Li Na Land, reality TV and fashion — what China’s tennis pioneer did next

(CNN)She may have hung up her tennis racket more than two years ago, but two-time grand slam champion Li Na is still winning big in business.

China’s first major singles champion, Li has been busy since she quit tennis in 2014 following a string of injuries.
Now 35, Li has since had two children with her husband and former coach, Jiang Shan. Business interests include movie and book deals, her own clothing line in China with long-time sponsor Nike, appearances in reality television shows and possibly her own tennis academy in China.
    “We pass on many things,” Max Eisenbud, Li’s long-time agent at IMG, told CNN. “It is just crazy how much interest there is.”

    Li Na Land

    Starting her own tennis academy in China to help young Chinese players is “a huge priority” Eisenbud said.
    “My idea is to create a ‘Li Na Land’ where you have a restaurant, a hotel and spa resort,” he said.
    Although Eisenbud said he’s still looking for the right location, the project was “getting nearer.”
    “We’re not interested in just getting an academy and putting her name on it,” he said. “Li Na wants a very good school system to go with it. But then you have to partner with the right school, because we’re not going to run the school.”

    French Open

    Li became a household name in China, the world’s second largest economy, when she beat Italy’s Francesca Schiavone on the clay of Roland Garros in 2011. That match was watched by over a million people in China alone.
    Li, who also won the 2014 Australian Open and rose to a career-high No. 2 in the world that same year, is still one of China’s most popular stars, with more than 23 million followers on Chinese social network Weibo.
    Known for her aggressive game style on the court and dry wit off it, Li often clashed with the Chinese tennis federation over issues, including prize money.
    But her historic win in Paris helped put the sport on the map in her home country, where some 15 million people now play tennis, according to the International Tennis Federation. That’s up from one million in 1988.
    After her French Open victory, Li signed a string of endorsements and became the world’s second best-paid female athlete after Maria Sharapova, who is also represented by Eisenbud.

    ‘True pioneer’

    Even in retirement, Li is still a marketing force to be reckoned with.
    Last year, she made more than $20 million, according to Eisenbud, from projects and endorsements with blue chip companies, including Nike, Mercedes Benz and Swiss luxury watch brand Rolex.
    That’s $2 million more than in her final year on the women’s Tour. when her off-court earnings were calculated at $18 million by Forbes.
    “She comes from one of the wealthiest countries in the world,” Eisenbud said. “And I always call her the Billie Jean King of that country, she’s a true pioneer.”

    Reality TV

    Li and her husband, whom she often refers to as Dennis, have also been taking advantage of China’s growing appetite for reality television.
    “That business has boomed in China and she’s made some really big money doing that,” Eisenbud said.
    Li is in the process of starting her own television production company, which may produce a reality show starring the former player and her husband taking up different sports alongside other famous athletes in China.
    A movie based on Li’s life, directed by Chinese filmmaker Peter Chan and on which she is acting as a consultant, will start filming this year.
    Although Li often said her main goal once she retired was to become a housewife, she has barely sat still since chronic knee injuries forced her to end her career.
    “She has just really surprised me in how much she really wanted to do and grow businesses,” Eisenbud said.

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    ‘Deadpool 2’ has all the makings of a superhero classic

    If there was one big surprise out of the superhero film genre in 2016, it was the massive success of Deadpool.

    Sure, the irreverent mercenary had some things going in his favor. Deadpool already had a substantial comic book fanbase, movie audiences were thirsty for something different, and Ryan Reynolds’ own appreciation for the character made for a faithful adaptation. But the R-rated Deadpoolwas still a significant risk for 20th Century Fox (they dumped it in February for god’s sake),making its unexpected $783 million success a game changer that paved the way for more unusual, R-rated superhero flicks like the highly praisedLogan.

    Now Reynolds and Fox are under pressure to hit another home run with Deadpool 2, and this time production isn’t just being watched by Deadpool’s cult fanbase. Millions of new fans aregobbling up every casting rumor and teaser. Here’s what we know so far.

    Deadpool 2 trailer

    Deadpool’s marketing strategy has always been unorthodox (that’s part of what drove amusedaudiences to theaters for the original). So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Merc with the Mouth showed up in a post-credit scene that actually ran before screenings of Logan.

    We’ll have to wait for a real trailer to learn more about the movie itself, but fans loved seeing Deadpool back on the big screen in this teaser.

    Deadpool 2 cast

    Reynolds is now almost assynonymous with Deadpool as Hugh Jackman is with the Wolverine. He’lldefinitely be back, joined by a number of popular comics characters.

    It was Deadpool himself who first name-dropped Cable in the post-credit scene of the first movie. The two were often paired together in the comics, and while Cable’s mutant powershad several iterations, he’s been known to havetelepathic, telekinetic, and time-traveling abilities.

    Fans started speculating about who would play Cable as soon as his name left Deadpool’s lipsin fact Deadpool even added his own picks:Mel Gibson, Dolph Lundgren, or Keira Knightley. Several actors have been floated as being under consideration, but as of March 22, Variety reported that Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire) was the front-runner.

    Zazie Beats (Atlanta) has been tapped to play Domino, a fellow mercenary with mutant probability-shifting powers that give her good luck. (She’s also a hell of a good shot.)

    Behind the scenes, Deadpool director Tim Miller won’t be backfor the sequel. Instead, John Wick director David Leitch is taking the helm, with a script penning by returningwritersRhett Reese and Paul Wernick.

    Also returning will be Brianna Hildebrand as the delightfully sulky Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Stefan Kapicic as Colossus, and Karan Soni as taxi driver Dopinder.

    Screengrab via KinoCheck International/YouTube

    Deadpool 2 plot

    Deadpool 2‘s creative team has given us few clues about what story the sequel might tell, aside from what we can glean from the characters that’ll appear. Cable is sure to play a significant part, and we know from the comics that he’s often portrayed as the long-suffering straight man when paired with the raunchy hilarity of Deadpool. The original movie’s post-credits scene specifically mentions Cable’stime-traveling abilities, so it’s possible those will factor into the plot.

    We might also see anattempt by 20th Century Fox to tie wildly popular Deadpool into the rest of its X-Men universe. If it does go that route, it should proceed cautiously to avoidfalling into theover-bloated-superhero-sequel trap.

    Screengrab via KinoCheck International/YouTube

    Deadpool 2poster

    An official poster hasn’t been released forDeadpool 2, but fans loved this parody poster that ripped fromSpider-Man: Homecoming. Sadly, a crossover is highly unlikely, given that Fox owns the rights to Deadpool, while Sony/Disney controls Spider-Man.

    Photo via @BossLogic/Twitter

    Deadpool 2 release date

    Deadpool 2 doesn’t have a release date yet, though it’s expected to be out sometime in 2018.

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    A huge sigh of relief on health care

    (CNN)As House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the Republican health care bill from voting, I could almost hear the giant sigh of relief from Atlanta and across the nation’s health care establishment.

    Hidden in the nooks and crannies of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was a provision to eliminate $1 billion in disease prevention funds from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Those cheers I imagine I hear right now in Atlanta are huzzahs from the CDC headquarters.
    According to the GOP plan, “Our Step-by-Step Approach,” the first of three steps towards reshaping the American health care market was thwarted on Friday when the White House, recognizing that splits within the Republican Party could not be resolved to allow passage of the AHCA, instructed Ryan to pull the bill. Step two, led by Secretary Tom Price and his team at the Department of Health and Human Services, may still proceed: “going through every page of regulations and guidance related to the Affordable Care Act to determine whether or not they work for patients,” with an eye to eliminating the rules laid out by the Obama administration.
      And under step three, Congress would have passed a series of laws aimed at lowering malpractice liability, enhancing cross-state-line insurance marketing and eliminating all forms of family planning provisions covered with federal funds. Republicans now know that all three steps will be tough, if not impossible, for them to accomplish.
      After seven years of bashing Obamacare and 60 prior votes to repeal the ACA, Congress discovered over the last five weeks that:
      1. Americans didn’t want the ACA repealed until Congress created a replacement for Obamacare.
      2. Replacing the ACA is much harder than repealing it. As President Trump put it on February 27, “Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated. I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject.”
      3. As debate unfolded over ACA replacement millions of Americans learned, apparently for the first time, that “Obamacare” and the “Affordable Care Act” are the same thing. In early February, a survey found that 35% of Americans were unaware that the federal health insurance system that many of them were relying upon was “Obamacare,” and as realization sank in, opposition to changing or repealing the ACA swelled. By mid-March nearly 60% of Americans opposed changing or repealing the ACA, and members of Congress were hearing complaints from constituents all over the country about AHCA provisions that would decrease or eliminate many types of coverage, and increase costs to most individuals.
      4. The AHCA’s reliance on individual tax credits to offset elimination of direct subsidies for health care never won favor with most voters, as only the wealthiest Americans would garner sufficient tax deductions to cover their health costs.
      5. The GOP leadership touted the AHCA as “health freedom,” liberating average Americans from the chains of federal mandates and control. But they would accomplish the liberation by passing funds to the states in the form of Medicaid block grants, which each state would use as it deemed fit. Republican governors howled in protest, realizing this “freedom” simply shifted the burden of health regulation and most costs from Washington to the cash-strapped states.
      6. It is impossible to separate the “healthy” from the “sickly” and affordably place them in different insurance pools. Obamacare could only satisfy the insurance industry’s financing needs if it mandated pooled enrollment of both healthy young adults, people suffering from chronic diseases, and the sicker older adults.

      How the GOP angered constituencies

        Trump and Ryan pull GOP health bill


      As the debate unfolded, advocates for the GOP plan made statements, or offered amendments, that angered a succession of constituencies and health organizations. A call to insert provisions allowing employers to conduct genetic tests on job applicants, eliminating all funding for Planned Parenthood, questioning the wisdom of “forcing” men to pay for insurance coverage of maternity care, childbirth and newborn services, undermining access to treatment for opioid addiction, telling poor Americans that they need to choose between buying the latest iPhone and purchasing insurance — these and countless more tone-deaf statements and initiatives from Republican politicians had the nation crying foul.
      Perhaps the coup de grace came with Vice President Mike Pence’s tweet of a White House meeting with members of Congress, discussing cuts in women’s health and maternity coverage to reduce the overall cost of the AHCA. Twitter exploded with protest over the optics of a room full of white men — and not a single woman to be seen — deciding the fate of the nation’s female population.
      On social media many compared the all-male discussion of women’s health coverage in the White House to Saudi Arabia’s creation of a Girl’s Council composed of men.

      Widespread opposition from the experts

      Nearly every major medical and public health professionals’ organization in the nation opposed the GOP plan, even before the Congressional Budget Office released its nonpartisan assessment of the bill’s likely impact. Opposition grew when the CBO concluded that by the end of 2018 the AHCA would bump 14 million Americans out of insurance coverage — a sorry lot that would swell to 21 million by 2020 and 24 million by 2026. Though President Trump had vowed to provide “insurance for everybody,” the AHCA would roll the total number of uninsured Americans back to pre-2009 levels.

        Deconstructing the GOP healthcare bill failure


      So under the ACA the $1 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund was created, in the CDC. The CDC used those funds to support everything from diabetes diagnosis and care programs to elimination of lead poisoning. A third of the funds ($324 million) were for vaccines and child immunization programs. Another $12 million targeted adolescent suicide efforts and $160 million subsidized epidemic surveillance and the safety of drinking water and food from bacterial contamination. All of these programs would have disappeared — 12% of the CDC’s total budget — with repeal of the ACA.
      Health trends in America, particularly when compared to those in other developed nations like Germany and Japan, are terrible. Eliminating the CDC’s vaccination budget would effectively propel an already dangerous anti-immunization movement that finds parents across the country refusing to vaccinate their children.
      The CDC program that would have been eliminated covers eighty 80% of the nation’s efforts to control heart disease and strokes — the No. 1 cause of death in the US Stockpiles of drugs and medical equipment that are rapidly deployed in catastrophes, outbreaks and natural disasters would have disappeared.
      Americans are dying younger — especially white, middle-aged men. One reason: fentanyl, heroin and other opioids. In 1999 drug overdoses claimed the lives of 6.1 of every 100,000 Americans, and that soared to 16.3 per 100,000 in 2015. Most of the overdoses in 2015 were white Americans aged 45-54 years. Whether from drugs, accidents or any other cause, premature death rates are worst in rural America, where health care is least accessible.
      Life expectancy in America took a backwards turn in 2015 for the first time since the mid-1990s peak of the AIDS epidemic, falling to 78.8 years on average, combined for men and women. Cancer death rates fell, but more Americans in 2015 died from unintentional injuries, suicides, respiratory diseases and Alzheimer’s. The CDC concluded, “In 2015, a total of 2,712,630 resident deaths were registered in the United States 86,212 more deaths than in 2014. From 2014 to 2015, the age-adjusted death rate for the total population increased 1.2%, and life expectancy at birth decreased 0.1 year.”
      More Americans are dying from drug-resistant infections — the garden variety staph and strep bugs that used to be swiftly cured with a course of routine antibiotics. But last year Congress only approved $14 million for CDC research to identify ways to preserve the utility of antibiotics. Given the scale of the crisis, it was a pittance. The arrival, to US hospitals, of forms of bacteria can be so extremely resistant to treatment that, in the case of a Nevada woman last year, 26 different antibacterial drugs failed to save her life.

      Startling decline in Americans’ life expectancy

      Comparing American survival to that of other nations can be startling. The United States ranks 37th in the World Health Organization’s annual health systems assessment, behind not only the longest-lived societies like Japan, and the entire continent of Europe, but also below tiny Costa Rica. With a GDP per capita, in 2015, of only $9,200, Costa Ricans live an average one year longer than their far wealthier US counterparts. US male mortality is 18% higher than in Costa Rica; American female mortality is 10% higher than Costa Ricans for women under 65 years of age. The biggest differences between Costa Ricans and Americans are for deaths due to lung cancer, influenza and heart disease.
      Why do people in the tiny Central American nation live longer, for less money, than their United States counterparts? It’s simple: the Costa Rican government ensures that every single citizen has equal access to basic care and prevention services, while the United States fails to do so, and Costa Rica’s health system provides better care based on individual wealth or quality of private insurance.
      Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute wrote a startling essay entitled “Our Miserable 21st Century,” in which he linked the rise of nationalism and victory of Donald Trump to the nation’s declining life expectancy, soaring opioid crisis and falling social mobility. In conservative Eberstadt’s view the very conditions that led campaign crowds in 2016 to scream for the death of Obamacare are what the Affordable Care Act is meant to address.
      According to a 2009 Harvard study a whopping 62% of family and personal bankruptcies filed in the United States before Obamacare were caused by financially overwhelming medical expenses. That translates to a little more than 640,000 people, and makes health care the primary cause of pre-ACA American financial catastrophe.

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      The Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey found that after four years of Obamacare the number of Americans claiming bankruptcy or financial difficulty due to medical bills fell from 75 million in 2012 to 64 million two years later, “And for the first time [since 2001], there was a decline in the number of people who had problems paying their medical bills or who are paying off medical debt over time.” Moreover, the survey found, “The coverage gains are allowing working-age adults to get the health care they need while reducing their level of financial burden because of medical bills and debt.”
      And so I breathe a sigh of relief as the GOP’s American Health Care Act goes to its grave. As long as the maligned Obamacare and its Prevention and Public Health Fund remain funded and functioning there is reason to hope that America can once again see improvements in its population’s life expectancy, women can safely give birth to healthy babies, and families can afford to confront tragic catastrophes like paralyzing injuries or cancer without fear of bankruptcy and medically-induced poverty.

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      GOP, to govern you need to make friends with Democrats

      (CNN)This was far more than a routine legislative flub. It is a warning to congressional Republicans and the Trump White House.

      The embarrassing collapse of the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act makes clear the limits of the GOP’s unwise, unworkable insistence on shutting Democrats out of lawmaking. The refusal to move any piece of legislation forward without Democratic votes will bedevil Ryan and Trump as they attempt to rewrite the tax codes, immigration laws and the nation’s multi-trillion-dollar budget.
      For decades, success in Congress depended on an alliance between Republicans and conservative, so-called Blue Dog Democrats. The result was a string of centrist deals that marginalized ultra-liberal and super conservative members and allowed legislation to move forward.
        That system broke down in the 1990s. Election after election, conservative Democrats got wiped out in the South, while liberal Republicans were rendered extinct in New England and other Northeastern districts.

          Schumer: Trump to blame for failed bill

        MUST WATCH

        But having more conservatives in the GOP conference doesn’t always help the party get things done. By making every vote a matter of securing a near-unanimous Republican majority — and by shunning any possibility of working with conservative Democrats on select issues — Ryan, like his predecessor, John Boehner, has placed himself in thrall to the most hard-line conservatives in his conference, the so-called Freedom Caucus.
        The parliamentary math is brutally simple. Ryan’s self-imposed requirement to pass legislation by relying exclusively on Republicans means that any group of 23 or more GOP members can hamstring the speaker by denying him a majority — or threatening to do so, an effective power play in its own right.
        And that is precisely what the Freedom Caucus, a loose collection of 30 to 40 ultra-conservatives, has chosen to do. Prominent members of the caucus defected from the Ryan bill, with one, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, calling the Ryan bill “the largest welfare program ever proposed” by Republicans and calling for Congress to simply eliminate Obamacare with no replacement.
        “It’s not a repeal. It’s a marketing ploy,” he said of the Ryan bill.
        While Brooks and other hard-liners were threatening to jump ship unless Obamacare was eliminated, powerful moderate Republicans like Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, chair of the Appropriations Committee, wanted to keep some protections in for the most vulnerable of his constituents.
        “Unfortunately, the legislation before the House today is currently unacceptable as it would place significant new costs and barriers to care on my constituents in New Jersey,” Frelinghuysen said shortly before the vote, explaining why he could not support it.
        Trump and Ryan say they have no plans to revive health care reform anytime soon. But as they move on to other topics, they should remember the health care debacle — and the folly of putting their agenda at the mercy of extremists.

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        US women’s hockey team strike ‘historic’ pay deal and agree to end boycott

        Players and federation announce agreement on pay and conditions, meaning team will play in world championships, which begin on Friday in Michigan

        USA Hockey and the womens national team reached a wage agreement Tuesday night to avoid a boycott of the world championships.

        Players and USA Hockey announced the deal in a joint statement just three days before the tournament begins in Plymouth, Michigan. Its a four-year agreement that pays players outside of the six-month Olympic period.

        Its historic, its new and different, and the players are happy, said John Langel, the players lawyer.

        Team captain Meghan Duggan said: Our sport is the big winner today. We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockeys leadership listened. In the end, both sides came together. Im proud of my teammates and cant thank everyone who supported us enough. Its time now to turn the page. We cant wait to play in the World Championship later this week in front of our fans as we try and defend our gold medal.

        After more than a year of negotiations over wages and equitable support, players announced March 15 that theyd boycott the International Ice Hockey Federation Womens World Championship on home ice if significant progress wasnt made toward an agreement. The sides met for 10-plus hours in person last week and continued conversations before striking a deal Tuesday.

        USA hockey president said: Today reflects everyone coming together and compromising in order to reach a resolution for the betterment of the sport. Well now move forward together knowing well look back on this day as one of the most positive in the history of USA Hockey.

        Over the course of the public dispute, unions from the NHL, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball and 16 US senators voiced support for the players. NHL agent Allan Walsh tweeted that mens players were considering boycotting their world championship in solidarity if a deal didnt get done.

        It took until almost the last minute, but a deal did get done that includes the formation of a womens high performance advisory group with current and former players like Hockey Canada has had for some time. The groups goal is to advance girls and womens hockey programing, marketing, promotion and fundraising to augment existing grassroots programs.

        Players are set to travel to Plymouth on Wednesday and open the defense of their gold medal Friday against Canada. The US has won six of the past eight world championships.

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        Devon farmer challenges Tesco over promotional picture – BBC News

        Image copyright Tesco

        An organic farmer has persuaded Tesco to take down a photograph of him from its website.

        Martin Godfrey said he had never supplied Tesco and was surprised to find the picture being used on the firm’s website.

        The supermarket chain acquired the image through an agency.

        A Tesco spokesperson said: “We work tirelessly to support farmers and suppliers and we are sorry for any upset that has been caused.”

        Image caption Martin Godfrey received an apology from Tesco, which was using the image to promote a campaign aimed at tackling food waste

        Mr Godfrey, from Okehampton, Devon, said the picture was originally taken when he was working for Shillingford Organics near Exeter, but was later sold on as a stock image.

        Tesco later got the image through its advertising agency, which acquired it from Getty Images.

        Charity donation

        Mr Godfrey owns an organic produce business and campaigns with the Land Workers’ Alliance.

        He said the picture of him pulling carrots on the organic farm was a “marketing blunder”.

        “This inappropriate use of the organic farming image and myself… was taken whilst working at Shillingford Organics some 10 years ago, which has no connection to Tesco whatsoever,” he said.

        The image has been removed from the supermarket’s online promotions, but remains printed in some of its magazines.

        Tesco has promised not to use the image in future promotions.

        It has offered to donate 1,000 to a local charity, Mr Godfrey said.

        He said he appreciated the supermarket was “doing something about food waste” and suggested other chains should do the same.

        Related Topics

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        Ultimate Fighting Championship: the fight of our lives?

        Mixed martial arts is the fastest-growing sport on Earth. Beloved by Vladimir Putin and its so-called godfather, Donald Trump, what does this bloody spectacle say about the world we live in? We took a seat cage-side

        For an event that presents itself as the most exciting combat sport in the world the Ultimate Fighting Championship involves many long minutes in which, to the untutored eye, nothing much happens at all. The UFC is the dominant promoter of mixed martial arts, the fastest-growing sport on Earth, measured both by participation and audience. At the O2 arena in London last Saturday I sat in a sellout audience of 16,000 people and tried to work out why exactly that might be the case. There were, it turned out, plenty of moments for such stray thoughts.

        The combatants in a mixed martial arts (MMA) fight are permitted not only to punch but also kick, elbow and knee their opponent within the octagonal cage in which they fight. In an effort to avoid any of those eventualities fighters can also wrestle their opponent into powerlessness, mostly using the technical holds and joint locks of jiu-jitsu. Like the change of overs in a cricket match, the resultant longueurs, which can go on for minutes, allow you to step out from the action, think about what it is exactly that you are watching.

        During one of those interludes early last Saturday evening, while Tim Johnson, a hairy 18st man from Fargo, North Dakota, held Daniel Omielanczuk, a flabby Pole, in an awkward-looking embrace against the mesh fence a hug that involved him thrusting his head into the Poles armpit while occasionally trying to force a knee into his thigh, or slap a fist into his paunch I looked around at the faces of the audience. Though the real action of the night hadnt got going, I was surprised to see that the majority of these 16,000 people who had paid an average of 100 for their tickets seemed happily gripped by the spectacle of the two overweight men in Bermuda shorts pressed against the cage wall.

        I had come to the O2 as a UFC virgin to try to see what they see. Id not witnessed the sport in the flesh before, but I had, in preparation, along with apparently every other youngish male on the planet, watched more YouTube clips than seemed healthy. These clips 2bn views and counting tend not to show the minutes in which the fighters are in deadlock. They show instead, on a concussive loop, the many bloody ways in which UFC fights come to a brutal end, dwelling in particular on the knockout blows of the sports superstars: the Irish lightweight Conor McGregor, Jon Bones Jones (currently suspended for a failed drug test) and the former Olympic judo medallist Ronda Rousey (who has singlehandedly popularised womens UFC). The UFC is a sport made for the internet. Fights are short and do not offer much in the way of narrative, but they can deliver in terms of gifs. The clips do not need subtitles. As Lorenzo Fertitta, one of the brothers who bought the UFC brand for $2m in 2000, explained: What makes UFC so great is that every single man on the planet gets it immediately. Its just two guys beating each other up. Last June, the Fertitta brothers proved that lucrative point by selling UFC to Ari Emanuel, chief executive of WME-IMG for $4bn. The new owners have the ambition to make their championship bigger than the World Cup.

        The entertainment we choose to watch tells us something about the world in which we live. Id come to the O2 with a theory that, in the same way that Victorian rules of football and rugby codified an attitude towards team play that made sense in the factory and on the battlefield, so the UFC looked something like a symbol of a more atomised, red-in-tooth-and-claw society. Within its cage MMA emphasises a binary, zero-sum world: for one man to succeed, another must be humiliated. It seems, along the way, to appeal to that unreconstructed nostalgia for a time before political correctness: when men could say what they wanted, and watch what they wanted, and celebrate the fact.

        The contours of this cultural shift were neatly exposed at the end of last year in the brief war of words between Meryl Streep and Dana White, the bullish president of the UFC. Streep, you will remember, had used her Golden Globes acceptance speech to take a stand against the America that was emerging under the 45th president. Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, youll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts, Streep said.

        Conor McGregor stands on a scale during a weigh-in. Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP

        To Dana White, that sounded like fighting talk. He came out from the opposite corner in that perceived cultural divide, throwing punches of his own.

        The last thing in the world I expect is an uppity 80-year-old lady to be in our demographic and love mixed martial arts, White said (referring to the 67-year-old actor). Of course [MMA] is an art, he added. These fighters, these men and women, are so talented. They train their whole livestobe the best in the world.

        Though some of the fighters on the undercard at the O2 offer scant evidence of that latter claim, as the night progresses you begin to see some of that art and dedication on display. The thoughtfulness and strategy of some of the UFC fighters seems at odds with the attention-deficit tone of the presentation. I find myself intrigued by the style and charisma of the bearded Icelander Gunnar Nelson, who feints and fends for a round or two, upright and alert, before laying out his opponent with a single judicious blow.

        White and his organisation have worked very hard, at least on the surface, to emphasise such skills. In the early days of the UFC the sport made a virtue of its lawlessness. The UFCs first show was in Denver in 1993. Taking its cue from videogames like Mortal Kombat, it threw fighters from different traditions and weights into a ring and had them fight until someone was beaten to a standstill, or worse. In the first tournament, a French kickboxer struck a sumo wrestler so hard in the face that two teeth had to be removed from his foot. Hardly anything was off-limits. In 1996 Republican senator John McCain, the Vietnam war hero and 2000 presidential candidate, branded UFC human cockfighting and it was banned almost everywhere.

        White, who was installed as president of the organisation by the Fertittas, strived to change that perception, enforce rules, get the UFC licensed and recognised. The new rules outlawed butting, eye-gouging and striking the throat, groin, spine or back of the head. Weight categories were imposed. Women, excluded from UFC in its first two decades, became headline acts in the sport, led by Ronda Rousey. Even McCain was eventually won over. The UFC now makes much of its safety record. The fact that fighters only wear rudimentary gloves (mostly to protect their hands from being crushed against the cage) is presented as a virtue. The absence of padding makes knockouts cleaner, the argument goes, as opposed to the repetitive pounding of boxing, and unlike in the latter sport there are no 10-second counts; any loss of consciousness ends a fight.

        The marketing genius of the UFC seems to lie in the fact that despite making itself acceptable to almost every regulatory code (only in France does MMA remain banned) it retains, in a few ways, the tone of its original streetfighting roots. For one thing, if a fighter is cut, blood is allowed to flow. And if a fighter is knocked down, but not knocked out, his opponent can continue to rain blows down on his head while he is on the floor.

        In spirit, the UFC exists somewhere between the rigour of traditional martial arts and the contrived drama of pro wrestling. The fights are not fixed, but the narrative of them seems to be. The UFC has 520 fighters contracted to it from 45 countries, and unlike the complicated world of boxing, where fighters from different federations can avoid each other, it insists on the matches that are made. In this way, it builds up heroes and villains, trades on a sense of us and them.

        During a fight at the O2 between Irish Joe Duffy and an Iranian fighter with Swedish nationality called Reza Madadi, all of that intention seems clear. Early in the fight Madadi suffers a bad cut above the bridge of his nose after Duffy has straddled him while on the ground and landed punches to his head (the ground and pound tactic that is the UFC at its most brutal). For the remainder of the fight a great deal of blood flows out of Rezas wound and into his eyes, making his best defence to hold the free-swinging Duffy in a desperate clinch. As a result, by the end of the bout Duffys pale skin is bathed in Rezas blood, a sight that all other sports have outlawed for 30 or more years, but in which the UFC appears to revel.

        In large part, the crowd, mostly men, seemed nonplussed by the spectacle. For a few, however, the sight of blood seems to loosen inhibition. Unfortunately I am seated in front of one of the more vocal of those individuals, who keeps up a running commentary that relies on two observations the first a general plea for Irish Duffy to fuck that motherfucker up; the second, slightly more precise in its demands, is a suggestion to put him on disability and Ill pay your bail, son. (In between rounds, the same character, a man in his mid-30s, cant seem to contain himself at the sight of the bikini-clad woman who holds up a sign for the number of the next round. No matter how often she circles the ring, he offers the same pair of thoughts: I want your babies! Dont tell the wife!)

        Not everyone attracted to MMA shares those particular passions, but sitting beside the cage it seems hard to ignore the idea that the tremendous popularity of the sport speaks to something of a crisis in masculinity, a nostalgia for more traditional gender roles, a nostalgia that also fuels populist politics.

        Grayson Perry, in his recent television quest to define British masculinity, talked to some MMA fighters in the north-east. Their stories were framed by the annual Durham Miners Gala, and Perry made the argument that the demise of the old masculine ideals, rooted in physical work to put food on the table, had left a vacancy that had not been filled. Watching one of the mixed martial arts fights on a more brutal, local scale than the UFC the artist suggested persuasively that hard labour [had been] reinvented as leisure spectacle. In a place in which men had gone in a generation from digging coal underground to packing sandwiches in a factory, there was a desperation for the heroicnarrative.

        Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in David Finchers 1999 film of Fight Club. Photograph: Allstar

        The narrative that the UFC presents is a carefully stage-managed form of heroism, one in which its not hard to see the artifice. Whenever there is a lull in the action in the O2 cage, big screens around the arena run through their concussive highlights packages. The effect is a bit like going to watch Grimsby Town and having shots of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo playing on a loop. Conor McGregor may not be here in person, but we see almost as much of him on screen as we do of the fighters in the cage. Those in the crowd who wear full beards in the style of the Irishman, the undisputed cock of the walk, seem to enjoy the virtual proximity in the same way as if he were here.

        The argument for ritualised, rule-bound martial arts has always been that it helps fulfil a Darwinian need in men to test themselves against each other while minimising the carnage. It gets them off the streets. The UFC not only trades on those impulses, however, it also trades on the idea that they are essential features of manliness. While the rules of traditional martial arts were social constructs, demanding submission, the mythology of MMA feels closer in spirit to the nihilistic tenor of Chuck Palahniuks book Fight Club, written in 1996, and David Finchers subsequent 1999 film, starring Brad Pitt as the no-holds-barred hero Tyler Durden. Durden presented a world in which only in fighting did men truly find status: Were the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great Wars a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. Weve all been raised on television to believe that one day wed all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we wont. And were slowly learning that fact. And were very, very pissed off

        Palahniuks novel, and Finchers film, in part satirised this anger and the anarchy that resulted but they also seemed prophetic of a powerful impulse in western societies: the impulse of insecure alpha males to reassert their strength. It is no surprise that the so-called alt-right likes to quote liberally from Tyler Durden to give their bigotry a Nietzchean veneer. The catch-all insult to liberals snowflake, for example, derives from Durden, a hero for whom men are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. Like the UFC, Fight Club dramatises a life of instinct above one of thought. It suggests that man is at his best when he is in thrall to his animal nature, and what is wrong with that?

        Read through this lens, the rise of Donald Trump his special adviser Steve Bannon refers to the campaign and the administration as his own personal fight club might be viewed as an expression of this reasserted biological determinism. Trump makes no effort at all to hide his masculine urges, and is rewarded for it. He is all instinct. He boasts about sexual assault. He licenses beauty pageants because he likes to display his control over a harem. And, inevitably, perhaps, he is celebrated as the godfather of the UFC.

        When Trump accepted his nomination as Republican candidate, Dana White offered the GOP convention a public endorsement. White explained how, in the darker days of the sport, after Senator McCain had criticised the UFC as cockfighting and no one would license or put on MMA bouts, Trump stood alone in support of it. He personally hosted and endorsed two UFC shows in 2000 at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, a commitment that probably saved UFC from bankruptcy. State athletic commissions didnt support us, White recalled. Arenas around the world refused to host our events. Nobody took us seriously. Nobody except Donald Trump.

        Donald Trump in action against Vince McMahon at WrestleMania in 2007. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/WireImage

        Trump not only embraced the sport, he explored the possibility of himself developing a rival to the UFC called Affliction. He signed up a famous Russian fighter, Fedor Emelianenko, close friend of Vladimir Putin, to star in his events. The experiment ended after a couple of promotions but for all his efforts, Trump was inducted as a visionary into the New Jersey State Martial Arts Hall of Fame (Trump is known to have fought just once in public himself: at WrestleMania XXIII in 2007, he body-slammed the wrestling promoter Vince McMahon outside the ring before, bizarrely, shaving his hair (an encounter preserved for historians on YouTube).

        In the opening skirmishes of his political war on nuance, Trump seems to have identified the UFC, or at least fans of it, as likely fellow travellers. Its sort of like somebody dies! he said, when asked about the sports appeal. Ive never seen anything like it Its not like, Oh, how are the judges voting? Its like, you know, somebody just succumbs.

        That particularly adolescent now presidential fantasy is never quite as simple in reality. Watching the UFC up close, without the edits and the highlights, you have a strong sense of the vulnerability of the fighters as well as their prowess. They look as likely to have been bullied as to be bullies. The strangest moment in a long evening at the O2 comes with the farewell fight of 38-year-old Brad Pickett, a native East Ender, who has been a stalwart of the UFC for nearly a decade, and who has earned the nickname One Punch.

        In case you were in any doubt of his cockney connections, Pickett enters the arena to Chas and Daves song Wallop, wearing a string vest, braces, his customary trilby, and reading a paper (Im guessing not the Observer). He is, given the valedictory nature of his performance, also in tears. He is fighting a lithe Ecuadorean kickboxer, Marlon Vera, who is at least a foot taller than him and just over half his age. For a couple of rounds the farewell fight seems to be going to plan; in the third, however, as Pickett tries to land a trademark punch, Vera knocks him out with a vicious kick to the jaw. Pickett tries to get up and fight on, but is stopped by the referee. In tears again, he leaves his trilby in the centre of the Octagon. Later in his press conference, he is still bemoaning the way that the fight ended. He doesnt believe he had lost consciousness. Hed told the referee: If you are going to stop it make sure Im stiff, but he hadnt listened. Still choked, he speaks a little about his long history with the sport, how at his first MMA fights on Portsmouth pier he didnt even get paid: Just a free seat for my mum and dad. It wasnt even a sport really, at all then, he says, but look at it now, all around the world.

        Pickett is not wrong in that evaluation. In its apparently unstoppable growth, the UFC now broadcasts in more than 152 countries to more than a billion households worldwide. In Europe, more people, 237 million, watch the UFC than Formula One. New owner Ari Emanuel bought the organisation with a view to extending that reach still further.

        Brad Pickett of England punches Marlon Vera of Ecuador in their bout at the O2. Photograph: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

        To this end, in the months since taking over the sport, he has been doing the rounds of key political figures. Emanuel has history with Trump: he bought the Miss Universe Organisation from him in 2015, and prior to that acted as his Hollywood agent. When the pair met two weeks after the presidents election in November, on a golf course in New Jersey, Trump referred to his friend as the king of Hollywood.

        Emanuels immediate ambition appears to be to expand the UFCs reach into what has become a spiritual homeland of MMA, Vladimir Putins Russia. Like Trump, the Russian president is a great admirer of the sport for what it reveals about men. A former judo champion himself, he has often watched bouts at ringside, particularly those involving his great friend Fedor Emelinenko. His enthusiasm is outdone perhaps by the hardline leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who was recently chastised for staging a televised MMA night in Grozny in which his three sons aged 8, 9 and 10 prevailed in one-sided bouts against terrified-looking schoolboys. Kadyrov cheered them on at the side of the cage, in an event aimed at popularising the sport in Chechnya. Though there are no childrens cage fights in Russia itself, the appeal of creating a generation that grows up fighting finds ready advocates in a parliament that has passed laws allowing wife-beating and considered the proposal of turning football hooliganism into a recognised sport.

        In December Emanuel had a productive meeting with the Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, and a deal for a UFC event in Moscow seems likely. Theyve shown me their presentation, Mutko said. I was shocked when I saw what they were doing. The revenues, how much they get from the TV The march of UFC shows no signs of stopping.

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        A Middle Eastern airline is subtweeting Trumpand it’s hilarious

        Earlier this week, the White House banned nine airlinesfrom eight Muslim countries from carrying most electronic devices on flights to the United States. The ban begins Saturday, and electronics like laptops, cameras, and tablets must be placed intochecked baggage for flights; smartphones and medical devices are excluded. Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates will be affected by the ban, and the United Kingdom later announced their own version,directed at Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

        Royal Jordanian Airlines, which hostsflights to and from various areas affected by the ban, has decided to respond with a new strategy: subtweeting the president of the United States. The airline began fighting back with a fun poem satirizing the sheer number of bans the Trump administration has been pushing out. And the jokes grew from there.

        One tweet with over 600 retweets points out that passengers should “think of reasons why you don’t don’t have a laptop or tablet with you,” suggesting that the ban makes nosense to begin with.

        And of course, there’s a little bit of self-deprecating humor, because who doesn’t appreciate that.

        Royal Jordanian has been using its Twitter account to both keep passengers informed as well as satirize the White House’s move to limit and ban travel from various Muslim-majority countries. In an earlier tweet, the company also poked fun at the “Muslim ban,” offering discounted prices for U.S. flights as well.

        Suffice to say, posters were happy to see the tweets, with many praising the company’s humorous marketing approach to something that can be perceived as rather dark.

        H/T Gizmodo

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        $27,000 melons? Unwrapping the high price of Japan’s luxury fruit habit

        (CNN)It looks like a jewelry shop with its high-end exterior.

        But a peek inside the sparkling glass display cases at any of Sembikiya‘s Tokyo outlets reveals expensive treasures of a surprising kind.
        From heart-shaped watermelons to “Ruby Roman” grapes, which are the size of a ping pong ball, this retailer specializes in selling mouth-watering produce at eye-watering prices.
          Expensive, carefully-cultivated fruit, however, is not unique to Sembikiya‘s stores.
          Across Japan, such productsregularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction. In 2016, a pair of premium Hokkaido cantaloupe sold for a record $27,240 (3 million yen).
          “Fruits are treated differently in Asian culture and in Japanese society especially,” Soyeon Shim, dean of the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells CNN. “Fruit purchase and consumption are tied to social and cultural practices.
          “It is not only an important part of their diet, but, perhaps more importantly, fruit is considered a luxury item and plays an important and elaborate ritual part in Japan’s extensive gift-giving practices.”

          Cultivating status

          Cultivating high-end produce usually involves meticulous, labor-intensive practices developed by Japanese farmers.
          “It’s hard getting the shape of these strawberries right — they can sometimes turn out like globes,” says Okuda Nichio, of his highly-prized Bijin-hime (beautiful princess) strawberries, which he tries to grow “scoop-shaped”.
          “It’s taken me 15 years to reach this level of perfection.”
          Nichio’s strawberries each take 45 days to grow at his Okuda farm in Gifu prefecture, and although he won’t go into detail about how they are produced — “I can’t tell you exactly what the methods are because otherwise everyone else will catch on” — he believes it is time well spent.
          His largest tennis-ball sized strawberries, of which he only produces around 500 a year, usually sell for more than 500,000 yen ($4,395) each.
          Rarity is a tactic also employed by the producers of Japan’s “Ruby Roman” grapes, who offer just 2,400 bunches of the large red fruit each year.
          The grapes were cultivated to fill a gap in the Japanese luxury fruit market, according to Ruby Roman spokesman Hirano Keisuke.
          “These grapes look big and red — like a ruby. It’s been a painstaking process to achieve that red color,” he says.
          First released in 2008, today individual bunches can sell for over 100,000 yen ($880) each — but that price can go much higher.
          In southwest Japan last year, a supermarket paid 1.1 million yen ($9,700) for a first-harvest bunch of “Ruby Roman” at auction.
          Holding just 30 grapes in total, that record-breaking bunch essentially sold for $320 per grape.

          Gifts of perfection

          So why are Japanese consumers willing to pay so much for their fruit?
          Whereas in many Western cultures apples and oranges are prized for their nutritional value, the Japanese see fruit in almost spiritual terms, regularly offering it to the gods on their butsudan — or home altars — and Buddhist steps.
          For this reason, high-end fruit has come to be viewed as an important symbol of respect.

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          “People purchase these expensive fruits to demonstrate how special their gifts are to the recipients, for special occasions or for someone socially important, like your boss,” says Shim, who has conducted extensive researched into Japan’s luxury fruit market.
          Ken Gehrt, a professor of marketing at San Jose State University, in California, says the fruit is of particular importance during the gift-giving seasons of Ochugen and Oseibo, when presents are bestowed on people as a show of respect.
          “Fine fruit is also given as part of the elaborately nuanced process of relationship cultivation in Japan,” adds Gehrt, who has conducted consumer research in Japan to help American fruit growers better understand the market.

          The eye of the beholder

          Great thought and presentation goes into even the smallest of fruit gifts.
          As such single flawless strawberries are often sold in containers that resemble a jewelry box, while melons are individually wrapped and presented in ornate wooden boxes.
          “It is said that the Japanese eat with their eyes. Certainly high-end fruit stands apart in terms of its beautiful appearance and the lovely way it is packaged and presented,” says Gehrt.
          Rather than being a deterrent, for some consumers a high price tag adds prestige and signifies quality.
          “In some ways, it’s like luxury chocolate, but giving it as a gift conveys status and regard for the other person,” explains Cecilia Smith Fujishima, a lecturer in comparative culture at Shirayuri University in Tokyo.
          Although not all Japanese consumers buy expensive fruit to gift — many appreciate its rarefied taste.
          But while many Japanese extol the exceptional flavors of these fruit, Smith Fujishima says it’s often too sweet for her Australian-raised tatste buds, and Western palettes in general.
          “These fruits seem to be more delicious in a subtle way,” she says, hinting that the fine packaging and good marketing may influence people’s opinion on the taste.
          “(People’s perceptions may also be affected by the fruit’s beautiful appearance and presentation as well as its more appealing texture.”

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          Donald Trump should protect this hidden export

          (CNN)President Donald Trump speaks often of the US trade balance and keeping jobs at home. International visitors to the United States are key to both.

          One most often thinks of “exports” as tangible goods transported via container ship — cars, textiles and agricultural products like corn and wheat. States that produce such items, and which have been among the hardest-hit by the shifting global economy, were difference-makers in the November election: North Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin, to name a few.
          But one of the best-performing US exports largely flies under the radar: inbound international travel. Why does it count as an export if we’re not actually shipping anything abroad? Because it entails foreign currency being spent on goods and services produced in the United States — namely, visitors from abroad spending their money at US hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions.
            Travel is already our country’s No. 1 service export, and our second-largest export overall. At $246 billion, international travel accounted for 11.2% of all US exports in 2016. According to our analysis of data from the US Department of Commerce, we enjoyed an $87 billion international travel trade surplus in 2016, larger than any other sector of the US economy. Without travel, the country’s $500 billion trade deficit would be 17% larger.
            As for jobs, travel is a top-10 employer in 49 states and the District of Columbia, supporting 15.1 million total US jobs. The best part? Those jobs are 100% “un-exportable;” it’s simply not possible to outsource the role of a waiter, front-desk clerk or tour guide to a call center in Bangladesh.
            The United States welcomed more than 77 million international visitors last year, half of which came from overseas (all countries excluding Canada and Mexico) and spent an average of $4,337 per trip. Even a marginal decline in that momentum could send immediate ripples throughout the US economy.
            Admittedly, President Trump’s executive orders on visas and immigration have been perceived by many as at odds with the objective of bringing more visitors to our shores. Security is certainly a laudable aim; I often say that without security, there can be no travel, as most vividly evidenced by our industry’s utter collapse in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
            But the administration has failed to make clear that legitimate international business and leisure travelers continue to be welcomed and valued by the United States. Data indicating softening demand for travel to the United States is likely attributable to the January 27 executive order on visas and immigration, according to multiple organizations that track travel statistics.
            The White House must move swiftly to correct negative perceptions of travel to the United States in order to have any hope of achieving its stated economic aims of improving the US trade balance and protecting quality domestic jobs.
            In addition to including more of a “welcome message” regarding legitimate travelers in its public rhetoric about national security, the Trump administration can help bolster the international travel market by taking concrete steps now to support some other policies outside the national security sphere. To wit:
            Protect Open Skies agreements. These agreements prevent governments — both ours and our treaty partners’ — from meddling with issues such as routes or pricing in the passenger aviation marketplace. They have inarguably been a huge boon to the US economy, bringing in more visitors and adding airline choices — often low-cost and high-value — for American consumers. For almost two years, the agreements have come under malicious attack from the Big Three domestic airlines (American, Delta and United) and their unions in an effort to suppress competition from foreign carriers. Rolling back Open Skies would be sheer economic madness.
            Continue to support Brand USA. The international travel market is brutally competitive, and before 2011 the United States had no national entity promoting it as a destination. That changed when Congress created Brand USA, which markets the United States abroad through advertising and offering traveler outreach and assistance. Brand USA spends no taxpayer dollars for this, relying instead on fees collected from international visitors. The organization has measurably increased the volume of inbound travel — and now, its mission of promoting the United States as a welcoming and unique destination is more critical than ever. If we let our marketing efforts flag, competitors such as France and China would happily snatch up our piece of the global travel pie.
            Keep up the clarion call for infrastructure investments. Our airports are notoriously lagging behind state-of-the art facilities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East — including many outstanding projects that are relevant to security efforts. President Trump’s emphasis on infrastructure issues is most welcome.

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            Any plan to address the US trade deficit and promote strong domestic job creation must necessarily include federal policy support for inbound international travel. I predict that we will see numerous elements of the blueprint above become part of the Trump administration agenda, which would be an acknowledgment of the reality that a healthy and growing US economy is one that remains connected to the world.

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