TIME NBA

Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer Meet for the First Time, Unproductively

A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles
A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles on April 29, 2014. Mario Anzuoni— Reuters

No progress was made on Ballmer's bid to buy the L.A. Clippers, but ESPN reports it was otherwise a "friendly conversation."

It was a private meeting between two men very recently and very publicly ushered from power: one the erstwhile leader of a once iconic tech company whose stock prices swiftly rebounded upon news of his resignation, the other the former owner of a basketball team whose departure from it only parenthetically had anything to do with basketball (in that his apparently racist vitriol was targeted at, well, people the color of some of his basketball players).

The latter, Donald Sterling, was banned from the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the remainder of his life after TMZ leaked a recording of some comments he made to his girlfriend V. Stiviano, concerning her friendship with black people. He’s consequently in the throes of selling the Los Angeles Clippers to the former, ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who stepped down from the company last year after thirteen tumultuous years at the helm, marked by the surge of the Apple Empire and the ultimate marking of his once-eminent firm as a brand that just wasn’t cool anymore. When all else fails, one supposes, buy a basketball team; Ballmer successfully made a bid of $2 billion to buy the Clippers within a month of the Sterling controversy.

The two men met at Sterling’s Beverly Hills home to negotiate the sale of the Clippers franchise together with Sterling’s wife Shelly. And while the crew reached no definitive settlement, ESPN reports that it was otherwise a perfectly pleasant conversation, considering Sterling’s notorious obstinacy on the matter.

It’s a trickier deal than just writing a check. Two years after Sterling bought the team in 1979, he granted co-ownership rights to Shelly, from whom he has been estranged since December 2012. Donald is banned from the NBA; Shelly is not. The NBA briefly considered snatching all license of ownership from the entire Sterling clan — their son-in-law, Eric Miller, has served as the Clippers’ “director of basketball administration” — but not before Shelly arranged the sale to Ballmer in late May. Donald condemned her actions, and a day later sued the NBA for $1 billion.

He’d drop the suit all of three days later, though he has since called his wife of 59 years a “pig.”

The warring couple met on Sunday to finally discuss business, two days before Shelly was to testify in the civil case between them over whether or not she was justified in her negotiations with Ballmer (she’ll be in court on Tuesday in Los Angeles). After a three hour conversation concerning all the tumult of the last few months — oh, to be a fly on that wall — the two invited Ballmer to come over the next day to further address the matter of the Clippers’ sale, which was supposed to have been finalized a week ago. It’s the first time the two men met in person to talk about the deal.

The NBA, meanwhile, twiddles its thumbs and waits. It’s widely assumed Ballmer will ultimately take the reins from the Sterlings, but if nothing’s certain by September 15, the league has the option to take matters into its own hands and sell the team itself, since the 2014-15 season will begin just six weeks later.

TIME movies

Over a Tepid Weekend at the Box Office, Room for Mediocrity to Thrive

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes led the box office for the second consecutive weekend. Twentieth Century Fox

Of the four highest-grossing films this weekend, two were about societal collapse, three were sequels, and only one earned respectable reviews

“Art,” Roger Ebert said in a speech on human empathy on a Colorado Public Television feature in 1994, “is the closest we can come to understanding how a stranger really feels.”

If that’s the case, then maybe it’s grimly logical that with Gaza on fire, and hundreds of families in Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur mourning a wreck that still smoulders, the most popular films in American theaters this past weekend are stories of apocalyptic or near-apocalyptic crisis. Also, sequels.

The first is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the story of humankind felled by a manufactured virus and an army of chimps rendered sentient by the same virus seeking to fill the power void. For the second consecutive weekend, Dawn has seized the top position at the U.S. box office, having grossed nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in international ticket sales since opening ten days ago. It’s a follow-up to the 2011 20th Century Fox film that revived the decades-old franchise; both movies have enjoyed a surprisingly warm embrace from critics.

Not drastically far behind in the numbers was The Purge: Anarchy, whose title is perhaps more fitting, or at least to the point, than that of the first film in the franchise. The plots of both deal with a utilitarian sort of lawlessness sometime in the nearish future, in which anyone can pretty much do anything — murder is popular — over a twelve hour period once a year in order to keep crime rates otherwise low. Tepid reviews of the sequel apparently notwithstanding, the film made just under $30 million in ticket sales after opening in U.S. theaters on Friday.

After that, things are more incongruous with the Ebert-empathy thesis: a Pixar movie — another sequel — and a tongue-in-cheek romantic comedy about a leaked sex tape came in at third and fourth, respectively. Both have received mixed-to-plainly-negative feedback (Planes: Fire and Rescue holds a 44% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes; Sex Tape’s is twenty points lower).

It was, on the whole, a shoddy weekend for Hollywood, the New York Times reports, though of course the summer blockbuster season is still relatively young. We’ll get the fifth — fifth — installment in the predictably stalwart Step Up franchise in a few weeks. There’s a redux of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles coming out; given that (a) it’s a Michael Bay number and (b) Megan Fox is in it, we can rely on every adolescent male in the U.S. to help it at least break even.

TIME China

In China, McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut Probe Expired-Meat Supply

Controversies over food safety are a fact of life in China

Health officials have temporarily closed a Shanghai-based meat supplier after it was learned that the firm, which supplies products to major American fast-food restaurants throughout China, may have been selling expired chicken and beef.

Both McDonald’s and Yum! Brands — owner of KFC and Pizza Hut, with over 6,200 Chinese stores collectively — asked their restaurants on Sunday to abstain from selling meat provided by Shanghai Husi Food Co. after Dragon Television, a local news outfit, reported that the meat company’s employees were repackaging meat and extending its shelf life by a year. McDonald’s and Yum! have launched their own investigations.

Yum!’s sales have rebounded in recent months after a fit of bad publicity early last year, when a state television agency alleged that KFC — the largest restaurant chain in China — was selling chicken containing excessive amounts of antibiotics. Yum! insisted on the safety of its food and said it was working to improve its supply chain.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Airlines Flight Did Not Ignore Safety Warnings, Minister Says

Reaction In Kuala Lumpur As Air Malaysia Plane Crashes In Eastern Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines crew closed the counter at Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 1 on July 18, 2014 in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Rahman Roslan—Getty Images

The route over conflict zones in eastern Europe was "approved" and "safe," says Malaysia's Transport Minister

At a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Friday afternoon local time, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai denied that Malaysia Airlines had shirked security warnings and approved Flight 17’s taking of a shorter route from Amsterdam over conflict zones in Eastern Europe in order to save time and fuel.

“This was an approved route, and approved routes are safe routes,” he said, adding that 15 of 16 international air carriers from the Asia-Pacific region rely on the flight path over Ukraine, where the Kuala Lumpur–bound Boeing 777 was purportedly shot down by pro-Russian insurgents on Thursday evening.

In the aftermath of the disaster, however, Malaysia Airlines has rerouted its Europe-to-Malaysia flights over the Middle East and India, according to maps provided by FlightAware.com. A flight that departed for Kuala Lumpur from Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport shortly before news of the crash broke appears to have been quickly diverted southward while crossing Poland.

The pilots of the doomed airliner, however, had no foresight of the risks, Liow said. He insisted that “no last-minute instructions” had been given to Flight 17’s crew, and dispelled rumors that ground controllers had received a mayday call from the cockpit of Flight 17 prior to its crashing in a rural area of eastern Ukraine.

He also provided an updated passenger manifest; at press time, the identities of only 20 of the 298 passengers had yet to be accounted for. It was learned earlier in the day that the step-grandmother of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak may be among the deceased, and that a number of those onboard — maybe as many as a hundred, according to some reports — were AIDS researchers, health workers and activists en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Over the course of a hectic press day, Malaysian officials skirted around the issue of culpability, choosing instead to address to emotional magnitude of the tragedy and exonerate state agencies and Malaysia Airlines from any potential wrongdoing. The governments of both the Ukraine and the U.S., however, insist that a Russian-made antiaircraft missile fired by pro-Russia separatists had felled the aircraft from the sky, though it remains unclear whether it was an errant mistake or a deliberate act of terrorism, as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has insisted.

TIME Economy

Global Markets Suffer After Ukraine Crash, Unrest Elsewhere

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange July 17, 2014. U.S. stocks fell sharply lower on Thursday. © Brendan McDermid / Reuters—REUTERS

Stock markets report losses around the world as investors take fright at the broader geopolitical implications of the MH17 tragedy

Markets across the world took a conspicuous dive on Thursday in the wake of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17’s catastrophic crash in Ukraine — an event that came toward the end of a week marked by political unrest across Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

The Boeing 777 crashed in a rural area controlled by pro-Russian insurgency forces, believed by Ukrainian authorities to have shot down the plane, killing all 298 people on board.

As governments mobilized to make sense of the tragedy, which a spokesman for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denounced as an unequivocal act of terrorism, equity and currency traders anxiously rushed to sell their shares, eyeing the crash as indicative of a broader geopolitical tumult that could threaten global economic stability.

“What happened with the plane today and things swirling around with what may have actually happened with the plane caused a bit of a sell-off,” J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade, told the Associated Press. “The geopolitical risk is always the first one that people look for because it’s the one that changes the fastest. The market always hates uncertainty.”

Things had been economically rocky in Russia on Thursday morning even prior to the incident, with new sanctions against the country being imposed by the U.S. and E.U. — a response to Vladimir Putin’s support for the very rebels believed to have downed the Malaysia Airlines flight. That knocked the MICEX, Moscow’s primary stock exchange, down 2.9% by the day’s end. The ruble was down 1.1% against the dollar.

Things were relatively secure elsewhere until news of the crash broke around 10:30 a.m. E.T., shortly after markets opened on Wall Street. Emerging headlines on the tragedy, compounded with reports of Israel launching a ground offensive against Hamas forces in Gaza, jump-started the panic. The New York Stock Exchange had fallen by more than 127 points by the time it closed on Thursday evening; the S&P 500 reported its largest one-day percentage drop since April; prices of gold and oil had risen globally.

Friday has so far proved grim for stock markets in Asia, with both the Hang Seng in Hong Kong and the Nikkei 225 reporting notable slides by mid-afternoon.

In Kuala Lumpur, the price of Malaysia Airlines stock has been on the decline — not only in the aftermath of Thursday’s incident but for the past several months after the disappearance of Flight 370 in March, which has placed a significant financial burden on the company.

TIME Singapore

Singapore Has Banned an Archie Comic for Depicting a Gay Wedding

In an installment of Life With Archie first published in 2012, the franchise tackled the issue of gay marriage head on — by putting it on the cover. The Hollywood Reporter

A recent crackdown on publications discussing homosexuality sheds light on Singapore's traditional moral values and notoriously restricted press

State media censors in Singapore have banned the sale of an Archie comic book for its frank presentation of gay marriage, a matter that remains socially taboo and legally verboten in Southeast Asia’s most developed state.

Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA) censored the comic book, first published in January 2012, earlier this year, but the ban is only just now coming to light — a week after another state agency removed three children’s books promoting tolerance of same-sex relationships from the national library’s shelves.

The third installment in Archie: The Married Life, one of several spinoff series in the multifarious Archie universe, features the wedding of Kevin Keller, a gay character whose creation in 2010 earned writer Dan Parent a GLAAD Media Award last year. (In the latest volume, Archie dies taking a bullet for Kevin, now a U.S. Senator.)

As critic Alyssa Rosenberg noted Wednesday in The Washington Post, the 75-year-old comic book franchise has in recent years adopted a distinctly political subtext, taking on issues of topical significance as they come: Kevin, a gay solider, was introduced as the Obama administration was deliberating the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Archie’s interracial marriage made the cover in 2012.

Social progressivism isn’t really Singapore’s forte, though.

“[We]… found its content to be in breach of guidelines because of its depiction of the same sex marriage of two characters in the comic,” an MDA spokesperson said in a statement to TIME. “We thus informed the local distributor not to import or distribute the comic in retail outlets.”

In its guidelines for imported publications, the MDA prohibits comics and other illustrated material that depict or discuss “alternative lifestyles or deviant sexual practices,” listing homosexuality as an example of such (alongside “group sex and sadomasochism”).

Such stringent regulations are par for the course in Singapore, where social conservatism reigns supreme and strict curbs are placed on the dissemination of information. The country ranks 149th of the 179 countries listed in the 2013 Press Freedom Index — between Iraq and Vladimir Putin’s Russia — earning it the distinction of having the least free press of any developed economy in the world.

Concerning the recent purge of homosexual content, though, these restrictions may not be completely unwelcome. Sodomy, although rarely prosecuted, is criminalized as an act of “gross indecency,” and the majority of citizens, according to one survey, still take a “conservative approach” to marital and family matters. Indeed, the MDA claims to predicate its censorship decisions upon “public feedback or complaints,” and only turned its attention to the Archie comic after receiving a number of grievances.

TIME Syria

The Vast Majority of Syrians Are Opposed to an Islamic Caliphate

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. Reuters

The data affirms the sentiments of some prominent Muslim leaders and academics in the region

The Islamist insurgents who have seized towns and cities across Iraq and Syria in recent weeks have not received the warmest of welcomes from their new charges. A survey conducted by a British polling group reveals that only 4% of Syrians support the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) group’s crusade for a pan-Arab Islamic caliphate — with one in three Syrians still backing the government of President Bashar Assad.

“This [research] is a unique insight into public opinion in Syria,” Johnny Heald, managing director of the polling firm, told Reuters. “They don’t believe the extremist groups best represent their views.”

The poll, conducted by local interviewing teams, spanned 12 of Syria’s 14 provinces.

The data affirms the sentiments of some prominent Muslim leaders and academics in the region, many of whom have recently spoken out against the struggle for an Islamist state spanning the Middle East as socially reckless and scripturally ill-informed.

“The Baghdadi caliphate is rejected by most mainstream Islamists because they feel it damages their cause to establish an Islamic system through peaceful means,” Farid Senzai, a professor of Middle East politics at Santa Clara University, told al-Jazeera on Monday.

[Reuters]

TIME South Korea

South Korean Ferry Was Operating Illicitly, State Report Says

Relatives of a missing passenger onboard the capsized Sewol ferry, looks at the sea while a Buddhist monk prays for the victims at a port in the rain in Jindo
Relatives of a missing passenger onboard the capsized Sewol ferry look at the sea while a Buddhist monk prays for the victims at a port in the rain, where family members wait for news from the search and rescue team on April 27, 2014. Kim Kyung Hoon—Reuters

The Sewol had earned an operating license by means of fraudulent documents, and carried twice the legal limit of cargo

The MV Sewol was operating under a license earned by fraudulent safety documents when it capsized off the South Korean coast in April, an incident that left 300 people — mostly high school students on a class trip — dead.

An interim report on the tragedy filed by South Korean state investigators failed to specify exactly how the Sewol deceived licensing officials, CNN reported, but the Audit and Inspection Board plans to penalize those agencies that failed to perform proper safety inspections aboard the ferry.

On its final voyage, the ferry’s cargo exceeded twice the legal limit and had not been properly secured onboard, contributing to the boat’s capsizing en route from the city of Incheon, near Seoul, to the island of Jeju.

The findings of this latest report do not bode well for the Sewol’s crew and owners, who face legal charges for negligent actions that prosecutors say both facilitated the sinking of the ferry and failed to prevent the death of most of those onboard.

Lee Joon-seok, the captain of the Sewol with four decades of maritime experience, has been charged with murder for fleeing the sinking vessel. The seafaring tradition of “going down with one’s ship” is, many legal experts have argued, in fact enshrined in South Korean and international law.

TIME China

How Transformers 4 Became the No. 1 Film in Chinese History

A 21-foot tall model of the Transformers character Optimus Prime is displayed on the red carpet before the world premiere of the film "Transformers: Age of Extinction" in Hong Kong
A model of the character Optimus Prime is displayed on the red carpet before the world premiere of Transformers: Age of Extinction in Hong Kong on June 19, 2014 Siu Chiu—Reuters

It's not as simple as a national appreciation for universally scorned movies

The latest film in Michael Bay’s Transformers series was largely set in China, had its premiere in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong and is now the highest-grossing film in the country’s history, having earned $222.74 million in ticket sales in less than two weeks.

It dethrones James Cameron’s Avatar, which made slightly less when it premiered in early 2010.

Given that critical reaction to Transformers: Age of Extinction has been almost conspiratorially negative across the board — Richard Roeper called it “relentless,” and not as a compliment; Peter Travers at Rolling Stone refused to give it even one star — much of the coverage of its success in China has been, well, pretty darn condescending: “Chinese people are dazzled by anything Hollywood, etc.”

The reality is more complex. If the bar of cinematic quality is indeed set lower in China, the tastes of its 1.3 billion people aren’t necessarily to blame. The Chinese Communist Party is exceedingly picky about the films screened in the country, especially in the case of foreign cinema; so if a movie does well, one can ultimately thank the government.

The long and the short of it: Bay made a movie set and filmed in China, starring Chinese actors, using Chinese resources and pushing Chinese products, and in exchange, the movie gets a timely premiere across the country’s 18,000-plus movie screens.

And timely is the operative word here. According to a diligently researched report from Quartz, Transformers: Age of Extinction is one of the few Western blockbusters to arrive in China contemporaneously with its premiere in the U.S. and elsewhere — thereby minimizing the market opportunity typically seized by bootleggers hawking pirated copies and so boosting box-office sales.

Some critics have scoffed at the outcome of the necessary negotiations, though, calling it at best clumsy — one overt product placement features a man in the middle of Texas withdrawing cash from a China Construction Bank ATM — and at worst just plain shameless — as car robots terrorize semiautonomous Hong Kong, one policeman insists on “[calling] the central government for help.” But as China’s box-office market is the largest outside of North America, and expected to usurp the U.S. as the biggest in the world by the end of the decade, Mr. Bay, we can assume, is laughing all the way to the bank.

TIME Soccer

Meet Brazil’s ‘Black-Magic Enthusiast’ and His Anti-German Voodoo Dolls

FBL-WC-2014-BRA-MACUMBA
An Afro-Brazilian ritual takes place at a religious-goods shop in Rio de Janeiro on July 3, 2014 Yasuyoshi Chiba—AFP/Getty Images

After Neymar's injury, the Brazilian team may need all the magic it can get

Magic, or some other supernatural tendency, has had a long and weirdly intimate relationship with the game of soccer.

This isn’t simply a matter of the clairvoyant octopus or turtle that may have accurately predicted the outcome of a World Cup match or two. When Ghana’s national team, for instance, lost to Zambia in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, Ghanaian coach Goran Stevanovic pointed to deliberate acts of witchcraft between his players as a plausible explanation for the upset. (Stevanovic, it should be said, was fired shortly afterward.)

So let us be disturbed, but not particularly surprised, by Helio Sillman, the Brazilian “black-magic enthusiast” who, via a voodoo doll in his occult curio shop in northern Rio de Janeiro, has plans to “take [Germany’s] top player and bind his legs so he can’t run on the pitch,” reports AFP.

Brazil will play Germany on Tuesday afternoon in what’ll likely be a riveting match, considering the near infallibility of both teams so far. In the past few weeks, Brazil has trounced Cameroon, Chile, Croatia and Mexico; Sillman has voodoo dolls of players from all four teams sitting in a bowl in his shop. The match results are proof, he says, that his magic works.

The Brazilian team may need all the magic it can get. Neymar, the team’s golden player, apparently fell outside the domain of Sillman’s protective aura when he was kneed in the back during Friday’s quarterfinal match against Colombia, causing a particularly nasty lumbar vertebra fracture that’ll keep him benched for the remainder of the World Cup.

[AFP]

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