All posts by Zhloar

Beyonce Is Most Decorated Grammy Artist

Beyonce’s four wins were one of many highlights of Sunday’s Grammys, making her the artist with the most Grammys ever.

Beyonce, the Queen Bee, can now proudly wear the crown of most decorated artist in Grammy history, breaking the 26-year record held by the late Hungarian-British conductor Georg Solti.

However, she was not in the room when she broke Solti’s record. Host Trevor Noah said she was stuck in traffic, clearly news to some of her Beehive fans, and showing that the Queen suffers some of the same problems as mere mortals.

Beyonce was up for album of the year but was beat out by Harry Styles for that honor.

Sunday’s show was a lively mix of music, musicians, fans and U.S. First Lady Jill Biden.

In fact, a 70-plus-year old fan read the card announcing Styles’ best album victory.

Earlier in the show, there was video of the senior citizen fan attending a Styles concert with her granddaughter.

Beyonce bypassed Solti’s record with her win for best dance/electronic music album for “Renaissance.” After thanking her family in her acceptance speech, she also thanked “the queer community for your love and for inventing the genre.”

Biden introduced a new category — Best Song for Social Change category. She also announced the Grammy for best song.

The first winner of the social change category was Iranian singer and songwriter Shervin Hajipour for the song Baraye which Biden described as a “powerful and poetic call for freedom and women’s rights.” It contains the phrase “women, life, freedom” that has become synonymous with the Iranian protests.

Biden also presented Bonnie Raitt with the best song Grammy for “Just Like That.”

Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ “Unholy” won for best pop duo-group performance. Petras told the audience that she is “the first transgender woman to win the award.”

Another highlight of Sunday’s show was a wonderful array of hip hop artists celebrating the 50th anniversary of the genre. What could be better than The Roots playing for Missy Elliot, Salt ‘N Pepa, Queen Latifah, Run DMC, Busta Rhymes, Grandmaster Flash, and Public Enemy.

Actor Viola Davis won a Grammy in a part of the show that was not televised. Her Grammy for the narration of her memoir initiated her into that rarified EGOT group — artists who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony.

 

Key Winners for the 2023 Grammy Awards

Here is a list of winners in key categories for the 65th annual Grammy Awards, which were handed out on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Beyonce led the field with a total of nine nominations and scooped up four awards, making her the winningest artist in Grammys history.

Harry Styles won the Album of the Year award, while Lizzo, Adele, Kendrick Lamar, Brandi Carlile and Bonnie Raitt also took home golden statuettes.

 

Album of the Year: “Harry’s House,” Harry Styles

Record of the Year, recognizing overall performance of a song: “About Damn Time,” Lizzo

Song of the Year, recognizing songwriting: “Just Like That,” Bonnie Raitt

Best New Artist: Samara Joy

Best Dance / Electronic Music Album: “Renaissance,” Beyonce

Best Dance / Electronic Recording: “Break My Soul,” Beyonce

Best Pop Vocal Album: “Harry’s House,” Harry Styles

Best Rap Album: “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” Kendrick Lamar

Best Rock Album: “Patient Number 9,” Ozzy Osbourne

Best Pop Solo Performance: “Easy on Me,” Adele

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: “Unholy,” Sam Smith and Kim Petras

Best Americana Album: “In These Silent Days,” Brandi Carlile

Best Country Album: “A Beautiful Time,” Willie Nelson

Best Music Video: “All Too Well (The Short Film),” Taylor Swift

Best Global Music Album: “Sakura,” Masa Takumi

Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media: “Assassin’s Creed Ragnarok: Dawn of Ragnarok,” Stephanie Economou

Artists with Most Wins

Beyonce – 4

Bonnie Raitt – 3

Kendrick Lamar – 3

Brandi Carlile – 3

Amid Crisis, Haitians Find Unlikely Solace in Soup

For Wilfred Cadet, buying soup on Sunday is the equivalent of going to church.  

Seated on plastic chairs next to a street food stand tucked in an alleyway, the 47-year-old Haitian slurps orange-colored soup out of a metal bowl next to his 9-year-old son.

Haitians mill past them cradling larger plastic containers, each eager to get a giant spoonful of the stew boiling in two human-sized pots behind them.

Made of pumpkin, beef, carrots, cabbage – ingredients produced on the island – soup joumou is a cultural staple in Haiti.

And in a moment of deepening crisis in the Caribbean nation, it’s one of the few points of enduring national pride.

To this day, when you mention the soup, Haitians are quick to crack a smile.

“It’s our tradition, our culture. It makes people proud. No matter what happens (in Haiti), the soup is going to stay around,” said Cadet.

During the colonial period, slaves were banned from eating the spicy dish, and would have to prepare it for French slave owners.

But Haitians claimed soup joumou as their own in 1804 when they staged one of the biggest and most successful slave rebellions in the Western Hemisphere.

The uprising put an end to slavery in Haiti far before much of the region, and the dish gained the nickname “independence soup.”

In 2021 – the same year the country spiraled into chaos following the assassination of its president – the soup was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, the first cuisine Haiti has on the list.

“It is a celebratory dish, deeply rooted in Haitian identity, and its preparation promotes social cohesion and belonging among communities,” reads the UNESCO entry.

It’s traditionally eaten on Sunday mornings, and on Haitian Independence Day in early January.

That’s when customers begin filing through a pair of black metal gates into 50-year-old Marie France Damas’ makeshift restaurant at 7:30 a.m.

Tucked behind rows of parked cars, a brick wall with a painted sign reading “Every Sunday: Soup Joumou” and a pile of local pumpkins, Damas labors away over her two big pots just like she has for the past 18 years.

Her husband weaves between plastic tables taking orders while her daughter chops vegetables behind her. It’s a family affair, but Damas is clear.

“I’m the boss of the soup,” she said with a grin.

The business has allowed her to put her children through school and give a good life to her family in a place with some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the region.

To each Haitian, the cuisine means something different.

For Cadet and his son, it represents one moment of an escape from the day-to-day pandemonium of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

It has also allowed Cadet to pass on a cherished part of Haitian culture at a time when they’re slowly fading away. Celebrations like Carnival that once took center stage on the island have withered due to deep gang violence tearing apart the nation.

“The violence in the country is making everyone leave, and over time, we’re going to lose a lot of cultural traditions,” Cadet said. “My son, of course, (will go). Right now, he doesn’t like Haiti.”

He hopes that when his son goes, he’ll remember their Sunday mornings together.

To others, like 35-year-old Maxon Sucan, it’s a way to reconnect with family and home in the countryside.

He grew up in a rural town in western Haiti in a farming family cultivating the very vegetables used to make the soup.

He came to Port-au-Prince 13 years ago to support his family, and works as a manager at a nightclub.

He would once visit his family six to eight times a year, but because of kidnappings and gang control of the countryside, he’s now unable to go home.

So Sunday mornings, he drinks the soup just like he once did as a kid, and he thinks about his daughter who he sometimes goes weeks without speaking to.

“She’s 3 years old and it hurts me that I can’t see her,” Sucan said. “(When I eat soup joumou) I remember my family.”

As he gets ready to leave the restaurant alone, cradling a large Tupperware filled with steaming soup, he pauses.

“When I go home today, I’ll call her. And when I do, I’ll ask if she ate the soup,” he adds.

Early Winners in Top Grammy Categories Announced

 

— Best alternative music performance: “Chaise Longue” by Wet Leg

— Best alternative music album: “Wet Leg,” Wet Leg

— Best rock album: “Patient Number 9,” Ozzy Osbourne

— Best rock performance: “Broken Horses” by Brandi Carlile

— Best rock song: “Broken Horses” by Brandi Carlile

— Best rap performance: “The Heart Part 5,” Kendrick Lamar

— Best rap song: “The Heart Part 5” by Kendrick Lamar

— Best melodic rap performance: “WAIT FOR U” by Future featuring Drake & Tems

— Best R&B album: “Black Radio III,” Robert Glasper

— Best R&B performance: “Hrs & Hrs” by Muni Long

— Best traditional R&B performance: “Plastic Off The Sofa” by Beyonce

— Best progressive R&B album: “Gemini Rights,” Steve Lacy

— Best audio book, narration and storytelling recording: “Finding Me” by Viola Davis

— Best traditional pop vocal album: “Higher,” Michael Buble

— Best solo country solo performance: “Live Forever,” Willie Nelson

— Best country duo/group performance: “Never Wanted To Be That Girl,” Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde

— Best country album: “‘Til You Can’t,” Cody Johnson

— Best jazz vocal album: Samara Joy

— Best dance/electronic recording: “Break My Soul,” by Beyonce

— Best metal performance: “Degradation Rules” by Ozzy Osbourne featuring Tony Iommi

— Best engineered, non-classical album: “Harry’s House,” Harry Styles

— Best compilation soundtrack for visual media: “Encanto”

— Best score soundtrack for visual media: “Encanto,” Germaine Franco

— Best score soundtrack for video games and other interactive media: “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok,” Stephanie Economou.

At Sunday’s Grammys, Will Beyonce Finally Win Top Honor of Best Album? 

Pop superstar Beyonce, winner of more Grammy awards than any other female artist, has never taken home the coveted album of the year trophy at the music industry’s highest honors.

That could change on Sunday, according to industry experts and awards pundits, although it is not a sure thing in a formidable, wide-ranging field that includes Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, pop musician Harry Styles, singer and flutist Lizzo, and disco-era Swedish hitmaker ABBA.

Winners will be announced during a ceremony that will be broadcast live on U.S. broadcast network CBS and streamed on Paramount+ starting at 5 p.m. Pacific time/8 p.m. Eastern time (0100 GMT on Monday).

Beyonce heads into the show in Los Angeles with nine nominations, including an album of the year nod for dance-heavy album “Renaissance.” She has won 28 Grammys over her career, and she could break the all-time record of 31 on Sunday.

But the top prize has escaped her. The acclaimed 2016 album “Lemonade” was defeated by Adele’s “25,” prompting the British vocalist to say on stage that Beyonce deserved the honor.

Beyonce “is about to be the most-winningest Grammy award winner. There’s almost no way she’s not going to break the record,” said Jem Aswad, deputy music editor for Variety.

“But she has never won album of the year, one of the top awards, and that’s just wrong,” he added.

Adele, who has claimed the album trophy twice, also is in the mix this year with “30.” It is possible that Adele and Beyonce voters could cancel each other out, Aswad said, opening a door for Styles to prevail with “Harry’s House.”

Beyonce’s other nominations include record and song of the year for “Break My Soul.” If she wins at least four awards, she will top the late classical conductor Georg Solti as the most-decorated artist in Grammys history.

The winners are chosen by roughly 11,000 members of the Recording Academy, which has faced complaints that it has not given Black talent proper recognition. The organization has worked to diversity its membership in recent years.

In the best new artist category, contenders include Italian rock band Maneskin, jazz artist Samara Joy, American bluegrass singer Molly Tuttle and TikTok phenom Gayle, who rose to fame with “abcdefu.”

Taylor Swift’s 10-minute version of her 2012 song “All Too Well” was nominated for best song. Swift’s latest album, “Midnights,” was released after this year’s eligibility window, which ran from October 2021 through September 2022.

Comedian Trevor Noah will host Sunday’s awards show. Scheduled performers include Styles, Lizzo, Sam Smith, Luke Combs and Bad Bunny. First lady Jill Biden is among the night’s presenters.

Like other awards shows, the Grammys have seen their television audience decline in recent years. Last year’s ceremony drew roughly 9 million viewers, the second-smallest on record.

Psychedelic Churches in US Pushing Boundaries of Religion

The tea tasted bitter and earthy, but Lorenzo Gonzales drank it anyway. On that night in remote Utah, he was hoping for a life-changing experience, which is how he found himself inside a tent with two dozen others waiting for the psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca to kick in.

Soon, the gentle sounds of a guitar were drowned out by people vomiting — a common downside of the drug.

Gonzales started howling, sobbing, laughing and repeatedly babbling. Facilitators from Hummingbird Church placed him face down, calming him momentarily before he started laughing again and crawling.

“I seen these dark veins come up in this big red light, and then I seen this image of the devil,” Gonzales said later. He had quieted only when his wife, Flor, touched his shoulder and prayed.

His journey to this town along the Arizona-Utah border is part of a growing global trend of people turning to ayahuasca to treat an array of health problems after conventional medications and therapy failed. Their problems include eating disorders, depression, substance use disorders and PTSD.

The rising demand for ayahuasca has led to hundreds of churches like this one, which advocates say are protected from prosecution by a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In that case, a New Mexico branch of a Brazilian-based ayahuasca church won the right to use the drug as a sacrament — even though its active ingredient remains illegal under U.S. federal law. A subsequent lower court decision ruled Oregon branches of a different ayahuasca church could use it.

“In every major city in the United States, every weekend, there’s multiple ayahuasca ceremonies,” said Sean McAllister, who represents an Arizona church in a lawsuit against the federal government after its ayahuasca from Peru was seized at the port of Los Angeles.

The pro-psychedelics movement’s growth has sparked concerns of a government crackdown. In addition to ayahuasca shipments being seized, some churches stopped operating over fears of prosecution. There are also concerns these unregulated ceremonies might pose a danger for some participants and that the benefits of ayahuasca haven’t been well studied.

It was dark as the Hummingbird ceremony began on a Friday night in October, except for flickering candles and the orange glow of heaters. Psychedelic art hung from the walls; statues of the Virgin Mary and Mother Earth were positioned near a makeshift altar.

Participants sat in silence, waiting for Taita Pedro Davila, the Colombian shaman and traditional healer who oversaw the ceremony.

A mix of military veterans, corporate executives, thrill seekers, ex-members of a polygamous sect and a man who struck it rich on a game show had turned up for the $900 weekend. Many appeared apprehensive yet giddy to begin the first of three ceremonies.

The brew contains an Amazon rainforest shrub with the active ingredient N, N-Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, and a vine containing alkaloids that prevents the drug from breaking down in the body.

Those who drink ayahuasca report seeing shapes and colors and going on wild, sometimes terrifying journeys that can last hours. In this dreamlike state, some say they encounter dead relatives, friends and spirits.

“You were invited for a weekend of healing,” Davila told the group, before people lined up for their tea.

Locking eyes with each participant, Davila uttered a prayer over the cups before blowing on them with a whistling sound and handing them over to drink.

Gonzales and his wife, Flor, were among the ayahuasca newcomers.

They had driven from California, hoping for relief for 50-year-old Gonzales. He’d battled drug addiction for much of his life, was suffering the effects of COVID-19 and had been diagnosed with early stage dementia.

“My poor body is dying and I don’t want it to die,” said Gonzales, who rarely sleeps and is prone to fits of anger.

Maeleene Jessop was also a newcomer but grew up in Hildale, the Utah town where the ceremony was held. She is a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, a polygamist offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Hildale was the group’s stronghold. The ceremony was held in a tent on the grounds of a house once owned by a former FLDS member.

Jessop, 35, left the church after its leader, Warren Jeffs, was arrested for sexually assaulting girls he considered brides. He is serving a life sentence in federal prison. Jessop has struggled to adapt to her new life, battling depression and haunted by the physical and sexual abuse she endured as a child.

The roots of ayahuasca go back hundreds of years to ceremonial use by Indigenous groups in the Amazon. In the past century, churches have emerged in several South American countries where ayahuasca is legal.

The movement found a foothold in the United States in the 1980s and interest has intensified more recently as celebrities like NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Hollywood actor Will Smit h talked about attending ceremonies.

Some spend thousands of dollars to attend five-star ayahuasca retreats in the Amazon. But in the U.S., the movement remains largely underground, promoted by social media and word of mouth, with ceremonies held in supporters’ homes, Airbnb rentals and remote areas to avoid law enforcement scrutiny.

Like many of these, Hummingbird won’t be mistaken for a traditional Western church.

It has no written text and relies primarily on Davila’s prayers, chants and songs to guide participants through the ceremony. Davila follows traditions learned from his grandfather.

Courtney Close, Hummingbird’s founder who credits ayahuasca with helping her overcome cocaine addiction and postpartum depression, believes the designation as a church helps show that participants are “doing this for religious reasons.” But when it comes to defining it as a religion, Close stressed that depends on individual participants’ experience.

“We just try to create a spiritual experience without any dogma and just let people experience God for themselves,” she said.

Back in California, Flor Gonzales is convinced ayahuasca is behind her husband’s improvement. “I just feel like we have a future,” she said.

Hasty Pudding Celebrates Coolidge as Its Woman of the Year

The White Lotus actress Jennifer Coolidge is being celebrated Saturday as the 2023 Woman of the Year by Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals.

As the oldest theatrical organization in the nation and one of the oldest in the world, since 1951, Hasty Pudding Theatricals has bestowed this award annually on women “who have made lasting and impressive contributions to the world of entertainment.”

Coolidge, who saw a career resurgence following her Emmy-winning turn as Tanya McQuoid-Hunt in the acclaimed HBO series The White Lotus, headlined a parade through the streets of Cambridge Saturday afternoon. Dressed in a leopard print coat and donning a fluffy pink hat, she waved to the crowd that had come out despite unusually frigid temperatures.

Coolidge, who also played Stifler’s sultry mom in American Pie and sage manicurist Paulette in the Legally Blonde movies, grew up in the Boston area. Later in the evening, she will attend a roast where she will be presented with her Pudding Pot award.

“It is an absolute dream for us to honor Jennifer Coolidge as our Woman of the Year on the heels of her recent accolades for The White Lotus,” Producer Sarah Mann said in a statement. “We know our Pudding Pot will look phenomenal alongside her new Golden Globe, and we swear we won’t whisk her away to a palazzo in Palermo!”

Her other film credits include roles in Best In Show, A Mighty Wind and Shotgun Wedding, and she has appeared in multiple television shows, including Seinfeld, 2 Broke Girls and Nip/Tuck.

Previous winners of the Woman of the Year Award include Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Debbie Reynolds.

On Thursday, award-winning actor and bestselling author Bob Odenkirk was honored as the 2023 Man of the Year. Odenkirk, best known as shady lawyer Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, received his Pudding Pot award at the celebratory roast ahead of a preview of Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ 174th production, COSMIC RELIEF!

Route to Super Bowl Dangerous for Mexico’s Avocado Haulers

It is a long and sometimes dangerous journey for truckers transporting the avocados destined for guacamole on tables and tailgates in the United States during the Super Bowl.

It starts in villages like Santa Ana Zirosto, high in the misty, pine-clad mountains of the western Mexico state of Michoacan. The roads are so dangerous — beset by drug cartels, common criminals, and extortion and kidnap gangs — that state police provide escorts for the trucks brave enough to face the 60-kilometer trip to packing and shipping plants in the city of Uruapan.

Truck driver Jesús Quintero starts early in the morning, gathering crates of avocados picked the day before in orchards around Santa Ana, before he takes them to a weighing station. Then he joins up with other trucks waiting for a convoy of blue-and-white state police trucks — they recently changed their name to Civil Guard — to start out for Uruapan.

“It is more peaceful now with the patrol trucks accompanying us, because this is a very dangerous area,” Quintero said while waiting for the convoy to pull out.

With hundreds of 10-kilogram crates of the dark green fruit aboard his 10-ton truck, Quintero’s load represents a small fortune in these parts. Avocados sell for as much as $2.50 apiece in the United States, so a single crate holding 40 is worth $100, while an average truck load is worth as much as $80,000 to $100,000.

Mexico supplies about 92% of U.S. avocado imports, sending north over $3 billion worth of the fruit every year.

But it’s often not just the load that is stolen.

“They would take away our trucks and the fruit, sometimes they’d take the truck as well,” Quintero said. “They would steal two or three trucks per day in this area.”

It happened to him years ago. “We were coming down a dirt road and two young guys came out and they took our truck and tied us up.”

Such thefts “have gone down a lot” since the police escorts started, Quintero said. “They have stolen one or two, one every week, but it’s not daily like it used to be.”

State police officer Jorge González said the convoys escort about 40 trucks a day, ensuring that around 300 tons of avocados reach the packing plants each day.

“These operations have managed to cut the (robbery) rate by about 90 to 95%,” González said. “We accompany them to the packing house, so they can enter with their trucks with no problem.”

Grower José Evaristo Valencia is happy he doesn’t have to worry if his carefully tended avocados will make it to the packing house. Packers depend on arrangements they have made with local orchards to fill promised shipments, and lost avocados can mean lost customers.

“The main people affected are the producers,” Valencia said. “People were losing three or four trucks every day. There were a lot of robberies between the orchard and the packing house.”

The police escorts “have helped us a lot,” he said.

Once the avocados reach Uruapan or the neighboring city of Tancitaro — the self-proclaimed avocado capital of the world that greets visitors with a giant cement avocado — the path to the north is somewhat safer.

The shipment north of avocados for Super Bowl season has become an annual event, this year celebrated in Uruapan. It is a welcome diversion from the drumbeat of crimes in the city, which is being fought over by the Viagras and Jalisco cartels.

On Jan. 17, Michoacan Gov. Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla “kicked off” the first Super Bowl avocado shipments, literally, kicking a football through tiny goalposts on an imitation football field.

Behind him, a big tractor trailer bore a huge sign reading “Let’s Go! Super Bowl 2023.”

It was an attempt by Michoacan growers to put behind them last year’s debacle, when the U.S. government suspended inspections of the fruit in February, right before the 2022 Super Bowl.

The inspections were halted for about 10 days after a U.S. inspector was threatened in Michoacan, where growers are routinely subject to extortion by drug cartels. Some Michoacan packers were reportedly buying avocados from other, non-certified states and trying to pass them off as being from Michoacan and were angry the U.S. inspector wouldn’t go along with that.

U.S. agricultural inspectors have to certify that Mexican avocados don’t carry diseases or pests that would harm U.S. orchards. The Mexican harvest is January through March, while avocado production in the U.S. runs from April to September.

Exports resumed after Mexico and the United States agreed to enact “measures that ensure the safety” of the inspectors.

“This season we are going to recover the confidence of the producers, growers and consumers. By increasing the export production, we hope to send 130,000 tons this season,” the governor said.

Thai Entrepreneur Who Bought Miss Universe Contest Says Brains and Beauty Drive Entrants’ Dreams   

“Helloooo! Hello the Universe! Whoo!” shouted Jakkaphong “Anne” Jakrajutatip, the latest owner of the Miss Universe contest, from a stage filled with beauty queens.

Jakkaphong, a Thai media tycoon and trans rights activist, bought the parent company, Miss Universe Organization (MUO), last year. She is the first non-American and first transgender woman to own the 7-decade-old pageant, which drew contestants to New Orleans from 83 countries last month.

The competition, launched in 1952, was once co-owned by former U.S. President Donald Trump, who bought it in in 1996 from ITT Corp., then sold it in 2015 to WME/IMG, a talent agency and entertainment company, according to Variety.

In October, Jakkaphong expanded her business, JKN Global Group, headquartered in Samut Prakan, Thailand, by taking over the MUO offices in New York City when she bought the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants for $20 million.

She’s cut a $12.2 million deal with organizers in El Salvador, which will host the Miss Universe competition in 2023 for the first time since 1975.

Jakkaphong saw the Miss Universe platform as a promising asset, one that will help her fulfill her goal of empowering women and promoting feminism by encouraging all women — transgender, married, pregnant, divorced — to enter the contest.

“I was born as a trans woman,” Jakkaphong told VOA’s Thai Service during an exclusive interview in New York last month.

“My life purpose here is to help other people to transform, to lead, to teach and to inspire people,” said the 43-year-old businesswoman educated in Australia who is a celebrity in Thailand. “I need to become the inspiration for a lot of people [like] ‘you don’t give up no matter what and nobody can bring you down once they see you are good.’ ”

Describing herself as having been born “without a golden spoon in my mouth,” Jakkaphong comes from a Thai Chinese upper-middle class family that ran a video rental store, which she inherited before starting her own foreign TV content import business. She founded JKN Global Group in 2013.

Jakkaphong advocates for transgender rights in Thailand through her Life Inspired for Thailand Foundation. Since 2019, the group has campaigned for a draft bill to address transgender rights, including recognizing legal gender title change for people who go through gender reassignment operations. The draft needs more signatures to move forward to the Thai parliament.

Although considered one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly Asian countries, Thailand’s laws do not grant equal rights to members of the LGBTQ+ community in title change and marriage.

Jakkaphong believes the Miss Universe pageant comes with enough influence that it may be able to help change the laws in Thailand and other countries that do not yet provide equal rights to LGBTQ+ people.

“I believe that politicians wishing to run as countries’ leaders will raise this [gender title change] issue and will make it happen for us… MUO is the platform that helps urge countries to look at this matter,” she said, adding that she will soon raise the issue with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

“The [Thai] government is occupied with so many things, and of course, we don’t even know [whether] we will have the same government or not. We will have the election coming up,” in May, said Jakkaphong. “But [gender title change] has to happen one day.”

Despite her belief that the pageant is a force for change, Jakkaphong said there’s no talk of politics on stage. “We talk about inspiration. We talk about the power of feminism and that is more important,” she said.

While Jakkaphong acknowledges that “many countries on the stage don’t get along with each other,” the contest is “about a dream of one woman. You cannot stop her dream no matter where she comes from. We cannot block anybody’s dreams, particularly young women’s.”

She sees those dreams as countering the notion that pageants impose rigid standards of beauty on contestants, standards that exclude rather than include, and objectify women.

Some 2.4 million people watched the Miss Universe 2022 final competition on January 14 on the U.S.-based, Spanish-language Telemundo network, according to ustvdb.com. This was the first year the streaming service Roku Channel broadcast the contest. It has yet to disclose viewing numbers.

Nielsen, the company that rates the popularity of American television shows, reported 2.7 million people watched the 2021 competition, a drop from 2019 when 3.8 million people watched the competition. In 2014, the last year of Trump’s involvement, 8.8 million people watched the contest, according to Nielsen.

On the final day of competition, January 14, Jakkaphong said, “We can elevate our women to feel strong enough, good enough, qualified enough, and never be objectified again,” before presenting the Transformational Leadership award to Thai entrant Anna Sueangam-iam, whose family collects garbage for recycling.

In New York Jakkaphong told VOA’s Thai Service that promoting inclusivity while recognizing beauty lets audiences “see the diversity… But the brain and the beauty must come together.”

Miss USA, R’Bonney Gabriel, who on January 14 won the first Miss Universe competition under Jakkaphong’s regime, is a fashion entrepreneur who designs a line of sustainable clothing.

Becoming an inspiration for others is central to the role of beauty queens, said Jakkaphong, adding that the Miss Universe pageant helps promote the message of “becoming the best version of oneself” and “becoming so beautifully confident that you would love to lift up the spirit of other human beings.”

Jakkaphong said the pageant under her ownership will continue to be different from its predecessors.

“This is the new paradigm of the beauty competition, which I don’t see as the beauty competition alone. It’s actually a female platform to raise awareness. Therefore, the whole world can listen to them.”

Spanish-born Fashion Designer Paco Rabanne Has Died at Age 88

Paco Rabanne, the Spanish-born designer known for perfumes sold worldwide and for metallic, space-age fashions, has died, the group that owns his fashion house announced Friday.     

“The House of Paco Rabanne wishes to honor our visionary designer and founder who passed away today at the age of 88. Among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century, his legacy will remain,” the statement from beauty and fashion company Puig said.   

Le Telegramme newspaper quoted the mayor of Vannes, David Robo, as saying that Rabanne died at his home in the Brittany region town of Portsall.   

Rabanne’s fashion house shows its collections in Paris and is scheduled to unveil the brand’s latest ready-to-wear designs during the upcoming Feb. 27-March 3 fashion week.   

Rabanne was known as a rebel designer in a career that blossomed with his collaboration with the family-owned Puig, a Spanish company that now also owns other design houses, including Nina Ricci, Jean Paul Gaultier, Caroline Herrera and Dries Van Noten. The company also owns the fragrance brands Byredo and Penhaligon’s.    

“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamor for dresses made of plastic and metal? Who but Paco Rabanne could imagine a fragrance called Calandre – the word means ‘automobile grill,’ you know – and turn it into an icon of modern femininity?” the group’s statement said.   

Calandre perfume was launched in 1969, the first product by Puig in Spain, France and the United States, according to the company.   

Born Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo in 1934, the future designer fled the Spanish Basque country at age 5 during the Spanish Civil War and took the name of Paco Rabanne.     

He studied architecture at Paris’ Beaux Arts Academie before moving to couture, following in the steps of his mother, a couturier in Spain. He said she was jailed at one point for being dressed in a “scandalous” fashion.   

Rabanne sold accessories to well-known designers before launching his own collection.   

He titled the first collection presented under his own name “12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials.” His innovative outfits were made of various kinds of metal, including his famous use of mail, the chain-like material associated with Medieval knights.   

Coco Chanel reportedly called Rabanne “the metallurgist of fashion.”   

“My colleagues tell me I am not a couturier but an artisan, and it’s true that I’m an artisan. … I work with my hands,” he said in an interview in the 1970s.   

In an interview given when he was 43, and now held in France’s National Audiovisual Institute, Rabanne explained his radical fashion philosophy: “I think fashion is prophetic. Fashion announces the future.” He added that women were harbingers of what lies on the horizon.   

“When hair balloons, regimes fall,” Rabanne said. “When hair is smooth, all is well.”   

The president of the Association of Fashion Designers of Spain, Modesto Lomba, said Rabanne “left an absolute mark on the passage of time. Let’s not forget that he was Spanish and that he triumphed inside and outside Spain.”

Iranian Film Director Panahi Released After Hunger Strike

Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been released on bail after starting a hunger strike protesting his almost seven-month detention, supporters said Friday. 

The director had been arrested months before the current anti-regime protests erupted, but his imprisonment became a symbol of the plight of artists speaking out against the authorities. 

Panahi was released from Tehran’s Evin prison “two days after starting his hunger strike for freedom,” the U.S.-based Center for Human Rights in Iran said on Twitter, while Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper posted an image of Panahi jubilantly embracing a supporter. 

His wife, Tahereh Saeedi, posted a picture on Instagram of Panahi being driven from prison in a vehicle. 

The prize-winning director was arrested in July and went on a dry hunger strike Wednesday to protest his continued detention. 

“Mr. Panahi was temporarily released from Evin prison with the efforts of his family, respected lawyers and representatives of the cinema,” Iran’s House of Cinema, which groups together industry professionals, said in a statement. 

The announcement that Panahi was going on a dry hunger strike sparked a wave of concern around the world about the director, who has won prizes at all of Europe’s top three film festivals. 

“Today, like many people trapped in Iran, I have no choice but to protest against this inhumane behavior with my dearest possession — my life,” Panahi had said in the statement published by his wife. 

“I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison,” he said. 

Relief and joy 

Panahi, 62, was arrested July 11 and had been due to serve a six-year sentence handed down in 2010 after his conviction for “propaganda against the system.” 

On October 15, the Supreme Court quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial, raising hopes among his legal team that he could be released, but he remained in prison. 

Panahi won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for his film “The Circle.” In 2015, he won the Golden Bear in Berlin for “Taxi Tehran,” and in 2018, he won the best screenplay prize at Cannes for “Three Faces.” 

Panahi’s latest film, “No Bears,” which like much of his recent work stars the director himself, was screened at the 2022 Venice Film Festival when the director was already behind bars. It won the Special Jury Prize. 

“It is extraordinary, a relief, a total joy. We express our gratitude to all those who mobilized yesterday,” his French distributor, producer Michele Halberstadt, told AFP. 

“His next fight is to have the cancellation of his sentence officially recognized. He’s outside, he’s free, and this is already great.” 

Panahi’s July arrest came after he attended a court hearing for fellow film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who had been detained a few days earlier. 

Rasoulof was released from prison January 7 after being granted a two-week furlough for health reasons and is still believed to be outside jail. 

Cinema figures have been among the thousands of people arrested by Iran in its crackdown on the protests sparked by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women. 

Star actor Taraneh Alidoosti, who had published images of herself without wearing the Islamic headscarf, was among those detained, although she was released in early January after being held for almost three weeks. 

NFL Will Offer Free CPR Training During Super Bowl Week

Inspired by the lifesaving medical attention Damar Hamlin received on the field during a game last month, the NFL and American Heart Association will provide free CPR education in Arizona throughout Super Bowl week as part of the NFL Experience at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Hamlin, the 24-year-old Buffalo Bills defensive back, needed to be resuscitated after making a tackle in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Bills assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington performed CPR on Hamlin on the field.

“Being able to deliver care in emergency situations is not just important at sporting events, but in all walks of life,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

People who visit the mobile training unit will receive hands-only CPR training from experts and receive CPR information that can be shared in their communities. Also, the American Heart Association is working with Hamlin and his #3forHeart CPR Challenge, a social media initiative that encourages people to learn CPR, donate money to support CPR research, education and training, and share the word with others.

“Coming out of the events from last month with Damar Hamlin on the field and the remarkable work that the emergency responders performed, we thought about what opportunities existed for us to share some of the learnings that came from that experience more broadly, which is part of our responsibility throughout the world of football and maybe the world of sports,” NFL executive Jeff Miller told The Associated Press.

“There’s a long history of the NFL trying to share learnings on the health and safety side from what we experienced at the NFL level, whether that be about concussions, concussion education or about emergency action plans. We take as an obligation to share what we’ve learned and highlight some of the best health and safety approaches that we can with other levels of sport,” Miller added.

Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s vice president of social responsibility, said the league approached the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross with a simple question: “What can we do here? We saw one life saved. How can we save many more?”

“The world was watching,” Isaacson told The AP. “I think that while we face challenges, we use these moments to try to make a positive impact.”

In addition to free CPR training in Arizona, the league throughout February is raising money to support CPR education and youth sports safety efforts across the country.

These include a Super Bowl 50/50 raffle open to Arizona residents and fans attending the game at State Farm Stadium. The winner of the raffle will receive half of the jackpot total from raffle ticket sales; the other half will benefit the NFL Foundation to support CPR-related initiatives, including through the American Heart Association, the Red Cross and their local affiliates.

“Only one out of three high schools has full-time access to an athletic trainer and only about another third even have part-time access to one,” Miller said. “That’s a huge gap in sports and in sports medicine that the league, over a period of time with partners like AHA and others, is going to hopefully try to rectify or address at least a little bit.”

Iranian Film Director Goes on Hunger Strike in Prison

An Iranian director who was arrested last summer, weeks before his latest film was released to widespread acclaim, has gone on a hunger strike to protest his continued detention amid more than four months of anti-government protests.

Jafar Panahi, whose films have thrilled critics and won numerous international prizes, issued a statement saying he would refuse food or medicine starting Wednesday “in protest against the extra-legal and inhumane behavior of the judicial and security apparatus.”

He’s among a number of Iranian artists, sports figures and other celebrities who have been detained after speaking out against Iran’s theocracy. Such arrests have become increasingly frequent since nationwide protests broke out in September over the death of a young woman in police custody.

Panahi, 62, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2011 on charges of producing anti-government propaganda, but the sentence was never carried out. Banned from both travel and filmmaking, he continued to make underground films that were released abroad to great acclaim.

He was arrested in July when he went to the Tehran prosecutor’s office to inquire about the arrests of two other Iranian filmmakers. A judge later ruled that he must serve the earlier sentence.

His latest film, “No Bears,” in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself while making a film along the Iran-Turkey border, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September, a week before the protests began. The New York Times and The Associated Press named it one of the top 10 films of the year, and film critic Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times called it 2022’s best movie.

The protests erupted after Mahsa Amini, 22, died while being held by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code. The demonstrations rapidly escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling clerics, a major challenge to their four-decade rule.

On Wednesday, around 100 people took part in a protest in the western Iranian city of Abdanan, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported. It said that five “rioters” suffered minor injuries when security forces intervened and that 10 people were arrested, without providing further details.

Iran heavily restricts media access to demonstrations and periodically shuts down the internet, making it difficult to confirm specific incidents or gauge the scale of the ongoing protests.

At least 527 protesters have been killed and more than 19,500 people have been detained since the demonstrations began, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has closely monitored the unrest. Iranian authorities have not released official figures on deaths or arrests.

Taraneh Alidoosti, the star of Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning 2016 film, “The Salesman,” was arrested in December after taking to social media to criticize the crackdown on protests. She was released three weeks later on bail.

Tom Brady Retires, Insisting This Time It’s For Good

Tom Brady, who won a record seven Super Bowls for New England and Tampa, has announced his retirement from the U.S. National Football League.

Brady — the most successful quarterback in NFL history, and one of the greatest athletes in team sports — posted the announcement on social media Wednesday morning, a brief video lasting just under one minute.

“Good morning guys. I’ll get to the point right away,” Brady says as the message begins. “I’m retiring. For good.”

He briefly retired after the 2021 season, but wound up coming back for one more year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He retires at age 45, the owner of numerous passing records in an unprecedented 23-year career.

A year ago when he retired, it was in the form of a long Instagram post. But about six weeks later, he decided to come back for one more run. The Buccaneers — with whom he won a Super Bowl two seasons ago — made the playoffs again this season, losing in their playoff opener. And at the time, it begged the question about whether Brady would play again.

Only a couple weeks later, he has given the answer.

“I know the process was a pretty big deal last time, so when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press record and let you guys know first,” Brady says in the video. “I won’t be long-winded. You only get one super emotional retirement essay and I used mine up last year.

“I really thank you guys so much, to every single one of you for supporting me. My family, my friends, teammates, my competitors. I could go on forever. There’s too many. Thank you guys for allowing me to live my absolute dream. I wouldn’t change a thing. Love you all.”

Brady is the NFL’s career leader in yards passing (89,214) and touchdowns (649). He’s the only player to win more than five Super Bowls and has been MVP of the game five times.

Brady has won three NFL MVP awards, been a first-team All-Pro three times and selected to the Pro Bowl 15 times.

Brady and supermodel Gisele Bündchen finalized their divorce this past fall, during the Bucs’ season. It ended a 13-year marriage between two superstars who respectively reached the pinnacles of football and fashion.

It was announced last year that when Brady retires from playing, he would join Fox Sports as a television analyst in a 10-year, $375 million deal.

‘Laverne & Shirley’ Actor Cindy Williams Dies at 75

Cindy Williams, who played Shirley opposite Penny Marshall’s Laverne on the popular sitcom “Laverne & Shirley,” has died, her family said Monday.

Williams died Wednesday in Los Angeles at age 75 after a brief illness, her children, Zak and Emily Hudson, said in a statement released through family spokeswoman Liza Cranis.

“The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed,” the statement said.

“Knowing and loving her has been our joy and privilege. She was one of a kind, beautiful, generous and possessed a brilliant sense of humor and a glittering spirit that everyone loved.”

Williams also starred in director George Lucas’ 1973 film “American Graffiti” and director Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” from 1974.

But she was by far best known for “Laverne & Shirley,” the “Happy Days” spinoff that ran on ABC from 1976 to 1983 that in its prime was among the most popular shows on TV.

Williams played the straitlaced Shirley to Marshall’s more libertine Laverne on the show about a pair of roommates who worked at a Milwaukee bottling factory in the 1950s and ’60s.

Marshall, whose brother, Garry Marshall, co-created the series, died in 2018.

“Laverne & Shirley” was known almost as much for its opening theme as the show itself. Williams’ and Marshall’s chant of “schlemiel, schlimazel” as they skipped together became a cultural phenomenon and oft-invoked piece of nostalgia.