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E Street nation remembers their beloved Big Man with his bigger-than-life persona

A grateful Nation thanks him for his service.

The E Street Nation – a world-wide community wrapped around the nucleus of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – has lost its beloved Big Man, Clarence Clemons.

“The whole E Street Nation is in mourning. This is an awful moment,” grief-stricken Springsteen author Dave Marsh said Saturday night on E Street Radio after the news of the saxophonist’s death.

Besides Bruce, the band, the Nation and of course his family, the sadness enveloped Lady Gaga; she grew up in a Springsteen household, recorded with Clemons and appeared with him on American Idol. After his stroke last Sunday, Gaga spoke about how dearly she loved Clemons and summoned her Little Monsters to say how much they loved him, too, in a compilation of touching, heartfelt videos.

The Big Man just had that effect on people. Sure, there was the music; who hasn’t shed a tear from the exquisite sax strains of “Jungleland”? But the music and the man were a double draw.

“He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family,” said Springsteen.

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For a week, Clemons’ devastating stroke had ignited a wildfire of tweets and texts, tears and tributes. Taking their cue from Springsteen, who had urged a climate of hope, fans posted songs with titles like “Tougher Than The Rest” and “Countin’ on a Miracle.”

Clemons, who embraced all of the world’s religions and called the stage his “healing floor,” had beaten the odds many times before. He battled chronic pain after back and knee surgeries.

The former football player willed himself out of a wheelchair just days before playing his sax at the Super Bowl.

He arrived, again, in a wheelchair for his May 2010 children’s benefit appearance, but insisted on walking across the red carpet with his much-adored wife, Victoria, and dragging himself up the stage stairs.

More recently, he appeared at New Jersey’s Garden State Film Festival. His remarks were spiritual, in keeping with the theme of his movie about his journey through China; but he also relished exchanging playful remarks with his audience.

On stage and off, he was a joy to behold – flashing that million-watt smile as he gleefully pumped up his own larger-than-life persona, mugging for the camera, laughing large in that deep, velvety voice. On Twitter, he billed himself thusly: “Saxophonist, sexual adventurer, poet and author! And the Biggest Man you’ve ever seen!” (Egotistical? Nah. Consider the context: The man was once introduced by Springsteen, among other things, as the future king of England.)

Despite the hyperbole, he touched lives in a deeply personal way.

“There would be no journey without you,” he told fans in one tweet. “Much love, Big Man.”

He once told me he could sense when someone standing near the stage was hurting; he’d intentionally latched his gaze on them as his horn sent forth a healing salve, then sealed the covenant by pressing his hands together in the prayer position.

It happened to Brenda VanHorn. After her son, a drummer, died, she sought solace and fellowship at Springsteen concerts. In Charlotte, N.C., in 2002, she and another son stood, awash in grief, during the song “You’re Missing.”

“As the last few notes of the song were playing, I looked up to see tears streaming down Clarence Clemons’ face as well,” she recounted in “For You,” a book of fan recollections by Lawrence Kirsch. “…My first reaction was that this must be a really sad song if he hears it all the time and it still made him cry.”

“Then I realized it wasn’t the song, it was us – a boy grieving for his brother, a mother grieving for her son – that caused those tears. … The Big Man, someone we have cheered and applauded for years, not only felt our pain but in some small way did his part to ease it.”

After learning of Clemons’ passing, VanHorn again reflected on that night.

“Tears were streaming down my face when Clarence looked at me and shook his head no. Then he gave me his famous blessing and more famous smile,” VanHorn said, responding to a question sent through Facebook private message. “It was as if he was telling me – enough! No more sorrow, be happy for the joy (her son) brought to us.”

“I feel like that tonight,” said VanHorn. “I am sad and I shed tears but I feel so blessed to have been able to enjoy his music all these years. He truly was the biggest man you ever saw.”

Fans always knew, of course, that Clemons would one day be with them only in spirit. But they’re still reeling from the hard, cold reality that the Big Man had run out of miracles. He just seemed so damned invincible.

As the music lives on, so will the indelible images: Scooter and the Big Man dancing with abandon on top of the stage speakers, and sealing their lifelong bromance with a kiss; Clemons tearing up as band members stood side-by-side, holding hands, during a Madison Square Garden performance of “Blood Brothers” that included the late keyboardist Danny Federici.

After Clemons was stricken, his family and Springsteen set up an email address where people could send get-well wishes.

“Dear Clarence,” went mine. “I once said you reminded me of that bunny on the TV commercial – pounding his drum while he just keeps going, and going, and going. You laughed heartily and replied, ‘I AM the bunny, baby!’ Yes, you are – and thank God for it.

” I hope you’re aware of the deluge of prayers, music, fond reminiscences and messages of hope being posted on the Internet by your fans all over the world – forming one giant wave of love.

“Along with my husband, Mike (you once pointed to him from the stage and said, ‘I like this guy!’), I wish you and your family health, strength and joy as you continue to reach mightily for the top of yet another new mountain.

“We can’t wait to see the Big Man back in action, lighting up the world with his music and his smile.”

Maybe his reply can be found in remarks he made onstage in New York in August 2010.

“You know, sometimes in this life, sometimes there are situations that make you sad. Things happen that you don’t understand that make you sad, make you very unhappy and uneasy,” said Clemons.

“But I want you to know that the universe loves you. I love you. Be happy.”

Military, VAC study elevated suicide rate in women who served with forces

HALIFAX – The Canadian military and Veterans Affairs are trying to understand why female personnel in their early 40s – both former and current- were more than twice as likely to die from suicide as their civilian counterparts.

Groundbreaking research by the two departments and Statistics Canada has shown a statistically higher rate in the number of suicide deaths in female former service personnel between the ages of 40 to 44, compared to their civilian counterparts.

The Canadian Forces Cancer and Mortality Study also found a comparative difference in the suicide rate among women of the same age in the military.

“We’re a little bit surprised,” Col. Colin MacKay, director of Force Health Protection and co-chair of the study’s advisory committee, said in Ottawa.

“This was information we hadn’t had before and is very important information…because we can now start to look at it more carefully.”

Researchers can’t explain the difference for that age group, but MacKay cautions it involves a small number of women over a 35-year period.

There were 37 suicides for women in all age groups who were serving or released from the military, with 29 occurring among females years after they were let go from the forces.

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A spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs said in a statement that officials in the department will review their suicide prevention programs in light of the new findings.

“Last year, we undertook a thorough review of suicide prevention activities,” the statement said. “Those activities will now be reviewed in light of the high-risk groups identified in the (study).”

Men aged 16 to 44 who had been released from military service also had a higher risk of death from suicide when compared to the same civilian age groups.

They found that people who served from 1972 to 1986 had a greater risk of committing suicide.

Dr. Maureen Carew, an epidemiologist and the study’s principal investigator, said they took a closer look at men who were released and went on to commit suicide, finding that many had shorter periods of service and were let go involuntarily.

The suicide rate was two times higher for people with a medical release and one and a half times higher for those who were released involuntarily compared with those who took a voluntary release, the study says.

Dr. Rakesh Jetly, a psychiatrist and adviser to the military on mental health issues, said there may be an elevated rate among people who were released decades before because programs weren’t in place to help them transition to the civilian world.

Someone who was forced out of the military for disciplinary or health reasons, for example, was not given advice on finding a job or doctor, or assessed properly for mental health problems, he said.

“In the past, the release process could be very fast and now the process literally takes years,” he said. “We’re talking about a time when people were less open about mental health issues and less open about seeking care.”

He said people who are released now go through case management, are hooked up with Veterans Affairs and get help finding a family physician, job and education.

The report looked at mortality among 188,000 personnel who enrolled between 1972 and 2006 in the regular force. Investigators sifted through the Canadian Mortality Data Base and compared names to the Department of Defence’s electronic databases to identify the deceased.

The research also found that women between the age of 20 to 24 had twice the risk of death from unintentional injury compared to their civilian counterparts.

But it’s not clear what caused the deaths or if they died while on duty and if there is any link to training or experience.

“Twenty-seven unfortunate deaths in this age group for women, of which probably over half are currently serving members, does warrant further examination by us and we will have a look at this,” MacKay said.

Men in the study also had a significantly higher risk of dying in an air and space transport accident compared with males in the general population.

The researchers are also looking at cancer rates for the military and expect to have data from that work by the end of next year. Preliminary numbers indicate the risk from dying from cancer was considerably lower than general public.

Pentagon chief says Obama not required by law to get congressional approval for Libyan action

WASHINGTON – For legal reasons, President Barack Obama rejects the word “hostilities” to describe U.S. involvement in Libya’s civil war. Along the same lines, Defence Secretary Robert Gates calls American actions there “a limited kinetic operation.”

Definitions are part of the debate over whether Obama is violating the War Powers Resolution by failing to obtain congressional approval for U.S. participation in the NATO-led air strikes against Moammar Gadhafi’s government.

The international coalition assisting Libyan rebels in their efforts to oust Gadhafi from power is in its fourth month. Before dawn on Sunday, NATO airstrikes began pounding targets in Tripoli as part of a stepped-up campaign.

The U.S. led airstrikes before turning over the mission to NATO forces. While no American troops are on the ground in Libya, the U.S. provides support with intelligence, reconnaissance and aerial refuelling of warplanes. The Obama administration estimates the U.S. will spend more than $1 billion on the mission by early September.

Under the War Powers Resolution, passed by Congress in 1973, the president must seek lawmakers’ approval to continue to engage in hostilities after 60 days and a 30-day extension.

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Asked on “Fox News Sunday” if the U.S. was engaged in hostilities in Libya, Gates said: “The way I like to put it is, from our standpoint at the Pentagon, we’re involved in a limited kinetic operation. If I’m in Gadhafi’s palace, I suspect I think I’m at war.”

The Obama administration argued in a report issued last week that the actions of the U.S. military in the NATO mission didn’t rise to the level of hostilities as viewed under the law. House Speaker John Boehner, was among the lawmakers who scoffed at that idea, saying it didn’t pass the “straight-face test.”

That Gates would support his commander in chief’s view was not surprising. But the defence secretary apparently also wasn’t backing the legal opinion of the Pentagon’s own general counsel.

The New York Times has reported that top lawyers for the department of Defence and Justice told the administration that the resolution did apply to the mission in Libya. Instead, Obama accepted a different point of view, which was offered by his own White House counsel as well as other members of his legal team.

Gates, who is stepping down as defence secretary at the end of the month, said he would defer to Obama for legal definitions. But, he added, “I’m confident that he would not make judgment along these lines if he were not confident that he was acting in a constitutional manner.”

Olbermann essentially invented present-day MSNBC, and now it’s humming along without him

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Keith Olbermann essentially invented the present-day MSNBC, but he didn’t take it with him when he left.

As Olbermann prepares for his debut on Current TV on Monday night, the MSNBC he left behind has survived; its boss says it has thrived. The prime-time focus on left-of-centre political talk show hosts that began with Olbermann’s transformation to on-air activist remains. Rachel Maddow, once Olbermann’s protege, has taken over as the network’s marquee name.

So far this year, MSNBC’s average weekday prime-time audience is 965,000 viewers, or 10 per cent more than last year over the same period, the Nielsen Co. says. Fox, easily the market leader with 2.4 million viewers, is down 12 per cent in the same comparison, and third-place CNN is up 10 per cent, with 770,000 viewers.

“I was surprised that we did not dip at all,” said Phil Griffin, MSNBC’s chief executive. “I was prepared for a 10 per cent dip.”

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Dig deeper into the numbers and the picture isn’t quite as clear. Viewership at 8 p.m. following Jan. 24, when Lawrence O’Donnell took over following Olbermann’s abrupt departure, is down 6 per cent from last year, Nielsen says. Ed Schultz’s 10 p.m. hour is up 29 per cent over last year, but MSNBC in early 2010 aired an Olbermann rerun at that hour, meaning Schultz’s audience of 884,000 is being compared with recycled material a year earlier.

There’s nothing uncertain about Maddow’s ascension. She has 1.05 million viewers, on average, this year, a bump of 100,000 over a year before.

“She really has elevated the discussion and is in many ways the model that we want for cable news,” Griffin said.

Maddow has been the constant in MSNBC’s prime-time lineup. O’Donnell, who had gotten his own show after delivering strong ratings as a guest host for Olbermann, moved from 10 p.m. Eastern to 8 p.m. after Olbermann left. Schultz had been working earlier in the evening and got his shot in prime time.

Each man has attracted attention in recent months for some overheated commentary. In O’Donnell’s case, he went hard after “Celebrity Apprentice” star Donald Trump during the real estate mogul’s flirtation with a presidential candidacy. O’Donnell called Trump “the most deranged egomaniac” in NBC entertainment history.

Schultz was suspended for a week in May after referring to conservative host Laura Ingraham as a “right-wing slut” while on his radio show. He apologized for the remark.

MSNBC is still a destination for liberal viewers, but there’s some disappointment that network personalities aren’t more challenging to the Obama administration and Democratic orthodoxy, said Jeff Cohen, an Ithaca College journalism professor and liberal activist. He said there hasn’t been enough debate about military action in Afghanistan and Libya.

“I would argue that it was more independent when Olbermann was there,” Cohen said. “His charm, if you can call it that, is that he’s uncontrollable. He’s not a party-line guy.”

MSNBC is facing the same issue that Fox News had during the Bush administration: It’s not as exciting being on defence when the party you support is in power as it is being on the outs and on the attack, said Tim Graham of the conservative Media Research Center.

“Now it’s, ‘Let’s not make trouble for these people. They have enough to handle with angry conservatives,’” he said.

Griffin said that analysis is flat-out wrong. He said there was extensive debate among MSNBC hosts about the extension of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, for example. Network personalities also harshly criticized the Obama administration for not fighting Wisconsin legislation that unions considered harmful, he said.

“We are not a rubber stamp, and it would be wrong for anybody to imply otherwise,” he said.

Even if he hasn’t been on the air, Olbermann has been critical of the Obama administration. He released a video on Current’s website in April saying the administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military procedure instead of civilian court was wrong.

The big test for MSNBC comes this week as Olbermann begins competing head-to-head against the man who was once his substitute host. MSNBC has an advantage in reach because the network is available in more than 95 million of the nation’s nearly 115 million homes with television. Current TV is in some 60 million, often hidden way up the network dials.

Griffin won’t talk about Olbermann or his Current show.

He’s bullish on MSNBC, though, and predicted that within a couple of years his network would even be able to seriously challenge ratings leader Fox in certain hours.

“MSNBC has established a sensibility, a position, a platform,” he said. “MSNBC stands for something and MSNBC is really the place to go for progressives and people who are looking for smart, thoughtful analysis. We’re growing, and we’re putting real effort behind it.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE – David Bauder can be reached at dbauder(at)ap杭州夜网

Burberry slows it down, exploring the handcrafts for spring/summer 2012 menswear

MILAN – There’s an inherent message in Burberry Prorsum’s menswear collection for next spring and summer. Slow down.

Designer Christopher Bailey isn’t trying to hit anyone over the head with the thought. It’s more by example.

Bailey has put craftsmanship at the heart of the collection – and not the kind of crafts normally associated with men’s clothing. There’s crocheting, stitching, embroidery and handblock prints.

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“I wanted to celebrate the idea of craftsmanship. I love the whole digitalization of the world. But I don’t think one has to be at the expense of the other,” Bailey said backstage after Saturday’s preview.

In fact, each of the models in the finale carried alligator iPad sleeves.

From the exercise of crafts, emerged an array of ethnic references, which Bailey said was a natural part of the process. “I think just the idea of making things by hand immediately becomes ethnic,” he said.

Geometric shapes around the neckline were suggestive of traditional Native American dress. Block prints gave a textured look to tops and sweaters, with pebbling giving way to bold shapes. Circular patterns on T-shirts suggest ancient art.

Burberry’s native Scotland, too, had its due. Most of the outfits were topped with a hand-crocheted raffia golfing hat, complete with a pompon. Shoes were cork soled-moccasins or easy loafers at times contrasted with woven tapestry.

Colours tended toward the earthy, with flashes of garnet, beets or bright indigo.

The clothing was easy to wear, and pack, perhaps in a Burberry braided leather tote. Loose, oversized parkas with crocheted, detachable collars could be worn over light swim trunks. A sturdy fishermen’s knit sweater jacket with side pockets twins effortlessly with a pair of trousers.

“I wanted it to feel easy and not contrived,” Bailey said. “I wanted it to feel designed as well.”

Springsteen’s E Street Band loses key figure with death of Clarence Clemons

NEW YORK, N.Y. – E Street will never be quite the same.

The death of saxophone player Clarence Clemons ripped a hole in Bruce Springsteen’s music and onstage life, taking away a figure who had served him loyally for decades and never failed to add joy to the E Street Band’s epic performances.

Clemons died Saturday at age 69, about a week after he suffered a stroke at his home in Singer Island, Fla.

It’s not the first loss for the rock world’s best-known and most accomplished backup band. Keyboard player Danny Federici died in 2008 of melanoma. Steve Van Zandt, Springsteen’s youthful friend and closest partner, left for several years in the 1980s and was replaced on guitar by Nils Lofgren. When Van Zandt returned, Lofgren stayed.

Yet Clemons’ loss cuts deeply into the soul of the band. His importance was acknowledged whenever Springsteen performed “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out,” when he sang, “We made that change uptown and the Big Man joined the band,” inevitably followed by a wail of Clemons’ sax and a roar from the crowd. The two men met in 1971 on the New Jersey bar band circuit, and when Springsteen released his debut album two years later, Clemons left a more successful outfit for a new Boss.

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Inevitably Clemons’ introduction was the climax every night when Springsteen presented the individual band members to the audience, accompanied by a variety of regal nicknames like “Master of the Universe” and “King of the World.”

“Do I have to say his name?” Springsteen would shout to the crowd.

“No!” came the roar back. He did anyway.

Last fall’s release of “The Promise,” which included a DVD of a 1978 Springsteen concert performance, underscored the central role of Clemons in the act. The two men were a marked physical contrast: a bedgraggled, slightly scrawny white guitar player and a 6-foot-5-inch, 270-plus-pound black man with a sax – known simply as the Big Man -who would be intimidating if he didn’t so often carry a smile.

They would stalk each other on the stage, staring with ferocious eyes, and play their instruments as they stood back to back, leaning on the other for support. They’d even kiss, their relationship sending a message of brotherhood, family and – given racial undertones – tolerance and respect for all.

The relationship was captured memorably with a giant photo of the two men on the cover of Springsteen’s “Born to Run” album.

Clemons was musically vital, too, particularly given the longer, structurally ambitious songs Springsteen was writing in the 1970s, a potent mixture of rock, soul, jazz and folk. Clemons’ sax kicked “Born to Run” into overdrive, and his solo was a key moment in the majestic “Jungleland.” He had a deep, booming voice not often displayed, although he added hearty “ho-ho-ho’s” during seasonal renditions of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”

Truth be told, Clemons’ role in the E Street Band diminished as the years went on. Springsteen’s simpler song structures left less space for the sax, and the instrument competed to be heard in a dense wall of sound anchored by three electric guitar players. Clemons would add maracas or tambourines to some of Springsteen’s compositions.

Clemons’ physical ailments also made him a less active presence onstage. He underwent spinal surgery last year after many years of back pain and spent time in a wheelchair after double knee replacement surgery.

Springsteen generously made accommodations for the ailments, installing an elevator on the stage set for when Clemons couldn’t negotiate the stairs, according to Caryn Rose and Glenn Radecki of the Springsteen website Backstreets. A throne-like golden chair was placed onstage for when Clemons needed his rest.

Clemons’ death is unlikely to bring an end to the E Street Band, which Springsteen alluded to in a statement posted on his website Saturday announcing the death.

“We are honoured and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly 40 years,” he said. “He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”

But the loss leaves Springsteen with a real challenge moving forward. While Federici’s contributions were valued and respected, he was a back bencher, tied to the shadows of the stage and his replacement not a major issue for the casual fan.

Clemons was different, and his loss will inevitably change the onstage dynamic. The saxophone is such a major presence in Springsteen’s music that it’s difficult to imagine many of his songs being performed without it. They will be big shoes for anyone to fill.

“As long as we tell the stories, as long as we play the songs, the Big Man will always be with us,” Rose and Radecki wrote on Backstreets following Clemons’ death.

Reynolds’ ‘Lantern’ has low-beam debut of $52.7M; Carrey’s ‘Penguins’ has chilly start at $18M

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Ryan Reynolds is the latest superhero to rule the weekend box office.

Reynolds’ “Green Lantern” debuted at No. 1 with $52.7 million, a fair but unremarkable opening stacked up against other comic-book adaptations.

Released by Warner Bros., “Green Lantern” brought up the rear among superhero movies to open so far this summer, behind the $65.7 million debut of “Thor” and the $55.1 million launch of “X-Men: First Class.”

The previous weekend’s top flick, Paramount Pictures’ sci-fi adventure “Super 8,” slipped to No. 2 with $21.3 million. Its domestic total rose to $72.8 million.

Jim Carrey’s family comedy “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” had a frosty start as the 20th Century Fox release came in at No. 3 with $18.2 million.

Overall business cooled for the second-straight weekend. Hollywood revenues totalled $149 million, down a steep 25 per cent from the same weekend last year, when Disney’s Pixar Animation blockbuster “Toy Story 3” debuted with $110.3 million, according to box-office tracker Hollywood杭州夜网.

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Receipts this summer season still are ahead of last year’s, with revenue climbing to $1.56 billion since the first weekend in May, up 7 per cent from 2010’s pace.

Another Pixar animated sequel, “Cars 2,” could steer Hollywood upward again this coming weekend.

“We’re fine. We’re still ahead of last summer, and Pixar is going to have a chance to get us back in the mix next weekend,” said Hollywood杭州夜网 analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

Adapted from the DC Comics series, “Green Lantern” stars Reynolds as a cocky test pilot who gains superpowers after he becomes the first human recruit of a galactic police force.

The movie was trashed by critics, and after a solid $21.6 million haul on opening day Friday, “Green Lantern” trailed off sharply as revenues dropped 22 per cent Saturday. That’s often a sign that a movie lacks staying power, since revenues for new releases typically rise on Saturday.

With school letting out for the summer, Warner Bros. executives hope the movie will draw teenagers in on the weekdays.

“The mid-weeks are going to tell the tale of the movie,” said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner. If “Green Lantern” does good business come Monday, “then all bets are off and we’re back in the game.”

Likewise, 20th Century Fox is counting on good holdover business for “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” a children’s book adaptation that stars Carrey as a neglectful dad who learns the value of family ties after he inherits half a dozen pesky penguins.

“It’s a heartwarming PG comedy that everybody can go see,” said Fox distribution executive Bert Livingston. “There’s humour for adults in there, and it’s got penguins. People love penguins.”

In narrower release, Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts’ teen romance “The Art of Getting By” flopped with a debut of just $700,000.

Released by Fox Searchlight, “The Art of Getting By” played in 610 theatres and averaged a dismal $1,148 a cinema.

That compared to a $13,806 average in 3,816 theatres for “Green Lantern” and $5,451 in 3,339 cinemas for “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theatres, according to Hollywood杭州夜网. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. “Green Lantern,” $52.7 million.

2. “Super 8,” $21.3 million.

3. “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” $18.2 million.

4. “X-Men: First Class,” $11.5 million.

5. “The Hangover Part II,” $9.6 million.

6. “Kung Fu Panda 2,” $8.7 million.

7. “Bridesmaids,” $7.5 million ($7.3 million international).

8. “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” $6.2 million ($25.9 million international).

9. “Midnight in Paris,” $5.2 million.

10. “Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer,” $2.2 million.

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Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.

Florida Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez resigns with team on long losing streak

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Through it all, Edwin Rodriguez kept his sense of humour. The Florida Marlins’ manager talked about ghost stories and the team’s hotel. He joked about moving the calendar ahead to July in hopes of escaping an awful June.

As it turns out, that long losing streak hurt more than he showed.

Rodriguez, the first Puerto Rican-born manager in major league history, unexpectedly resigned Sunday after less than one year on the job.

Bench coach Brandon Hyde managed the last-place Marlins as they dropped their 10th straight game, 2-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays. But the club will begin a search for an interim manager and potential candidates include 80-year-old Jack McKeon, the special assistant to the owner who led Florida to a World Series title in 2003.

Rodriguez said it was difficult to leave, given the “positive way the organization is moving, a new ballpark next season and the young core of players.”

“I can’t say enough about the effort that this staff and these players have put into this season,” he said in a statement released by the team. “I could tell that they continued to give 100 per cent effort each and every day on the field. I wish this organization and players nothing but success in their futures.”

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Rodriguez became interim manager June 23 of last year after Fredi Gonzalez was fired. He was given the job permanently five days later.

“It’s been extremely frustrating for everyone,” Florida president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. “I think everyone here knows what is going on – the way we’ve played, the way we’ve performed. It’s tough on everyone, especially him.

“He communicated with me early this morning that this was something he was thinking about, and when I got to the ballpark we accepted his resignation.”

Florida went 46-46 under Rodriguez, who opened the 2010 season as the Marlins’ Triple-A manager in New Orleans.

“This was an extremely frustrated, proud man,” Beinfest said. “This kind of caught us a little off guard. I know there’s been a lot of speculation, everything, but this is not something I thought was going to happen today.”

The Marlins fell to 1-18 in June with Sunday’s loss to the Rays. Ace pitcher Josh Johnson is injured and star shortstop Hanley Ramirez, struggling through a miserable slump all season, also had been sidelined during a stunning skid that left the team 32-40 and last in the NL East.

Beinfest said the club would act quickly on an interim manager.

“So we can move ahead with the business of playing baseball and trying to win games,” he said. “When you have a change like this, with a popular person, I think it’s tough on a lot of people. You just need to go play baseball, and that’s first and foremost.”

Beinfest informed the players of Rodriguez’s decision during a team meeting before Sunday’s game.

Rodriguez was at the ballpark and talked with individual players in the manager’s office. He didn’t speak with reporters.

“It was surprising, I guess, but I think it’s more shocking,” infielder Wes Helms said. “Right now, nothing is going right for us. Right now, it’s all negative with the Marlins, that’s the way it is. It’s tough to swallow, it really is. I do know he did everything he could. We didn’t do our job as a team.

“I’m sure he had a lot of sleepless nights,” Helms added. “I can’t speak for him. … I’m sure it was just killing him or he wouldn’t have done it. There’s only so much you can take mentally and physically in anything in life. I’m just sure he had enough and couldn’t do it anymore.”

First baseman Gaby Sanchez said the players have to respect the decision.

“It’s definitely difficult,” Sanchez said. “We have to continue to play hard, go out there and keep fighting. The season is not over. It’s just one of those things where we have to move forward.”

The Marlins became the second big league team to change managers this season. Oakland fired Bob Geren on June 9 and replaced him with Bob Melvin for the rest of the season.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon believes Rodriguez was thinking about what was best for his team.

“He’s one of the nicest, most decent men I’ve met in this game, and it’s unfortunate that he has to feel the weight of this whole moment because it’s not his fault,” Maddon said. “He’s worked so hard to get to this point. They were doing so well a couple weeks ago. That’s the strange part about it. We just played them down there and they beat us two out of three. They were playing good baseball.”

Beinfest did not rule out additional changes.

“When you go the way we’ve been going, I think everything is on the table,” Beinfest said. “I’m probably on the table as well, and rightfully so. It’s been a very difficult period and I think when you go through these things you can’t rule anything out.”

Calls grow in Egypt to delay parliamentary elections to give parties more time to organize

CAIRO – Calls are growing in Egypt for a delay of September’s parliamentary elections to give parties formed in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster more time to organize.

The push, which now has the prime minister’s backing, is aimed at keeping the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood from dominating the next legislature and exerting disproportionate Islamist influence over the drafting of a new constitution.

The debate over the timing of the elections and the new constitution is a political novelty in a country where elections under the 29-year rule of former President Mubarak were routinely marred by widespread fraud and their results known before the first ballot was cast.

The election debate is just one of a host of challenges Egypt is grappling with in the chaotic transition period to what many hope will be a freer, more democratic Egypt. There are also disagreements over the extent to which police powers should be curtailed, how best to halt economic deterioration and how to divvy up the nation’s wealth among some 85 million people.

The debate itself seems remarkable, given the authoritarian system that was in place until just a few months ago. It is another sign that post-Mubarak Egyptians have cast off decades of political apathy and have new faith in the political process.

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However, it also could be a trigger for renewed unrest if the question is not resolved in a way that satisfies everyone or at least many of the players.

Interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, in an interview posted Sunday on Egyptian news website Masrawy杭州夜网, said he preferred a delay in the vote to allow the nation’s “political landscape” to take shape. He also hinted that drafting a new constitution before the elections would not be a bad idea either.

Sharaf, however, made clear that a delay is his personal preference, and that his Cabinet would do everything it can to ensure a fair and secure vote if the election went ahead as scheduled.

The Islamic fundamentalist Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best organized political group, reacted angrily to Sharaf’s comments, with a top figure in the group saying the prime minister should resign before expressing personal views.

“The people want to transfer power to a civilian administration. This is in the interest of the country,” said Sobhi Saleh, a Brotherhood leader who helped draft amendments to Egypt’s current constitution that were voted on in March. “The Muslim Brotherhood are against postponement and against drafting the constitution before elections.”

Some fear that elections will leave the doors wide open for Islamist ministers to govern, a council of clerics to decide which laws to pass or drop depending on how they fit according to Islamic Sharia law and where liberal and secular voices will be labeled “infidels.”

Those worries have been prompted by the fact that the 90-year-old Brotherhood has revved up the social services campaign that has long helped it build its following. Just after the collapse of Mubarak’s rule, it formed for the first time a political party and launched a strong nationwide campaign.

The military, which took over the reins of power when Mubarak stepped down in February, has yet to say where it stands on the elections issue but it has been adamant that no new constitution would be drafted before legislative elections are held.

The military’s main argument is that the constitutional amendments adopted by more than 70 per cent of voters in the March referendum reflected the will of the people.

The nine amendments effectively give the next parliament a mandate to draft a new constitution. They also limit the presidency to two four-year terms, ease requirements for running in presidential elections – especially for independent candidates – and provide judicial supervision of elections.

But critics maintain that, at the time of the March vote, Egyptians felt insecure because of the paralyzed economy and a persistent security vacuum. A “yes” vote was marketed to them by Islamists and others as key to the return of stability.

The military’s perceived intransigence over the issue, meanwhile, is deepening a rift between the ruling generals and many of the youth organizations behind the uprising that toppled Mubarak. The youth groups have been openly critical of the generals’ handling of the country’s affairs and the military’s poor human rights record.

Additionally, a military-sponsored draft of an election law has added to the criticism levelled against the generals. The draft allocates a third of parliament’s seats to be contested through slates of candidates while the rest are decided by a system under which individual candidates run.

While the first allows the election to be decided on where groups stand on key issues, the second allows candidates with wealth or connections to prevail.

The “constitution first” campaign, backed mainly by secular groups who are worried about the Brotherhood hijacking the process, wants a document that lays the foundations for a secularist state with ironclad guarantees of human and civil rights, freedom of expression and the equality of all citizens before the law. They also want the new constitution to guard against an unlawful Islamic takeover.

However, some in the camp fear that insisting on a delay of the election and drafting the constitution before the vote could tempt the generals not to hand power back to an elected government as promised and instead stay in power indefinitely.

At the heart of the debate is the Muslim Brotherhood and the growing likelihood that it might join forces with other Islamists, like the ultraconservative Salafis, to contest the vote.

A joint statement by seven rights groups issued this month said the military has abandoned transparency and that its current timetable for a transfer of power “threatens to lead the country into a longer period of instability.”

Also Sunday, the interim government named a new foreign minister to succeed Nabil Elaraby, who is leaving the post to become head of the Arab League.

Mohammed el-Urabi, a former ambassador to Germany, will become Egypt’s top diplomat, the state news agency said.

Obama campaign adviser says Republican field eager to criticize president, not offer new ideas

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s chief campaign strategist is dismissive of the Republicans who want his boss’ job, saying they are eager to criticize the Democratic incumbent without offering substantive ways to help the country.

David Axelrod said it’s too early to start sizing up the competition, but he took on the emerging field of candidates when asked to assess the Republicans’ first major debate of the campaign season last Monday in New Hampshire. Republicans at that forum condemned Obama’s handling of the economy and pledged to repeal his health care overhaul.

“There seemed to be a unanimity of antipathy toward the president,” said Axelrod, who left the White House this year to return to Chicago to work on the re-election campaign. “I didn’t hear a lot of ideas,” but rather “a lot of pat partisan platitudes,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” in an interview taped earlier and broadcast Sunday.

Axelrod seemed intent on going after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the perceived front-runner, and citing the support that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican who was Obama’s ambassador to China, had given the president.

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Romney, who sought his party’s presidential nomination in 2008, already faces questions from his rivals about his record of changing positions on social issues including abortion and gay rights, shifts that have left conservatives questioning his sincerity. In addition, Romney championed a health care law enacted in Massachusetts that’s similar to Obama’s national health overhaul, which conservatives loathe.

“It’s not unusual in politics for people who are ambitious to change their points of views on fundamental things to try and win an election,” Axelrod said in the broadcast interview. “But that’s not what people want in the president of the United States.”

By contrast, he said, Obama is “one of the most consistent people that I’ve ever met.”

Huntsman’s moderate stances on some issues and his service in the Obama administration could hurt him with the Republican Party’s right-leaning base. Huntsman is set to officially enter the race on Tuesday.

Axelrod said that when he was in China in the fall of 2009, he had a chance to talk with Huntsman. “He was very effusive about what the president was doing. He was encouraging on health care. He was encouraging on the whole range of issues. He was a little quizzical about what was going on in his own party. And you got the strong sense that he was going to wait until 2016 for the storm to blow over.”

Axelrod said that “obviously circumstances change. So I was surprised when he emerged as a candidate. But certainly I take him seriously.”

Later Sunday, Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller responded: “Axelrod’s comments are absurd. Gov. Huntsman’s record on health care and the economy (was) the opposite of President Obama’s top-heavy, government-centric, failed approach. That is the record he will run on.”

Assessing the Republican debate, Axelrod said Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, “who was relatively unknown, probably did herself some good there.”

He noted that some politicians who weren’t yet candidates may join the race. “That will add to the fun,” he said.

One candidate in waiting is George W. Bush’s successor as Texas governor, Rick Perry, who is drawing much interest, even though he is not in the race. Perry is courting party activists, operatives and donors still shopping for the strongest challenger to Obama.

Perry’s appearance Saturday at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans offered yet another tantalizing hint that he’s ready to upend a crowded field of candidates who have worked months to amass name recognition, organization and campaign cash.

“I stand before you today as a disciplined conservative Texan, a committed Republican and a proud American, united with you to restoring our nation and revive the American dream,” Perry said during an address that repeatedly drew the crowd to its feet.

He sounded every bit a candidate.

“Our shared conservative values, our belief in the individual is the great hope of our nation,” he said.

Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, has long insisted he wouldn’t run. But in recent weeks, he has softened his refusals and his advisers have started laying the groundwork for a campaign in Iowa, whose caucuses kick off the nomination selection process.

Perry planned a national day of prayer in Houston, a move seen by Republican insiders as a play to evangelicals who are an important part of the party’s base, particularly in Iowa.

Perry advisers characterize it as a coin-toss whether he enters the field in the coming weeks.

The coyote-shooting, tough-talking ex-Democrat has never lost an election. Perry assumed office as governor in December 2000 when Bush resigned to become president and was elected to full terms in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

As Perry waits in the wings, some of the already announced candidates were doing their best to build support at the New Orleans conference.

They included three favourites of the small government, anti-tax tea party movement – Bachmann, who enjoys strong support among social conservatives; former pizza executive Herman Cain; and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a champion of the party’s libertarian wing.

They all hit similar messages about making Obama a one-term president, repealing his health care overhaul and lowering taxes.

Absent from the New Orleans event were the nominal front-runner, Romney; Huntsman; and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Romney has assembled a strong organization and is expected to produce impressive fundraising results in the latest reporting period. But questions about his record and authenticity give some hesitation.

Despite his perceived front-runner status, Romney finished in fifth place in a straw poll of participants at the New Orleans conference with 74 votes. Paul finished first with 612 votes. Huntsman received 382 votes to finish a surprising second. Bachmann collected 191 votes and Cain got 104 votes.

Republicans’ pining for new candidates has so far resulted in disappointment.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee decided to skip the race. Real estate tycoon and reality TV star Donald Trump flirted early and then left. Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and the party’s 2008 vice-presidential pick, still has not said what she will do.

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Associated Press writers Philip Elliott in New Orleans, Brian Bakst in Minneapolis, and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.