Sridevi, Famed Bollywood Actress, Dies at 54

Famed Bollywood actress Sridevi Kapoor, best known as Sridevi, died of a heart attack Saturday in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a family member said. Sridevi was 54.

She was known for her roles in the 1990s in Indian Hindi romantic drama films, including Chandni, Lamhe, as well as Mr. India and Nagina. She began working in films as a child.

After word of Sridevi’s death, Indian actress Priyanka Chopra tweeted, “I have no words. Condolences to everyone who loved #Sridevi. A dark day. RIP.”

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New Toys Help Cultivate Emotional Intelligence in Children 

There was plenty of slime and llamas in red pajamas at the International Toy Fair earlier this week in New York. Hidden among these popular playthings were a number of toys that cater to the modern-day kid, with plenty of technology built in.

Educational toys are a mainstay in the industry, and S.T.E.M. toys, those that incorporate principles of science, technology, engineering and math, have garnered attention in recent years. But now, toymakers are addressing children’s emotional intelligence as well, with toys that not only cultivate their IQ but their EQ, or emotional quotient.

PleIQ is a set of plastic toy blocks that use augmented reality technology to showcase a variety of words, numbers and lessons to children. PleIQ CEO Edison Durán demonstrated how virtual characters and miniature storybook scenes pop up on the blocks when they’re held in front of a tablet camera. 

“Every side of a block, every letter, every number and every symbol becomes a 3-D interactive learning experience especially designed to foster the multiple intelligence of preschoolers,” Durán said.

Intelligence here includes intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, and PleIQ builds on these by having kids play the role of teacher or guide. 

“The children have to help the companion character in (a) difficult situation. So they have to give them advice to solve these situations that are common,” Durán said.

‘A kid’s Alexa’

On the other side of the convention center, Karen Hu was demonstrating the workings of an educational robot called Woobo. 

“You can think of this as a kid’s Alexa,” said Hu, Woobo’s strategic partnerships and business development manager. “We have a lot of expressions that’s built into it.”

Hu posed a question to the furry green Woobo, “Hi, what’s your name?”

It responded in a childlike voice with, “Are you trying to trick me? My name is Woobo.”

Woobo comes programmed with educational games and activities that children can access via its touchscreen face. Toys that function as companions also aid in social development. Hu described how Woobo can help an autistic child. 

“He can communicate with Woobo and he can follow some of the instructions Woobo is giving,” said Hu, noting that kids see Woobo more as a companion than a parent or authority figure “telling him to do certain things.”

Stress-relieving animals

A more low-tech companion is Manimo, toy animals weighing 2.2 to 5.5 pounds that can help with hyperactivity and concentration. Whether it’s a snake, salamander, dolphin or frog, Manimos can be draped across a child’s arm, chest or neck.

Like the use of weighted blankets or vests in occupational therapy, Manimos alleviate anxiety and stress and can be particularly helpful to kids with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or those on the autism spectrum.

Karine Gagner, president and founder of Manimo, explained that applying deep pressure to one’s body can help calm kids before bedtime, while simultaneously increasing their concentration and focus. 

“It works very well at school, you can use it on your lap or you can put it over your shoulder or just hold it in your arm,” Gagner said.

Social intelligence

At the EQtainment booth, sales director Jonathan Erickson was explaining the company’s toy lineup: “The purpose of all of our products is to develop emotional and social intelligence in kids — so that’s impulse control, manners, any skill sets relating with other people.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a genius when it comes to IQ, you still need to be able to relate with the world around you,” Erickson said.

Erickson was displaying a board game called “Q’s Race to the Top,” in which players try to advance a monkey named “Q” to the top of his treehouse while engaging in an interactive mix of physical activity and conversational prompts. Kevin Chaja, EQtainment’s CTO, says the game got his 4-year-old daughter to open up. 

“The biggest thing, is her talking. And that’s the key of all this, is getting her to talk, getting her feelings expressed out. Like, ‘Hey, what does it feel like to be sad? Or how does it feel like to be happy?’” Chaja said.

Whether a board game can ultimately improve a child’s emotional intelligence remains to be seen, but in parents’ ongoing quest to raise well-rounded children, toymakers are making sure to cover all their bases.

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Philippines Students Gather for Art – and Shot at Guinness Record

Nearly 17,000 students in the Philippines gathered in a park in the capital, Manila, on Saturday in a bid to set a record for the world’s biggest art class.

Middle school students from about 200 schools listened for about an hour as a teacher taught them how to draw a mask.

“I learned a lot,” said one of the students, Kathleen Pareno.

Organizers said 16,692 students joined the lesson and the figure would be sent to Guinness World Records for an evaluation.

India holds the record for the largest art lesson with 14,135 people taking part in one in 2014, Guinness World Records said on its website.


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Nanette Fabray, Award-Winning Star of Stage, Film and TV, Dies at 97

Nanette Fabray, the vivacious, award-winning star of the stage, film and television, has died at 97.

Fabray’s son, Dr. Jamie MacDougall, told The Associated Press his mother died Thursday at her home in Palos Verdes Estates.

Fabray launched her career at age 3 as Vaudeville’s singing-dancing Baby Nanette.

On Broadway she won a Tony in 1949 for the musical “Love Life” and was nominated for another for “Mr. President.”

She starred opposite Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in the hit 1953 film “The Band Wagon.”

Her television roles included playing Bonnie Franklin’s mother in the hit 1980s sitcom “One Day at a Time.”

She also played the mother of Shelley Fabares, her real-life niece, in the 1990s sitcom “Coach.”

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Shiffrin Jokes About Whether Vonn’s Olympic Career Is Over

Mikaela Shiffrin is not quite convinced Lindsey Vonn’s Olympic career is done.

“Whenever I hear anybody say something about this,” Shiffrin said Friday, “it’s like, ‘most likely,’ ]’probably,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘we’ll see,’ ‘not sure.’ I’m like, ‘Knowing Lindsey, I don’t believe her.’ ”

And with that, Shiffrin let out a big laugh.

She is, without a doubt, the heir apparent to Vonn as the leader of U.S. ski racing. They were the only two members of the country’s Alpine team to earn medals at the Pyeongchang Games — and the only two to hold news conferences a day after the sport’s last two individual events.

First came Vonn, 33, wearing her downhill bronze medal. After she left the room, it was time for Shiffrin, 22, whose gold from the giant slalom and silver from the combined dangled from her neck.

Vonn spent much of her session taking questions about her, um, extensive experience — “You’re not getting any younger,” was the way one reporter put it, to which the skier replied with a smile, “Come right out and say it, why don’t you!” — and the emotions of her (presumably) last Olympics.

Then Shiffrin discussed what she called the frustration of dealing with schedule changes that contributed to a fourth-place finish in her top event, the slalom, and forced her to enter only three of five races.

Tribute to Vonn

When asked about being Vonn’s successor, she was deferential.

“I don’t necessarily feel like I’m taking over something for the sport. I don’t know if I could fill Lindsey’s shoes, the way that she has worn them,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to do my best to help the sport grow in whatever way that I can. The best way that I can do that, as far as I see right now, is just to ski my best and to keep taking ski racing to a new level.”

Shiffrin also was asked about what sort of advice she might have received from Vonn about taking over as the face of Alpine skiing in the United States.

“I haven’t had a lot of advice about what to do because, first of all, I don’t think Lindsey sees herself as being done yet or passing the baton,” she answered. “And I don’t see myself as taking the baton.”

Shiffrin is now what Vonn once was: a multiple Olympic medalist in her 20s with a bright future.

After Vonn won a gold and bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Games, the assumption was she would go on to add medal upon medal to her career total. Instead, she was forced to miss the 2014 Olympics after tearing knee ligaments.

So after an eight-year wait, Vonn stepped back on the stage, but has said this would be her last Olympics. As it is, she became the oldest woman to win an Alpine medal.

Vonn said the woman who took the gold in the downhill, good friend Sofia Goggia of Italy, wrote a note trying to lobby for a return in 2022.

“I told her … if I physically could continue for four years, then I probably would, as long as I considered myself still a competitor,” Vonn said. “But four years is a really long time. I told her that. She said she’s going to keep trying to convince me.”

Career record

In the meantime, there are other goals Vonn will pursue before retiring. She reiterated she is “not going to stop ski racing until I break” Ingemar Stenmark’s World Cup record for most career race wins. She has 81; he had 86.

“I think next season,” Vonn said, “I can get it done.”

She also intends to pursue a chance to compete against men, something she’s sought for years.

The sport’s governing body is supposed to consider her request in a few months, but if that doesn’t work out, Vonn said she would think about trying to set up an exhibition race.

All of that will be put on hold for a bit, though.

Instead of joining the skiing circuit when it resumes in Switzerland next weekend, Vonn will wait until the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, on March 14-18, to try to overtake Goggia for the season downhill title.

“I need a break,” Vonn said. “I need a moment to breathe. I’ve never actually had time after an Olympics to enjoy it, so I’m going to.”

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US Gymnasts Tell AP Sport Rife With Verbal, Emotional Abuse

They were little girls with dreams of Olympic gold when they started in gymnastics. Now they’re women with lifelong injuries, suffocating anxiety and debilitating eating disorders. 

They are the other victims of USA Gymnastics. 

Thirteen former U.S. gymnasts and three coaches interviewed by The Associated Press described a win-at-all-cost culture rife with verbal and emotional abuse in which girls were forced to train on broken bones and other injuries. That culture was tacitly endorsed by the sport’s governing body and institutionalized by Bela and Martha Karolyi, the husband-and-wife duo who coached America’s top female gymnasts for three decades.

The gymnasts agreed to speak to AP, some for the first time, after the recent courtroom revelations about USA Gymnastics’ former team doctor, Larry Nassar, who recently was sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting young athletes for years under the guise of medical treatment.

The Karolyis’ oppressive style created a toxic environment in which a predator like Nassar was able to thrive, according to witness statements in Nassar’s criminal case and a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics, the Karolyis and others. Girls were afraid to challenge authority, Nassar was able to prey on vulnerable girls and, at the same time, he didn’t challenge the couple’s harsh training methods.

“He was their little puppet,” Jeanette Antolin, a former member of the U.S. national team who trained with the Karolyis, said. “He let us train on injuries. They got what they wanted. He got what he wanted.”

Young girls were virtually starved, constantly body shamed and forced to train with broken bones or other injuries, according to interviews and the lawsuit. Their meager diets and extreme training often delayed puberty, which some coaches believed was such a detriment that they ridiculed girls who started their menstrual cycles.

USA Gymnastics declined to answer questions for this story, and the Karolyis didn’t reply to requests for comment. The Karolyis’ Houston attorney, Gary Jewell, said the Karolyis didn’t abuse anyone.

Some female gymnasts in the U.S. were subjected to abusive training methods before the Karolyis defected from their native Romania in 1981. But other coaches and former gymnasts say the Karolyis’ early successes — starting with Romania’s Nadia Comaneci becoming the first woman gymnast awarded a perfect score in competition — validated the cutthroat attitudes that fostered widespread mistreatment of American athletes at the highest levels of women’s gymnastics.

The Karolyis, who helped USA Gymnastics win 41 Olympic medals, including 13 gold over three decades, trained hundreds of gymnasts at their complex in rural Huntsville, Texas, known as “the ranch.” They selected gymnasts for the national team and earned millions from USA Gymnastics. 

A congressional committee investigating the gymnastics scandal said in Feb. 8 letters to the Karolyis, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee that they were all “at the center of many of these failures” that allowed Nassar’s sexual abuse to persist for more than two decades.

It’s unclear what the Karolyis knew about Nassar’s sexual abuse and whether they took any action to stop it.

Martha Karolyi, in a deposition given last year as part of the lawsuit against the Karolyis and numerous others, acknowledged that “in or around June 2015” she received a phone call from the then-head of the national gymnastics organization, Steve Penny, informing her that the organization had received a complaint that Nassar had “molested a national team gymnast at the ranch.”

The deposition was included in a Feb. 14 letter to two U.S. senators from John Manly, an attorney representing Nassar victims in a lawsuit that seeks monetary damages and court oversight of USA Gymnastics.

Manly cited the deposition in accusing the sport’s governing body of lying to Congress. 

In a timeline submitted to a congressional committee investigating the scandal, the organization said it was told in mid-June of an athlete “uncomfortable” with Nassar’s treatment, but that it was not until late July 2015 that it decided to notify law enforcement “with concerns of potential sexual misconduct.”

Penny, the former USA Gymnastics chief, said in a statement that Martha Karolyi was mistaken about the timing of his call.

Texas has one of the strongest child abuse reporting laws in the nation, requiring anyone who has reason to believe abuse has occurred to immediately alert authorities. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine.

In the deposition, Martha Karolyi said she did not discuss what she learned about Nassar with anyone but her husband, her lawyers and the USA Gymnastics official who called her. 

Jewell, the Karolyis’ attorney, said the couple didn’t know about any sexual assault complaints involving Nassar until Martha Karolyi was contacted by a USA Gymnastics official in the summer of 2015.

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Don’t Call Them ‘Garlic Girls’: South Korean Curlers Become Olympic Rock Stars

Forget Lindsey Vonn and Adam Rippon. The real rock stars of the Pyeongchang Olympics are a humble group of Korean curlers who have no idea they’ve become a global sensation.

They are known as the “Garlic Girls,” the South Korean women’s curling team with the fairy-tale story whose moniker reflects the locally famed garlic grown in their hometown. Never considered a medal contender coming into Pyeongchang, they have risen to No. 1 in the rankings, earning worldwide attention for their fierce talent and funny personalities.

And yet the Garlic Girls have been almost totally sheltered from the international frenzy both by personal choice — they switched off their phones during the games to block outside attention — and by a protective coach who is keenly aware that curling is as much a mental game as a physical one.

​Famous and they don’t know it

After a recent match, the women were quickly shuffled past waiting reporters, giving journalists apologetic smiles and greetings of “Anyonghaseyo!” (hello) before vanishing. None of them, says coach Kim Min-jung, are aware that they’ve become superstars.

“I’m sorry that I could not bring the athletes today, because I’m worried there will be too much pressure and burden on them,” Kim said. “Even the crowd is too interested in them.”

That interest is understandable. The Garlic Girls seem tailor-made for stardom.

The wildly skilled underdogs came into the Olympics ranked eighth in the world and went on to crush curling heavyweights including Canada and Sweden. They are cute and comical, referring to themselves by quirky nicknames such as “Pancake” and “Steak.”

Two teammates are sisters and all are longtime friends, creating irresistible chemistry on the ice. The team’s “skip,” or captain, has a steely gaze and funky, owl-eyed glasses that have become fodder for endless Internet memes.

Screaming fans

Many Koreans who have never seen a curling match have traveled to remote Gangneung to peek at their nation’s new darlings in person.

“I’m very proud of them,” said Lee Ji Sun, a 26-year-old who had never been inside a curling arena before Wednesday’s match. “They are showing we can do well even in new sport events.”

Every match featuring the team is packed with screaming, flag-fluttering Koreans who leap to their feet to cheer on the women’s stunningly precise shots. One fan in the crowd Wednesday waved what appeared to be a hand-drawn portrait of skip Kim Eun-jung with her trademark spectacles.

​Late to the game of curling

That curling has gained any prominence in Korea is surprising in itself. Korea didn’t even have a team in Olympic curling until the 2014 Sochi Games.

It took Koreans awhile to wake up to curling, largely because the country lacked sufficient facilities until recent years, Kim Young, a curling legend who started the Korean Curling Club in 1988, said by email. Now, he says, Korea has six dedicated curling arenas, and many schools have curling teams.

In 2006, South Korea’s first curling center was built in the rural town of Uiseong. Four of the five team members attended Uiseong Women’s High School, where they were on the school’s curling team. Uiseong’s reputation as the nation’s default curling capital slowly grew, and the curling center has hosted about 15 major domestic and international curling events.

Garlic and those nicknames

Still, until the women’s team began their surprise winning streak in Pyeongchang, Uiseong was better known for its prolific garlic production.

Koreans consider garlic a health food that boosts stamina. Seo Eun Ha, a 26-year-old Garlic Girls fan, believes garlic may have contributed to the team’s success. (She also credits the women’s good teamwork and strong relationships.)

Like many fans at Gangneung, Seo is particularly fond of the curlers’ unusual nicknames: Sunny, Steak, Pancake, Annie (a brand of yogurt) and ChoCho (a type of cookie).

“I think their nicknames go well with their lively images,” Seo said. “I like ‘Steak’ the most. It sounds so funny and unique.”

The nicknames started as a gag over breakfast one day, said Kim, the coach. The women were talking about how difficult it was for other countries’ athletes to pronounce their names at international competitions. All five team members and their coach also share the same surname — Kim, which is very common in Korea — making their names even more confounding for foreigners.

Kim Seon-yeong, who was eating a sunny-side-up fried egg, joked that she could go by the name “Sunny.” The other women loved the idea. They each opted to nickname themselves after the English words for their favorite breakfast foods, figuring that would be easier for others to grasp.

Though the women’s team is getting the most attention, Korean fans have been going wild for the men, too. After Wednesday’s men’s match, a player from the Korean team began throwing T-shirts into the crowd, which surged forward with outstretched arms.

Kim Heae Darm, a fan who leaped up and managed to snag a shirt sailing overhead, pressed it to her face and screamed with glee. She then turned to capturing the attention of Korean mixed doubles player Lee Ki-jeong, who scrawled his autograph in her notebook.

As she struggled to catch her breath, she explained her excitement by noting that Lee was strong, athletic and “very handsome.”

As for the success of the women’s team, Kim, the founder of the curling club, couldn’t be prouder. “They are heroes!” he said.

Yet the Garlic Girls do have one request: Maybe someone could come up with a nicer team name for them?

“We would prefer the name ‘Team Kim,’” Kim, the coach, said with a laugh. “Because although our hometown is Uiseong — which is related to garlic — we have no relationship with garlic at all.”

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Malaysian Rapper’s Dog Video Sparks Claim of Insulting Islam

Malaysian police said a popular ethnic Chinese rapper has been detained over complaints that his latest music video featuring dancers wearing dog masks and performing “obscene” moves insulted Islam and could hurt racial harmony.

It was the second time in two years that Wee Meng Chee, popularly known as Namewee, has been investigated over his music videos.

Police said in a statement that Wee was detained Thursday after they received four public complaints that his video marking the Chinese year of the dog had “insulted Islam and could negatively impact racial unity and harmony.”

In the video entitled “Like a Dog,” Wee sits on a chair in a public square in the government administrative capital of Putrajaya with dancers wearing dog masks around him. Several of them mimic the “doggy-style” sex move. A green domed building in the background led some people to speculate it was filmed in front of a mosque, leading to criticism, but Wee later said it was the prime minister’s office.

The song includes the sounds of dog barks from various countries. In an apparent reference to government corruption, Wee sings that dogs in Malaysia go “mari mari, wang wang,” which in the Malay language means “come come, money money.”

Dogs are considered unclean by Muslims, who account for 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million people.

Several ministers have called for Wee to be arrested. He has defended the video as a form of entertainment and said he has no intention of disrespecting any race or religion.

Earlier Thursday, Wee posted a picture on Facebook of himself at the federal police headquarters as he was wanted by police for questioning.

“I am not afraid because I believe Malaysia has justice,” he said.

Previous controversies

In 2016, he was detained after enraged Malay Islamic activists lodged complaints that a video titled “Oh My God,” which was filmed in front of various places of worship and used the word “Allah,” which means God in the Malay language, was rude and disrespectful to Islam. He was not charged.

In one of his earliest videos, he mocked the national anthem and was criticized for racial slurs. He also produced a movie that was banned by the government in 2014 for portraying national agencies in a negative way.

Race and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, where the ethnic Malay majority has generally lived peacefully with large Chinese and Indian minorities since racial riots in 1969 left at least 200 people dead.

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Soderbergh’s Thriller Shot on iPhone Premieres in Berlin

Director Steven Soderbergh said on Wednesday he so enjoyed making his psychological thriller “Unsane” on an iPhone, he would find it hard to go back to conventional filmmaking.

“Unsane”, which premieres at the Berlin film festival, was shot over just two weeks — way shorter than the months a movie

usually takes.

It tells the story of Sawyer Valentini, who moves to a new city to escape her stalker David but finds herself admitted to a

mental health institution where he works.

Sawyer, played by Claire Foy, is convinced she has been wrongly admitted to the facility but no one believes her so she

is trapped there and subjected to torments from David, who gives her pills that make her lash out and imprisons her in a padded cell where he declares his love for her.

Soderbergh said the overall experience of making a film on an iPhone was good, although there were some drawbacks such as

the phone being very sensitive to vibrations.

“I have to say the positives for me really were significant and it’s going to be tricky to go back to a more conventional

way of shooting,” he said.

Not having to make a hole in a wall or secure a camera to the ceiling are big advantages, as is being able to go straight

from watching a rehearsal to shooting, Soderbergh said.

“The gap now between the idea and the execution of the idea is just shrinking and this means you get to try out more ideas

so I wish I’d had this equipment when I was 15,” he said.

Joshua Leonard, who plays David, said filming on an iPhone enabled the actors to stay in the world of their characters and

the film more than the conventional camera set-up would allow.

“There’s nothing more fun as an actor than just being in the thick of the creative process when you’re actually on set and

not having to wait for the machine of filmmaking to catch up with the creative impulse,” he said.

Being used to people putting iPhones close to his face to take selfies helped too because “it really minimized any

self-consciousness about the process of making a film”, he said.

“Unsane” is among around 400 films screening at the festival but it is not among the 19 movies vying for the main prize, the

Golden Bear, which will be awarded on Saturday. The festival in the German capital runs until Feb. 25.

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