Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gene Simmons Sex Tape ???

Gene Simmons Sex Tape

February 20th, 2008

A sex video allegedly featuring Gene Simmons was released Tuesday at The site’s video still show a man who appears to be Simmons - bassist for the rock band KISS and star of the reality TV show “Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels” - having sex with a woman identified as an Austrian babe named “Elsa,” a spokesmodel for Frank’s Energy Drink. Simmons reportedly endorses the drink.

The Gene Simmons sex tape has arrived! I know this is one of the celebrity sex tapes you've been waiting for. You can now scratch Gene's name off of your most wanted celebrity sex tape list right under Mickey Rourke. AVN reports that Gene allegedly made the tape while promoting Frank's Energy Drink. The woman in the video is NOT Shannon Tweed, but some model named Elsa. She's a spokesmodel for Frank's. She takes her job seriously.

The video is available at There's also a clip on the site. I think what bothers me most is that Elsa's wearing platform flip flops. Tacky! If you're going to make a sex tape at least be classy about it and wear some Shauna Sand lucite heels. She also looks asleep. I would have to be asleep or in a coma to let Gene Simmons' hump on me, so I don't blame her.

Shannon is going to be pissed! You're not the only sexy video star in the family, Shannon!

I’m not attracted to Gene, I’m not really looking forward to seeing this. However, I know some of you ladies out there find him to be a sexy beast so for only $29.95 all you’re Gene Simmons’ sexual fantasies can be fulfilled. That is if it’s real!

Lindsay Lohan as Marilyn Monroe


The New York Times

February 20, 2008

Judge Shuts Down Web Site Specializing in Leaks

In a move that legal experts said could present a major test of First Amendment rights in the Internet era, a federal judge in San Francisco on Friday ordered the disabling of a Web site devoted to disclosing confidential information.

The site,, invites people to post leaked materials with the goal of discouraging “unethical behavior” by corporations and governments. It has posted documents said to show the rules of engagement for American troops in Iraq, a military manual for the operation of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and other evidence of what it has called corporate waste and wrongdoing.

The case in San Francisco was brought by a Cayman Islands bank, Julius Baer Bank and Trust. In court papers, the bank said that “a disgruntled ex-employee who has engaged in a harassment and terror campaign” provided stolen documents to Wikileaks in violation of a confidentiality agreement and banking laws. According to Wikileaks, “the documents allegedly reveal secret Julius Baer trust structures used for asset hiding, money laundering and tax evasion.”

On Friday, Judge Jeffrey S. White of Federal District Court in San Francisco granted a permanent injunction ordering Dynadot, the site’s domain name registrar, to disable the domain name. The order had the effect of locking the front door to the site — a largely ineffectual action that kept back doors to the site, and several copies of it, available to sophisticated Web users who knew where to look.

Domain registrars like Dynadot, and GoDaddy .com provide domain names — the Web addresses users type into browsers — to Web site operators for a monthly fee. Judge White ordered Dynadot to disable the address and “lock” it to prevent the organization from transferring the name to another registrar.

The feebleness of the action suggests that the bank, and the judge, did not understand how the domain system works, or how quickly Web communities will move to counter actions they see as hostile to free speech online.

The site itself could still be accessed at its Internet Protocol address ( — the unique number that specifies a Web site’s location on the Internet. Wikileaks also maintained “mirror sites,” or copies usually produced to ensure against failures and this kind of legal action. Some sites were registered in Belgium (, Germany ( and the Christmas Islands ( through domain registrars other than Dynadot, and so were not affected by the injunction.

Fans of the site and its mission rushed to publicize those alternate addresses this week. They have also distributed copies of the bank information on their own sites and via peer-to-peer file sharing networks.

In a separate order, also issued on Friday, Judge White ordered Wikileaks to stop distributing the bank documents. The second order, which the judge called an amended temporary restraining order, did not refer to the permanent injunction but may have been an effort to narrow it.

Lawyers for the bank and Dynadot did not respond to requests for comment. Judge White has scheduled a hearing in the case for Feb. 29.

In a statement on its site, Wikileaks compared Judge White’s orders to ones eventually overturned by the United States Supreme Court in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971. In that case, the federal government sought to enjoin publication by The New York Times and The Washington Post of a secret history of the Vietnam War.

“The Wikileaks injunction is the equivalent of forcing The Times’s printers to print blank pages and its power company to turn off press power,” the site said, referring to the order that sought to disable the entire site.

The site said it was founded by dissidents in China and journalists, mathematicians and computer specialists in the United States, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa. Its goal, it said, is to develop “an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis.”

Judge White’s order disabling the entire site “is clearly not constitutional,” said David Ardia, the director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School. “There is no justification under the First Amendment for shutting down an entire Web site.”

The narrower order, forbidding the dissemination of the disputed documents, is a more classic prior restraint on publication. Such orders are disfavored under the First Amendment and almost never survive appellate scrutiny.

Sharper Image files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy,The/SharperImage_BG.jpg

Feb 20, 2008

Retailer Sharper Image has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing declining sales, three straight years of losses and litigation involving its Ionic Breeze air purifiers.

The San Francisco-based company filed for protection late Tuesday in U.S. bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Del. Sharper Image said it had $251.5 million in assets and $199 million in debt as of January 31, according to the filing. Cash on hand totaled about $700,000.

Its shares plunged 92 cents, or 64 percent, to 52 cents on Nasdaq.

"Sharper Image is in a severe liquidity crisis," Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Roedell said in a separate filing.

She said the company has suffered from increased competition, narrowing margins, litigation, lower consumer and market confidence, tighter credit from suppliers, and poorly performing stores.

"The foregoing has been compounded by the ever-tightening and volatile credit and financing markets," she added.

Sharper Image has seen its sales decline steadily since 2004, and has posted net losses in fiscal 2005, 2006, and 2007.

According to court papers, the electronics retailer also cited "negative publicity" from the litigation involving its Ionic Breeze air purifiers for its falling revenues.

In October, a federal court denied approval of a settlement of class-action suits related to the efficacy of the air purifiers. The product was sold to 3 million consumers, according to a previous filing.

Following the ruling, Sharper Image's stock fell 18 percent, weakening support from suppliers and choking working capital as creditors tightened or withdrew credit terms, according to court documents.

The company deals with about 650 vendors and suppliers on a credit basis, many of whom began to request cash upon delivery, according to court papers.

Sharper Image is seeking a $60 million loan arranged by Wells Fargo Retail Finance to keep operating, according to the court papers.

The company said in a separate filing it replaced Chief Executive Steven Lightman with Robert Conway on February 14.

U.S. $5 bill from 1896Image:5 Silver US Dollars 1896.jpg
BBC News
Gambler sues bookies for £2 million loss
Graham Calvert
Graham Calvert is suing William Hill for £2m
A compulsive gambler who lost more than £2m, has begun legal action against bookmaker William Hill.

Greyhound trainer Graham Calvert, 28, from Houghton-le-Spring, near Sunderland, claims the company failed in their "duty of care".

He claims he was allowed to place bets after asking the company to close his account under a self-exclusion scheme.

William Hill denies any wrongdoing and says it cannot be held legally liable for Mr Calvert's losses.

At the High Court the firm was accused of manipulating his gambling disorder to gain as much revenue as possible.

Anneliese Day, representing Mr Calvert, told Mr Justice Briggs on Wednesday that William Hill should be held liable because it failed to operate its own self-exclusion policy.

Manic periods

She told the judge: "What in fact occurred was that William Hill actively monitored and manipulated the claimant's gambling disorder in order to gain as much revenue for their business as possible."

She said Mr Calvert was hoping to establish in law for the first time that bookies do owe a duty of care in his circumstances.

Ms Day said William Hill "negligently sought" to encourage Mr Calvert to go on betting sprees of hundreds of thousands of pounds at a time.

She also said the scale of her client's gambling was "staggering". He had periods of mania when he placed huge multiple bets in the space of a few hours, she added.

He lost around £347,000 in one bet alone when he backed the US to win the 2006 Ryder Cup.

'Destructive manner'

It is alleged William Hill allowed Mr Calvert to open two new accounts and to make bets totalling around £3.5m between June and December 2006.

During this period he lost a total of £2.1m.

Ms Day said she would be calling psychiatrists to give evidence during the five-day hearing to describe how Mr Calvert had become a "pathological gambler" which is recognised as a mental disorder.

The court heard that when other bookmakers refused his bets, Mr Calvert went back to William Hill, which allowed him to stake huge sums, even opening up a branch so he could place a £100,000 cash bet.

Ms Day added: "It is also clear from William Hill's own evidence and records that they were well aware that the claimant was continuing to bet in cash in an uncontrolled and destructive manner.

"Indeed his behaviour was being closely monitored as there were concerns as to where someone such as Mr Calvert was obtaining such large amounts of money from."

The hearing continues.

Blu-ray winner by KO in high-definition war

With studio support, Sony format reigns supreme as Toshiba throws in the towel.

By Dawn C. Chmielewski and Bruce Wallace
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

February 20, 2008

Sony Corp. has finally exorcised the ghost of Betamax.

The Japanese company's Blu-ray format emerged the victor in the battle to set the standard for high-definition DVDs. Its victory over Toshiba Corp.'s rival HD DVD leaves behind its embarrassing loss to VHS in last century's battle for the home videocassette market.

Toshiba announced Tuesday it was abandoning its next-generation high-definition disc format, saying it would no longer make and market players and recorders. The announcement followed a series of defections, including Friday's decision by the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., to stop selling HD DVD hardware and movies and devote its shelves exclusively to Blu-ray.

Toshiba Chief Executive Atsutoshi Nishida told a packed news conference at the company's Tokyo headquarters that continuing the fight for control of the high-definition home video market "would have created problems for consumers, and we simply had no chance to win. Although this is a bitter decision, there would have been a greater impact on our business if we had continued any longer," he said.

With that, Nishida ended a battle between rival formats that had confused consumers, split the Hollywood studios and retarded the growth of a potential new market for movies and the games and extras that go alongwith them.

Ironically, HD DVD appeared to have an edge over Blu-ray. Its players were cheaper and its movie discs less costly to manufacture. But Sony trumped Toshiba by building broad support for its Blu-ray format among consumer electronics manufacturers and Hollywood studios. It also pursued a risky strategy that paid off: incorporating a Blu-ray drive into its PlayStation 3 video game console.

That decision cost Sony money -- about $300 per console, according to researcher iSuppli. But it helped put more Blu-ray players in the homes of early technology adopters, more than 8 million of whom have bought PS3s worldwide.

By contrast, Toshiba said it had sold about 1 million HD DVD players worldwide.

"The PlayStation 3 was a Trojan Horse," said Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment President Bob Chapek.

Now that Toshiba has waved the white flag, one question remains: How many consumers will ultimately embrace high-definition digital video discs? Although high-definition offers a sharper picture, the benefits are not as dramatic as the transition from videotape to DVD -- and most noticeable on big-screen TVs. Moreover, the DVD itself is under assault from myriad technologies vying to supplant it as a means for delivering movies into the home.

"The market, it's moving to downloads," said researcher Rob Enderle, president of the Enderle Group, referring to services such as Apple's iTunes, through which consumers can purchase movies online. "Blu-ray may never ramp."

Toshiba's Nishida blamed the format's downfall on the actions of a single studio: Warner Bros. The studio announced on Jan. 4 it would abandon HD DVD and sell high-definition movies exclusively on Blu-ray discs. The shift gave the Blu-ray camp about 70% of the home video market, with Warner, Walt Disney Co., 20th Century Fox, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and Sony Pictures all backing the format.

Nishida said Warner's abrupt decision dramatically altered the competitive environment that triggered mass defections. In rapid succession, online movie rental service Netflix Inc. said it would exclusively stock Blu-ray discs and electronics retailer Best Buy Co. said it would "prominently showcase" Blu-ray hardware and movies as a way of steering consumers to the format. Then came the final blow: Wal-Mart's decision to sell only Blu-ray movies and players at its 4,000 discount stores and Sam's Clubs.

"Warner's sudden change -- and it came out of the blue -- and U.S. retailers also following, was the reason we lost," Nishida said.

Until Warner took sides, Blu-ray and HD DVD accounted for an equal share of high-definition, stand-alone movie player sales, according to market research company NPD Group. The following week Blu-ray sales skyrocketed -- grabbing 90% of all next-generation hardware purchased, according to NPD. A last-ditch effort by Toshiba to salvage the format by slashing prices in half failed to stave off the inevitable.

Movie sales quickly tilted heavily in favor of Blu-ray. The latest Nielsen VideoScan First Alert sales data showed that Blu-ray represented 81% of all high-definition movie discs sold in the week ended Sunday.

Toshiba's problems started even before the first players were sold.

Disney dealt it a blow in December 2004, just before the annual Consumer Electronics Show, with an unanticipated switch to the Blu-ray camp. Although Disney was among the studios that initially embraced HD DVD, it opted to go Blu following a series of high-level meetings with Sony executives, including Howard Stringer, who at the time was president of Sony Entertainment Inc. Disney was promised a role in helping shape the format, which could put it in position to collect royalties.

Insiders within the HD DVD camp acknowledged that the combined marketing clout of the Disney and Sony brands proved difficult to overcome. The Burbank studio turned up the heat with Disney's Magical Blu-ray Tour, a display in malls around the country that gave shoppers a glimpse of high-definition home video releases of the movies "Cars" and "Meet the Robinsons."

"Our efforts have only just begun," Chapek said. "We have to get the consumer to make the move from DVD to Blu-ray, now that the risk of picking the wrong format has gone."

Sony similarly won over Fox by acknowledging its concerns about movie piracy and allowing it to add a layer of copyright protection to the Blu-ray format. The goal was to give the studios an influence in the development of the format alongside Sony and others who contributed to the patents.

Toshiba, by contrast, suffered from the lack of broad studio support for HD DVD. It secured exclusive deals only with Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., and also offered movies from Warner, which were available on both formats.

Toshiba's studio partners sought to make the best of the format's demise, saying it would ultimately serve consumers.

"The emergence of a single high-definition format is cause for consumers, as well as the entire entertainment industry, to celebrate," said Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. "While Universal values the close partnership we have shared with Toshiba, it is time to turn our focus to releasing new and catalog titles on Blu-ray."

Sony Corp. said its ability to secure broad studio and hardware support for Blu-ray was pivotal in its victory. Sony also relied on its traditionally strong-selling game console to give Blu-ray a boost. It bet that sales of the PlayStation 3 would not only establish Blu-ray as the default standard for high-definition video, but also pay off more broadly for Sony Corp., increasing sales of the movie discs sold by Sony Pictures and the Bravia brand television sets made by its consumer electronics group.

"Overwhelming support from all the relevant industries, including Hollywood studios, consumer electronics and IT companies, retailers and video rental stores is clear proof that consumers have chosen Blu-ray as the next generation optical disc format," Sony said in a statement. "We believe that a single format will benefit both consumers and the industry, and will accelerate the expansion of the market."

Even before Toshiba's formal announcement, on the floor of one of Tokyo's cacophonous electronics stores the war for control over the next generation of high-definition video players was clearly over.

The price of Toshiba's HD DVD players had already been slashed, bright red stickers announcing a "Surprise Discount." A customer who had recently bought a Toshiba high-definition player drifted in, wondering if he could get his money back -- though the retailer was having none of that. And up on the fifth floor, in the section set aside for the sale of used electronics, the offering price for a second-hand Toshiba HD player was already tumbling, and surely headed further south, a salesman said.

"Only maniacs will buy one now," he said, unable to keep a straight face.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Heather means business in bizarre velvet power suit - and launches astonishing attack on Sir Paul

15th February 2008

Heather Mills today launched a stinging attack on Sir Paul McCartney as their bitter divorce battle looked set to continue into next week.

The former model, who arrived in a bizarre black velvet pinstriped suit and bright red shirt, hit out at Sir Paul for snubbing a fan who asked him to sign an album as he made his way into the Royal Courts of Justice.

The former Beatle, 65, refused to give his autograph, saying: "I can't sign that here."

Ms Mills, 40, criticised her estranged husband's behaviour as she chatted to the fan, named Joe, outside Court 34.

Final showdown: Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills arrive at the High Court today for what should be their final day in court. But the court has ruled Ms Mills cannot quiz Sir Paul about claims that he stabbed her with a broken glass

She said: "You should have told him that it's his fans who made him rich and famous. You put him where he is."

Ms Mills then autographed the fan's notebook, writing: "To Joe, lots of love, Heather Mills."

The fan, who would not give his full name, had asked Sir Paul to sign an original of the Beatles White Album.

Cross-examine: Heather, who is representing herself, is set to cross-examine her estranged husband for the first time today

The driver, 50, of Leytonstone, said: "I'm a lifelong fan of Sir Paul and the Beatles. I brought down my collection, the White Album, Abbey Road and the others, so he would sign them.

"I'm so disappointed that he wouldn't. I don't understand. He just said: "I can't sign that here."

"Heather was really nice about it. She signed my book and said I should tell him that it's fans like me who made him rich and famous. I guess she's right."

Meanwhile, the judge dealing with the divorce, Mr Justice Bennett, has booked the courtroom for the case on Monday.

Smug: Heather told a fan who was snubbed by Sir Paul that he should have been shown more respect by her one time spouse

A court spokesman said: "It will go on until Monday. It has not been booked beyond that yet, but it could be."

It is thought that Ms Millss decision to represent herself has caused proceedings to run on longer than expected.

She has reportedly crossexamined Sir Paul and his legal team.

Wry smile: Sir Paul, who arrived with top lawyer Fiona Shackleton, denied the allegations made by Heather that he attacked her

Ms Mills is seeking a record-breaking settlement of up to £100 million, including money for 24-hour security for her and the couple's four-year-old daughter, Beatrice.

Today, she sat in her Mercedes 4x4 for nearly 45 minutes after arriving at court while her friend and personal trainer, Ben Amigoni, 23, wheeled boxes of documents inside.

She then strode in with the rest of her entourage.

It also emerged today that Ms Mills will be barred from grilling Sir Paul McCartney in court over his alleged violent behaviour towards her during their four-year marriage.

But Mr Justice Bennett, the High Court judge who will decide the size of Ms Mills's divorce settlement, is expected to rule that claims of violence are irrelevant in determining how much money Sir Paul should pay his ex-wife.

In divorce papers leaked last year, Ms Mills, 40, accused Sir Paul, 65, of being violent towards her on four occasions, including being stabbed in the arm with a broken wine glass. The former Beatle denied the allegations.

A legal source said today: "The court does not like to air dirty linen in public. What people have done wrong in a marriage is not going to weigh on a judge's mind in deciding the size of a payout."

The case was due to conclude today but Mr Justice Bennett is understood to have made space available in his court diary allowing it to run into next week.

The New York Times

February 14, 2008

So, What Were We Writing About Again?

LOS ANGELES — Facing his writing staff on Wednesday for the first time since the end of a 100-day strike, Shane Brennan, the co-executive producer of the CBS drama “NCIS,” asked a question that drew blank stares. “Can anyone remember what we were working on three months ago?”

Similar scenes played out in dozens of writers’ conference rooms in New York and the Los Angeles area as the entertainment industry — particularly the television business — returned to work and sought to jump-start production.

The strike, which was formally called off Tuesday night by the Writers Guild of America, had halted production of 46 dramas and 17 comedies.

Mr. Brennan, whose show is watched by about 18 million viewers each week, instructed the nine writers seated around a large table to forget the various plots they had been working on before the strike.

“All we’re going to do is waste a day trying to remember it,” he said. He added with a chuckle, “While I sound like I know what I’m talking about, and that I have a plan, I really am making this up as I go.”

For many writers, returning to work brought an emotion akin to what they remembered experiencing on their first day of high school. There was the giddy mood accompanying the start of something new and fresh — and the pit of anxiety in their stomachs as they made the transition from mostly idle days to a daunting workload. And who was that guy in the corner? “I almost didn’t recognize you with that new beard,” said Mr. Brennan to Greg Weidman, a production assistant.

On the Warner Brothers lot, Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, the co-creators of “Gossip Girl,” the teenage soap opera on CW network, likened reopening their offices to starting up a summer camp after the winter. “Nobody had been cleaning and there was crime scene tape across the door,” Ms. Savage said. Walking into her office, she said, “And somehow I remembered my office being much nicer.”

Mr. Schwartz, who will resume work on his other series, NBC’s “Chuck,” in a few weeks, tried to cheer her up. “There are still tumbleweeds blowing through half the office. It’s going to take a little time to feel normal again.”

Upstairs, in the “Gossip Girl” writers’ room, Ms. Savage started a discussion with five writers about possible story lines for the show, which focuses on a group of privileged high school students in New York. One writer mentioned college visits as a possibility, while another talked about a new love triangle. But the writers, all good friends, kept breaking off to catch up on their own gossip. “O.K., is anybody watching ‘Celebrity Rehab’ on VH1?” asked Mr. Schwartz.

In New York, Warren Leight, the show runner on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” was tucking into a delivered lunch along with a bustling office filled with writers, producers and researchers. The “Criminal Intent” crew had no scripts banked when work stopped on Nov. 5, so on Wednesday they were just beginning to map out story lines for the next five episodes.

“It’s like putting a harness back on,” he said. “Actually, like putting 10 harnesses back on.”

Chatter on both coasts centered on how relieved everyone was that the strike was finally over. “As I drove into work today, I just thought, ‘Thank God people are going to be able to come back to work and support their families and get on with their lives,’ ” said Glenn Gordon Caron, the creator of “Medium,” the NBC drama starring Patricia Arquette as a mother with psychic powers.

“I’m really, really, really, really happy to be back,” he said. “Wait. I want to add another ‘really’ to that.”

With the writers back, hustle and bustle returned to the studio lots in Los Angeles and Burbank. Teamsters who had refused to cross picket lines, snarling the transport of movie sets during the strike, smiled and waved at guards as they drove through the wrought-iron gates of Paramount Pictures. Studio cafeterias cooked more food. And casting directors, waiting around for new scripts to fill with guest stars, started working the phones.

The strike may officially be over, but the dust will not settle any time soon. In the coming days, writers must vote on the tentative contract that was reached between studio executives and guild leaders in recent weeks.

Although approval is expected — union leaders characterized portions involving payment for the streaming of programs on the Web as a “huge victory” — many guild members said they would retain raw feelings about the strike.

Many writers found themselves with no jobs waiting after the strike. Some shows, like “Big Shots” on ABC, were canceled during the walkout because of low ratings. Others, like “Heroes” on NBC, are experiencing delays, forcing some writers to wait several more months before production can resume.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County officials were still working to tabulate what the strike had cost the local economy. About $3.2 billion was the latest guess from Jack Kyser, the chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

Mr. Kyser said writers and production workers had lost $772 million in wages. The strike also led to $981 million in lost revenue at businesses that serve the industry, Mr. Kyser said.

People at the Smoke House, a restaurant across from the Warner Brothers lot, are happy the strike is over. The restaurant, whose red Naugahyde booths have been a favorite of stars like Judy Garland and George Clooney (who named his production company for it), experienced a revenue slide of 17 percent in recent months, according to Lee Spencer, the owner. Taking a particular toll was the lack of so-called wrap parties, informal gatherings after a production.

“A whole cast and crew might come over and drop $5,000 to $10,000 on somebody’s black American Express,” Mr. Lee said. “It’s the cream puff stuff like that we need to run a healthy business.” Mr. Lee said he had to cut the hours of employees, including those of Irene and Phil, the lounge’s singer-and-keyboardist duo. Mr. Lee, like many other business owners interviewed, said the reservation line started ringing with more frequency as soon as rumors started to spread that writers were getting close to a deal. “Bam! Right back to normal,” he said.

Despite the outsize shadow it casts on Los Angeles, the entertainment industry employs only about 250,000 in the area, out of about 4.17 million total jobs, not counting farming. So the city hardly ground to a halt, despite the dire predictions of some studio executives and news media outlets. Many visitors to Los Angeles, along with a large swath of the local population, were untouched, Mr. Kyser said.

Some establishments might actually see a reverse effect now that the strike has been resolved. At Raffles L’Ermitage, a luxury hotel that operates a popular industry watering hole called the Writers Bar, revenue climbed 20 percent during the strike, according to Jack Naderkhani, the general manager.

“Many in the industry considered the bar to be neutral territory,” he said. Or, as a hotel spokeswoman wondered in an e-mail message, “maybe there’s some comfort in hanging out in a place with your name on it” when you are out of work.



Update: The NATIONAL ENQUIRER has now learned that a neurologist at the hospital where Christie Prody is being treated has told police her injuries are consistent with an assault, not a fall.

O.J. Simpson's long-time girlfriend has severe injuries that are consistent with an assault, rather than simply a fall, The NATIONAL ENQUIRER has learned exclusively.

Christie Prody, 32, remains hospitalized at Baptist Hospital in Miami and may be facing brain surgery. The NATIONAL ENQUIRER broke the story yesterday of Prody's injuries and revealed that O.J. was questioned by police detectives at his home in Florida. The police are still investigating.

O.J. says that Prody's injuries are self-inflicted and that she went on a drunken binge and fell down. But cops aren't convinced, insiders say. And Prody's injuries are so severe that they are consistent with an assault. Prody was hospitalized after she collapsed at a gas station and hit her head. Simpson was not with her at the time.

But once Prody was examined it became clear that she had more injuries than could have been caused by the fall. She had numerous large bruises and abrasions on her face, arms, legs and buttocks. Police are still investigating, despite an erroneous report on the Web site yesterday saying that Prody's injuries were caused by the fall. Sources very close to the situation tell The ENQUIRER that information is incorrect.

O.J.'s lawyer Yale Galanter denied his client had anything to do with Prody's injuries, an accusation that has not been made by anyone. Responding to The ENQUIRER's exclusive report yesterday that some cops aren't convinced Prody's injuries are self-inflicted, Galanter told the Miami Herald: "That's crap."

In October, 2006 when The NATIONAL ENQUIRER reported that O.J. was writing a book about how he theoretically could have murdered his ex-wife Nicole, Galanter also called that report "crap." He added, Simpson "is not writing a book. If anyone comes out with such a book, I'll go on every talk show and call it crap." O.J., of course, did write the book.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

skateboarder VS Baltimore Police Officer

Germany Will Continue to Watch Scientologists

The German government and the Church of Scientology have never been friends. Now a court has ruled that Scientologists are doing enough in Germany to warrant ongoing surveillance by the government, which fears an organized plan to undermine German rule of law.

A woman in January 2007 protests the grand opening of a Scientology office in Berlin. Her poster reads: "Brain Washing -- No Thanks!"

A woman in January 2007 protests the grand opening of a Scientology office in Berlin. Her poster reads: "Brain Washing -- No Thanks!"

For about a decade the German government has kept tabs on Scientologists -- examining their tax returns, surveilling their activities -- on the suspicion that Scientology, as a movement, may be threatening basic principles of the German constitution.

Scientology sued the government in 2003, arguing that its members belonged to a legitimate church and had no political ambitions. A state court disagreed, and on Tuesday an appeals court upheld that ruling. The verdict means that the German government, at least for now, can keep the Church of Scientology under surveillance within Germany.

"There are concrete indications that the plaintiff (Scientology), as well as its members, maintains ambitions against the free, democratic basic order," said a statement by the North Rhine-Westphalia Higher Administrative Court on Tuesday. It added, however, that the verdict "specifically left open whether Scientology is considered a religious organization" or a business.

Apart from the lawsuit, there's movement within the German government to ban Scientology altogether. But experts have said Scientology may not pose enough of a threat for a total ban.

'Operation Planetary Calm'

Evidence against the Church of Scientology in this case included brochures called "The Way to Happiness," part of a worldwide project called "Operation Planetary Calm," which aims to spread Scientology's principles around the world. A brochure was even sent to German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, whose office watches Scientology and any group it deems a threat to the Germany's constitution, including neo-Nazi parties and anti-democratic Muslim organizations.

Other items of evidence included texts by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction author who died in 1986. Some of his writings, the government argued, inveigh against democracy. Other passages detail how and when ex-members and critics of Scientology should be harassed.

Scientologists assembled their own collection of writings to argue that Hubbard was a peaceful man and that the government had quoted him out of context.

The Higher Administrative Court on Tuesday said, however: "There are concrete indications that Scientology's activities are to implement Scientology's program in Germany and to expand more and more Scientology's principles in government, economy and society."

Sabine Weber, a Scientology spokeswoman in Germany, told the Associated Press that her group would appeal the decision to a federal court.

"Despite over 10 years of intrusive investigation and harassment of Scientologists, not one shred of evidence has been uncovered to justify this politically motivated investigation," said the public affairs director for the Church of Scientology, Karin Pouw, also according to AP.

What do Tom Cruise and John Travolta know about Scientology that we don't?


To non-believers, it seems barmy. But to the faithful, like John Travolta and Tom Cruise, Scientology is life-affirming, empowering and the secret of their success. What do they know that we don't? William Shaw reports

35-37 Fitzroy Street in London is a building with some history. It is the former home of Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda. To Scientologists, though, that is small beer: for them it is the place that, 50 years ago, became the world HQ of L. Ron Hubbard's new religion, Scientology.

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise: wide-eyed

Hubbard's office is still there, just to the right of the front door. One of the spookier features of Scientology is that every centre reserves an office for the late LRH - a kind of shrine. There's usually one of his pens on the table, ready, as if he's just going to pop back any second. This office is special, though. Outside, mounted on the wall, is a new-looking wooden mailbox which reads: 'Letters or messages posted here go to L. Ron Hubbard immediately.'

Wow, I think to myself. Given that Hubbard died in 1986, that's quite impressive. I turn to my hosts and ask, 'How does that work?' There's a brief pause, and then my hosts burst out laughing, amazed at my credulity. 'It doesn't,' they smile. 'The science that could make that possible hasn't quite been invented yet.' They explain that they've simply restored the box, just as it was in 1957.

You see? Encountering Scientology, you come with a certain baggage: given its reputation, you expect it to be nuts.

It doesn't help, of course, that Andrew Morton recently penned a tome on Scientology figurehead Tom Cruise, suggesting that a) he is Scientology's number two; b) that Scientology boss David Miscavige had followers running round planting wild flower meadows for Cruise and his then wife Nicole Kidman to romp through; and c) suggesting that many Scientologists believe that Cruise's current wife, Katie Holmes, fathered the deceased L. Ron's child by using his frozen sperm.

These allegations might have faded fast from view, were it not for the additional embarrassment of a couple of videos being posted on YouTube and Both are private Scientology videos showing Cruise talking, wide-eyed, about Scientology.

On screen, he rants evangelically about Scientologists 'being the only ones who can really help', and laughs maniacally about the 'SPs' (Scientology jargon: 'suppressive persons') who supposedly hold Scientology back from its greatness. To the outsider, he looks clearly insane.

We lap up these stories about Tom's mad adventure with Scientology. It confirms what we seem to want to believe: that Scientology is an act of collective lunacy. But over the years I've met many Scientologists. Their shiny self-belief may make them a tad dull, but none of them seemed remotely mad. Odd as it may seem, it's entirely possible to lead a successful, functional, even normal life and be a Scientologist.

It can never be said that Tom Cruise lives a normal life, but you don't get to be Forbes magazine's 'world's most powerful celebrity' by being a lunatic. The list of fellow celebrity Scientologists is a long one: Kirstie Alley, Chick Corea, Beck, Jenna Elfman, Juliette Lewis, Lisa Marie Presley, Jason Lee, Giovanni Ribisi, John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, are, or have been in recent times. Will Smith almost was. Jerry Seinfeld toyed with it. Celebrities or not, these are not weak-minded people. They are all successful at what they do. So, we wonder, what on earth are they doing in Scientology?

One answer is simple enough. To put it bluntly, Scientology really, really likes famous people. Cynics point out that there is a reason for this. From the early days of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard set out to attract the famous to his new religion. Tom Wolfe once defined a cult as 'a religion with no political power'; L. Ron Hubbard appears to have believed that Scientology needed something a lot more potent than political power. In 1955 he launched something he called Project Celebrity, listing 63 famous people he wanted to interest in his 'science of the mind'. It was a catholic selection that included Ernest Hemingway, Danny Kaye, Orson Welles, Liberace, Bing Crosby, Pablo Picasso and Walt Disney.

'These celebrities are well-guarded, well-barricaded, over-worked, aloof quarry. If you bring one of them home you will get a small plaque as your reward,' Hubbard wrote to his followers.

In the 1950s Gloria Swanson was one of the first Hollywood players to flirt with the fad. Pianist Dave Brubeck said publicly that Scientology had helped his career. Other new religious leaders who made it big in the 1960s and 70s, such as Prabhupada, the founder of Krishna Consciousness, or the Maharishi and the Meher Baba, presented their teachings as a refuge from fame - a way of cleansing yourself of its pernicious influences. Hubbard made it clear that Scientology was having none of that. Famous people were special. Celebrities, Scientology believes, are on a potentially higher spiritual level of activity - and, yes, they're also quite useful. Eight years later, Hubbard was expanding on the theme: 'Rapid dissemination can be attained... by the rehabilitation of celebrities who are just beyond or just approaching their prime.'

At the Fitzroy Street HQ, I recite this instruction of Hubbard's to Bob Keenan, a bluff, blokey former fireman and Royal Marine with a cockney twang who is introduced to me as 'L. Ron Hubbard's official representative in the UK'. Keenan became a Scientologist in 1991 after a leaflet advertising one of Hubbard's books dropped through his letterbox. We are now lunching in the first floor of the office. Keenan doesn't have any problem with Hubbard's instructions to use celebs to spread the word. 'We are,' he says over soup, 'absolutely interested in disseminating Scientology. That's what we are doing. There is no doubt in my mind that we are interested in people who have the ability to stand up and talk to other people. Obviously, if you look after the artists they will talk about Scientology, and if they do, a lot more people get interested. What do we do? Stop them talking to disprove your point?' To be fair to Scientology, pretty much everyone uses celebrity to promote a cause these days. The United Nations uses Angelina Jolie, and Amnesty International uses Sting and Bono. If we're honest, it's not the use of celebrities that makes us uneasy, it's more who's using them that we don't like.

John Travolta and Kelly Preston
John Travolta and Kelly Preston: riches

This is where you have to tread carefully, trying to understand the strange phenomenon Hubbard created. Even if Hubbard was, say, a cynical con artist who created the religion of Scientology to make a fat living for himself, does that matter if, 20 years after his death, the legions of devoted followers are sincere in their faith? We have become a secular society, ill-at-ease with belief and exhausted by the effort of trying to understand and accommodate the unlikely faiths of others. An increasing number take the Richard Dawkins strategy: outright contempt for any spiritual leaning at all.

Given this, the idea of venerating a portly, ginger-haired, cravat-sporting man who claimed to have invented a revolutionary 'science of the mind', who appears to most of us to have been an ambitious huckster, and who, according to ex-members and detractors, was also a ruthless, devious and sometimes cruel man seems utterly ridiculous. Yet as I look around the room I'm lunching in, it's clear Scientologists do exactly that.

The walls of this house are covered in photos taken by L. Ron Hubbard and documents attesting to his greatness. 'This photograph of the Great Wall of China he took when he was 17 was one of the first to show seven turns of the wall... This navigation system he invented is still in use today.' I've heard this litany before. Every part of Hubbard's history, though disputed by outsiders, has been mythologised by Scientologists. Whether his intentions were as self-serving as many believe, he has left behind an organisation staffed by the sincere.

This building, done up in the sort of 1980s interior-decor style beloved of Scientologists - all pale-peach paint and gilt - is yet another shrine to LRH. To them, though they'd be horrified the description: he has become a holy figure in all but name. In just the same way, whether or not Hubbard's intentions were cynical, the notion of celebrity in Scientology has become imbued with a strange holiness too. Maybe one of the reasons musicians and movie stars like Scientology is that it's one of the last places where the notion of celebrity is still, curiously, revered.

The celebrity centre in Hollywood is a fairytale building on the corner of Franklin and Bronson, a vast 1920s confection based on a French chateau. A while ago, when I first expressed an interest in writing about Scientology, the organisation hummed and ha-ed, then invited me to a party there to celebrate the centre's 26th anniversary. It was a starchy affair, like any gala party, except that it was packed with Hollywood's Hubbardites. Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, was explosive in white (it was recently revealed that Cartwright is Scientology's biggest celebrity donor, having given $10 million to the church last year). Travolta, wearing a shiny silver tie, came with his wife Kelly Preston. For a church social, it was decidedly upscale.

In many ways it was just another Hollywood get-together, but there was that heady whiff of faith there too; Isaac Hayes introduced his cover of a Beatles song as being about 'the long and winding road to truth'. Buttoned by a camera crew, Travolta gushed: 'There's no doubt about the impact the Scientology and Celebrity Centres have had on the artistic community. It helps the artist clean up their act, be more focused, and get real career help.' The centre's president announced that this party 'marks the day when L. Ron Hubbard entrusted the Celebrity Centre with the role of caring for the artists and opinion leaders in our society.'

I checked back in, some time later, as a paying guest. The centre operates as a hotel. Anyone can book a room there. For $250 a night I moved into a lavish suite. Spread over two floors, it was the most opulently chandeliered and draped accommodation I've ever stayed in. My room came with a valet, a sweet young Hungarian called Beatrix who left a chocolate on my pillow and a card that said: 'On the day when we fully trust each other, there will be peace on earth - L. Ron Hubbard. Have a pleasant night.' Hubbard, wherever he is, wished me pleasant dreams.

It was like any other hotel in some ways. There was a reception desk, a white piano in the lobby where a middle-aged man tinkled a tune, and a restaurant. There were differences, of course. Across the lobby as always, was LRH's office, at the ready. 'It's not like we think he's going to come back and suddenly sit down in his chair,' said Tom Davis, head of the centre, who was showing me round. Davis is the son of actress Anne Archer. (He features in John Sweeney's heavy-footed Panorama documentary, losing his temper at Sweeney for repeatedly calling Scientology 'a sinister cult'.)

It's appropriate that LRH's shrine is a desk. Hubbard adored bureaucracy. An ex-naval man, he named the central bureaucracy the Sea Org. It's their staffers who run this place. Stranger still, next to Ron's office was the recruiting officer's desk. Should I have felt the urge to dedicate my life, or indeed lives, to Scientology, I could have signed up there. On her desk lay a pile of contracts, printed in fine gold and blue. Half way down, the print that makes the non-believer start and goggle reads: 'Therefore I contract myself to the Sea Organisation for the next billion years (As per Flag Order 232).'

When Hubbard first started hawking his strange 'science of the mind' in the early 1950s, the psychiatric community howled in disbelief at his unempirical hotch potch of assertions - and duly denounced it. Hubbard's response to the American Psychological Association's criticism was typically vituperative. He went on the warpath, characterising psychiatry's worst excesses as typical of the whole practice. Hubbard's florid allegations of indiscriminate use of electroconvulsive therapy in the psychiatric community live on in Tom Cruise's occasional outbursts against Ritalin - or his extraordinary outburst a couple of years ago criticising Brooke Shields for taking Paxil for post-partum depression.

The cynics note that Scientology's subsequent subtle shift from being a 'science' to being a 'religion' appeared immediately after the APA's initial criticism. That history appears to confirm an idea of Hubbard as the slipperiest of gurus is irrelevant to those who work their way up the levels known as 'the Bridge', or those who turn up every Sunday afternoon for the service in the marquee on the Celebrity Centre's lawn, delivered by a man in a purple shirt and dog collar, an eight-pointed crucifix dangling from his neck.

On the second and third floors Davis showed me the 'auditing' and training rooms. The sci-fi faith of Scientology has it that we are pure and ancient spirits that have become sullied with 'engrams' and other negativities, both from the day-to-day horrors of everyday life, but also from past existences. Being audited is a little like a therapy session. You talk holding on to Hubbard's famous E-meter, a simple galvanometer, a little like a lie-detector, while the auditor or 'spiritual counsellor' listens, watching the needle for the 'falls' and 'floats' of the needle. The process supposedly frees you of your engrams. Over time, you can become 'clear'. Only then can you begin to engage in the real mysteries of Scientology, progressing through a series of complex, and often expensive, mystical training programmes to an exalted position of spiritual cleanliness.

I have a theory for Scientology's attractiveness to the well-heeled of Hollywood. In the 20th century many of Europe's exiled psychiatrists set up shop on the West Coast. Psychotherapy, in all its various guises, became a quasi-religious practice. Scientologists' bilious rejection of psychiatry marks it out as curiously unique in this milieu - one faith replacing another. (I try this theory out on Bob Keenan, but, frankly, it falls flat. 'I can't answer that. People don't come into Scientology as a replacement,' he announces. The idea is inconceivable.)

One day, I met Kelly Preston at the centre. She chatted, with affable earnestness, about the riches Scientology had given her. She'd been turned on to it by an acting coach. She never thought it weird that the Scientology staffers all wore quasi-naval uniforms. That just convinced her they meant business. 'You know that on a first-class ship,' she said, 'you're going to get first-class service.'

She was a dogged, hard-working student of the faith; she had done almost as many of the 'levels' as you could. Naturally, she couldn't go into detail about what she'd learnt, because the upper levels are strictly confidential. Instead, she talked generally of Hubbard's principles of 'doingness', 'havingness' and 'beingness'. 'The beingness of somebody... who you are... your lifetimes,' she explained patiently. 'It's as pure a being as you could ever become.' When she finished her course in 'beingness', her life was completely different, she told me, so different that she could hardly remember how to walk. She remembers grabbing hold of the wall when she left the room, thinking, 'OK, put one foot in front of the other. That's how you walk in this body.' She said: 'It blew my mind.'

After the course in havingness, she felt she could have anything she wanted. She married John Travolta: they had a baby. She got film parts that she had always wanted. 'My having-ness went Bssssssssss!' She makes a motion like a plane taking off.

The couple wed at a service conducted by a Scientology minister. She gave birth to their son, Jett, in total silence. Hubbard believed that any sounds or words uttered during the trauma of birth could be recorded as 'engrams'. 'That,' she said with matter-of-fact pride, 'is one of the most remarkable things... I feel I gave my son a gift.'

Scientology offers that seductive promise of so many mid-20th century religions: you can create yourself - you can be who you want to be, do what you want to do, and have what you want to have.

A curious fact remains: only a smattering of British celebs have become Scientologists, and those that did - the Rolling Stones' piano player Nicky Hopkins, the Incredible String Band - are hardly A-list. It may be that we're just a more cynical nation, less impressed by snake-oil and smoke, but maybe it's also because we're also a country less at ease with the whole idea of therapy and self-examination.

There were always magazines lying on tables in the lobby of the Celebrity Centre, as there should be in hotels, only these were magazines like Celebrity or High Winds - the magazine of the Sea Org.

I was skimming through High Winds when I came across an article winningly headlined 'Handling Suppression on the Fourth Dynamic' (by then I had learnt that the 'fourth dynamic' meant the whole of mankind). In a tone of unforgiving militancy, it talked of 'eradicating SPs', and crowed about how they had 'shut down' one particular defector who had criticised the movement. 'Unemployed and abandoned by his family, this squirrel had schemed to make money by hawking his lies in a book. But the Office of Special Affairs had a court declare his book libellous. He has now been forced into bankruptcy...'

This is one of Hubbard's most controversial legacies. He was a strong believer in the crude evolutionary principle: survival is all that matters. His explicit doctrine was 'attack the attacker'. He left clear directions about how critics were to be dealt with, including: 'Start feeding lurid blood sex crime actual evidence on the attackers to the press.'

This last instruction was, on occasion, used against the press itself. I had personal experience of that. Knowing that I was writing articles about them, the Scientologists began inundating me with faxes countering the vituperative propaganda that was being directed against them. One day, by the sort of classic mistake that befalls all such bureaucracies, they sent me an internal memo titled 'Entheta media handling', instructing British Scientologists to 'handle' the problem of British journalist Richard Ingrams, a long-term critic. 'Ingrams,' said the fax, 'has a much publicised divorce history... admits to be gay, but then has a love affair with a 20 years his junior woman at his Berkshire house.' ?The note went on to order local Scientologists to interview Ingrams's opponents and search public records to 'find, investigate and document scandals Ingrams is for sure part of.'

Within minutes they were on the phone, begging me not to reproduce the document or the patently false allegations it contained. People would get the wrong idea.

Understandably, with tactics like that, relations between the press and Scientology have never been cordial. The press hates Scientology. It groans every time the orchestrated letter-writing campaign starts to correct a 'mistake' they've made. This is a curious war, fed by bitter, not always accurate testimony from furious ex-members on the one side, by Scientology's absurd history of aggression on the other, and by the press's fury at such attempts at manipulation, and consequent over-eagerness, sometimes, to believe the more absurd rumours.

Kirstie Allie

Kirstie Allie: successful

Strangely enough, recent days have offered another clue to why some celebrities remain so loyal to Scientology and why it continues to attract their attention. Tom Cruise may have not succeeded in his recently rumoured attempt to 'recruit' David and Victoria Beckham - if he actually did - but the experience of being a Scientologist, constantly at war with a hostile media, is one that must chime increasingly with modern celebrities such as Posh and Becks. The press are 'SPs', out to get you, out to tarnish your truth. You are special: they are there to bring you down.

In a way, it's this bitter dynamic that Hubbard bequeathed them that has kept Scientology so alive. We may be hostile to what we perceive as its manipulative pseudo-science, but it takes that hostility as proof that it alone is right. We are the enemy it needs to defeat to save the world.

Attacking a chocolate dessert with a spoon, Bob Keenan insists that the fax I received several years ago about Richard Ingrams is a thing of the past. Scientology, he says, is different today. 'That would not happen,' he promises.

So, I ask him, does he regard Andrew Morton as an 'SP', a 'suppressive person'? 'He is suppressing people - absolutely. Saying the disgusting things he has said, he is acting to suppress the work that is being done in Scientology.'

Around the table, Bob and his colleagues look at me, angry, indignant, bewildered. How could someone attack them like this. It's bigotry, they believe, a symptom of religious bigotry against them.

After lunch, I stand to leave. Pressing more bundles of press releases on me, Bob Keenan and his colleagues smile at me as warmly as they can as they show me the door to the Fitzroy Street office. These are the true believers. They have given their lives to this faith. They may be weary of the relentlessly negative way we write about them, but they have come to expect nothing less.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Scientology feud with its critics takes to Internet

Cyber attacks and threats against the church erupt after it asks YouTube to pull Tom Cruise clips.

By Jim Puzzanghera
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 5, 2008

A long-simmering dispute over digital copyrights between the Church of Scientology and its critics has boiled over in recent weeks after video clips turned up on the Internet from a 2004 interview by the church's most famous member, actor Tom Cruise.

When Scientology officials complained the clips were copyrighted and requested their removal from YouTube and other websites, a shadowy organization of online troublemakers sprang into action.

The group known as "Anonymous" posted an eerie video on the Internet featuring a computer-generated voice announcing a campaign to destroy the church and calling for worldwide protests Feb. 10.

It was all for laughs, said a member who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But things are now getting serious. A series of cyber attacks the group claimed responsibility for slowed access to church websites and apparently shut down the main one,, one day last month.

As of Friday, suspicious white powder was mailed to 23 church locations in Southern California, forcing 60 people to be cleared from buildings in Tustin and causing police to close part of busy Brand Boulevard in Glendale for two hours. Preliminary tests by the LAPD determined the powder was cornstarch and wheat germ.

The FBI is investigating whether the mailings were connected to the hacking. Shortly after the mailings were disclosed by authorities, a caller who identified himself as a spokesman for the group Anonymous told a Times reporter that the group was not to blame.

Today Show

The incidents have drawn new attention to Scientology.

Critics of the religion are flocking to Anonymous postings on YouTube, the popular video-sharing site. Their campaign has sparked a debate among long-time Scientology's opponents, who wonder whether the aggressive rhetoric and tactics, including illegal denial-of-service attacks on the church's websites, help the cause by raising awareness of the religion's controversial beliefs, or hurt it by using the same type of heavy-handed methods they accuse Scientology officials of employing against critics.

"I don't know if anybody in Anonymous did this but Anonymous set themselves up to be targeted in this way . . .," said Mark Bunker, who runs one of the leading websites criticizing the church,, and posted a video last week warning Anonymous to tone down its campaign.

"I hope it doesn't hurt the larger critic community who have been speaking out for years about Scientology's abuse."

Scientology was founded in 1954 by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. It teaches that "spiritual release and freedom" from life's problems can be achieved through one-on-one counseling called auditing, during which members' responses are monitored on an e-meter, similar to a polygraph. The process, along with a series of training courses, can cost Scientologists tens of thousands of dollars.

Impact Montage

Cruise has become an outspoken proponent of the religion. In 2004, he won the International Assn. of Scientologists Freedom Medal of Valor award and part of the ceremony included a taped interview with him talking about why the religion is important to him.

The video was posted on YouTube and other sites this month, leading the Church of Scientology to request its removal for copyright violation.

A Scientology spokeswoman said the church wasn't trying to suppress the video, which it says can be watched at any of its facilities around the world.

But it was made for "the Scientology congregation" and "never intended for replay on television or the Internet," spokeswoman Karin Pouw said in a written response to questions.


The requests to have it removed are similar to take-down requests by movie studios and TV networks, she said. But members of Anonymous were angered by the requests and decided to take on the church, said the group's representative.

The group is a loose confederation of about 9,000 people who post anonymous messages in chat rooms on websites he would not identify. While they are experienced Internet users, few are computer hackers, he said. But there are enough people with knowledge of how to attack websites that they were able to launch the attacks, the spokesman said. One of the attacks, known as distributed denial of service, involves flooding a website with requests, overloading its capacity.

Pouw said Scientology's websites "have been and are online."

The Church of Scientology also shifted the company that hosts its site last week to Prolexic Technologies Inc., which specializes in stopping denial-of-service attacks.

The New York Times

January 31, 2008

Starbucks to Close Stores and End Sandwich Sales

At the very least, Starbucks will smell like coffee again.

As part of a turnaround plan, the beleaguered coffee giant said Wednesday that it would discontinue warm breakfast sandwiches at its stores and focus instead on healthy breakfast options and high-quality baked goods.

“In short, the scent of the warm sandwiches interferes with the coffee aroma in our stores,” said Howard D. Schultz, the company’s chairman and chief executive.

Mr. Schultz also announced that his company would close 100 underperforming locations in the United States while scaling back the rate of store openings domestically. At the same time, Starbucks will move more aggressively to open stores overseas, where business remains robust. He did not identify the locations that will be closed.

In all, Starbucks will open 1,175 restaurants in the United States this budget year, down from its previous goal of 1,600. The company will open 75 more stores abroad than originally predicted, for a total of 975.

Mr. Schultz’s comments came as Starbucks reported anemic sales growth of 1 percent at stores open at least a year, the worst three-month performance in the company’s history. United States sales have been battered by a weak economy and increased competition from the likes of McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. Same-store sales for American stores declined 1 percent.

Adopting a risky tactic that may alienate Wall Street, Mr. Schultz said the company would no longer provide same-store sales numbers, at least temporarily, as he moves forward with his turnaround plan. He said the company’s decisions had been too driven by improving same-store sales rather than consumer needs and that same-store sales numbers would be “erratic” during the transformation.

A similar decision in 2006 by Robert L. Nardelli, chief executive of Home Depot, infuriated Wall Street analysts. The decision turned out to be the beginning of the end of Mr. Nardelli’s reign.

Starbucks reported earnings of $208 million in the first quarter of its budget year, which ended Dec. 30, a 2 percent gain over the same period a year ago. However, Mr. Schultz warned that the coming year would be difficult because of the reorganization and weakening economy.

“You would have to agree that the consumer is in a recession,” he said.

Mr. Schultz’s remarks came after the close of markets on Wednesday. Starbucks’ shares declined in after-hours trading by less than 2 percent, to $18.90. In 2007, Starbucks’ stock declined more than 40 percent.

What remains unclear is how Mr. Schultz will recapture the cachet that made Starbucks a customer favorite and Wall Street darling. On Wednesday, he said many details of his plan, “including bold innovations that will reassert our coffee leadership, redefine the in-store experience and introduce core brand-building initiatives,” will be announced at Starbucks’ annual meeting in March.

Mr. Schultz, who served as chief executive from 1987 to 2000 and is widely credited with Starbucks’ success, was brought back as chief executive this month to try to restore the company’s luster.

Harvey Hartman, founder and chief executive of the Hartman Group, a food consulting and market research firm, said it was smart to get rid of breakfast sandwiches and revive the smell of fresh coffee. He also applauded Mr. Schultz’s decision to focus on consumer needs rather than Wall Street demands.

“What we hear from consumers more than anything else is, ‘It’s not that I don’t like Starbucks,’ ” he said. “ ‘It’s that they are no longer as relevant to me as they used to be because I’ve changed, and they haven’t changed with me.’ ”

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Spears' 12-officer police escort prompts call for paparazzi limits

L.A. Councilman Dennis Zine plans to push for a measure to create a 'personal safety zone' for those targeted by the media. Chief Bratton says existing laws should suffice.

Britney Spears
By Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

February 2, 2008

After aggressive paparazzi prompted police to escort Britney Spears to the hospital this week, Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine announced Friday that he plans to push for an ordinance that would create a minimum "personal safety zone" around individuals targeted by the media.

Zine said the estimated $25,000 it cost for police to escort Spears to the hospital was necessary to protect the public from dangers posed by the horde of celebrity photographers pursuing the pop star. He said paparazzi were increasingly endangering celebrities and bystanders with their aggressive behavior and car pursuits.

"I don't want a repeat of what happened to Princess Diana with a celebrity in Los Angeles," he said. "We had to have 12 officers escort [Spears] to the hospital that if not for paparazzi would have been used to prevent crime somewhere else."

Zine said he plans to introduce a motion that calls for the city attorney and LAPD to draft new restrictions on paparazzi, including an ordinance that would create a zone of clear space in order to protect public safety on streets, sidewalks and at access points to emergency care facilities and private businesses and homes.

"It is a major issue we have to address. We are in a celebrity town," he said. "Celebrities have a right to live in peace and freedom."

But Police Chief William J. Bratton said existing laws can deal with the paparazzi.

"Councilman Zine is responding to frustration we all have with the paparazzi," Bratton said. "We already have appropriate laws within the constitutional guidelines and we intend to do that whether it is erratic driving, trespassing on private property or any action that goes beyond the constitutional rights to cover a story."

Bratton strongly defended the LAPD decision to deploy a dozen officers to escort Spears, saying she is a resident of the city and is "certainly in great need of assistance."

He said the public should blame the paparazzi for this week's events.

"They are the ones making a spectacle of themselves," Bratton said. Representatives for Spears told Los Angeles police officials Monday that they believed she needed a psychiatric evaluation because of continuing erratic behavior.

After extensive discussions about alternatives, the LAPD mapped a strategy for getting her to UCLA Medical Center amid an anticipated swarm of paparazzi. The next morning the plan was executed with about two dozen police officers, a helicopter and a special team that took Spears out through a gate in an ambulance with covered windows to shield her from photographers.

Meanwhile, a Los Angeles County court commissioner Friday granted Spears' father, James, and a court-appointed attorney temporary conservatorship over her affairs and estate, said Allan Parachini, a court spokesman.

The decision gives James Spears the ability to make decisions involving his daughter's assets, property and medical care, restrict visitors to her home, change locks at her residence and hire security.

Feb. 27th Anthony Pellicano Trial Won't Be Delayed

pellicano1.jpgThere was a status conference in the Pellicano case this morning.

Several things were discussed:

disgraced entertainment attorney Terry Christensen's motion to stay the case or to continue the trial was denied as well as his request to dismiss his indictment.

So, as of right now, the trial of the Hollywood private investigator known as The Pelican will start on February 27th as planned.

The feds said they expected to take 5 to 6 weeks to present evidence.

The feeling is that the total length of the trial would be 9 to 10 weeks.

Meanwhile, Anthony continues to sit in jail until trial.

The New York Times

February 3, 2008

Playing It Safe in Las Vegas


FOR some time now, Michael Jackson and his children have lived at the Palms resort here while he records a new album in its studio.

This might not be so surprising, considering Mr. Jackson’s nomadic ways as well as the affinity that celebrities have for this city.

What is stunning, however, is that the star managed to live at the Palms for at least two months before a local gossip columnist wrote about it on Jan. 16.

How is it that the whereabouts of a tabloid target like Mr. Jackson could stay concealed for so long? Well, one might have noticed what did not happen after Norm Clarke’s article appeared in The Las Vegas Review-Journal.

No swarm of paparazzi descended upon the Palms. No enterprising photographer sneaked inside to snap Mr. Jackson heading to an elevator. No hotel guest made a cellphone video to sell to or to post on YouTube.

“Does that surprise me? Not really,” said Larry Fink, public relations director for the Palms. Citing the privacy of guests, Mr. Fink would neither confirm nor deny Mr. Jackson’s presence. “The celebrity media here is — I don’t want to say they’re well behaved — but there’s a certain level of respect between us and them,” he said.

It’s true. Despite the constant star visits and red carpet events in Las Vegas, few if any images of pantyless pop stars, married actors getting lap dances or even paparazzi mobs chasing celebutantes into limousines have appeared online or in publications.

The most notorious illicit video out of Las Vegas in recent years was last summer’s footage of an intoxicated David Hasselhoff crawling on the floor of his hotel room while trying to eat a hamburger. It was shot by his daughter and leaked by a member of his family.

Las Vegas is a city where stars can avoid the aggressive breed of stalker photographers who shadow their public events in Los Angeles and New York. At the very least, stars exert more control over their exposure. Ensconced in the protective resorts, and guarded by private security teams, the stars find the celebrity news media in Las Vegas far less invasive.

“In Vegas, I don’t have to worry about photographers waiting outside my house every day because they can’t wait outside my hotel room,” Spencer Pratt, a star of the MTV reality series “The Hills,” said in early January as he and Heidi Montag, his co-star and girlfriend, posed for photos on a red carpet on the way to an event that they were paid to attend at the Jet nightclub at the Mirage.

“When we travel here we have bodyguards, there are people with earpieces making sure there aren’t any photos we don’t want, making sure there’s no problems,” Mr. Pratt said. “I’m sure a lot of celebrities come out to Vegas because it’s like a hide-out, it’s a getaway.”

Indeed, as the city rolled into the year’s biggest betting weekend, the Super Bowl, stars aplenty were expected to be in the nightclubs and sports books. But they were not expecting to be trailed by what Robin Leach, the former host of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and the unofficial dean of the Las Vegas celebrity news media, refers to as “wild roaming packs of paparazzi.”

“All of our photographers are known to the casinos almost as if they’re registered,” said Mr. Leach, who writes the Vegas Luxe Life blog for Las Vegas Magazine. “If a photographer breaks the spirit of the unidentified terms of his access, that’s the last time he gets red carpet or nightclub privileges.”

That powerful, lingering threat is the difference between Las Vegas and other cities. The casino mega-resorts are private property. Many have private elevators, tunnels and garages for those not wishing to be seen.

The celebrity photos that do emerge from Las Vegas are generally less compelling because stars rarely go about their everyday business here, said Harvey Levin, managing editor of, which specializes in candid videos of stars driving recklessly or teetering out of nightclubs. “I don’t think Julia Roberts walks down corridors at Caesars Palace without her makeup on,” he said. “When a star goes to Caesars Palace, they tend not to go out or shop in malls. They’ll make appearances at clubs or events, but it’s much more event-driven.”

Even when celebrities do embarrass themselves here, their actions rarely receive widespread coverage. Last February, the hotel magnate Steve Wynn fell to the floor after bumping his head on a boom mike while walking a red carpet for Elizabeth Taylor’s 75th birthday party. Mr. Clarke reported the incident in his column, but no images of the fall emerged, even though many photographers were present.

“There’s more to shooting than getting someone falling down a staircase,” Robin Roth, a photographer and writer for the Web site, said in late December as she waited for Beyoncé and Jay-Z to arrive at the opening of the rap star’s new sports bar, the 40/40 Club, at the Palazzo resort. “They’re here to promote this event and that’s what we’re here to shoot. So we’re trying to get the best of them. I’m going to try to get the nicest shot of them.”

The level of control by resorts — and the acquiescence by the celebrity news media — is extensive.

One Friday in early January, a dozen photographers were ushered into the Bank nightclub at the Bellagio shortly past 11 p.m. by special elevator, ordered to stand by in a small, dark corridor and then given about five minutes to take pictures of the singer and songwriter John Legend posing before a backdrop with the Bank’s name on it.

ONCE Mr. Legend had had enough, the photographers were whisked away. The star’s entourage was seated in a V.I.P. area of the club, while a single photographer — on the club’s payroll — was allowed to shoot his birthday party for the celebrity news service WireImage.

“A publicist at one of the properties once told me he’s surprised with all the members of an entourage traveling with these stars and all the people having sex in rooms, that somebody doesn’t take a picture of an A-lister laying next to a stripper,” Mr. Clarke said. “I’m amazed I don’t get more of that, too.”

The handful of folks who actually do shrug off the yoke of the staged photo opportunities wonder where everybody else is. Preston Warner, a photographer who has sold images of Paris Hilton dancing provocatively on nightclub tabletops for five-figure sums, called the red carpet scene “mind-numbingly boring.”

“They’re standing out there for six to eight hours waiting for a celebrity to show up so 20 of them can get the same shots for their photo services,” Mr. Warner said. “I guess they do it because they’re star-struck or it’s a hobby for them.”

Even if the paparazzi aren’t out in force, what about the thousands of visitors with camera phones? Gary Morgan, chief executive of the celebrity photo service Splash News, doubts Las Vegas visitors understand the value of what they may have. “In L.A., people snap a picture and go, ‘Oh, oh, oh, I’ll give it to someone,’ ” Mr. Morgan said. “A lot of people are in Vegas to have fun, gambling and drinking, and they’re not in the mind-set.”

All this may soon change. The syndicated entertainment-news show “Extra” has opened a bureau in Las Vegas (and was the first to broadcast the video of Mr. Hasselhoff with the hamburger). In 2006 People magazine placed a full-time employee here for the first time. And, a Web-based video site devoted to celebrity news with 14 reporters and producers, made its debut last year.

“Extra” opened its bureau here, said Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, senior executive producer of the show, because she “got tired of having to have crews and reporters get on planes” to cover the many celebrities visiting the city. “There was this giant curtain over Vegas and nobody knew what the secret code was to get inside, but now we feel we own Las Vegas because we’re here all the time,” Ms. Gregorisch-Dempsey said.

Jay-Z at the opening of his 40/40 Club at the Palazzo in Las Vegas.

“Extra” has a deal with the Planet Hollywood resort to run an Extra lounge in the casino, where stars can regularly stop for interviews. Although celebrities may not see this as an encroachment on their privacy, the notion of Las Vegas as a safe area may be fading slowly. In October, Ms. Hilton attended a costume party in army fatigues and flippantly said she wore the outfit to support American troops in Iraq. reported the remark, which caused a small stir.

“The celebrities are probably wandering the streets of Vegas going, ‘Man I can’t believe this is the last place on Earth where I’m not being photographed by telescopic lenses,’ ” said Peter Castro, deputy managing editor of People. “They’re probably thinking, ‘What’s the catch here?’ ”

But he predicted that this would soon be brought to a close by the public appetite for celebrity scandal. “There’s too much money in it for that to last,” he said.