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February 23, 2013 | By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic
MUNICH, Germany - Wagner's "The Ring of Nibelung" is no picnic. The epic four-evening mythic drama is the macho challenge with which operas prove themselves. It practically did in Los Angeles Opera when the company finally got around to mounting this monumental if confrontational pillar of Western civilization in 2010. The "Ring" has been no picnic, that is until now. As audience members found their seats at the Bavarian State Opera's historic National Theater here last month for "Das Rheingold," the first opera in the cycle, some 100 exceptionally good-looking young people dressed in summer whites (it was snowing outside)
February 14, 2013 | By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic
The BBC Concert Orchestra could easily be mistaken on its current California tour for being not just British but the embodiment of Ye Olde England in some of its former glory. The foundation for its program at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa Tuesday night (to be repeated Thursday at in Northridge and Friday in San Diego) was Edward Elgar at his most familiar - the popular "Enigma Variations" and the sun-setting-on-the-empire Cello Concerto. More nostalgia for times gone by came with a little piece by George Butterworth, written shortly before he died in battle in the First World War. Benjamin Britten's "Four Sea Interludes" from "Peter Grimes," which opened the program, has a slightly later, though also long-gone, British Isles written all over it. If there was spanner in the works, it was that Keith Lockhart, music director of the orchestra since 2010, is not only an American but the longtime music director of the Boston Pops, no less.
February 2, 2013 | Valerie J. Nelson
Invented in Paris in the late 1950s, the mechanical drawing toy that would eventually be marketed as "the world's first laptop" became wildly popular soon after an Ohio company introduced it under a new name: Etch A Sketch. French electrician Andre Cassagnes stumbled upon the concept for what he called the "Telecran" - or telescreen - while peeling a decal from a switch plate and noticing how his pencil marks had transferred from one surface to another. After an Ohio Art Co. executive discovered it at the 1959 Nuremberg Toy Fair, he bought the rights for $25,000 and launched it in time to become the best-selling toy of the 1960 holiday season.
January 12, 2013 | By Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times
Some people use worms to attract fish. Others use intricately painted lures or feathery flies. To get the catch of a lifetime, marine biologist Edith Widder built a bioluminescent sphere that mimics the frenzied pinwheel display of a panicked jellyfish. Her soccer-ball-sized creation enticed a giant squid to swim near waiting undersea cameras. The resulting video, shot 2,000 feet below the North Pacific Ocean, about 260 miles south of Tokyo, was the first to capture the elusive creature in action and became an Internet sensation this week.
January 12, 2013 | By Russ Parsons
Gather 'round children and let me tell you a story about the olden days. Once upon a time, there was no such thing as a blog. In fact, there was no such thing as the Internet. Yes, I'm serious, and no, I don't remember what we did with cute pictures of cats. In fact, there weren't very many food writers back then. You practically had to work for a newspaper or magazine, or publish cookbooks if you wanted your voice to be heard. But there was this thing called a “newsletter.” It was like a blog, only it was printed on paper and mailed out to a list of “subscribers” -- which are another nearly lost concept:  people who paid to read things they liked.
January 1, 2013 | By Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
The Soul Giants were a struggling R&B cover band in Pomona in the mid-1960s when lead singer Ray Collins fired the group's guitarist and invited a musical collaborator from Rancho Cucamonga to take his place. His name was Frank Zappa. The band soon began morphing into the Mothers of Invention, the avant-garde novelty rock group that was Zappa's vision. But Collins' "extraordinary pop-operatic vocals best conveyed" the band's "not-so-mock rage," according to the New Rolling Stone Record Guide.
December 28, 2012 | By John Schmid, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
JIN JILING, China - In silent, temperature-controlled labs in a desolate part of Hainan, China's most tropical province, rows of women in medical masks and lab coats clone trees that grow freakishly fast. The trees have official names, such as APP-22 or DH32-29, but Wending Huang, Asia Pulp & Paper Co.'s chief forester in China, calls them his "Yao Mings" after the towering Chinese basketball star. The tiny green tissue samples, methodically implanted in petri jars, will become hardwood eucalyptus trees that need only four to six years to reach full height, up to 90 feet or more.
December 3, 2012 | By Patrick Kevin Day
The dramatic real story behind "Argo" meant that director Ben Affleck had to invent very little to create cinematic drama. However, the movie wasn't entirely without a little Hollywood-style jazzing up. "I feel like in terms of historical norms, we probably fall right in the middle of the curve," Affleck told the audience at the Envelope Screening Series. "The only piece of manufactured drama is the mini chase at the end. " Affleck, who also starred in the film as CIA agent Tony Mendez, appeared on a panel alongside producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov.
November 20, 2012 | By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
Susan Lacy's "Inventing David Geffen," which premieres Tuesday as part of the PBS series "American Masters," takes a long look at the agent-manager-record-mogul-movie-mogul (and Broadway producer and billionaire philanthropist). In Los Angeles, he is also a sort of proper noun: "The Geffen," attached here to a playhouse, there to an art museum. As a businessman, Geffen would seem to fall outside the range of the series' usual creative-types subjects. Geffen himself has said, "I have no talent except for being able to enjoy and recognize it in others.
November 16, 2012 | Monte Morin
It was among early man's greatest technological feats: a fully engineered weapon that combined a wooden shaft, mixed adhesives and a stone that had been chiseled to a lethal point. To many anthropologists, the creation of the stone-tipped, or hafted, spear was a watershed moment in human evolution. Not only did it amplify the killing power of early hunters, it also demonstrated clearly that they had developed the capacity for complex and abstract reasoning. Pinning down this moment in prehistory has been difficult, however.
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