June 3rd, 2012, by

One of the most famous mysteries of the 20th century surrounds the disappearance of Amelia Earhart on her quest to circle the globe in 1937. A female aviation pioneer, she was the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic ocean, for which she received the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Congressional medal.

Ever since Earhart’s circumnavigation was cut short 75 years ago, there has been much speculation around the circumstances of her disappearance and death. This week, new evidence has emerged suggesting Earhart, along with navigator Fred Noonan, spent her final days subsisting on fish, mollusks and seabirds on a remote and uninhabited Japanese coral atoll.

From the Christian Science Monitor: “(TIGHAR), a non-profit foundation promoting aviation archaeology and historic aircraft preservation, reported new details Friday leading researchers to this conclusion: Earhart and Noonan, low on fuel and unable to find their next scheduled stopping point – Howland Island – radioed their position, then landed on a reef at uninhabited Gardner Island, a small coral atoll now known as Nikumaroro Island.”

According to the same article, researchers from TIGHAR will return to the site next month and use submersibles to search for remnants of Earhart’s plane.

As well as being historically relevant, and adding a final chapter to one of the most fascinating American stories of the 20th century, the revelation that Earhart’s plane didn’t simply vanish (despite what innumerable conspiracy theorists say) serves as a potent reminder that it’s far easier to put forth an outlandish theory, than it is to actually prove what happened. Conspiracy theories may be provocative, but they are rarely even close to accurate.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

May 27th, 2012, by

The untimely death of famous white-boy-rapper and Beastie Boys co-founder MCA produced an outpouring of affection for the hip-hop pioneer, who, along with his bandmates, proved that if a bunch of middle-class Jewish guys could become legit rappers, anyone could.

The appearance recently of teen-girl-rapper Kitty Pryde–a 19-year-old from Florida with lyrics about Justin Bieber and casual drug use–shows the next step in that evolution. At worst, Kitty Pryde (who takes her name from an X-Men comic book character) could be written off as another vapid brat-rapper in the school of Uffie or Kreayshawn, but, initially at least, it seems like there’s more to her than that.

The laid-back laconic rhyming of her new single “OK Cupid” isn’t on par, technically, with the best rappers of our day (or even those who cover them), but Kitty Pryde’s perspective and melding of teenage girly-ness with a genre totally at odds with that seems significant. Much like MCA and the Beastie Boys, Kitty Pryde doesn’t look or sound like your average rapper, but her self-effacing lyrics–she knows she’s a skinny white girl from Florida as well as anyone–allow people to enjoy it without necessarily taking it seriously.

It’s highly unlikely that Kitty Pryde’s impact on our culture, or her longevity, will come anywhere near that of the Beastie Boys, but at the very least she’s an important milestone in the evolution of rap and proof that hip-hop is becoming the most democratic musical genre of our time.

May 27th, 2012, by

Wes Anderson is a hack of the best possible kind. The American indie auteur director, beloved for films like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Fantastic Mr. Fox, has a new film out soon, and while it feels in many ways like a rearrangement of his other works, it is brilliant and beautiful in its own right.

Moonrise Kingdom stars Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, alongside Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis and a wonderfully-cast bunch of 12-year-olds, and focuses on an innocent yet turbulent love affair between a pair of young adolescents. For anyone who has seen Anderson’s other films, the music, cinematography and dialogue will all seem uncannily familiar–kitschy 1960s kids’ albums played on portable record players, perfectly-composed slightly off-kilter shots and ridiculous lines delivered with deadpan earnestness. Anderson is many things, but aesthetically versatile is clearly not one of them.

Nonetheless, the young lovers’ troubled tale feels heartfelt and true, while the film built around it explores coming of age and entering the world of adults with equal parts whimsy and pathos. These explorations will also be familiar–Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums explored similar issues of young forbidden love and the rift between childhood innocence and adult malaise–and indeed, Bill Murray’s character is cut from the same red wine-stained motley as his other unhappy clown roles of the last few years. To some this may seem lazy, a simple re-hashing of old tropes and techniques to tell a barely different story, but as visually, emotionally and sonically rich as Moonrise Kingdom is, there is much to be discovered and enjoyed both on the surface and below it. And at the very least, it’s an opportunity to see a brilliant director do what he does best, yet again.

May 26th, 2012, by

Another star-studded week of lively discussion and insightful comments goes in the books.

There’s a direct relationship between being star-struck and being humbled–actor Dev Patel of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel fame shared a little bit about that. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Gregg Allman also shared how receiving that honor changed his life. Singer-songwriter Carole King was asked to briefly put her modesty aside to reflect on her successes at an early age.

Then there was a theme of healing, as first introduced by urban farmer Will Allen. Person of Interest actor Michael Emerson shed light on “Doctor Theater” and iconic producer Garry Marshall shared his philosophy on healing and overcoming disease in a no-guts-no-glory fashion.

Power. Who has it and what it has become changes like the wind. Let Paralympic medalist-turned-author Bonnie St. John tell you about that. Actor-turned-writer Billy Bob Thornton also had a comment about power, but not in a way that you’d think. Actor-filmmaker Kevin Costner ended the week with a two-part conversation, where he talked about empowering career highlights and pitfalls, upcoming projects and the late Whitney Houston.

Check out the gallery (for a couple of behind-the-scenes shots!) and some notable quotables and share your thoughts.

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

May 24th, 2012, by

This one's of David Hockney

The iPhone and its ubiquitous and far-reaching apps can be used for everything from ordering dinner to finding true love. It’s also the source of some marvelous new visual art.

Following the lead of The New Yorker, which ran a cover created on an iPhone, Sao Paulo artist Roberto Lautert has created a series of paintings of contemporary artists using his iPhone, 3G and the Finger Draw app. The images were drawn on the phone, then vectored to a larger scale so they could eventually be printed onto canvas. While the “brushstrokes” look like just that from afar, up close, the true medium of the works becomes clear.

It appears to be a statement on innovation, expression and the progress of visual art, but it’s also a great demonstration of the capabilities of new technology and just how much that little phone in your pocket can do.

Via: CoolHunting

May 22nd, 2012, by

On May 17, 2012, it was announced that the five-time Grammy-winning singer passed away after a battle with cancer. The “Queen of Disco” made a name for herself with her hits “Last Dance,” “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls.”

Summer sat down with us in 2008, when she released her final CD “Crayons.” Watch the conversation in which she highlighted her career and reflected on whether she was tired of being called the “Queen of Disco,” spoke a little bit of German and discussed what turned out to be her last album, released after a 17-year hiatus.

“I just think people are hungry for what they consider meaty and substantial and I think that a lot of people relate to that music and…it’s attached to so many memories in their lives and in the vernacular of their living that they want to have access to that memory again… It’s all about the moment.”


May 21st, 2012, by

The annual film fest at Cannes is always a great preview of some of the best and most interesting films of the coming year, and the first standout seems to be Rust and Bone (De Rouille et D’Os), which some have postulated might be this year’s The Artist.

The film certainly seems to have plenty going for it, including a quirky and touching love story and a cast featuring can’t-miss French sensation Marion Cotillard (see: Coco Avant Chanel, Midnight in Paris and, of course, La Vie en Rose). The story surrounds the love that grows between a 25-year-old unemployed kickboxer/bouncer and a killer whale trainer who has been disabled in a horrific accident–far from your standard Hollywood premise.

Further to the film’s credit is a recent four-out-of-five-star review from Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian. Bradshaw writes, “its candour and force are matched by the commitment and intelligence of its two leading players. These factors, linked with the glowing sunlit images captured by cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine and emotion-grabbing music from Alexandre Desplat make for a powerful spectacle. It is a passionate and moving love story which surges out of the screen like a flood tide.”

In past years, the film’s French language would have been a huge detriment to getting masses of people into theaters, but as The Artist proved, it is possible. The combination of all of the above, and the fact that the script is based on a collection of stories by Canadian novelist Craig Davidson–whose writing is reliably fresh, weird and visceral–suggest this will be one of the best films, if not the film, to see this coming fall.

May 20th, 2012, by

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Legendary recording artist Donna Summer passed away this week, and, in tribute, songs like “I Feel Love” and “Hot Stuff” have been in heavier-than-usual rotation on the airwaves. You can also check out Tavis’ tribute on the show this week. To celebrate the life and legacy of a very influential musician, here are a few things about Summer you may not have heard:

– In 1978, Summer became the first female artist in history to have a #1 single (“MacArthur Park”) and a #1 album (“Live and More”) simultaneously on the Billboard charts. She broke her own record just a few months later in 1979 when her single “Hot Stuff” and the album “Bad Girls” both reached the #1 position on the Billboard charts at the same time.

– Bruce Springsteen, a great admirer of Donna Summer, wrote “Cover Me,” from his “Born in the USA” LP for her.

– Upon hearing the 1977 song “I Feel Love,” Iggy Pop declared it the “future of music.”

– Her  16-minute song, “Love to Love You Baby”, was the first extended release single.

– Summer was also a successful visual artist, selling over $1.2 million in original art over a 20-year career.

– She spent several years in West Germany, married a German man and spoke fluent German.


Source: IMDB

May 20th, 2012, by

Soul, R&B and Motown were defining musical genres in America that helped shape the course of not just this country’s cultural history, but many others’ too. The powerful songs of groups like The Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and so many others live on, of course, and can still get a dance floor moving like little else–except possibly Robyn.

The legacy of soul, however, isn’t limited to golden oldies. The last few years have brought with them artists like Amy Winehouse, Adele and Sharon Jones, all of whom endeavored to bring soul music to a new generation. The success of these artists has led to something of a mainstream soul revival, led by musicians intent on carrying the genre’s legacy into the future.

Here are three of my favorites:

Lee Fields and the Expressions

If Fields sounds like the real deal, that’s because he is: the North Carolina native has been making R&B records since 1969, toured with the likes of Kool and the Gang and has a huge back catalog of recordings. It just goes to show: if you stick around long enough, you’ll eventually get the recognition you deserve. Fields’ “You’re the Kind of Girl” sounds like it could have come out in the heyday of soul.


Nick Waterhouse

Holding down the R&B corner is upstart Nick Waterhouse, a 25-year-old LA-based singer/producer who looks like he stepped out of a time warp from 1962. Waterhouse has the aesthetic down pat, and his music is set to do for neo-R&B what The Black Keys did for blues rock.


Aloe Blacc

You’ll probably recognize Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar” from a phone commercial (or perhaps from the opening to HBO’s How to Make It in America) but don’t let that detract from the song’s inherent listenability–in fact that’s a pretty good argument in favor of it.




May 18th, 2012, by


Two years ago, I was invited to go to Canada as a member of the official Presidential Delegation to the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. I was thrilled to once again represent my country in a Paralympic milieu, albeit from the cushy sidelines of the VIP seats. To serve side by side with distinguished fellow Paralympians Jim Martinson, Mike May and Melissa Stockwell, not to mention a Special Assistant to the President, two Cabinet members, and the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, was one of the most exciting honors I have ever experienced.

The moment our plane landed in Vancouver, I tried to conjure images from the Innsbruck Games, where I competed in 1984. But nothing came. Not the long, transatlantic plane ride, nor the airport, nor the majestic Alpine scenery. There were some hazy recollections of schlepping all my gear around narrow icy streets, sharing a tiny room in a B&B with two teammates, getting nothing but hard rolls and salami for breakfast and waiting in the freezing cold for my turn to hit the gates. But all I could clearly remember was my laser-like focus on the job at hand, the terror of potential failure and the dizzying prospect of taking home a medal—or three.

As our motorcade (yes, we had a motorcade—with Mounties!) led us to the gigantic BC Place arena for the opening ceremonies, I was overwhelmed with how completely the Paralympic experience had changed in the last 26 years. Back in 1984, we got a plane ticket, a jacket and a bib with a number on it. I remember skiing with mismatched gloves I got out of the lost and found because I didn’t have the money to buy new ones. Friends and family attended the events only if they could get there on their own, and there was virtually no media coverage. If you wanted a souvenir, you had to place first, second or third, and wear it home around your neck.

Now, 60,000 people gathered into this enormous arena to cheer the crutches and wheelchairs of the finest athletes with disabilities in the world. Everywhere we turned, we were imbued with all the color and pageantry of Olympic competition. The athletes were ferried around as celebrities—in full Paralympic regalia paid for by the same sponsors footing the bill for “normie” athletes. They were housed in the same gorgeous, comfortable village with trainers and full service gyms. The special events and media coverage were top flight. They even had a mascot! This was a world-class event in every sense.

I felt a personal sense of pride because, in some small part, the hard work and long years of training we all did way-back-when has helped to pave the way for the recognition of people with disabilities as world-class athletes today. Back when we didn’t get the coverage, the funding or the access to the Olympic training centers, I worked in a gift shop on Mt. Hood, so I could pay my own way into the most elite able-bodied summer ski training camp in the country. I convinced Burke Mountain Academy to give me a full scholarship to train in Vermont as their first full-time disabled athlete. I skied in 10 below weather, suffered a broken leg, stitches in my lip and spent most Christmas and New Year’s holidays away from home. I raised funds, courted sponsors and worked odd jobs from Colorado to Lake Tahoe to make it all work. I thought about how many hundreds of us athletes back then used all kinds of guerilla tactics to overcome the tremendous odds and carve out opportunities to show everyone what a disabled athlete could do. 

Now, the whole world was witnessing what we in the Paralympic world had known since the beginning: athletic competition among people with disabilities is intense and exciting. From the careful precision of Wheelchair Curling, to the slam-bang action of Ice Sledge Hockey, my senses were overwhelmed with joy and awe. I saw fellow amputees whiz by at staggering speeds, grueling prosthetic punishment on the cross-country courses, even an armless biathlete, who shot the gun with his teeth.

So, as we head to London for the Paralympic Summer games this year, I know that these athletes have access to greater resources than we did for training, travel, coaching and more; I know that they have broken our old records and, once again, redefined what is possible for the human body. And while I feel a tinge of envy wondering what it would be like to compete in today’s environment, I feel proud of the small part we earlier competitors played in helping to make it possible. I can only hope that these athletes, too, will someday sit where I am and watch a new crop of Paralympians running faster, flying higher and performing stronger than any before them.

Congratulations to all the Paralympians who have earned a place in the London Olympics this summer. Not only are you making your own mark on history, you are part of a growing movement that continues to inspire us all with the possibilities of beauty, speed and greatness…no matter what the challenge.



Bonnie St. John is a Paralympic medalist, Rhodes Scholar and best-selling author, whose latest text is How Great Women Lead: A Mother-Daughter Adventure into the Lives of Women Shaping the World. For a look at the backstory on other amazing Paralympic athletes, check out Medal Quest.


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