensive jewellery. It is almost like watching Dodi Fayed woo Princess Diana.

Those who know Bruni say that she needs to be indulged and entertained. She also has no intention of playing second fiddle.

"She likes always to be the centre of attention," says a French acquaintance of hers.

But she has already made some concessions to her partner. She is taller than he is, 5ft 9in to his 5ft 5in, and now appears only in flat shoes. Sarkozy wears his two-inch stacked heel formal leather shoes, however casually he is dressed.

The title of 'Maneater' was bestowed on Bruni after a very Left Bank entanglement during which she fell in love with the son of her boyfriend.

The son, a philosophy professor called Raphael Enthoven, left his wife, Justine Levy. Justine immediately wrote a best-selling novel about a husband stealer - "beautiful and bionic with the eyes of a killer".

Bruni retorted grandly: "I'd prefer to be described as a predator than an old hag." Bruni had a son by Enthoven but they later separated. To be fair, Carla has hardly been hunting the president. His pursuit of her has been relentless and frantic.

There are two theories about this. The first is that he has simply fallen head over heels in love with her and needs a First Lady for his state visits - including, intriguingly, a forthcoming stay at Windsor Castle with the Queen in March.

The second, for which there is much evidence, is that poor Sarkozy is still obsessed by his unfaithful ex-wife and that Bruni is a trophy replacement paraded to get his own back on her.

Bruni has the same high cheekbones and cat-like eyes as Cecilia. Worryingly, she has the same characteristics of impetuosity, wilfulness and disregard for convention.

Some political commentators claim that Sarkozy is a man of action and that he is sorely in need of a First Lady. A source from Sarkozy's political party, the UMP (Union for Popular Movement), says: "A new wife is his primary concern."

Sarkozy was disappointed that the Pope declined to receive him with his new girlfriend. Under Vatican protocol it was deemed "inappropriate" for a head of state to meet the pontiff on an official visit, accompanied by a girlfriend.

Meanwhile, the Indian government, which is receiving Sarkozy as a guest of honour at the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi on January 24, has released a half-hearted statement, saying: "It is for the French to decide whether Miss Bruni should be treated as First Lady or not."

It will be fascinating to see what happens when Sarkozy arrives in Britain for the state visit in March. Since the Entente Cordiale - the end of centuries of war between Britain and France - was signed in 1904 every French leader on a state visit has been accompanied by a First Lady.

Yet some question whether the romance will last even that long. If you believe that Sarkozy is still in a battle with his last wife, the Bruni romance has an air of doom about it.

The marriage between Sarkozy and Cecilia was about as peaceful as those between Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, if you believe the biographies out this week.

According to Ruptures, by Yves Derai and Michael Darmon, Cecilia gave her husband's advisers marks according to their loyalty to her and once said: "All women dream of being in my place and I dream of getting out of here." In Cecilia: The Hidden Face Of The Ex-First Lady, Sarkozy is almost destroyed by his wife.

A UMP source confirms the suffering of the president. "There is absolutely no doubt that divorce forced the president onto a hospital bed," he says.

"He was convinced that his differences with Cecilia could be resolved and that she would become a respected First Lady. He so wanted to make the relationship work. Instead, she left him sad, humiliated and - finally - extremely ill.

"Cecilia came close to destroying him at what should have been the most uplifting time of his life and career. She just didn't seem to care any more, either about him as a person, nor about the presidency. For Nicolas, it was perceived as utter betrayal - something that he will perhaps never get over."

Friends and supporters of Sarkozy are delighted to see him cheerful again and hope that Bruni will bring laughter to the Elysee Palace. After the initial public disdain for her reputation, Bruni's natural supporters - academics, artists, 'beautiful people' - are also speaking up for her.

"After years of stuffy old men running France with faceless old bats in tow, the thought of a sexy model-turned-pop-singer taking centre stage might at least give us a more exciting world image" says one Paris university professor.

It is a high-risk strategy. Sarkozy's ambitions for France have a Napoleonic scale to them. He may remould France through radical social reform - but his love life could destroy him in the process.