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August 15, 2013

NOAA Features Live Ocean‘TV’ Through August 16

By Seth Borenstein

AP Science Writer

Washington (AP) Vicious fights! Stunning beauties! Surprises around every corner! Yes, it’s reality TV but with a lot more depth, as much as 10,000 feet. It’s live coverage of deep-sea exploration off Nantucket and tens of thousands of people are tuning in.

They’re watching an eel suddenly attack a squid, oohing-and-aahing over hot pink starfish and listening as excited researchers discover a canyon so downright alien that sea life lives on methane escaping from the sea floor instead of sunlight.
They’re watching science as it happens, however weird and wild.

``We’ve been calling it Deep Sea TV,’’ said National Marine Fisheries Services scientist Martha Nizinski, in a ship-to-shore interview. ``It’s much better than any other reality show being broadcast.’’

For years, the world of the deep sea floor has mostly been the province of scientists. A handful of researchers would huddle on a ship and watch the video from below, take notes, and two or three years later write a scientific paper.

Now, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ship Okeanos Explorer and its robotic submarine explore thousands of feet deep, the view is broadcast live, usually from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EDT, for other scientists and everyday people to follow along to the tune of 50,000 visits.

Leona McKinney of Hiram, Ga., started watching from home over three weeks ago.

``I’ve watched every day since then. In fact, I’m watching now. I’m hooked on it,’’ she said in a phone interview Wednesday.
The expedition, which costs about $40,000 a day, continues until Aug. 16. As the robotic sub roams the Atlantic Ocean off Massachusetts, scientists can call in or send messages with requests to see this or that.

In past years, the ship explored the Pacific Ocean, but the next several missions will be off the East Coast with officials considering a deep Puerto Rico trench dive in the winter, with live coverage, of course.

Both images taken live from Okeanos Explorer on August 14.

Aboard the ship, researchers do more than watch; they explain the science and the action for viewers.

``It’s a bit like color commentary from sports,’’ said U.S. Geological Survey scientist Amanda Demopoulos, whose voice is often heard calling the underwater action. ``These are mysterious ecosystems. We don’t always know what we’re going to find.’’

The expedition seems to be gaining loyal viewers, Nizinski said.

``We’re giving everybody a really good diversion and keeping them from doing their work,’’ she said.

On the ship’s Facebook page, comments from viewers include raves from McKinney, who’s become a fan of some of the commentators.

``I love it when they say `Ooh, I haven’t seen that before’,’’ McKinney said.

One of the highlights for her: Watching an eel circle an unsuspecting squid, attack and bite its would-be-lunch. The squid played dead and then suddenly escaped.

It’s that sense of surprise that makes the ocean view more compelling to him than the Kardashians, said NOAA’s acting chief of exploration John McDonough.

``It’s a reality show, but it’s more real than reality. You don’t know what you’re going to witness in one of those dives.’’

NOAA live steam:

Okeanos Explorer:

Amazing Mayan Frieze Is Found In Guatemala


Associated Press

Guatemala City (AP) Archaeologists have found an ``extraordinary’’ Mayan frieze richly decorated with images of deities and rulers and a long dedicatory inscription, the Guatemalan government said Wednesday.

The frieze was discovered by Guatemalan archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli, a professor at Tulane University’s Anthropology Department, and his team in the northern Province of Peten, the government said in a joint statement with Estrada-Belli.

``This is an extraordinary finding that occurs only once in the life of an archaeologist,’’ Estrada-Belli said.

The archaeologists were exploring a Mayan pyramid that dates to A.D. 600 in an area that is home to other classic ruin sites when they came upon the frieze.

``It’s a great work of art that also gives us a lot of information on the role and significance of the building, which was the focus of our research,’’ Estrada-Belli said.

An archaeologist cleans the sculpture

The high-relief stucco sculpture, which measures 26 feet by 6 feet (8 meters by 2 meters), includes three main characters wearing rich ornaments of quetzal feathers and jade sitting on the heads of monsters.

The frieze, which was found in July, depicts the image of gods and godlike rulers and gives their names.

The dedicatory inscription ``opens a window on a very important phase in the history of the classical period,’’ Estrada-Belli said.

The inscription is composed of some 30 glyphs in a band that runs at the base of the structure.

The text, which was difficult to read, was deciphered by Alex Tokovinine, an epigraphist at Harvard University and contributor to the research project at Holmul, the site where the frieze was found. Tokovinine said the building was commissioned by Ajwosaj, king of the neighboring city-state of Naranjo, and vassal of the powerful Kaanul dynasty, the statement said.

David Stuart, an expert in Mayan epigraphy at the University of Texas at Austin, called Tokovinine’s reading of the text ``excellent.’’

But while the government statement called it ``the most spectacular frieze seen to date,’’ Stuart was cautious about using superlatives.

``It’s really impressive,’’ Stuart said in an email to The Associated Press. But he added, ``I certainly wouldn’t say this is the `most spectacular’ temple facade.’’

``There are other buildings in Maya archaeology that are just as magnificent, if not more so,’’ Stuart wrote, pointing out the temple called ``Rosalila’’ at Copan, Honduras, and a building excavated starting last year at the ruins of Xultun, Guatemala, which has not yet been uncovered in full.

Also Wednesday, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina presented the National Geographic Society with the Order of the Quetzal, Guatemala’s highest award, for their research on the Mayan civilization.

Perez Molina thanked National Geographic for its support and said the society has ``put on high the cultural heritage of the Mayan civilization.’’

Estrada-Belli is a National Geographic Explorer. His excavations at Holmul were supported by the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala and funded by the National Geographic Society and other Guatemalan and foreign institutions.

New Film The Butler Bridges Decades Of Struggle For Blacks


AP Entertainment Writer

The Butler opens Friday, August 16, at the Carmike Theater and elsewhere in the area.

New York (AP) History in the movies has often been seen through white eyes: civil rights-era tales with white protagonists reacting to a changing world.

``I’ve been in some of those movies,’’ says David Oyelowo, a star in ``Lee Daniels’ The Butler.’’ ``I was in the `The Help.’’’

The viewpoint of ``The Butler,’’ though, is refreshingly colorful. In it, Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, a man born to sharecroppers who’s turned into a domestic servant. After fleeing north, he rises to serve as a butler in the White House for seven successive presidents, spanning from Eisenhower to Reagan, from Jim Crow to Barack Obama.

Though ``The Butler’’ is based on the life of the long-serving White House butler Eugene Allen, it’s a composite history (scripted by Danny Strong) where the currents of change—Emmett Till to the Black Panthers—course through a black family whose proximity to power doesn’t make it any less elusive. Daniels’ film isn’t obsessive in its period detail (John Cusack plays Nixon with little makeup), but it moves to its own rhythm, one that films have usually set to a different beat.

``I’m grateful that these stories of African-Americans struggling in America are brought to light by anybody,’’ says Daniels. ``But it’s always great to see it from the perspective of someone who has actually lived it and walked it and is it.’’

The film, which the Weinstein Co. will release Friday after a public and protracted feud with Warner Bros. over the rights to the title of ``The Butler,’’ also stars Oprah Winfrey as Gaines’ wife and Oyelow as his firebrand son. The crux of the film is in the father-son relationship: one who effects change passively in a quiet dignity that slowly gathers a cumulative force, and another who resolutely protests on whites-only counters to spur action.

Winfrey & Whitaker in The Butler

Winfrey, who co-produced Daniels’ ``Precious,’’ was coaxed back into acting 15 years after ``Beloved’’ by a persistent Daniels and by what she considered an important story.

``I was like: What is this movie?’’ says Winfrey. ``But I could feel the heartbeat of a generation of men who had given themselves to their families and to their work and to creating a better life for themselves.

``Men like him,’’ she adds, ``are and were the foundation of the African-American community. I want people to know that person, that level of middle-class, hardworking man of integrity exists. That is who we are.’’

For Whitaker, the part was a welcome return to heavyweight performance (he sometimes played Gaines across three ages in one day), a thread the actor felt he had lost after his Oscar-winning turn as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 2006’s ``The Last King of Scotland.’’ But Whitaker says he was ``reinvigorated’’ by the demands of immersing himself in Gaines—listening to interview recordings of the deceased Allen, studying with a butler coach—to create who he calls a ``quiet champion.’’

``Who are the owners of the White House?’’ says Whitaker, whose performance is being hailed by critics as one of his finest. ``In fact, it is the people who own the White House and the presidents are, in a way, visitors. Since the White House staff lives there for 20 to 30 years on a normal basis, it’s their home.’’

Creating the generational conflict of ``The Butler’’ was particularly cathartic for the 53-year-old Daniels who has teenage twins (a son and daughter), and who was the victim of abuse from his policeman father growing up in West Philadelphia.

``Through this now, I understand where the abuse came from,’’ says Daniels. ``I understand and I forgive him, finally. He knew no better. His father beat him and his father’s father beat him. It stemmed from slavery. It takes a very evolved person not to pass that on to your next generation. I know now why he beat me, because he didn’t know any other way of communicating.’’

``I love him,’’ says Daniels, finally breaking down into tears.

The line of history through ``The Butler’’ runs right up to the present with plenty of contemporary reverberations beyond Obama. The film is a reminder for young audiences of the great accomplishments of an older generation of black Americans, but it also, as Oyelowo says, ``contextualizes the America we live in today.’’

``For me, one of the private privileges was—especially with recent events like Trayvon Martin, with the erosion of the Voting Rights Bill, with the fact that we now have a black president—that it sort of put into context the best and the worst of America,’’ says Oyelowo.

Such context is intensely personal for many, including the film’s cast. Winfrey has recently spoken about an incident in Switzerland where a clerk suggested a hand bag was too expensive for her. In February, national news was made when a New York city deli employee frisked Whitaker out of suspicion for shoplifting.

``I’ve had incidents like that many times in my life,’’ says Whitaker, who would prefer to look at the larger issues than focus on his particular incident.

This year has produced an atypical burst of major films dealing with issues of racism head on, including the recent ``Fruitvale Station’’ (of which Whitaker is a producer), the upcoming ``12 Years a Slave’’ by Steve McQueen, an upcoming adaptation of Langston Hughes’ ``Black Nativity,’’ and the upcoming biopic ``Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.’’

But ``The Butler,’’ which Daniels found after his Martin Luther King Jr. film ``Selma’’ (in which Oyelowo was to star as King) fell apart, was difficult to get made. It was passed on by all the major studios. Daniels and the late producer Laura Ziskin sought financing independently from wealthy African Americans. The film has 35 credited producers, which is believed to be a record.

``When you are a minority, not only must you endure what minorities endure, but that also means in the workforce,’’ says Daniels. ``In my workforce, which is creating film, it’s harder. And that’s OK because that makes me work harder. It teaches my son to work harder. I don’t look at is as woe is me. ... No way. Get up and go to work, man. It’s politically incorrect, anyway, to scream racism in Hollywood, in America. It’s time to now not do that. We’ve got to call it as we see it. All of the adversity I’ve gone through—be it being called faggot, be it being called nigger—all of that has made me the man that I am.’’


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