Saturday, May 30, 2009

Family ties: Lemieux rooting hard for Crosby

Mario Lemieux can achieve another first in these NHL finals, the first former player — and Hall of Famer — to also win the Stanley Cup as an owner. His Pittsburgh Penguins' chances may be determined by how well an extended member of the Lemieux family plays: captain Sidney Crosby.

Lemieux, talking before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals against Detroit on Saturday, said Crosby, who has lived with the Lemieux family for four years, is more like a son than an employee.

"He's been unbelievable throughout the playoffs," Lemieux said of Crosby, who took a league-leading 14 playoff goals into the finals. "I think he's on a mission to hopefully achieve his goal of winning a Stanley Cup, in Pittsburgh. He's been dreaming about it since he was a little boy. Sure, we talk about hockey all the time, before and after dinner, and different things I see from the top. We talk a lot about the game, when he's not sleeping or practicing."

Lemieux's four children treat the 21-year-old Crosby as if he were one of their own. Lemieux's daughter, 16-year-old Stephanie, an aspiring hockey player, plans to follow Crosby's path by attending the Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Minnesota this year.

"He's great to be around. He's the same kid he was when he came to live with us four years ago — he's a joy to be around," said Lemieux, who, to support his players, is wearing the traditional playoff beard. "My kids love him and he's a part of our family, really, he's been with us so long. It's great to have him around."

Turns out Sid the Kid is much like one of Mario's own kids, he is so close to the Lemieux family.

Lemieux, the No. 1 pick in the 1984 draft, resuscitated what then was the NHL's worst team as a player — just as Crosby did after being the Penguins' top pick in 2005. Lemieux didn't win the first of his two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh until his seventh season, while Crosby has taken the Penguins to the finals during his third and fourth seasons.

"He's a lot more mature at 21 than I was," said Lemieux, who discussed his relationship with Crosby in greater detail than before. "He was a lot more mature at 18. He's a special kid. He's a better player than I was at the same age, for sure. Some of the things he does on the ice, his strength, skating ability, is incredible, his passion for the game and his will to be the best each and every shift, his work ethic. He's got it all."

Lemieux, who rarely gives interviews as an owner, is convinced these Penguins are better positioned to win the Stanley Cup than they were last season, when they lost to Detroit in six games.

"I think we have a little bit more experience now, having been there last year and seeing what it takes to be a champion, especially our first two games here last year, not scoring a goal," Lemieux said. "I don't think our kids were quite prepared to play in the finals. This year seems and feels different, the way we're approaching each and every game. We feel we have a chance to win every time we step on the ice. So it's a totally different mind-set than we had last year."

Lemieux, the No. 7 scorer in NHL history, first retired in 1997 following years of health problems that included cancer. He stepped aside again in 2006 following a heart scare but, despite back problems that have bothered him since his mid-20s, has been relatively healthy since then.

"I started working out again about two months ago, which is always tough after a few years, and my back's always going to be an issue for me, and I had two hip surgeries," he said. "So my golf is not as good as it used to be. But it's fine. I get up every day, take a couple of Advils, and I'm ready to go."

Jay Leno hosts last Tonight Show

Jay Leno has bid farewell to The Tonight Show after hosting the US chat show for 17 years.

The 59-year-old took the opportunity to poke fun a final time at his favourite targets including celebrities, current events and politicians.

His final guest was his successor Conan O'Brien, who will take over hosting the show from Monday.

The star ended by asking viewers to "please give Conan as much support as you've given me throughout the years."

Leno told O'Brien during his 3,775th show: "You were the perfect choice. You've been an absolute gentlemen in private and in the press."

The only celebrity guest on the show was singer James Taylor, who performed Sweet Baby James at Leno's request.

During his final monologue, Leno thanked Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Monica Lewinsky and Michael Jackson for giving him "so much material".

After reminiscing briefly about his time as host, Leno said he had an answer to those who asked him about his Tonight legacy.

He then invited the audience to "take a look" at the 68 children who had been born to staff who had worked on the programme over the 17 years.

Leno is due to begin hosting a new show on TV network NBC from September.

Burgoon's wedge shot on 18 lifts Aggies to title

Texas A&M's Bronson Burgoon hit a gap wedge from the rough to within 3 inches of the 18th hole Saturday to win his match and clinch the first NCAA Division I men's golf title for the Aggies.

Burgoon, a senior and the team's No. 1 player, had lost the previous four holes to Arkansas' Andrew Landry before hitting from the deep rough far to the right of the 18th fairway.

Landry conceded the tap-in for birdie, then missed a 35-footer that would have sent the match to extra holes. A&M won, 3-and-2.

John Hurley and Andrea Pavan won their matches for the Aggies, who were never better than fourth at the national tournament.

Jamie Marshall and Jason Cuthbertson won matches for the Razorbacks, who also were chasing their first title.

With the match all square heading to the 18th, Landry drove into the middle of the fairway. Burgoon, as he did most of the back nine, drove far to the right into deep rough just above three deep pot bunkers on a hill bordering the edge of the fairway.

Landry spun a wedge just onto the green, the ball coming to rest on the first cut.

Burgoon walked up to take a look at the pin placement with his coach, J.T. Higgins, and sized up the shot. He muscled the gap wedge to the right-middle of the green, and the ball slowly rolled left toward the hole. As it rolled ever closer, a crescendo of cheers rose from the crowd.

His teammates jumped for joy and shouted as Landry conceded the birdie putt. Landry measured his lengthy birdie putt with his coach before rolling it left of the hole. Before it stopped rolling, the Aggies were jumping atop each other and slapping high fives in celebration.

Texas A&M had qualified for the NCAA men's tournament 23 times, but had never finished higher than a fourth place in 1982.

Pavan dominated from the start in beating David Lingmerth, 7-and-6. Hurley also posted a quick win, beating Ethan Tracy, 6-and-4.

But then things tightened up when Arkansas' Marshall defeated Conrad Shindler, 3-and-2. Cuthbertson took a 3-and-1 victory over Matt Van Zandt, who was the star of A&M's 3 1/2-1 1/2 victory over Michigan in the semifinals.

Burgoon seemed to be in command of his match. He led 2-up at the turn and built his advantage to 4-up through 13 holes.

Landry began playing near-perfect golf and Burgoon seemed to find trouble off almost every tee.

Burgoon hit into a bunker on an adjoining fairway and made bogey at 14, with Landry two-putting for par to cut his lead to 3-up. Burgoon had to hit from the rough on his second shot at the 15th and pulled his approach into more of the thick stuff. He shouted, "Oh my gosh!" as the ball left his club face. Again Landry two-putted for a par to win the hole, cutting his deficit to two holes.

The gallery grew as the other matches ended. By the time the two players moved to the 16th green, there were several hundred fans traipsing along after the twosome, shouting encouragement and ringing the greens.

Landry used two putts from 40 feet for par at 16 and Burgoon barely missed his par putt from 25 feet. Now his lead was just 1-up.

At 17, Burgoon hit through the fairway and had an awkward stance, chopping the ball to just short of the green. But he chipped the ball 10 feet past the pin. Again Landry hit the green in regulation and made a routine par. Again Burgoon missed the par putt, forcing a showdown on the final hole.

The match-play showdown lived up to the expectations of the college coaches who had voted in the new format for the 2009 championship at Inverness Club. Rather than have strictly medal play, this was the first time that the 30 teams and six individual qualifiers played 54 holes of stroke play to determine the medalist and the eight teams that would move on to match play.

Serena Williams accuses opponent of cheating

Serena Williams was sure the ball went off her opponent's arm, a no-no in tennis. The opponent, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, insisted the ball went off her racket.

Williams accused Martinez Sanchez of "cheating." Martinez Sanchez thought that was a "stupid" thing for Williams to say.

Then consider that the point in question helped Martinez Sanchez win the first set of their French Open match Saturday. Oh, and that Williams had a coughing fit during a third-set changeover. All in all, what eventually became a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory for Williams stands as the latest example of the athlete/actress' penchant for theatrics.

"I'm, like, drama. And I don't want to be drama," a hoarse Williams said, straining to get the words out. "I'm like one of those girls on a reality show that has all the drama, and everyone in the house hates them because no matter what they do, like, drama follows them. I don't want to be that girl."

Perhaps. But the 2002 French Open champion, who dabbles in acting, sure seems to find herself in the middle of unique on-court situations.

Even Williams made passing reference Saturday to two episodes by naming the opponents, if not mentioning the details: a 2003 French Open semifinal loss marked by Justine Henin's gamesmanship and Williams' postmatch tears, and a 2004 U.S. Open quarterfinal loss to Jennifer Capriati that contained enough questionable officiating to prompt the introduction of replay reviews in the sport.

Here's what happened in Saturday's third-round match:

At 2-2 in the first set, Williams double-faulted to give a break point to Martinez Sanchez, a Spaniard who is ranked 43rd and never has reached the fourth round at a major. On the next point, Martinez Sanchez raced to the net behind a drop shot that brought Williams forward, too. Williams ran up and smacked a backhand right at Martinez Sanchez.

In what seemed to be an effort to protect herself, as much as to try to hit a volley, the left-handed Martinez Sanchez raised her racket, quick as could be. The ball ricocheted back — off her racket? off her arm? off both? — and past Williams. The point was awarded to Martinez Sanchez, giving her the game.

NBC, which televised the match, showed The Associated Press replays in which the ball appears to glance first off Martinez Sanchez's right forearm, then off her racket, before going over the net. Tennis rules say if a ball touches a player, the point is lost.

As the women headed to the ensuing changeover, Williams tried to say something to Martinez Sanchez, who kept walking. Then Williams spoke to the chair umpire, Emmanuel Joseph, saying, "I felt so bad. I didn't mean to hit her."

Repeatedly pointing to her own forearm, Williams told Joseph, "I don't know why you gave her the game. That's totally not cool."

"She better not come to the net again," Williams said.

At her postmatch news conference, Williams was asked whether she thought the ball touched Martinez Sanchez.

"I didn't 'think' the ball touched her — the ball did touch her, 100 percent, on her arm. The rules of tennis is when the ball hits your body, then it's out of play. You lose a point automatically," Williams said. "So the ball hit her body, and therefore, she should have lost the point — instead of cheating."

Could Martinez Sanchez have been unsure whether the ball made contact with her arm?

"I hit that ball rather hard," Williams said. "She knew that ball hit her."

A moment later, rolling her eyes, Williams added: "It was like, 'No way.' I would never do that. I've never done that. I've never sunk low."

When Williams' comments were relayed, Martinez Sanchez said: "I don't like to comment about this. It's a stupid comment."

Asked in both English and Spanish whether the ball hit her, she repeatedly said it went off her racket.

As for Williams' health, the 10-time Grand Slam singles champion said she's been fighting a cold.

"I thought," Williams said, "I was going to cough up a lung or something."

Talk about drama.

$1M bail for Pa. woman held in abduction hoax case

A woman accused of staging an abduction hoax that began near Philadelphia and ended at Florida's Walt Disney World was returned to Pennsylvania in police custody on Friday and was held on $1 million bail.

A drained-looking Bonnie Sweeten appeared in an Orlando, Fla., courtroom for a brief hearing Friday morning before detectives from Bucks County, Pa., escorted her to the airport for the flight home.

On Friday night she was taken to a court in the Philadelphia suburb of Richboro for an arraignment on misdemeanor identity theft and false-reporting charges. A judge, in setting the bail, said he thought she was a flight risk.

Sweeten can be released if she posts 10 percent of the bail amount, or $100,000.

Defense lawyer Louis R. Busico told reporters before the court appearance that Sweeten, 38, is not a flight risk and was not running from the law when she went to Florida with her 9-year-old daughter.

"It's not a crime to take your kid to Disney World," Busico said.

Local police also are investigating whether Sweeten stole money from a family member or others, but no related charges have been filed.

Sweeten phoned 911 on Tuesday from downtown Philadelphia and told dispatchers that she and her daughter had been carjacked and stuffed in the trunk of a Cadillac near their suburban home. The call touched off a frantic search that ended 30 hours later at a Disney World hotel.

Sweeten had withdrawn $12,000 from several bank accounts and flown to Florida with her daughter under the name of a former co-worker whose driver's license she had taken in a ruse, authorities said. She paid cash for the one-way tickets and for a three-night hotel stay inside the park.

Some law enforcement officials privately questioned the ease with which she bought the airline tickets and flew under the friend's name. A Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman argued that Sweeten bore a "strong resemblance" to the other woman.

"The key point here is that every individual, regardless of what name they use, is being thoroughly screened at the checkpoint to make sure that they don't have any guns and explosives," said Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman in Boston.

Neither the county prosecutor nor county detectives handling the case returned phone messages Friday about the pending theft investigation, something authorities confirmed earlier in the week.

Sweeten and her husband, landscaper Richard L. "Larry" Sweeten, bought a newly constructed, 2400-square-foot home in late 2006 for $425,000. She has two other daughters, ages 15 years and 8 months.

Middle daughter Julia Rakoczy is back in Pennsylvania after being reunited with her father, Anthony Rakoczy, at an Orlando police station on Thursday afternoon. Rakoczy still lives near Sweeten, his ex-wife, and spoke well of her in interviews this week.

Larry Sweeten said that he is struggling to sort out the rumors of theft and marriage problems surrounding the case. Appearing Friday on NBC's "Today" show, he said he wanted to know "more than anybody" what caused his wife to flee. He was unaware of any money problems but said she handled nearly all of their finances.

"I might be behind on my mortgage," Sweeten said.

Police nightmare in NY: shooting fellow officer

It's a police officer's nightmare scenario: Confronting someone who appears to be an armed suspect and opening fire, only to discover that person was actually an officer not in uniform.

It's the kind of mistake that haunts a department, opens it to scrutiny, and dominates headlines. While the phenomenon has happened around the country, New York is home to several cases in the past few years.

But friendly fire incidents with police are fairly rare, according to federal statistics, likely a testament to procedures in place in police departments around the country.

"There's an awareness by police departments that this is a very high risk," Jim Cohen, a professor of criminal law at Fordham Law School, said Saturday. "The rules are pounded into these officers in training, and continued training, using their guns when other cops around."

Late Thursday, Officer Omar J. Edwards, 25, was shot by a fellow officer on a Harlem street while in street clothes. He had just finished his shift, and had his service weapon out, chasing a man who had broken into this car, police said. Three plainclothes officers on routine patrol arrived at the scene and yelled for the two to stop, police said. One officer, Andrew Dunton, opened fire and hit Edwards three time as he turned toward them with his service weapon. It wasn't until medical workers were on scene that it was determined he was a police officer.

Now, investigators are working to determine whether anyone was at fault. Witnesses are being re-interviewed and many questions remain, specifically whether Edwards identified himself as an officer, and whether Dunton's split-second judgment to fire was against department guidelines. The district attorney will likely convene a grand jury to decide whether to file charges against Dunton, as is practice for police-involved shootings. After, he will be interviewed by police. Dunton's attorney had no comment.

But NYPD procedure for officer confrontation places the responsibility on the out-of-uniform officers. They are instructed to drop their weapon, stay still and to obey all directions from the uniformed officers to diffuse the tense situation.

In the police academy, officers get weeks of intense training on what they call confrontations with role playing, as well as lectures on the subject. Training continues on the subject when officers leave the academy. After the shooting Thursday, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly switched on-the-job training for officers from courtroom testimony to confronting officers for the month of June.

Procedures on the topic were also recently revamped after the shooting death of Sean Bell, an unarmed man killed on his wedding night in a hail of 50 police bullets.

"We have seen fatal police-involved shootings plummet in recent decades — even as the size of the NYPD increased — because of training and disciplined use of force," said Paul Browne, the New York Police Department's deputy commissioner for public information.

"Department guidelines are neat and clean on paper, not so in the split-second reality of an armed confrontation. Our training is designed to help officers safely navigate through the hazards of the real thing."

According to statistics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, about 22 officers have been killed in accidental shootings in the past decade. The figure includes officers caught in crossfire, mistaken for a suspect and firearm mishaps. It varies from year to year to between one and four officers killed around the country, and doesn't include those injured who survived. But, it's still staggeringly low given the tense and confusing circumstances officers regularly face. The nation's largest police department has about 34,000 officers.

"I think it goes back to context," Cohen said. "You have in law enforcement, which is perhaps different than military, a serious emphasis placed on not killing fellow officers. And that training is universal."

Still, it occurs, and when it does, the sticky issue goes deeper than issues of procedure. The FBI statistics don't specify the race of the officers killed, and many community members and leaders say race is clearly the reason for the accidents. Dunton and the other two officers were white; Edwards was black.

In 2008, a black, off-duty Mount Vernon police officer was killed by a Westchester County policeman while holding a gun on an assault suspect in suburban White Plains. In 2006, a New York City police officer, Eric Hernandez, was shot and killed by an on-duty patrolman who was responding to an attack at a White Castle in the Bronx.

In Providence, Sgt. Cornel Young Jr. was killed in 2000 while he was off duty and trying to break up a fight. He was dressed in baggy jeans, an overcoat and a baseball cap, and carrying a gun. His mother unsuccessfully sued the city. In 2005, an Orlando, Fla., police officer killed a man who had fired a gun outside the Citrus Bowl. The victim was a plainclothes officer working for the University of Central Florida. In 2001, two uniformed officers shot and killed an undercover detective when he trained his gun on a suspected car thief in Oakland, Calif.

On Saturday in Harlem, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel joined the Rev. Al Sharpton in calling for a federal probe, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Kelly met with concerned community members around the city. Edwards' family mourned their son, who always wanted to be a police officer and had two small children and a wife.

"If you become an officer and you have a pistol and you are of color, in or out of uniform, your chances of getting shot down by a police officer are a lot heavier than if you were not of color," Rangel said.

Cheney confirms that detainees were subjected to water-boarding

Vice President Dick Cheney has confirmed that U.S. interrogators subjected captured senior al Qaida suspects to a controversial interrogation technique called "water-boarding," which creates a sensation of drowning.

Cheney indicated that the Bush administration doesn't regard water-boarding as torture and allows the CIA to use it. "It's a no-brainer for me," Cheney said at one point in an interview.

Cheney's comments, in a White House interview on Tuesday with a conservative radio talk show host, appeared to reflect the Bush administration's view that the president has the constitutional power to do whatever he deems necessary to fight terrorism.

The U.S. Army, senior Republican lawmakers, human rights experts and many experts on the laws of war, however, consider water-boarding cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that's banned by U.S. law and by international treaties that prohibit torture. Some intelligence professionals argue that it often provides false or misleading information because many subjects will tell their interrogators what they think they want to hear to make the water-boarding stop.

Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said that a law Bush signed last month prohibits water-boarding. The three are the sponsors of the Military Commissions Act, which authorized the administration to continue its interrogations of enemy combatants.

Graham, a military lawyer who serves in the Air Force Reserve, reaffirmed that view in an interview last week with McClatchy Newspapers.

"Water-boarding, in my opinion, would cause extreme physical and psychological pain and suffering, and it very much could run afoul of the War Crimes Act," he said, referring to a 1996 law. "It could very much open people up to prosecution under the War Crimes Act, as well as be a violation of the Detainees Treatment Act."

A revised U.S. Army Field Manual published last month bans water-boarding as "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

"There is a disconnect between the president and the vice president and on the other side leading proponents from their own party and leading experts on the laws of war," said Neal Sonnett, the chairman of the American Bar Association's Task Force on Enemy Combatants.

The radio interview Tuesday was the first time that a senior Bush administration official has confirmed that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding against important al Qaida suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Mohammad was captured in Pakistan on March 1, 2003, and turned over to the CIA.

Water-boarding means holding a person's head under water or pouring water on cloth or cellophane placed over the nose and mouth to simulate drowning until the subject agrees to talk or confess.

In an interview on Tuesday, Scott Hennen of WDAY Radio in Fargo, N.D., told Cheney that listeners had asked him to "let the vice president know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives."

"Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?" Hennen said.

"I do agree," Cheney replied, according to a transcript of the interview released Wednesday. "And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high-value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation."

Cheney added that Mohammed had provided "enormously valuable information about how many (al Qaida members) there are, about how they plan, what their training processes are and so forth. We've learned a lot. We need to be able to continue that."

"Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" asked Hennen.

"It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president `for torture.' We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in," Cheney replied. "We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that."

Lee Ann McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, denied that Cheney had confirmed that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding or endorsed the technique.

"What the vice president was referring to was an interrogation program without torture," she said. "The vice president never goes into what may or may not be techniques or methods of questioning."

The interview transcript was posted on the White House Web site (

CIA spokeswoman Michelle Neff said, "While we do not discuss specific interrogation methods, the techniques we use have been reviewed by the Department of Justice and are in keeping with our laws and treaty obligations. We neither conduct nor condone torture."


Hundreds march for gay marriage in central Calif.

Hundreds of same-sex couples and their supporters marched Saturday through dusty California farm towns, gathering in the state's conservative center to push for gay marriage in less hospitable areas.

Just days after the state's highest court upheld a ban on gay marriage, advocates vowed to win the hearts and minds of those who reject their unions. They are pledging to put a new initiative before voters to overturn the ban, perhaps as soon as next year.

The weekend-long event has attracted the movement's most well-known activists and celebrities including Charlize Theron and Eric McCormack. It was organized by a lesbian mother in Fresno who was removed from the parent-teacher association at her son's Roman Catholic school after she spoke out against banning gay marriage.

"Fresno represents middle America values, and we can start changing our neighbors' feelings about gay marriage beginning right here in the Central Valley," said lead organizer Robin McGehee, a 36-year-old college professor who married her longtime partner last year. "We're doing exactly what the freedom riders would do in the South in the 1960s, which is reaching into communities that are different from us so we can all live in equality."

Gay activists believe their campaign against Proposition 8 focused too much on liberal urban enclaves along the coast, failing even to reach out to the state's rural regions. The measure passed with nearly 69 percent of the vote in Fresno County, compared to 52 percent statewide.

Paying homage to the 1965 marches in Selma, Ala., that marked the peak of the civil rights movement, the "Meet in the Middle 4 Equality" protest began Saturday morning in Selma, Calif., the self-proclaimed raisin capital of the world.

Hundreds of spirited marchers were escorted by the California Highway Patrol along a narrow highway to Fresno, a city of more than 450,000 and the largest in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley. Atop City Hall there was a massive rainbow flag on loan from San Francisco's Castro District, the nexus of the city's gay and lesbian community.

Several thousand people gathered for a festive, boisterous event, some wearing wedding dresses or carrying rainbow flags, a symbol of support for gay rights.

McCormack, an actor who portrayed a gay man on the TV series "Will & Grace" for eight seasons, said he wanted to ask people who oppose gay marriage how it hurts them.

"The gays aren't going to break marriage," he told the crowd. "Think about it: They're gay. They'll probably spruce it up and make it a little nicer."

Cassandra Zamora, 17, said she was overwhelmed with emotion at seeing so many gay marriage supporters in her conservative city.

"Usually you really don't see a lot of gay people here. Our parents or our environment don't let us do anything in Fresno," said Zamora, who called Saturday her "coming out party" for her father. "It's like, 'Guess what Papi? I'm out.'"

Gay marriage opponents also planned to mobilize this weekend to renew resolve within the broad-based coalition that in November successfully persuaded California voters to pass Proposition 8, which enshrined the ban on gay marriage in the state Constitution. The state Supreme Court upheld the ban last Tuesday.

On Sunday, Fresno's former mayor and a conservative Christian pastor planned to preside over a celebration of heterosexual marriage and nearly a dozen religious and social conservative groups planned a similar event in San Diego.

At midday Saturday, hundreds of spirited pro-gay marriage marchers were escorted by the California Highway Patrol along a narrow highway to Fresno, the largest city in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley. They would be greeted by a massive rainbow flag flying above City Hall — a loan from San Francisco's Castro District, the nexus of the city's gay and lesbian community.

"We aren't here to impose our beliefs on anyone. We are here to begin a dialogue on civil rights," said Cleve Jones, a veteran activist and protege of Harvey Milk, San Francisco's first openly gay leader who was slain in 1978. "We can't win unless we open up our hearts to connecting with people who appear to be very different from us."

There were few protesters, although some skeptical residents were curious to see what all the commotion was about Saturday.

Tom Johnson, 57, a disabled Vietnam veteran from Clovis, a suburb of Fresno, said he had never heard of such an event in Fresno, so he came downtown for a look.

"I'm against people coming into our community with those viewpoints. I just can't accept it," Johnson said. "People already voted yes on Prop. 8. That's the law and we should follow it."

Prince Harry plays polo on 1st official trip to US

Prince Harry reminded New Yorkers on Saturday how much his mother had loved their city, then climbed onto a pony for a rousing game of polo to raise money for impoverished children in Africa.

On a brilliantly sunny day on Governors Island in New York Harbor, the 24-year-old prince drew a crowd that included stars like Madonna, actresses Kate Hudson and Chloe Sevigny, and rapper LL Cool J, but also lots of ordinary New Yorkers out for a rare sight: a polo game in the city.

"You see this out in the Hamptons, but not so much in the city," said Vincent Hodgins of Manhattan, who brought his two sons to watch the prince play.

The Veuve Clicquot Manhattan Polo Classic was a fundraiser for Sentebale, the charity that Harry has set up with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho to help poor children and AIDS orphans in that small African nation surrounded by South Africa.

"Prince Seeiso and I both lost our mothers when we were very young," Harry said in brief remarks before the match. "We set up Sentebale in their memory, and because my mother loved this city, it makes this occasion all the more poignant for me."

His team, named after the charity, proceeded to defeat the opposing Black Watch team 6-5. Harry assisted on the winning goal in the last seconds, drawing the biggest cheer of the afternoon. Both teams included prominent polo stars like Argentine Nacho Figueras, also a Ralph Lauren model, who played for Black Watch.

It was the second and final day of Harry's first official visit to the United States, which began with a sober visit Friday to the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. On Saturday morning, the prince toured Harlem's Children Zone, a community organization that offers families social and educational services. He and Prince Seeiso chatted with students working preparing for a Regents Exam.

"Who's the best pupil?" Harry asked the ninth-graders. "I was always the worst!"

Harry, the son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, is third in line to the British throne, after his father and older brother, William. He's been dubbed the "party prince," and his New York trip seemed designed partly to counter that image with a focus on his charity work.

"I won't bore you with statistics, but please believe me when I say that Lesotho is a mere microcosm of what is so wonderful, but also so tragic about Africa today," he said before the match, reading from notes. "This beautiful kingdom has been ravaged by HIV/AIDS and poverty, leaving thousands of children without their parents."

The event was free to the public, but guests in the VIP tent on the opposite side of the field had paid from $50,000 a table down to $500 a head to picnic on the lawn. In true polo-watching fashion, there were more hats than at an Easter parade; for the women, they were topped by flowers, feathers and even butterflies climbing up a wire trellis.

Harry, though, was casual before the match in a navy blue blazer, open-collared shirt and white jeans, and loafers. And Madonna, accompanied by her sons, Rocco and David, was positively dressed down: She wore jeans and a denim jacket as she chatted with designer Marc Jacobs.

In the bleachers, Mike Hallman, visiting the city from Cary, N.C., enjoyed the match with his family. "My kids have never seen polo before," he said. Added his 9-year-old son, Jason: "It's pretty exciting. I have never seen a prince."

Another spectator who'd never seen a polo match was LL Cool J.

"Hopefully, it'll be quite good," Harry told the singer during the reception.

"Are you going to win?" LL Cool J asked. "Mmmm. I don't know. Hopefully it's fixed," joked Harry.

The prince also said his visit had been "wonderful."

"It's been a whirlwind," he told The Associated Press. "I haven't had a chance to let the jet lag set in, and it's time to go already."

But his trip wasn't over after the match: Leaving Governor's Island, the prince took a Coast Guard cutter up the Hudson River to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on Manhattan's west side.

He spent about 30 minutes waving to visitors, inspecting the World War II aircraft carrier and checking out the cockpit of a retired British Airways Concorde jet. Museum president Bill White said the staff presented the prince with a section of the 1943 carrier's original wooden flight deck.

The prince's visit began Friday morning with a prayerful stop at ground zero. There, he spent about 15 minutes quietly speaking to a half-dozen relatives of 9/11 victims.

Harry then attached a wreath to a chain-link fence overlooking the Sept. 11 memorial under construction, bowing his head in silence for a few minutes. He also visited the firehouse across the street that houses Engine 10 and Ladder 10, which lost five members on Sept. 11, talking and laughing with firefighters there.

Later Friday, Harry formally named the British Memorial Garden in Hanover Square downtown to honor the 67 British victims of the terrorist attack. He also visited Manhattan's Veterans Affairs Medical Center, touring a clinic that treats veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and the prosthetics facilities.

Disney/Pixar makes magic with “Up”

I probably could use a thousand adjectives to describe “Up,” Disney/Pixar’s latest animated feature.

But I think I’ve found one word that captures the movie: magic.

“Up” tells the story of the life of Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Edward Asner). He and his wife, Ellie, always planned to follow explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) deep into the jungles of South America, but life got in the way of their dreams. The ups and downs of their life together is shown in a gorgeous, affecting montage with no dialogue — just a lilting waltz. I smiled, and I cried, during it.

When Ellie dies, Carl, now in his 70s or 80s, is lost and depressed. He finally decides to make their dream come true anyway and attaches thousands of balloons to his house with the intent of floating peacefully to South America to, apparently, sit in his trusty chair on the top of a waterfall for the rest of his life.

Throwing a wrench into his plans is Russell (newcomer Jordan Nagai), a rambunctious, talkative Wilderness Explorer determined to get his last badge, the Helping the Elderly Badge, by helping Carl with whatever he needs, despite Carl’s curmudgeonly efforts to stop him. The pair finally make it to South America, only to have Russell befriend a large tropical bird named Kevin and a dog named Dug (who talks, with the help of a translator collar) follow them around.

And, the icing on the cake, Charles Muntz is not happy to have the pair there, trying to save Kevin (he wants to take the bird back to the U.S. to show).

“Up” is sweet, funny, heartbreaking and joyful, often all at the same time. There are very scary parts — Charles Muntz has gotten pretty crazy and violent during his decades in the jungle, and his army of dangerous dogs is frightening. There are also lighthearted moments and poignant scenes. It’s a well-rounded, layered story, the likes of which are so rare in animated movies these days. In fact, I’m pretty sure that only the crew at Disney/Pixar and anime director Hayao Miyazaki are cranking out animated films this good.

The animation is top-notch, but if you’ve seen a Pixar movie you already know that. If you see it in 3D, as I did, you’ll forget it’s in 3D (no cheap 3D tricks here!), and if you see it in 2D, I suspect you won’t miss it much. It’s the details that make the animation stand out — from each little badge on Russell’s vest, to the way Carl’s chair has been broken in, to the tennis balls on the feet of Carl’s cane. It helps make the movie sparkle.

“Up” is so much more than just a little animated children’s movie. It’s on a level with “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast” and last summer’s “Wall-E,” far above last year’s “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.” It’s a movie for all ages, and, perhaps for different reasons, adults and children will be equally delighted by “Up.”

Jenny’s Take: See it tonight.

Rated PG for some peril and action. Runs 96 minutes.

For more pop culture fun, check out Jenny’s blog at Recent posts include Jenny’s opinion on comic book character Archie’s pending nuptials and a review of the season premiere of “Jon & Kate Plus 8.”

Phil Spector sentenced, may spend life in prison

There was no soundtrack for the final scene of pop maestro Phil Spector's criminal case.

Spector, 69, said nothing as he was sentenced Friday to 19 years to life in prison for the second-degree murder of Lana Clarkson, a one-time B-movie actress who was shot through the mouth in Spector's castle-like mansion six years ago.

Now Spector, the difficult genius whose "Wall of Sound" production technique turned pop songs into mini-symphonies in the 1960s, may spend the rest of his life in prison.

Spector, who would not be eligible for parole until he is 88, showed no emotion before being led away to prison.

Spector's lawyers spent two trials and millions of dollars arguing that Clarkson killed herself while battling depression. They vowed to appeal.

His family seemed as divided as the jurors who had deadlocked at his first trial.

"This is a sad day for everybody involved," said Spector's 28-year-old wife, Rachelle. "The Clarkson family has lost a daughter and a sister. I've lost my husband, my best friend. I feel that a grave injustice has been done and from this day forward I'm going to dedicate myself to proving my husband's innocence."

"I'm torn about this," said Spector's son, Louis. "I'm losing my father who is going to spend his life in jail. At the same time, justice is served."

Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler sentenced Spector to the mandatory 15 years to life in prison, added a four-year enhancement for personal use of a gun and imposed more than $26,000 in restitution fees.

Spector's attorney, Doron Weinberg, asked that his client quickly be transferred from Los Angeles County jail to a state prison.

Weinberg said Spector had surgery this week for precancerous polyps on his vocal cords and correctional authorities are prepared to deal with his multiple medical issues.

"The faster he can get to his ultimate destination, he can get organized and start to live the rest of his life," Weinberg said. "He will be a very high-profile inmate and there's a question of how others will treat him."

In his heyday in the early and mid-1960s, Spector produced dozens of hits, including The Ronette's "Be My Baby," The Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" and The Righteous Brothers' classic, "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin.'" Spector also worked on the Beatles album "Let It Be" and John Lennon's album, "Imagine."

His "Wall of Sound" used orchestrations and sometimes dozens of microphones to producer a dense, echoing sound that influenced everyone from The Beach Boys to Bruce Springsteen.

But Spector also had a troubled reputation. In the 1970s, he got probation for possessing and brandishing a gun. Singer Leonard Cohen once said the producer held a gun to his chest.

Clarkson, 40, didn't know Spector's musical legacy when she met him only hours before she died at his Alhambra "castle" in February 2003. The star of Roger Corman's 1985 cult film classic "Barbarian Queen" was working as a hostess at the House of Blues nightclub on the Sunset Strip, where she had to be told by a manager that Spector was an important man.

She was later found at his mansion in suburban Alhambra, slumped in a chair in a foyer. A gun had been fired in her mouth.

Spector's chauffeur, the key witness, said he heard a gunshot, then saw Spector emerge holding a gun and heard him say: "I think I killed somebody."

Spector had two trials with essentially the same evidence. The first ended in a jury deadlock and the second with his conviction for second-degree murder.

Much of the case hinged on the testimony of five women from Spector's past who said he threatened them with guns when they tried to leave his presence.

The forewoman of the jury that convicted Spector was at the sentencing Friday.

"It's still sort of heavy on the heart," Irma Soto-Lopez said. "I feel sorry for both families."

Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson had no sympathy for Spector.

"He's getting exactly what he deserved," Jackson said.

Dream over: Boyle finishes 2nd in reality show

She gave a final curtsey, a shimmy of her hips, and walked off stage, leaving the winners to perform an encore. But it's unlikely that finishing second on "Britain's Got Talent" Saturday night to a dance troupe called "Diversity" will be the end of Susan Boyle's showbiz dream.

The 48-year-old church volunteer became an Internet phenomenon after she auditioned for the television talent show, her show-stopping voice combining with her frumpy appearance to make her a must-see on YouTube.

For the finals, she returned to the song that made her famous, "I Dreamed a Dream" from the musical "Les Miserables." She wore a glamorous but modest sparkly floor-length dress, and her once-grey frizzy hair was a soft brown halo.

She appeared more polished and animated than in previous performances, but seemed uncomfortable during banter with the judges after her song. Judge Simon Cowell said Boyle had a rough brush with fame, but that she was "a nice, shy person who wants a break."

The week leading up to Saturday's performance had been a tumultuous one for Boyle. She lost her cool during a confrontation with two reporters, and the police intervened. Another contest judge said Boyle had contemplated pulling out of the program to soothe her frazzled nerves.

"A lot of people said you shouldn't even be in this competition, that you weren't equipped to deal with it," Cowell said. "I totally disagree with that.

"You had the guts to come back here and face your critics and you beat them."

Asked about her career plans after the show, Boyle told broadcaster ITV that she hoped to get an album out, and will "just play it by ear."

Millions tuned in to the live program and voted by telephone afterward.

Boyle's hometown of Blackburn, Scotland — a working-class village about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Edinburgh — rallied round her, stringing up signs declaring their support. Her defeat was greeted with shouts of "no" and gasps of disbelief at the Happy Valley Hotel, where neighbors and friends had gathered to watch the program.

"She lost because people didn't bother voting for her because they thought she was going to win it," lamented 21-year-old Gordon Mackenzie. "I didn't vote for her because I thought everyone else would."

Boyle was up against a host of everyman acts determined to find stardom on reality television, including a 12-year-old whose voice was compared to Michael Jackson's, an 11-year-old body-popping dancer, and a grandfather-grandaughter singing duo.

Winning group "Diversity" are a 10-person dance troupe who range in age from 12 to 25-years-old. Their act won praise throughout the competition, but they weren't seen as front-runners. Their victory earned them 100,000 pounds ($159,000), and the right to perform for Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Variety Show in December.

It was Boyle who had always been expected to win, and British bookmaker William Hill offered 10-11 odds on her victory Saturday. The betting service had briefly lowered its odds when the reports of erratic behavior seemed to show "there might be a chink in her armor," according to spokesman Rupert Adams. But he said William Hill "got absolutely hammered" with bets and quickly went back to predicting a Boyle victory.

Boyle's entree into the limelight has been viewed millions of times, the fifth-most watched clip in history on YouTube. And it was a moment that has become reality show history.

She introduced herself on camera as someone who lived alone with her cat, Pebbles — neighbors and relatives were taking turns looking after the feline while Boyle was in London for the show — and who had never been kissed.

Those details combined with her matronly appearance sent the audience into titters when she walked on stage.

But then she began to sing. And as Boyle hit a high note at the end of her song's first line, Cowell's eyebrows rose along with her voice.

RNC slams Obama Broadway date night

GOP officials chided U.S. President Barack Obama for attending a Broadway play Saturday but the White House said Obama was keeping a campaign promise.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama flew to New York from Washington on what a White House press pool report called a Gulfstream-type plane, rather than one of the larger craft that serve as Air Force One, Politico reported. Plans called for the couple to dine at the Blue Hill restaurant before attending a performance of the late playwright August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone."

The production is nominated for six Tony Awards, including best revival of a play.

In a posting on its Web site, the Republican National Committee contrasted the Obamas evening out with General Motors Corp.'s fight for survival and the broader economic turndown.

"As President Obama prepares to wing into Manhattan's theater district on Air Force One to take in a Broadway show, GM is preparing to file bankruptcy and families across America continue to struggle to pay their bills," the GOP said. "Have a great Saturday evening -- even if you're not jetting off somewhere at taxpayer expense."

RNC spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said if Obama wanted to go to the theater, "isn't the Presidential box at the Kennedy Center good enough?," Politico reported.

During the flight to New York
a spokesman for the president read a statement saying the trip was intended to keep a campaign promise Obama made to his wife.

"I am taking my wife to New York City because I promised her during the campaign that I would take her to a Broadway show after it was all finished," the statement said.

Gates: NKorea nuke progress sign of `dark future'

North Korea's progress on nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is "a harbinger of a dark future" and has created an urgent need for more pressure on the reclusive communist government to change its ways, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday.

He said the North's nuclear program does not "at this point" represent a direct military threat to the United States and he does not plan to build up American troops in the region. But the North's efforts pose the potential for an arms race in Asia that could spread beyond the region, he added.

At an annual meeting of defense and security officials, the Pentagon chief said past efforts to cajole North Korea into scrapping its nuclear weapons program have only emboldened it.

North Korea's yearslong use of scare tactics as a bargaining chip to secure aid and other concessions — only to later renege on promises — has worn thin the patience of five nations negotiating with the North, Gates said.

"I think that everyone in the room is familiar with the tactics that the North Koreans use. They create a crisis and the rest of us pay a price to return to the status quo ante," he said in a question and answer session after his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

"As the expression goes in the United States, `I am tired of buying the same horse twice.' I think this notion that we buy our way back to the status quo ante is an approach that I personally at least think we ought to think very hard about. There are perhaps other ways to try and get the North Koreans to change their approach," he said.

The sharp statements were echoed by the South Korean defense minister and even China, North Korea's strongest ally. They reflect fears throughout the region that last week's nuclear and missile tests by North Korea could spiral out of control and lead to fighting.

"President Obama has offered an open hand to tyrannies that unclench their fists. He is hopeful, but he is not naive," Gates said in his speech.

"Likewise, the United States and our allies are open to dialogue, but we will not bend to pressure or provocation. And on this count, North Korea's latest reply to our overtures is not exactly something we would characterize as helpful or constructive. We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in Asia — or on us. At the end of the day, the choice to continue as a destitute, international pariah is North Korea's alone to make. The world is waiting."

The North said it would no longer honor a 1953 armistice truce with South Korea after Seoul joined a 90-plus nation security alliance that seeks to curb nuclear trafficking on the seas.

Additionally, the U.N. Security Council is drafting financial and military penalties against North Korea as punishment for the weapons testing. Similar penalties approved after the North's 2006 atomic test have been only sporadically enforced, and largely ignored by China and Russia.

"I think that the combination of their progress in developing nuclear technology, and their progress in developing multistage long-range missiles, is a harbinger of a dark future," Gates said. "What is now central to multilateral efforts ... is to try to peacefully stop those programs before they do in fact become a `clear and present danger,' as the expression goes."

Gates also warned North Korea against secretly selling its weapons technology to other outlaw nations.

Later, at what officials called the first-ever meeting among defense chiefs from the U.S., Japan and South Korea, Gates asked his counterparts to begin considering other steps against the North should it continue to escalate is nuclear program. The military leaders did not discuss specific potential actions, but U.S. officials who attended the half-hour meeting said any steps would be taken in self-defense.

South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee said the talks "could not have come at a better time."

"North Korea perhaps to this point may have mistakenly believed that it could be perhaps rewarded for its wrong behaviors," Lee told reporters. "But that is no longer the case."

Earlier Saturday, Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, the second-in-command of the General Staff of China's military, told the security forum that Beijing "has expressed a firm opposition and grave concern about the nuclear test."

The Obama administration said it planned to send a delegation on Sunday to Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and possibly Moscow over the next week to discuss how to respond to North Korea.

"The reality is that given the objectives of the six-party talks that were established some years ago, it would be hard to point to them at this point as an example of success," Gates said in response to a question after his speech.

Those countries — the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia and Japan — "need to think freshly about where we go from here."