California desert to be protected as national monument

Some 1.8 million acres of scenic California desert were designated national monuments by U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday, roughly doubling the amount of public land set aside for protection during his presidency.Obama's protection of three sections of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts means that the federal government, which owns the land, will not be able to sell it, build new roads or allow new development that is not in keeping with such uses as recreation, environmental protection and flood control."The California desert is a cherished and irreplaceable resource for the people of southern California," Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said Friday. It was the second time in less than two years that Obama has stepped in to protect large swaths of California wilderness after Congress was unable to agree on setting them aside, and the latest example of Obama using executive power to act on issues stalled in Congress. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, tried for years to persuade Congress to set aside the desert land, located southeast of Los Angeles in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties and owned by the federal government.When her effort became mired in partisan politics, Obama agreed to use his executive power to designate the three areas as national monuments.Similarly, in 2014 Obama set aside a 540-square mile section of the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles after Rep. Judy Chu attempted unsuccessfully to win approval for its protection in Congress. Opponents in both cases said naming the land national monuments could lead to restrictions on rights held by local businesses, or impact the type of recreational activity that could take place.But the White House said that the designations would not change any existing rights to use the land. The new protected areas include the 1.6 million acre Mojave Trails National Monument, which includes rugged mountains, ancient lava flows and sand dunes, the White House said.Obama, who was set to visit the desert city of Palm Springs on Friday, also set aside the Sand to Snow National Monument, 154,000 acres from the desert floor to mountain peaks, and Castle Mountains National Monument, 21,000 acres connecting two mountain ranges. (Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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Kanye West's new album and fashion show draw 20 million viewers

LOS ANGELES More than 20 million viewers watched rapper and fashion designer Kanye West put his own twist on a New York Fashion Week runway show on Thursday as he debuted a new album and clothing collection at famed music venue Madison Square Garden. West, his reality star wife Kim Kardashian and her family, including former NBA basketball player Lamar Odom, entered the Manhattan venue to cheers from the audience. It is the first time Odom, the estranged husband of Khloe Kardashian, has been seen in public since he fell into a coma after using cocaine at a brothel last October and was hospitalized. The was streamed for free online via subscription music streaming service Tidal, garnering around 20 million viewers according to the platform. Tidal, which touts hi-fidelity streaming, is co-owned by a group of music's top artists including West, Jay Z, Rihanna and Beyonce. As West played new tracks for his upcoming "The Life of Pablo" album, dozens of models were unveiled standing on raised platforms in the center of the arena, wearing the new Yeezy Season 3 that West designed for sports brand Adidas. The collection, launched on the first day of the city's fashion week, featured West's penchant for neutral tones but included bright pops of pink, red and orange across the collection of leotards, tops, leggings and parkas worn by a diverse group of models. West also announced an upcoming video game called "Only Once," which he said was about his late mother Donda West's journey to the gates of heaven.The show quickly became a top social media trend, as fans tweeted about the collection and the music. One particular explicit lyric regarding Taylor Swift on new track "Famous" garnered a strong response from fans as West rapped that he had made the pop star famous, referring to the their infamous 2009 MTV Video Music Awards incident where West interrupted Swift's acceptance speech on stage. Swift and West had since buried the hatchet, but fans speculated the new lyrics could incite a feud between the two music stars. Also getting in on the action, former drug executive Martin Shkreli tweeted out a letter addressed to West offering to buy "The Life of Pablo" for $10 million so that it would be released solely to him, and kept from the public. Shkreli is currently being sued over his Wu-Tang album "Once Upon A Time in Shaolin," the sole copy of which he bought for $2 million. West has yet to respond to Shkreli. (Story refiles to add dropped word "streaming" in paragraph 4) (Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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Morris-Goodwin scuffle makes defeat worse for Suns

The Phoenix Suns' season took another fractious turn on Wednesday when team mates Markieff Morris and Archie Goodwin got into a shoving match during the team’s loss to the Golden State Warriors. A heated conversation turned physical between the two players during a first-quarter timeout as Morris stood over a seated Goodwin who then leapt up from the bench. The huddled Phoenix bench quickly broke up the dust-up, but they could do little to halt their freefall. The Suns (14-40) lost to the Warriors 112-104 for their ninth straight defeat as they sank further down the Western Conference. Phoenix fired coach Jeff Hornacek last week and promoted assistant Earl Watson to interim head coach. Wednesday’s incident is not the first internal conflict for Morris who was suspended two games in December for throwing a towel at Hornacek. (Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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'To Kill a Mockingbird' headed for Broadway debut

NEW YORK Harper Lee's classic novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" is coming to Broadway for the first time in a new stage version written by "West Wing" writer Aaron Sorkin, producers said on Wednesday.The Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 novel about racism and injustice in the American south will make its Broadway debut in the 2017-2018 season, producer Scott Rudin said.Although the book was made into an Oscar-winning movie in 1962, starring Gregory Peck as noble lawyer Atticus Finch, and has been produced for the stage in various U.S. cities and in London, this will be the first time "Mockingbird" will be seen on Broadway.Lee's novel has sold more than 50 million copies and was thought to be the author's only book until an unpublished manuscript featuring some of the same characters was found and published last year called "Go Set A Watchman." "Watchman," described as a first draft of "Mockingbird," astounded readers and critics by portraying the heroic Finch as a racist who supported segregation. Sorkin is best known as the creator of the Emmy-winning White House television series "West Wing" and an Oscar-winner for the screenplay of "The Social Network." (Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Scandalous painting inspires new London ballet 'Strapless'

LONDON When acclaimed choreographer Christopher Wheeldon first saw "Portrait of Madame X", he was captivated by the painting that caused a social uproar in 19th century Paris.The John Singer Sargent portrait of married socialite Amelie Gautreau showed her in a black dress with one of her jeweled straps slipping off her right shoulder. Unveiled in 1884, the painting was deemed provocative and shocked Parisian high society. Sargent swiftly repainted the strap in place - but the damage to both their reputations was done.English-born Wheeldon saw the painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he joined City Ballet in 1993. Years later, he has taken inspiration from it for his latest production, "Strapless", premiering at London's Royal Ballet this week."I fell in love with the painting ... and really was intrigued by so many of the things I think that made the painting a scandal: her stance, the way her skin tone made her stand out from the darkness of the background, her curves," he told Reuters. "When I discovered the story was so rich in intrigue and scandal, she seemed like a wonderful character to build a ballet around."The one-act narrative production is also inspired by Deborah Davis' book of the same name. Leading the cast are Royal Ballet Principal Dancers Natalia Osipova as Gautreau and Edward Watson as Sargent."The more I looked at what happened, the more I understood what a real tragedy it was," Osipova said. "When someone has a strong desire to achieve something but then society ... discards it, this can make the person feel vulnerable ... and so at the end of the ballet she (Gautreau) ends up naked and exposed." Gautreau's reputation was badly damaged after the unveiling, however Sargent managed to eventually rebuild his career."I think it's interesting that ... everybody involved is sort of victims of the piece of work," Watson said. "He is painting something which he thought was going to be great, she is posing for something which she thought would be the perfect portrait of her. So the interesting thing is what that work did to everybody." "Strapless" is Wheeldon's eighth work for the Royal Ballet, where he is Artistic Associate and follows his productions of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "A Winter's Tale".It premieres at London's Royal Opera House on Feb. 12 as part of a program of three Wheeldon works, including "After the Rain" and "Within the Golden Hour". (Reporting by Vera Afdjei; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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