ping pong table

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Monday, August 14, 2006

ping pong table: Another Baron Cohen sets his sights on the Hollywood Hills

11 August 2006
After early acclaim for his independent films, director Ash Baron Cohen is about to hit the big time with a $15million Hollywood feature film, writes Bridget Galton

WHENEVER Ash Baron Cohen has enough of the loopiness of la la land, he goes round to cousin Sasha's house and thrashes the hell out of a ping-pong ball.

The film director, and the creator of comic character Ali G, grew up around the corner from each other in Hampstead Garden Suburb and are now near neighbours in Los Angeles.

"Sasha is the only real family I have here and when the whole Hollywood thing gets too much we get together and knock it out of each other on the ping-pong table," says Ash, who admits to pretending that their bats are swatting selected hate figures.

"I see a lot of him, we play ping-pong twice a week, he has the table and I bring my balls."

After studying experimental psychology at Sussex University, Baron Cohen headed out west to study film in Pasadena 12 years ago.

He wrote and directed his first independent feature Bang in 1995, about an actress who assumes the identity of an LA police officer for a day.

It was listed by the LA Times among the top 10 movies of the year and championed by Hollywood veteran Oliver Stone, who became his mentor and called him one of the "most gifted young film makers of his generation".

But Baron Cohn struck unlucky with his second film Pups, which starred Burt Reynolds and a teenage Micha Barton before she found fame in hit TV series The O.C.

His clever script about a bank heist gone awry saw an FBI head of ops teasing out the psychology of assorted hostages and teen robbers to prevent events from escalating into bloodshed.

Hailed as a Bonnie and Clyde for the MTV generation, the subject of kids with guns was deemed too sensitive for release in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre.

"It happened 48 hours after we premiered the movie at the LA film festival. We had big studio deals, which would have put Pups onto 1,000 screens, which is pretty good for a small independent movie," says Baron Cohen.

"When we heard the news it seemed so incredible that these kids had shot their fellow students. All the news stations were calling us asking had we somehow predicted it and linking the movie very strongly with what was going on.

"It was surreal and almost funny that people who had queued up to tell us about its commercial potential the previous day were now screaming down the phone; 'how could you think this was a commercial movie?'"

Fortunately US TV channel HBO bought the movie and ran it regularly, ironically ensuring more exposure than any movie release.

Baron Cohen went on to make This Girl's Life, about a porn star balancing the demands of her job with caring for a father with Parkinson's, and a short film with Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, about a military prisoner unapologetically confessing to torturing Iraqi suspects.

He is now casting his biggest movie to date. The $15m RadioActive, which Baron Cohen describes as a "multicultural view of the gang culture in LA with a social slant," has the producers of last year's best picture Oscar winner Crash on board.

"With the really small indie movies you wear three or four different hats so it will be nice to wear just one hat and concentrate on directing," he says.

"Although it will be less stressful, you also realise how much money is at stake."

Baron Cohen has written the scripts for all his movies. He jokes that being both director and writer leads to "interesting schizophrenic arguments with myself about who is compromising who?" But adds: "Orson Welles said the three things that make a great film are a great script, a great script and a great script. At first, writing my own seemed the best way to get started as a director, but after 12 years seeing hundreds that follow familiar trends I know finding an interesting original script in Hollywood is a bit like the gold rush back in the old days - a lot of fool's gold but very little of the real stuff."

Baron Cohen knows that making a good movie is also about the professionals around him.

"Most directors don't make two good movies in a row because there are so many different people involved. If one isn't up to standard the whole thing comes down.

One miscast actor can ruin the chemistry of all the others, even the music can ruin a movie. You have to have all the stars in alignment make a good one. The directors who are consistently good usually always work with the same crew."

Despite a dozen years in Hollywood, he has not fallen under its spell and hopes to return to work in the UK where there has been interest in one of his scripts.

But he admires the way the US accepts outsiders commenting on their society.

"One of the best things about America is it allows levels of self reflection. As a culture they have grown up on having therapists and talking about their lives. Film is a form of therapy for them. It allows them to look at what's going on in their country."

Last week, Baron Cohen saw the UK premieres of Pups and This Girl's Life screened during a special weekend event at Hampstead's Everyman Cinema in Holly Bush Vale.

He loves returning to his roots and hooking up with the multi-talented Baron Cohen clan he jokingly calls his "disturbed, chaotic family".

As well as famous cousin Sasha, whose new film featuring spoof Kazakstani reporter Borat is released in November, Ash has a nephew who is an up and coming TV director and a brother Simon who is director of Cambridge University's Research Centre for Autism.

"Neither Sasha's parents nor mine have anything to do with film. They viciously dissuaded us from getting into this industry so the only potential link is both our fathers were creative and had a warped sense of humour that required some sort of medical assistance," he says.

His future ambition is simply to "make movies that people care about and can relate to".

And although he wants them to reach as wide an audience as possible, it seems his psychology degree, which disposes him to examine human behaviour, will propel him away from mindless action blockbusters.

"Movies are human vehicles. People like to watch different behaviour whether to identify with characters or be entertained by them. Budgets have never been a determining factor for me, a good movie is a good movie no matter what it cost.

"The cinema and theatre are such odd phenomena where people sit in a room with strangers for two hours in the dark not saying anything. That in itself is a psychology experiment.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

ping pong table: A camp of caring

By Tina Firesheets
Staff Writer

MORE ONLINEFor information about sickle cell disease or the Sickle Cell Disease Association of the Piedmont, call 274-1507 or click here.STOKESDALE — Tiana — the more outgoing twin who likes to ride horses — doesn't get as homesick as her more reserved sister, Kiana.

But before the end of the week, the 8-year-old twins will call home at least once.

Activities at their summer camp aren't that different from others. Campers swim, ride horses and do arts and crafts.

But although they are able-bodied and appear healthy, many of these kids check into camp with pillows, teddy bears — and a Ziploc bag filled with all of their medications.

The registration process includes a visit with a nurse, who checks their pulse, temperature and blood pressure.

Like the rest of their fellow campers, Kiana and Tiana Harrell were born with sickle cell disease, a group of inherited red blood cell disorders.

Some people with the disease are relatively healthy, while others are hospitalized frequently. It causes symptoms ranging from pain to organ damage to anemia.

About one in every 400 African Americans have sickle cell disease.

And nearly one in 12 African Americans carry the sickle cell trait.

So, like Kiana and Tiana's parents, Tasha and Alton Harrell, this means they don't exhibit any signs of the disorder themselves, but they can pass the gene down to their children.

* * *

For the tiny Harrell twins, sickle cell manifests itself mostly through intense pain.

Tasha Harrell describes it this way: "Their blood cell changes shape and causes pain in their arms and legs."

That pain can last anywhere from three days to a week. Sometimes it's controlled by doses of Tylenol with codeine every four hours.

But if that pain is accompanied by a fever, they must go to the hospital.

About a year ago, that happened to Kiana.

It's hard for parents to see their child in such pain.

"You wish you could take the pain yourself ... and if I could, I would," Tasha Harrell said.

Her daughters tend to take turns fighting the symptoms of sickle cell. Usually, the first one is stricken with a pain crisis and by the time she has recovered, the other goes through it.

* * *

Kiana and Tiana are beginning to distinguish themselves from each other at the camp.

They have their own sets of friends and seek separate groups in social settings.

But when apart, they frequently scan the room for each other. Once one has spotted the other, their attention goes back to the activity before them.

Their father, Alton Harrell, said they always look after each other. If one gets a pain episode, the other immediately gets medication for her. Or covers her with a blanket. Or gets water.

"It's not just one of them hurting," he said.

His daughters look forward to camp, where they go on field trips and meet others who struggle with sickle cell, too.

For Alton and Tasha Harrell, it eases their minds to know their girls are at a camp where those who run it are knowledgeable about the disease.

There are nurses and a doctor present all week. If anything goes wrong, the staff knows what to do.

Camp director Monica Summers doesn't have sickle cell disease, but her 3-year-old son does.

So do most of her counselors.

For junior counselor Jasmyne Jackson, 17, sickle cell camp meant that she didn't have to explain to others why she takes so many medications or why she is sensitive to temperature changes.

Almost everyone at sickle cell camp takes medication. Breakfast is followed by a trip to the med shed, a wooden cabin near the dining and recreation halls.

Summers said sickle cell camp is a chance for kids to forget about all those days of not feeling well.

"It's their time to just be kids and have fun."

* * *

For Tasha Harrell, the separation that camp brings was easier than it was three years ago, when Kiana and Tiana were new campers.

"I cried," she said, while watching her daughters make new friends.

The girls hovered around the ping-pong table with a few other campers and occasionally flashed big, dimpled grins at their parents.

Some of the kids shot pool or challenged each other to foosball.

Others, such as 12-year-old LaTonya Hoffman, just sat quietly, sizing each other up.

But by the end of the week, many of them would exchange phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

Sickle cell campers bond quickly, Summers said.

That's because — for the first time — many of them are meeting other kids just like them.

"They can share their stories and talk about what works for them and how sickle cell affects them," she said.

And like Kiana and Tiana, they learn that others share their pain.

Contact Tina Firesheets at 373-3498 or

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

ping pong table: Despite camp's success, its future is uncertain

Monday, Aug 7, 2006

By David Dellecese

NEW HARTFORD — The X-Zone Fitness Arcade is helping get kids to leave their video games and couches behind to exercise by playing video games.

Through the use of Playstation and Xbox technology, the X-Zone, which opened in February, features video games that will only get you as far as your feet will take you. The video game systems are wired to exercise bikes that push the speed or power of your game forward the faster the player pedals.

A similar setup hooked up to a floor pad guides the user through progressively faster and more difficult footsteps, resulting in a rigorous workout of dance to popular tunes.

The dance program, called Dance, Dance, Revolution, has become such a hit that it keeps some kids busy for hours, as well as helping them stay in shape.

"It's a little bit of both," said Anastasia Docherty, 13, of Utica. "Fun and exercise."

Hoops, trampolines

The fitness arcade also features a basketball court; Sportwall, a series of wall machines with light-up targets to increase hand-eye coordination and accuracy; a ping-pong table; Foosball; and Aeroball, two enclosed trampolines on which kids jump while they attempt to shoot basketballs into their opponent's basket.

"My favorites are Aeroball and Dance, Dance, Revolution," said Marianna Maliani, 12, of Utica. "Aeroball is so unique and really fun. This is the only place I can do it."

The X-Zone Fitness Arcade was started by Sheila Shaheen and caters to kids ages 4 to 18. Organizers hope to gear up children for physical fitness in a safe and family environment.

"She knew there was a need for kids to exercise while having something fun to do," said George Shaheen, manager of the facility. "She saw a lot of kids playing video games; just sitting at home on the couch."

Grant Calogero, 13, of Utica spent half an hour recently trying the Sportwall before signing up for a membership.

"It's just pure fun," Calogero said.

Getting children started early with a regular routine of exercise can provide entertainment and better fitness habits now, along with creating habits that carry over in the future.

"Children that are active when they're younger carry on later in life," said Philip Haberstro, executive director of the National Association for Health and Fitness.

Targeting youths

Haberstro said that the numbers of overweight and obese children are startling enough to cause a reaction in the marketplace, resulting in more fitness centers with a slant toward younger audiences.

X-Zone serves as one way to take the technology that some see as an enemy to fitness and make it work in tandem with physical education rather than be seen as at odds with it.

The fitness arcade has around 300 members, thanks, in part, to word of mouth and members bringing in friends as guests who end up signing up as members themselves.

"The response has been incredible," George Shaheen said. "Parents are very enthused about it. Unlike an arcade, kids aren't dumping quarters into mindless machinery. Plus, they understand the health benefits."

The facility has two to three birthday parties every weekend, and staying true to the theme of fitness, only serves bottled water and Gatorade, and snacks such as fruit and vegetables.

"It was amazing when I first saw it," said Thomas Pfisterer, 10, of New Hartford. "They have a huge selection of things to do."

Pfisterer was keeping busy on the Dance, Dance, Revolution, machines, joined for a short period of time by his mother, Gina, who was thrilled at the way her kids are keeping up regular exercise through the arcade.

"You get them in here ... they're having fun, and they don't realize they're exercising," Gina Pfisterer said.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

ping pong table: Schwarzenegger To Play 80-Year-Old Ping-Pong Champ

Last Updated:
08-04-06 at 10:16AM

Governor Schwarzenegger is running for reelection this fall, but before then, he will face another the ping-pong table.

The governor has agreed to play 80-year-old champion Byng Forsberg.

The decorated senior-circuit player agreed to donate to Schwarzenegger's reelection campaign only if the governor played him a game of table tennis.

Schwarzenegger said he may need to challenge Forsberg to a weightlifting contest afterward to redeem himself.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

ping pong table: Transforming the dorm: Making the most of your personal shoebox

Indu Chandrasekhar
The Student Life

August 03, 2006

(U-WIRE) ST. LOUIS, Mo. - It's pretty safe to say that most of Washington University's incoming freshmen enjoyed full rein over their rooms at home. And I can state with confidence that a room for one at home is a few square feet larger than the room waiting for two or three in Wash. U.'s dormitories. For some of you freshman this sacrifice of personal space might be what you loathe and fear the most. I, for one, missed my closet severely.
Like all things college-related, adjusting to your room size and limited space is easy if you have the right attitude and some creative ideas. In my extensive travels through the South 40 dorms, I have witnessed organizing and decorating schemes that range from convenient and cute to truly outrageous, and I will share all of what I learned with you.

University dormitories, no matter their appearance, age or location, are all essentially the same. Each student gets a closet, bed, dresser (traditional dorms) or bookshelves (newer dorms only), desk, chair and wall-mounted shelves (traditional dorms only). There are quite a few ways to arrange these humble objects, even in single-occupant rooms, depending on which wall the bed rests.

In a common Wash. U. dorm room, there are three main places of large-scale storage: Under the bed, on the desk and above the closet. The most commonly used space is where those monsters once lurked (never fear, there are only dust bunnies under Wash. U. beds). If you are willing to set the mattress frame of your bed to the highest rung (you can get a pretty large range in bed height), you can easily fit several rolling storage units with pull-out drawers. Even the dressers belonging to the older dormitories fit under those beds, although stashing them under the bed means losing a great place for makeup, jewelry, toiletries, pictures and the general mess.

Desks in University dorms can also be quite accommodating. They sport extra leaves on the side and back which you can prop up, adding to your desk space immensely. And if you feel these leaves are too cumbersome they can be removed to allow for that extra inch of wiggle room needed in tight quarters.

Finally, there exists an expanse of space above the closet that most students grossly under-use. Dorm chairs fit quite nicely up there, as do televisions, microwaves, stereos and extra storage units. The closet itself is expandable too: Canvas shelves that Velcro onto the hanger rod can hold a multitude of clothing and clear up the shelves in your dresser.

Most students stick with the provided layout of their dorm room, experimenting only with the orientation of the desk, which can face the wall or the window, and the dresser, which fits in the closet or under the bed. Students frequently place their fridges between the two desks. While this system always works, it doesn't stand out. Those looking for unique layouts should keep reading.

Starting with the simplest suggestions, there are two things that can instantly transform your room's atmosphere from an echoing prison-cell into the warmth of a living room: Bookshelves and potted plants. For as little as $20, you can purchase full-sized bookshelves that fit quite nicely by the dorm desk (just keep the side leaf folded down). Hardy plants are preferred as the tight quarters of a dorm room aren't always accommodating to those needy greens.

For those of you willing to try more daring arrangements, here's a fun fact: Wash. U. doubles are the exact length of two beds aligned head to head (in older dorms, one bed must rest partway in the closet). So, if you and your roommate decide you'd rather have an entire wall for some other large contraption, say, a ping-pong table, get ready for a lot of togetherness.

Another fun fact: The chairs provided in several new dormitories are able to rock back and forth. For the clumsy student, this means that you will be falling out of your chair quite often. You can take advantage of this chair, however, through a more convoluted scheme.

Here's how it once worked: Two young men, eager to have a larger space for their television, videos, games and music, decided to use the beds themselves as an entertainment center. They bunked the beds, removed the mattresses, placed a wooden plank on the lower bed frame, turned a bookshelf sideways and stuck it next to the TV (for all of their movies) and sentenced their mattresses to the floor, the perfect location from which to stare at a screen. The best part: When they finished their homework, they could tip backward in their rocking chairs and land with a comfortable wumph, right onto a waiting mattress. True story.

You might decide to stick with the tried and true methods of stretching your space, or you might invent an even crazier way of organizing your space. Either way, you can always add and rearrange as the year goes by, albeit settling into a room basically locks everything tightly in place. If your roommate is willing, try something outside of the box -- it doesn't hurt to be notorious within the first week.

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