Monthly Archives: August 2013

Good luck, middle class

August 28, 1963, was one of the most important days for the civil rights movement. Over 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington to hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Magnum photographer Leonard Freed (1929-2006) was there documenting that historic day.August 28, 1963, was one of the most important days for the civil rights movement. Over 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington to hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Magnum photographer Leonard Freed (1929-2006) was there documenting that historic day.
The crowd gathers at the National Mall.The crowd gathers at the National Mall.
People sing together during the march.People sing together during the march.
Though the name March on Washington"is well known, the full title of the gathering the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.Though the name March on Washington"is well known, the full title of the gathering the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
People sing together during the rally.People sing together during the rally.
Ten leaders of the civil rights movement met with President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Labor Secretary W. Willard Wirtz and Burke Marshall, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, in the Cabinet room of the White House during the demonstration.Ten leaders of the civil rights movement met with President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Labor Secretary W. Willard Wirtz and Burke Marshall, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, in the Cabinet room of the White House during the demonstration.
People watch and wait for speakers.People watch and wait for speakers.
Though the most iconic shot from the March on Washington may be of King waving to the crowd, Freed moved throughout the crowd finding the faces that weren't seen in the papers.Though the most iconic shot from the March on Washington may be of King waving to the crowd, Freed moved throughout the crowd finding the faces that weren't seen in the papers.
The marchers were entertained by big names such as Ossie Davis, Joan Baez, Bobby Darin, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Jackie Robinson.The marchers were entertained by big names such as Ossie Davis, Joan Baez, Bobby Darin, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Jackie Robinson.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic march.This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic march.
  • Fast-food workers scheduled protests across the country this week
  • John Sutter: Class seems to be the social justice issue of our time
  • It's been 50 years since the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom"
  • Economic justice remains a distant dream for many, Sutter says

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- Let's play a little game.

Which of the following signs did protestors hold at the March on Washington, 50 years ago this week, and which were held up this year by fast-food workers:

1. "WE MARCH FOR HIGHER MINIMUM WAGES COVERAGE FOR ALL WORKERS NOW!"

2. "WE ARE WORTH MORE"

3. "I AM A MAN"

4. "WE MARCH FOR JOBS FOR ALL A DECENT PAY NOW!"

The exclamation points, which apparently were more popular in the 1960s (despite what Twitter would have you believe!!!), are your best clue.

John D. Sutter

Signs one and four are from 1963. Two and three are from 2013.

Fifty years later, it's easy to forget that the full name of the 1963 "March on Washington" was actually "The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom."

Sutter: 99 must-reads on economic inequality

But flip through some pictures from that rally, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech and where civil rights leaders, to borrow his words, bent the arc of history towards justice and greater equality, and you'll see protest signs that put the economy as a front-and-center issue, just as it is now.

"CIVIL RIGHTS PLUS FULL EMPLOYMENT EQUALS FREEDOM."

Fast food workers demand fair pay

President Obama, in commemorating the 50th anniversary of that march this week, smartly picked up on the theme that economic equality is "the great unfinished business" of King's vision for a just and fair America.

"...[A]s we mark this anniversary, we must remind ourselves that the measure of progress for those who marched 50 years ago was not merely how many blacks had joined the ranks of millionaires; it was whether this country would admit all people who were willing to work hard, regardless of race, into the ranks of a middle-class life," Obama said Wednesday. "The test was not and never has been whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few. It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many, for the black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veteran."

The subtext of his argument: Class may be the new race.

It's not that all battles for racial equality have been won -- they haven't -- or that we live in a post-racial society. But, in some remarkable and troubling ways, class has become an increasingly significant barrier to equality in modern America. The gap between rich and poor has been growing in the United States since the late 1970s, and our level of income inequality, one proxy measure for that gap, is now on par with many sub-Saharan African countries.

Sutter: Who cares about the economy? ... You!

It's become more difficult for the poor to move up into the middle class and more difficult for the middle to dig in its heels to stop from slipping into poverty.

The American mantra of "work hard and you'll get ahead" is not always enough to sustain people. It's harder now to secure a financial future.

This is the theme that underlies much of what's happening in America today. And it's something that goes back much farther than the recent recession.

The fast-food workers, for example, who scheduled demonstrations across the country on Thursday, are frustrated by the fact that they can't make ends meet on $7.25 per hour. If you doubt whether that's true, please take a look at one fast-food worker's budget. Some workers, as Forbes reports, have to choose between paying for rent or food. "Should I pay my light bill (or) should I pay my gas?" one fast-food worker asks in this CNNMoney video. "I never can pay it all at once."

"Right now the gas is off," she says.

The workers demand a living wage of $15 per hour.

I'm not sure what the fair wage would be. That's the subject for another column...or perhaps a book. But I do know that, as The Atlantic reports, fast-food workers in Australia make $14.50 an hour, about twice the U.S. minimum wage.

And burgers haven't become too expensive Down Under.

Some context is helpful for understanding that movement as well.

The U.S. minimum wage is actually lower than it was in the late 1960s. Five years after King's speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the federal minimum wage, when converted into 2013 dollars, was $10.70, compared to $7.25 now. (The nominal minimum wage, according to the Congressional Research Service, was only $1.60 per hour in 1968. The $10.70 amount is adjusted for inflation).

Sutter: White House should pay its interns

Education is another example. There's evidence poverty is a better indicator of educational achievement than race.

"According to a 2011 research study by Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon, the test-score gap between the children of the poor (in the 10th percentile of income) and the children of the wealthy (in the 90th percentile) has expanded by as much as 40% and is now more than 50% larger than the black-white achievement gap -- a reversal of the trend 50 years ago," Sarah Garland writes for The Atlantic.

"Underprivileged children now languish at achievement levels that are close to four years behind their wealthy peers."

Four years behind their peers.

Just because of their income.

That challenges the very notion of who we are as Americans.

We see ourselves as a middle-class country -- a place where anyone can work hard and succeed. And many do. We're a country of fighters.

But it's become more difficult for the non-rich to make it.

The country has made great strides toward racial equality since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But, in the 50 years since King's speech, economic justice seems to have become the more distant dream.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

Our galaxy’s black hole is a picky eater

This image shows the X-Ray close-up of Sagittarius A, the Milky Way's central black hole.
This image shows the X-Ray close-up of Sagittarius A, the Milky Way's central black hole.
  • Black hole at center of Milky Way ejects more than 99% of material for the 1% it captures
  • This has to do with temperature and angular momentum of gas in its surroundings
  • In the early universe, there was a greater abundance of cold, dense gas

(CNN) -- You might think of black holes as indiscriminate eaters, hungrily gobbling up everything in their vicinity.

But the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, Sagittarius A, is not exactly like this, new research suggests. Instead, this black hole -- and likely other black holes in the centers of galaxies -- must spit out a lot in order to swallow a little.

It's been a mystery why black holes at the centers of galaxies in the present universe appear so much dimmer than quasars, extremely bright objects from the early universe that have black holes at their centers, too.

As Albert Einstein noted in his famous formula E=mc², energy is equivalent to mass times the speed of light squared. In a black hole, crushed mass gets converted into energy. Black holes in quasars eat a lot, creating the spectacular brightness associated with them. But we don't find as much radiation emanating from Sagittarius A, or other black holes in the centers of galaxies in the present universe.

So what's going on? Is the hot gas that Sagittarius A is eating just not radiating as much as the colder gas that quasars capture?

To find out, researchers used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to take X-ray images and capture other signature of energy. The study is published in the journal Science, and led by Q. Daniel Wang, astrophysicist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Sagittarius A has about 4 million times the mass of the sun. It is located 26,000 light years from Earth. That's still super far, as one light year is about 5.9 trillion miles, but it's close enough that human technology can help us see what's happening to the matter around it.

The gas swirling around this black hole has a temperature of millions of degrees.

Based on these new observations, researchers suggest less than 1% of the material that the black hole's gravity pulls near actually gets sucked in to the "point of no return," which is called the event horizon. Instead, a lot of it gets spat back out. That's why the X-ray emission from the black hole is faint; in theory, the radiation output would be stronger if the black hole were swallowing more.

"Less than 1% of matter will be actually sacrificed for the freedom of 99% of gas," Wang said. "So, 99% of gas can escape from the capture of the black hole."

Why is that the case?

It appears that in order to be gobbled for good by the black hole, material must lose heat and angular momentum, which is a measurement of how an object or system rotates around a particular axis.

The temperature is important because hotter material is harder to pin down, even for a black hole. Wang uses the analogy of a sink: You can pour cold water in and watch it spiral down a drain, but if it's steam, far less will actually go in; the water particles are more diffuse and energetic.

According to Wang and colleagues, the black hole needs to throw out more than 99% of the material in order to accomplish this. That ejected 99%, in turn, heats up the environment around it, which affects the evolution of the galaxy as a whole.

Cold and dense gas goes down easier into the black hole, though, and a black hole may sometimes capture a lot of it. This is the gas that tends to form a disk, called an accretion disk, around the black hole. In the accretion disk, the gas's energy and angular momentum dissipate, so more of it is swallowed up by the black hole.

There was more cold and dense gas in the early universe, so black holes at that time were better at accumulating material this way. That's why we find quasars in the early universe that are so much brighter than Sagittarius A.

Quasar -- galactic beauty, deadly beast -- discovered 50 years ago

The research is important because a galaxy such as ours is intimately linked with the black hole at its center. The more massive the black hole, the more massive the surrounding galaxy is, scientists have found.

"Understanding how the black hole grows with time and how the black hole ejects matter and energy back into the galaxy has strong implications for understanding how galaxies form and evolve," Wang said. "That, of course, directly affects how stars form and evolve."

Dieters, take note: Our galaxy may have gotten to be the way it is by consuming small portions.

Follow Elizabeth Landau on Twitter at @lizlandau

Obama’s 3 choices on Syria

An undated photo shows current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, second from left, posing with his family. Al-Assad's parents, then-President Hafez Assad and his wife, Anisa, in front, and his siblings in the second row; Maher, Bassel, Majd and Bushra.An undated photo shows current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, second from left, posing with his family. Al-Assad's parents, then-President Hafez Assad and his wife, Anisa, in front, and his siblings in the second row; Maher, Bassel, Majd and Bushra.
Al-Assad is seen in an 1997 photograph during the time his father, President Hafez Assad, reshuffled the top of the Syrian military. The move was seen as an effort to clear the way for al-Assad to rise to power. Al-Assad is seen in an 1997 photograph during the time his father, President Hafez Assad, reshuffled the top of the Syrian military. The move was seen as an effort to clear the way for al-Assad to rise to power.
Al-Assad waves to supporters as he marches behind the coffin during his father's funeral in Damascus on June 13, 2000.Al-Assad waves to supporters as he marches behind the coffin during his father's funeral in Damascus on June 13, 2000.
A shopkeeper cleans a portrait of al-Assad in Damascus on June 20, 2000, as the ruling Baath Party prepared to wind up its historic congress by consecrating al-Assad as its secretary-general and choosing a new leadership body.A shopkeeper cleans a portrait of al-Assad in Damascus on June 20, 2000, as the ruling Baath Party prepared to wind up its historic congress by consecrating al-Assad as its secretary-general and choosing a new leadership body.
Syria's 250-member parliament approves by acclamation al-Assad's candidacy to succeed his late father as the country's president on June 27, 2000, in Damascus.Syria's 250-member parliament approves by acclamation al-Assad's candidacy to succeed his late father as the country's president on June 27, 2000, in Damascus.
Al-Assad prepares to deliver a speech to parliament on July 17, 2000. It would be his first speech to parliament after taking the oath of office to become Syria's new president.Al-Assad prepares to deliver a speech to parliament on July 17, 2000. It would be his first speech to parliament after taking the oath of office to become Syria's new president.
Jordanian King Abdullah ll and al-Assad inspect the honor guard on October 18, 2000, in Amman, Jordan.Jordanian King Abdullah ll and al-Assad inspect the honor guard on October 18, 2000, in Amman, Jordan.
Al-Assad arrives at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on February 28, 2003.Al-Assad arrives at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on February 28, 2003.
Al-Assad and his wife, Asma, pose during their visit to the Acropolis in downtown Athens on December 15, 2003.Al-Assad and his wife, Asma, pose during their visit to the Acropolis in downtown Athens on December 15, 2003.
Al-Assad visits Moscow's State Institute for Foreign Relations in Moscow on January 25, 2005, where he was awarded with a honorary doctorate.Al-Assad visits Moscow's State Institute for Foreign Relations in Moscow on January 25, 2005, where he was awarded with a honorary doctorate.
Asma al-Assad plants a jasmine bush with her husband in old Damascus on April 27, 2007. Asma al-Assad plants a jasmine bush with her husband in old Damascus on April 27, 2007.
Al-Assad addresses the ruling Baath Party's 10th congress in Damascus on June 6, 2005.Al-Assad addresses the ruling Baath Party's 10th congress in Damascus on June 6, 2005.
A Syrian woman walks past a large portrait of President al-Assad in downtown Damascus on December 13, 2005.A Syrian woman walks past a large portrait of President al-Assad in downtown Damascus on December 13, 2005.
Al-Assad and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad review the honor guard at Damascus airport on January 19, 2006. Al-Assad and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad review the honor guard at Damascus airport on January 19, 2006.
From left: Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and al-Assad talk at the Arab Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 28, 2007. From left: Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and al-Assad talk at the Arab Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 28, 2007.
Two unidentified supporters of al-Assad join him on the balcony as he celebrates the referendum results in Damascus on May 29, 2007. Al-Assad won a second seven-year mandate after netting 97% of the vote in a referendum boycotted by the opposition.Two unidentified supporters of al-Assad join him on the balcony as he celebrates the referendum results in Damascus on May 29, 2007. Al-Assad won a second seven-year mandate after netting 97% of the vote in a referendum boycotted by the opposition.
Al-Assad visits a Saba car production factory on December 13, 2007.Al-Assad visits a Saba car production factory on December 13, 2007.
Bashar and Asma al-Assad listen to Syrian artist Elias al-Zayat during a visit to an exhibition at the national museum in Damascus on February 23, 2008.Bashar and Asma al-Assad listen to Syrian artist Elias al-Zayat during a visit to an exhibition at the national museum in Damascus on February 23, 2008.
Moammar Gadhafi and al-Assad clasp hands at the opening session of the Arab Summit in Damascus on March 29, 2008.Moammar Gadhafi and al-Assad clasp hands at the opening session of the Arab Summit in Damascus on March 29, 2008.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, right, and his Lebanese counterpart, Fawzi Salloukh, shake hands under a portrait of al-Assad in Damascus on October 15, 2008, after signing an agreement to restore diplomatic relations.Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, right, and his Lebanese counterpart, Fawzi Salloukh, shake hands under a portrait of al-Assad in Damascus on October 15, 2008, after signing an agreement to restore diplomatic relations.
Asma al-Assad, left, appears with her husband and Austrian President Heinz Fischer and his wife, Margit, during a welcoming ceremonies on April 27, 2009, durring a two-day state visit to Vienna.Asma al-Assad, left, appears with her husband and Austrian President Heinz Fischer and his wife, Margit, during a welcoming ceremonies on April 27, 2009, durring a two-day state visit to Vienna.
Al-Assad is seen at the Al-Shaab Palace in Damascus on June 24, 2009Al-Assad is seen at the Al-Shaab Palace in Damascus on June 24, 2009
Al-Assad shakes hands with U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns in Damascus on February 17, 2010. Burns met the Syrian leader a day after Washington named its first ambassador to Damascus in five years.Al-Assad shakes hands with U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns in Damascus on February 17, 2010. Burns met the Syrian leader a day after Washington named its first ambassador to Damascus in five years.
Al-Assad delivers a speech at Elysee Palace in Paris on December 9, 2010, after sharing a working lunch with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, during a two-day official visit to France. Al-Assad delivers a speech at Elysee Palace in Paris on December 9, 2010, after sharing a working lunch with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, during a two-day official visit to France.
Syrian demonstrators carry a giant portrait of al-Assad in Damascus on November 28, 2011. Protesters waved Syrian flags and chanted nationalist songs in a demonstration against the Arab League's decision to impose crippling sanctions on the Assad regime.Syrian demonstrators carry a giant portrait of al-Assad in Damascus on November 28, 2011. Protesters waved Syrian flags and chanted nationalist songs in a demonstration against the Arab League's decision to impose crippling sanctions on the Assad regime.
A member of the Free Syrian Army holds a burning portrait of al-Assad near the flashpoint city Homs on January 25, 2012.A member of the Free Syrian Army holds a burning portrait of al-Assad near the flashpoint city Homs on January 25, 2012.
Syrians listen to a televised speech by al-Assad in Damascus on June 3, 2012. Al-Assad said that his government faces a foreign plot to destroy Syria and blamed "monsters" for the Houla massacre in a rare televised speech delivered in parliament. Syrians listen to a televised speech by al-Assad in Damascus on June 3, 2012. Al-Assad said that his government faces a foreign plot to destroy Syria and blamed "monsters" for the Houla massacre in a rare televised speech delivered in parliament.
Al-Assad speaks with the Russian newspaper Izvestia in Damascus on August 26, 2013. He told the newspaper that Western accusations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons are an insult to common sense.Al-Assad speaks with the Russian newspaper Izvestia in Damascus on August 26, 2013. He told the newspaper that Western accusations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons are an insult to common sense.
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  • Aaron Miller says President Obama seems to be leaning to the least bad option in Syria
  • He says limited strike may be risky but less so than doing nothing or trying for regime change
  • Miller: If Obama doesn't act after large chemical weapons attack, he'll be written off as ineffective

Editor's note: Aaron David Miller is a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and was a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Among the most enduring urban legends about high-level policy-making in the U.S. government is the proverbial memo with three options: 1. do nothing; 2. do everything; 3. find a middle ground and muddle through.

And yet in truth, Barack Obama really does have only three options in Syria. It appears that the president, rightly the avoider-in-chief when it comes to Syria, has chosen option three, the least bad alternative. And here's why.

Do nothing

Aaron David Miller

This isn't really an option. Forget the fact that the president a year ago drew his own red line against Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons. Disregard the reality that this is reportedly the largest single deployment of chemical weapons since Saddam Hussein used them against the Kurds in 1988; dismiss the fact that 100,000 Syrians have died in this civil conflict; and the president is accused of fiddling, Nero-like, while Syria burns.

Just focus on the events of the past five days in Washington. What has been emanating from administration officials both on and off the record is the most well-advertised and telegraphed military action in the history of modern warfare. Rarely do we get this kind of preview of the operation, its size and character.

Combine that with the Secretary of State John Kerry's brief but powerful statement of moral outrage the other day and the president's PBS interview, and you get as authoritative a commitment to strike as is humanly imaginable.

Indeed, forceful statements and actions of the past few days have now constituted their own red line. And if the president doesn't enforce it, he will be truly damaged goods when it comes to foreign policy for the remainder of his term.

Neither his regional allies (Israel and the Saudis) nor his adversaries (Iran, Hezbollah, Russia) will find him credible or believable. As it is now, everyone says no to the U.S. without much cost or consequence.

Do everything

From the beginning, Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham and a whole host of liberal interventionists and neoconservatives outside the government have repeatedly called for a more robust policy on Syria, even suggesting that the president, by not acting sooner, enabled all of this misery to unfold. Syria, the president's critics maintain, is a major threat to U.S. interests -- and to our allies in the region -- and only a takedown of the al-Assad regime through supporting the opposition and direct application of U.S. military power will begin to address the problem.

The argument has not called for boots on the ground but for extensive use of no-fly zones, the use of U.S. air and missile power to degrade the regime and military support for the opposition.

Obama: Syria strikes would be limited

President Obama has wisely and willfully avoided this approach. And he continues to avoid it now. The reason has to do with the general problem of an open-ended military commitment and the lack of correlation between the use of U.S. military power and its relation to the end state.

Syria is in the throes of a brutal civil war. The opposition is composed of more than 1,000 disparate rebel groups, the most effective allied with al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists. A victory of the latter would be a blow to U.S. interests. Ousting al-Assad won't be cheap or easy. It took eight months to get rid of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, and he had no weapons of mass destruction, no serious air defenses or military capacity and no credible allies. And look at the end result: a post-Gadhafi environment in which there are too many guns, grievances and regional rivalries and no credible central authority.

And Libya pales in comparison with Syria's complexities. Devising a serious military strategy to get rid of al-Assad -- serious weapons for the rebels; no-fly or -drive zones; and sustained air/missile strikes against Syrian military units, infrastructure and leadership targets -- also means U.S. responsibility for what follows. Barack Obama has avoided this option because he rightly doesn't want America getting stuck with the check for Syria.

Muddle through

The option the U.S. is likely to undertake -- focused more narrowly on trying to deter the Syrians from using chemical weapons again and degrading al-Assad's military capacity in the process -- is far from ideal. Although I think the administration's military actions will be far more devastating than the limited strikes being talked about, it is unlikely to change the arc of the battlefield balance.

There are other downsides, too. Once the glass ceiling against the use of force is broken, the expectations and pressures to use it again will grow. There's always the danger too of a response by Hezbollah or Syria against Israel, however unlikely. And sooner or later, al-Assad will commit some other horror that will require another U.S. response. This kind of episodic intervention without a real strategy can undermine American credibility, too.

To be sure, there are real risks in acting on option three, and Obama most assuredly is a reluctant warrior. Indeed, in view of the parliamentary opposition to British Prime Minister David Cameron's willingness to join the U.S., he may be a lonely warrior, too. But he's going to war with Syria nonetheless. Al-Assad's apparent use of chemical weapons, the president's own words and those of others in his administration leave him no other choice.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Aaron Miller

One Direction’s ‘This Is Us’ charms, bores

The boys of One Direction show their singing skills in the movie
The boys of One Direction show their singing skills in the movie "One Direction: This Is Us."
  • "One Direction: This Is Us" is described as a behind-the-scenes extravaganza
  • The movie is supposed to be a documentary, but comes off choreographed
  • Critic thinks director Morgan Spurlock was afraid to bite the hands feeding him

(EW) -- Good luck scoring concert tickets to the latest teen-steam sensation to trundle off the boy-band assembly line, One Direction. They're as hard to come by as a rainbow-colored unicorn.

Fortunately, both Hollywood and the British quintet's money-minting Svengali, Simon Cowell, have hatched a backup plan: a behind-the-scenes 3-D extravaganza called "One Direction: This Is Us." The film is part of a new breed of movies, like "Katy Perry: Part of Me" and "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," that pretend to give rabid fans (and their heel-dragging parents) a privileged peek behind the curtain.

But all they really offer are sanitized, squeaky-clean affirmations of what these pop juggernauts' fans already know. They exist solely to stoke the furnaces of commerce and move more units.

Box office preview: 'One Direction: This Is Us' takes on 'The Butler' over Labor Day weekend

It wasn't always this way. Back in the '60s and '70s, revelatory music documentaries like "Don't Look Back" and "Gimme Shelter" gave us warts-and-all portraits of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones that those artists couldn't have been happy with. Dylan came across as a petulant jerk, while the Stones were painted as hapless co-conspirators in the death of one of their fans at Altamont, where they'd hired the rowdy Hells Angels as security.

So much more than mere celluloid press releases, these were real movies made in an era less defined by iron-fisted publicists and corporate-friendly images, when access wasn't a four-letter word. That all changed in 1991 with Madonna's "Truth or Dare," which, similar to the Material Girl herself, pulled off the brilliant balancing act of allowing you to feel like you were witnessing something intimate (such as her and her dancers' racy backstage high jinks) while never making ticket buyers feel like they were saps — submissive cogs in her will-to-power machine.

The talent of the five likable best mates in One Direction can't be denied. They harmonize like a chorus of impossibly cute angels. And on songs including ''What Makes You Beautiful'' and ''Up All Night,'' they ooze so much stage presence that every teen and tween girl in the audience feels like the lads are singing directly to her and only her. But is "This Is Us" a good film? Well, that's another question entirely.

Directed by Morgan Spurlock, the merry prankster behind 2004's fast-food exposé "Super Size Me," the movie is a chronicle of the rise of five young kids who hit the pop culture lottery. They each tried out individually for the British TV competition "The X Factor," didn't make the cut, and were saved by Cowell, who had the commercial genius to recognize that the sum of their golden voices was greater than the parts. He alchemized them into boy-band gold.

Song of the Summer 2013: YOU chose ...

All of this is dispatched pretty briskly in the beginning of the film because any fan forking over 10 bucks is familiar with this origin story (not to mention the particular personality traits of Harry, Liam, Niall, Zayn and Louis). From there the movie zips through a string of flashy concert clips of the group crooning their hits; reaction shots of young girls crying, screaming their lungs out, and going ape; and footage of the boys acting up on tour buses and sharing their innermost thoughts about their fans in front of campfires.

It's those last bits that Directioners will eat up like Valentine's Day candy hearts. Yet these confessional ''unstaged'' moments feel more choreographed than the group's dance moves. Which is a shame, because if anyone could have given us an inside look at the guys in the band, it's a subversive filmmaker like Spurlock. But "This Is Us" comes off as an impersonal job for hire — a paycheck assignment.

Spurlock seems too scared to bite the hands that are feeding him (although he claims he didn't have final cut). Not once in the film's hour-and-a-half running time do we see a disagreement among the mates, catch a glimpse of them partying, or overhear any of them making a single reference to a girlfriend. (Something has to be informing all of those love songs they sing.) Instead, we're treated to what's essentially a slick, airbrushed promo reel of a bunch of genuinely sweet superstars who can't believe their dumb luck.

That's charming. But it's also a little boring. What it's most definitely not is a documentary.

Grade: C+

See the original story at EW.com.

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N.J. texting ruling not what you think

  • Marc Randazza: Buzz on New Jersey texting ruling leaves wrong impression
  • Judge did not rule that a woman texting a driver was legally liable for the crash, he says
  • Randazza: As in the McDonald's scalding case, misinformation feeds ignorance
  • You may be liable only if you know the person you're texting is driving, he says

Editor's note: Marc J. Randazza is a Las Vegas-based First Amendment attorney. He is licensed to practice in Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts and Nevada. He is the editor of the law blog, The Legal Satyricon.

(CNN) -- The headlines and blogs are all abuzz with the latest news: If a driver who's texting gets in an accident and you sent the text, you can be arrested! Terrible, right?

Actually, it's not true, despite what you may have been told by people who have seen two episodes of some lawyer show and think they are qualified to be legal analysts. Such ignorance about the law feeds misinformation that grows on itself, doubles back and makes us all dumber.

For people like me, lawyers, that is a wonderful thing. Why? Because people who have no idea what they are talking about wind up making simple legal situations complicated, ramping up the billable hours for all of us.

Marc Randazza

Remember the McDonald's hot-coffee lawsuit? That case, maligned from coast to coast, stands in the public mind as the one that says, "If you are stupid enough to spill hot coffee on yourself, you deserve hundreds of millions of dollars."

Anyone who knows anything about the law will tell you that the real ruling came down for the plaintiff because McDonald's had been warned time and again that it was going to hurt somebody if it didn't do something about the scalding temperature at which it served its coffee. But, in the name of more profits, it ignored the warnings. Even thereafter, McDonalds had the opportunity to pay the 81-year-old woman's medical bills -- she was seriously injured, with third-degree burns -- but it acted arrogantly.

McDonald's did something wrong. When it was called to task for it, the punishment had to fit the defendant. Fining McDonalds $1,000 just wasn't going to do it. Hitting McDonalds with a huge multimillion-dollar settlement? That did it. (The injured woman's $2.86 million jury award was later reduced, however, by a judge to $640,000.)

So what has that to do with the New Jersey texting case?

Viewfinder - Texting While Driving
Famed director's new PSA on texting
Don't walk and text

The New Jersey texting case will likely lead to more boneheads who get their legal acumen from "My Cousin Vinny" expounding on its meaning. This chorus shrieks that the New Jersey decision makes you liable for sending a text. But the court actually held that the person doing the texting was not liable in this instance.

The court held that theoretically, someone could be held liable for sending a text to a driver. But the ruling was very clear, and very, very limited:

"We hold that the sender of a text message could potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting but only if the sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted."

In other words, yes, you can be held responsible if you cause an accident by sending a text message. But only if you knew that the recipient would look at the text message while driving. If you had any reason to have any doubt in your mind, then you will likely not be held liable.

So if you send a text message to someone, you need not then call your lawyer or your insurance company. But if you send someone a text message and they respond back "driving, leave me alone" and then you keep sending text messages, perhaps you might be found liable.

The only thing that is certain is that this case, which makes plenty of sense, will serve to continue to allow the common law to grow, while those who would like to bring ignorance to our knowledge of the legal system will continue to succeed.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Marc J. Randazza.

Why cyberattacks from Syria matter

Users who tried to access NYTimes.com Tuesday encountered error messages or web pages from the Syrian Electronic Army.
Users who tried to access NYTimes.com Tuesday encountered error messages or web pages from the Syrian Electronic Army.

Editor's note: James Lewis is director and senior fellow of Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

(CNN) -- On Tuesday afternoon, the New York Times website experienced wide outage for several hours. Who has the nerve and ability to take down one of the most iconic newspapers in the world?

The Syrian Electronic Army, which is loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, takes responsibility for the hack. This is not the first time the Syrian Electronic Army has attacked news organizations. The Washington Post, AP and others have been targeted in recent months as well.

If the New York Times saw Syrian activists spray-painting slogans on its building, it could summon the minions of the law to detain them. But if you live far away in a place where American law does not apply, you are safe. It does not take much skill to intrude in cyberspace, and you can find free tools on the Internet that will let you stage a protest or an attack.

When you log on to the Internet, you can send packets of digital data around the world in seconds. The speed of global connectivity gives the illusion that there are no borders. But this is not true. There are borders in cyberspace, they are just badly defended.

The combination of high speeds, global reach and weak defenses means that someone sitting in Damascus or Tehran can take action in New York or Australia as easily as they could against the building across the street -- perhaps even easier as they won't have to leave their chair.

The Syrian Electronic Army's attacks are a form of protest against Western media's portrayal of the Assad regime. Most experts think the Syrian Electronic Army is not the Syrian government, but "patriotic hackers" who support it. This makes them harder to control and harder to find. The Syrian Electronic Army takes public diplomacy to a new level, letting individuals make their voices known on issues as easily as a government.

What we have seen from the Syrian Electronic Army is political action and sometimes political theater. Hacker groups like Anonymous, WikiLeaks or the Syrian Electronic Army have a symbiotic relationship with media that helps turn minor exploits into front-page news. The Syrian Electronic Army likes to go after the media because this is one way to make sure your message is heard. The Syrian Electronic Army's message to the Western media is one of scorn, ridicule and belittlement.

This week's attack showed more skill than earlier episodes. It resembled a cyber attack made by Iran against dissidents in 2011. Perhaps the Iranians are helping the SEA in cyberspace, but it's more likely that they provided inspiration.

The Syrian Electronic Army broke into the Australian company that hosts The Times' website (called a registrar) and changed its Internet addresses. This redirection was invisible to users who tried to visit NYTimes.com -- they either couldn't connect or were sent to another website controlled by the Syrians. The hackers got inside the target network and made some fundamental changes to how it worked. Some security experts have pointed out that The Times made its own networks vulnerable because of a "misstep" and as a result its website was easier to hack.

So far, the Syrian Electronic Army's actions have been embarrassing rather than damaging. The attackers probably don't know how to carry out a more destructive attack. But with time they could easily learn.

The Syrian Electronic Army's hacking won't change the outcome of the conflict in Syria (whatever that will be), but we don't want to discount the political effect of their actions. Some audiences in the Middle East likely enjoy seeing Western institutions humbled, and the Syrian Electronic Army is helping to dispel a sense of powerlessness against the Western behemoth. It boosts morale.

We also don't want to discount the risks. If the Syrian Electronic Army can slip by feeble defenses to make fun of the media, someone else might be able to get in and cause more serious disruption. There are a lot of reasons why the Syrian Electronic Army might choose not to launch this kind of crippling cyber attack, but the strength of our defense isn't one of them.

There are things that companies can do to protect themselves. Australia's Signals Directorate, the equivalent of NSA, has a list of mitigation strategies that would have block most of the Syrian Electronic Army does, but they aren't well known in the U.S.

The global Internet brings tremendous, benefit but the threats are growing faster than our defenses. It's a vulnerable place with few rules. Until this is changed, hacks on The New York Times and others will be the norm, not the exception.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Lewis.

Summer movies 2013: What happened?

The summer movie season was full of extremes. Topping the box office list was "Iron Man 3," starring Robert Downey Jr., which made $409 million domestically and another $805 million overseas. Critics also liked it, giving it 78% on the aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. (All box office numbers are through August 25.)The summer movie season was full of extremes. Topping the box office list was "Iron Man 3," starring Robert Downey Jr., which made $409 million domestically and another $805 million overseas. Critics also liked it, giving it 78% on the aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. (All box office numbers are through August 25.)
"Despicable Me 2," featuring the voice of Steve Carell, had an outstanding summer, making $351 million domestically and $455 million overseas. It had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 76%."Despicable Me 2," featuring the voice of Steve Carell, had an outstanding summer, making $351 million domestically and $455 million overseas. It had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 76%.
Despite mixed reviews -- 56% on the Tomatometer -- "Man of Steel" finished No. 3 for the summer, with $290 million domestically and $360 million overseas. Henry Cavill stars as Superman.Despite mixed reviews -- 56% on the Tomatometer -- "Man of Steel" finished No. 3 for the summer, with $290 million domestically and $360 million overseas. Henry Cavill stars as Superman.
In the Pixar pantheon, "Monsters University" wasn't ranked as an all-timer, but it still made $262 million domestically, $425 million internationally and earned 78% approval from Rotten Tomatoes.In the Pixar pantheon, "Monsters University" wasn't ranked as an all-timer, but it still made $262 million domestically, $425 million internationally and earned 78% approval from Rotten Tomatoes.
"Fast and Furious 6," starring Vin Diesel, was one of the biggest sleeper hits of the summer, making $230 million domestically and a staggering $548 million overseas. Even critics liked it -- it received 69% approval on the Tomatometer."Fast and Furious 6," starring Vin Diesel, was one of the biggest sleeper hits of the summer, making $230 million domestically and a staggering $548 million overseas. Even critics liked it -- it received 69% approval on the Tomatometer.
Other films suffered huge losses. "R.I.P.D." cost at least $130 million, according to boxofficemojo.com, but only returned $33 million domestically -- which is better than it did overseas. The film stars Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds.Other films suffered huge losses. "R.I.P.D." cost at least $130 million, according to boxofficemojo.com, but only returned $33 million domestically -- which is better than it did overseas. The film stars Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds.
"The Lone Ranger" was, perhaps, the year's biggest bomb, costing at least $215 million but making just $88 million domestically. International audiences liked it a little better, with a $142 million box office. Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer star."The Lone Ranger" was, perhaps, the year's biggest bomb, costing at least $215 million but making just $88 million domestically. International audiences liked it a little better, with a $142 million box office. Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer star.
"White House Down" had two big stars in Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, not to mention a $150 million budget, but only made $72 million domestically and $62 million overseas."White House Down" had two big stars in Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, not to mention a $150 million budget, but only made $72 million domestically and $62 million overseas.
Ryan Reynolds had a rotten summer. He also voiced the lead character in the animated "Turbo," which made $79 million domestically despite a $135 million budget. Overseas grosses added another $70 million.Ryan Reynolds had a rotten summer. He also voiced the lead character in the animated "Turbo," which made $79 million domestically despite a $135 million budget. Overseas grosses added another $70 million.
So much for Will Smith's summer magic touch. "After Earth," with his son Jaden, cost $130 million but made only $61 million domestically. Overseas, Smith is still a big draw: The film earned $183 million in other countries.So much for Will Smith's summer magic touch. "After Earth," with his son Jaden, cost $130 million but made only $61 million domestically. Overseas, Smith is still a big draw: The film earned $183 million in other countries.
The best-reviewed films of the summer included "Before Midnight," with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, which received 98% approval from critics, according to the Tomatometer.The best-reviewed films of the summer included "Before Midnight," with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, which received 98% approval from critics, according to the Tomatometer.
"Fruitvale Station," starring Michael B. Jordan, received 94% approval. It also grossed more than $15 million."Fruitvale Station," starring Michael B. Jordan, received 94% approval. It also grossed more than $15 million.
Cate Blanchett stars in "Blue Jasmine," another low-budget hit from Woody Allen. The film earned a 90 on the Tomatometer.Cate Blanchett stars in "Blue Jasmine," another low-budget hit from Woody Allen. The film earned a 90 on the Tomatometer.
Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Simon Pegg, Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman star in '"The World's End," which concludes director Edgar Wright's "Cornetto Trilogy." The film earned 90% approval from critics.
Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Simon Pegg, Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman star in '"The World's End," which concludes director Edgar Wright's "Cornetto Trilogy." The film earned 90% approval from critics.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" was generally loved by audiences and critics, earning an 87 on the Tomatometer and coming in as the sixth-highest-grossing filim of the summer, with $227 million domestically and $231 million overseas. "Star Trek Into Darkness" was generally loved by audiences and critics, earning an 87 on the Tomatometer and coming in as the sixth-highest-grossing filim of the summer, with $227 million domestically and $231 million overseas.
Adam Sandler (far right, with Salma Hayek, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph and David Spade) can do no right with critics. "Grown Ups 2" received just 7% approval, according to Rotten Tomatoes. It still made $129 million domestically.Adam Sandler (far right, with Salma Hayek, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph and David Spade) can do no right with critics. "Grown Ups 2" received just 7% approval, according to Rotten Tomatoes. It still made $129 million domestically.
"The Smurfs 2" barely cracked double-digits with critics, with a 12 on the Tomatometer."The Smurfs 2" barely cracked double-digits with critics, with a 12 on the Tomatometer.
Jamie Campbell Bower and Lily Collins star in "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," which got a thumbs-down to the tune of 13% on the Tomatometer.Jamie Campbell Bower and Lily Collins star in "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," which got a thumbs-down to the tune of 13% on the Tomatometer.
"The Hangover Part III," starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms, brought the trilogy to a clanking finish. The film earned just 19% approval and $112 million domestically. The latter figure may seem good until you realize the first two films topped $250 million each."The Hangover Part III," starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms, brought the trilogy to a clanking finish. The film earned just 19% approval and $112 million domestically. The latter figure may seem good until you realize the first two films topped $250 million each.
"Jobs," starring Ashton Kutcher as Apple founder Steve Jobs, had a dismal 26% approval from critics."Jobs," starring Ashton Kutcher as Apple founder Steve Jobs, had a dismal 26% approval from critics.
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  • The summer movie season was a success financially, but uneven otherwise
  • Many films filled with crash-alike destruction of cities, worlds
  • The "tentpoles" -- big-budget films that led studio slates -- were a mixed bag
  • Lessons to be drawn? Whatever you want -- and you're probably wrong

(CNN) -- What did Leonard Maltin think of the 2013 summer movie season?

"I'm glad it's almost over," the longtime reviewer and "Movie Guide" author tells CNN in a phone interview. "The movies get bigger and dumber every year, and we're subjected to more remakes and sequels. None of which means that they can't be good -- and occasionally they are -- but this has not been a very fortuitous season."

Sequel-mania: A guide to the next five years of film

He wasn't alone in this belief. Audiences felt the same way: Many of this summer's big-budget franchise flicks -- the so-called "tentpoles" -- fell like redwood trees toppling in a forest, earning generally poor reviews and equally mediocre box office despite their blockbuster costs and wall-to-wall marketing efforts.

You know the list: "After Earth," "Pacific Rim," "White House Down," "Elysium," "R.I.P.D." and, particularly, "The Lone Ranger," which grossed $88 million domestically (through August 25) on its $200 million-plus budget and could cost Disney a $190 million writedown.

But wait a minute.

This summer wasn't actually so bad, says Keith Simanton, managing editor of the Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com). Domestic box office was actually up by a double-digit percentage over last summer, and thanks to the strength of such films as "Iron Man 3," "Despicable Me 2," the divisive but successful "Man of Steel" and "Fast & Furious 6," 2013 as a whole is now even with last year.

IMDb's editors say that 2013 could be better, domestically, than 2012, which was the biggest box-office year in movie history.

"Every year we complain about the same thing," says Simonton. "We were complaining about this back in the '80s, when there was 'Ghostbusters 2' and 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' -- my God, there are no new ideas in Hollywood. No, and there never have been. Everyone looks at their own era and thinks they're going to hell in a handbasket."

Can Maltin and Simanton both be right? Was the summer of 2013 both the best of times and the worst of times?

Perhaps, suggests producer Lynda Obst, it was indeed a tale of two summers. It started out well, with both good reviews and good business for the May and June releases, and then quickly fell apart under the weight of all those wannabe blockbusters.

Obst, the author of the recently published industry chronicle "Sleepless in Hollywood," has a term for it: "tentpole fatigue."

"Movies that come out in May and June are hotly anticipated because people look forward to the summer movies in the very beginning," she says.

And then, well, the wreckage starts piling up.

The best-laid plans ...

On paper, summer 2013 looked rather well-balanced. There were the fanboy favorites, including "Iron Man 3," "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Man of Steel." There were a few family films, such as "Despicable Me 2" and "Monsters University."

Throw in comedies such as "The Heat" and "Hangover Part III," a high-octane Western in "Lone Ranger," another of the ubiquitous "Fast & Furious" crime-and-car adventures and even a new version of "Great Gatsby," and there appeared to be something for everyone.

But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. What ended up being laid in 2013 were a lot of eggs.

The knives were out for \
The knives were out for "World War Z," with Mireille Enos and Brad Pitt, but the film did well.

Take "After Earth," a Will Smith movie that grossed just $60 million domestically. "It sold Will Smith but it was really his son, and his son doesn't have a following," says Obst.

Will Smith: By the numbers

Or take "White House Down," which -- despite an allegedly surefire cast led by Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx -- had the misfortune of coming out just three months after "Olympus Has Fallen," another story about an attack on the White House. "Olympus" made almost $100 million; "White House Down," with a much bigger budget, made just $70 million.

"We've just seen the White House blow up too many times," says Obst. "It just felt incredibly familiar."

Photos: Most persistent movie clichés

Indeed, that explosive repetition may be playing a role in the fatigue audiences felt as the summer wore on. CGI is an amazing technology, but there's only so much destruction audiences can watch before it all starts to blend together. "Man of Steel" destroyed New York -- OK, Metropolis -- yet again, right down to the fancy filigree on the sides of its skyscrapers. "Star Trek" ripped up San Francisco. "World War Z," "Pacific Rim," "After Earth," "Elysium" -- all featured massive, dystopian chaos.

"I think that this is a big problem with the whole summer and with the tentpoles that were made for this summer," says Obst. "There was a sense that we've seen it all before. How many times can you see the same cities being blown up? They all seem to mirror the same sensibility."

It's not a sensibility that's going away anytime soon, however.

For one thing, points out IMDb's Simanton, audiences like seeing things blow up: in a video-game society, it's a way to attract the loyal teenage boy demographic. For another, it's expected. Screenwriter and producer Damon Lindelof ("Prometheus," "World War Z") gave an interview to New York magazine in which he confessed being "slightly turned off" by what he called "destruction porn."

At the same time, he cautioned, "Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world."

Mixed messages

And then there's the overseas market, which has become a huge player in the box office game.

It's not just action movies, which are supposed to travel well. Simanton points out that "Despicable Me 2" has done better overseas than in the United States. So has "Now You See Me" and "The Great Gatsby." The international box office, he says, "will continue to grow as a multiplier."

In the overseas success of those unlikely films may be a sign that Hollywood's current blow-'em-up summer strategy may change. Right now international audiences still love the action films -- as Obst notes in her book, China and Russia built all these movie theaters, and they like to fill them with the latest 3-D bells and whistles -- but even non-U.S. audiences may be growing weary of so much destruction, she says.

"If you look at the Chinese market since the time I wrote the book, they've made three blockbusters of their own, none of which rely on these special effects. They're romantic comedies (and) movies with nuance," she says. "The market in China wants of their own filmmakers the same kind of movies we love from our best filmmakers."

Maltin agrees. "It's always story and character that wins out," says the critic. "Even in an action movie. Witness 'The Avengers.' "

And it wasn't as if character was completely ignored this summer, he adds. Maltin enjoyed "World War Z," which faced down gossipy vultures and emerged a success with both critics and audiences. He liked "The Heat," another demonstration of Melissa McCarthy's comedic skills. Obst credits "Fast & Furious 6's" success to the camaraderie between the film's crew.

Photos: 20 great buddy movies

So will summer 2013 have any impact on future summer seasons, which (hello, Ben Affleck!) already have their own tentpoles in development? Much was made of Steven Spielberg's pronouncement that the failure of a few tentpoles could change the American movie business, but it's still a long way down. Besides, the August releases that have succeeded, including "The Butler" and "We're the Millers," indicate that playing small(-budget) ball can still pay off handsomely.

Simanton suspects that, in fact, late August and Labor Day -- traditionally the dregs of the movie season -- might start proving viable for certain kinds of films. The One Direction concert film, which opens August 30, will test his theory about redefining the bounds of the summer season, he says.

And if not? Well, there's always revisionist history. Already the French are praising "Lone Ranger" and the Chinese are boosting "Pacific Rim." Meanwhile, "Star Trek" fans named "Into Darkness" the worst of the "Trek" films at a Las Vegas convention -- despite its standing as one of a handful of summer films to top $200 million at the box office.

As screenwriter William Goldman put it in the truest words ever written about Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything."

So, when you think about summer 2013 -- for all the CGI destruction, for all the sequels, for all the superheroes and space visitors and foolproof studio strategies -- the past may be no guide to what will work in the future.

"The lessons are," says Maltin, "there are no lessons."

Celeb baby names: Best of the ‘unique’

Considering that Stacy Ann Ferguson legally <a href='http://marquee.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/16/mom-to-be-fergie-changes-her-name/'>changed her first name</a> to her stage moniker, Fergie, we shouldn't be surprised that she picked a unique name for her first child. Her husband, Josh Duhamel, said before <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/29/showbiz/celebrity-news-gossip/fergie-baby-axl-jack-josh-duhamel/'>their baby's August 29 arrival</a> that their choice was different and potentially rock-inspired: The new parents settled on Axl Jack. Young Axl is in very good celebrity company: Here are other star parents who couldn't resist thinking outside the baby name book.Considering that Stacy Ann Ferguson legally changed her first name to her stage moniker, Fergie, we shouldn't be surprised that she picked a unique name for her first child. Her husband, Josh Duhamel, said before their baby's August 29 arrival that their choice was different and potentially rock-inspired: The new parents settled on Axl Jack. Young Axl is in very good celebrity company: Here are other star parents who couldn't resist thinking outside the baby name book.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are the proud parents of a baby girl named North. Full name: North West. Yep.Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are the proud parents of a baby girl named North. Full name: North West. Yep.
Holly Madison knew she was going to get criticism for naming her daughter, born in March 2013, Rainbow Aurora. So she explained when she revealed her choice that she intentionally wanted something different. "Growing up, there was a girl in my school named Rainbow, and I was so envious of that name," <a href='http://www.eonline.com/news/395762/holly-madison-reveals-newborn-baby-girl-s-name-find-out-the-star-s-colorful-choice' >Madison told E!</a> in March. "I thought it was so pretty and unique!" Holly Madison knew she was going to get criticism for naming her daughter, born in March 2013, Rainbow Aurora. So she explained when she revealed her choice that she intentionally wanted something different. "Growing up, there was a girl in my school named Rainbow, and I was so envious of that name," Madison told E! in March. "I thought it was so pretty and unique!"
Compared with other names on this list, the ones Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon picked -- Monroe and Moroccan -- are pretty tame. Hey, at least they're spelled correctly! But when <a href='http://marquee.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/04/mariah-carey-and-nick-cannon-reveal-baby-names/?iref=allsearch'>the couple announced in May 2011</a> that their newborn twins were named after Marilyn Monroe and a Moroccan-themed room in Carey's New York home, it did seem a little strange. Compared with other names on this list, the ones Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon picked -- Monroe and Moroccan -- are pretty tame. Hey, at least they're spelled correctly! But when the couple announced in May 2011 that their newborn twins were named after Marilyn Monroe and a Moroccan-themed room in Carey's New York home, it did seem a little strange.
Poppy Honey Rosie, Daisy Boo Pamela, Petal Blossom Rainbow and Buddy Bear Maurice. Those are the names chef Jamie Oliver and his wife, Jools, chose for their four children, seen here when the couple's son, Buddy, was a baby in September 2010. Poppy Honey Rosie, Daisy Boo Pamela, Petal Blossom Rainbow and Buddy Bear Maurice. Those are the names chef Jamie Oliver and his wife, Jools, chose for their four children, seen here when the couple's son, Buddy, was a baby in September 2010.
Jay-Z and Beyoncé wanted a name so unique for their firstborn daughter <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/22/showbiz/celebrity-news-gossip/jay-z-beyonce-trademark-rs/index.html?iref=allsearch' >that they even tried to trademark it</a>: Blue Ivy. They ended up losing their bid, as a Boston wedding planner already has a business by the name of Blue Ivy, and she'd petitioned to trademark it as well. "I was really blatantly shocked," the entrepreneur said at the time. "I didn't think it was true, because nobody names their daughter Blue Ivy."Jay-Z and Beyoncé wanted a name so unique for their firstborn daughter that they even tried to trademark it: Blue Ivy. They ended up losing their bid, as a Boston wedding planner already has a business by the name of Blue Ivy, and she'd petitioned to trademark it as well. "I was really blatantly shocked," the entrepreneur said at the time. "I didn't think it was true, because nobody names their daughter Blue Ivy."
Gwyneth Paltrow's two kids, seen here with their superstar mom in 2011, are two of the most famous celebrity offspring thanks to their offbeat names. <a href='http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,1175007,00.html' >Moses is named after a song</a> Paltrow's husband, Coldplay's Chris Martin, wrote for her, while Apple's name was chosen because it "sounded so lovely and clean."Gwyneth Paltrow's two kids, seen here with their superstar mom in 2011, are two of the most famous celebrity offspring thanks to their offbeat names. Moses is named after a song Paltrow's husband, Coldplay's Chris Martin, wrote for her, while Apple's name was chosen because it "sounded so lovely and clean."
In Jermajesty's family, it's his sibling Jeremy who's the odd man out. Jermaine Jackson's other son's name is Jaafar, who's seen here on the right. Jermajesty, left, fits right in. In Jermajesty's family, it's his sibling Jeremy who's the odd man out. Jermaine Jackson's other son's name is Jaafar, who's seen here on the right. Jermajesty, left, fits right in.
We suppose magician Penn Jillette, seen here with his family and magic partner Teller in April 2013, really wanted magical names for his kids. His son's name, Zolten, is actually his wife Emily's maiden name, while his daughter's name is more creative: Moxie Crimefighter. "I love that it's a purely American word ... and I love that it stands for old-fashioned spunk and energy," <a href='http://celebritybabies.people.com/2007/06/13/cbb_exclusive_p/' >Penn said</a> in 2007. We suppose magician Penn Jillette, seen here with his family and magic partner Teller in April 2013, really wanted magical names for his kids. His son's name, Zolten, is actually his wife Emily's maiden name, while his daughter's name is more creative: Moxie Crimefighter. "I love that it's a purely American word ... and I love that it stands for old-fashioned spunk and energy," Penn said in 2007.
Surely, Nicolas Cage was first in line to see the new Superman movie, "Man of Steel." We can only guess that his love for the superhero is what led to him bestowing Superman's kryptonian name, Kal-El, on his son. Surely, Nicolas Cage was first in line to see the new Superman movie, "Man of Steel." We can only guess that his love for the superhero is what led to him bestowing Superman's kryptonian name, Kal-El, on his son.
At least Rachel Griffiths didn't settle on "Guitar." That doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well as the name she gave her son, seen here in 2007, Banjo. At least Rachel Griffiths didn't settle on "Guitar." That doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well as the name she gave her son, seen here in 2007, Banjo.
Frank Zappa's brood all have funky names, such as Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen. But for us, Moon Unit, seen here with Lou Reed in 1995, will always take the cake.Frank Zappa's brood all have funky names, such as Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen. But for us, Moon Unit, seen here with Lou Reed in 1995, will always take the cake.
With one son named Kingston, Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale had to up the ante with their second son, who was born in 2008. The inspiration behind the name Zuma Nesta Rock <a href='http://celebritybabies.people.com/2008/08/22/zuma-nesta-rock/' >has been heavily dissected, with most agreeing</a> that Zuma is a nod to Zuma Beach in Malibu. With one son named Kingston, Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale had to up the ante with their second son, who was born in 2008. The inspiration behind the name Zuma Nesta Rock has been heavily dissected, with most agreeing that Zuma is a nod to Zuma Beach in Malibu.
Alicia Silverstone and husband Christopher Jarecki decided on Bear Blu when <a href='http://marquee.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/10/alicia-silverstone-welcomes-son-bear-blu/?iref=allsearch'>they welcomed their son in May 2011</a>. Not everyone was a fan: The actress <a href='http://marquee.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/29/alicia-silverstones-pick-tops-list-of-2011s-worst-celeb-baby-names/?iref=allsearch'>was tied with Mariah Carey</a> for the top spot on BabyNames.com's worst celebrity baby name of 2012. Alicia Silverstone and husband Christopher Jarecki decided on Bear Blu when they welcomed their son in May 2011. Not everyone was a fan: The actress was tied with Mariah Carey for the top spot on BabyNames.com's worst celebrity baby name of 2012.
Rob Morrow's daughter Tu is 12 years older than Kanye West's daughter with Kim Kardashian, but we have a feeling they could become best friends. After all, with a last name like Morrow, Tu knows what North is going through. Rob Morrow's daughter Tu is 12 years older than Kanye West's daughter with Kim Kardashian, but we have a feeling they could become best friends. After all, with a last name like Morrow, Tu knows what North is going through.
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460-mile megacanyon discovered

  • A 460-mile canyon up to half a mile deep lies beneath Greenland's ice
  • The discovery was reported in a scientific journal Thursday
  • "It looks like it was a pretty extensive river system millions of years ago," scientist says

(CNN) -- British and American scientists watching Greenland's massive ice sheet have found what appears to be a 460-mile "megacanyon" far beneath the frozen surface of the world's largest island.

Airborne radar images taken by the U.S. space agency NASA and compiled by scientists at the University of Bristol revealed the canyon's existence, Bristol glaciologist Jonathan Bamber said Thursday. It's buried under the layer of ice that blankets Greenland, a covering up to 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) thick.

The gouge is more than half again as long as Arizona's 277-mile Grand Canyon, but not as deep -- ranging from 650 feet to about 2,600 feet (200 to 800 meters), Bamber said. It runs from the middle of Greenland to its northern shore, on the Arctic Ocean, and it's likely to have been covered over by ice for 4 million years.

"It's a continuous canyon. It's pretty deep. It very much looks like it predates the ice sheets," Bamber said. "We think it's indicative of a river system that was here before the ice sheet was there, and which perhaps was modified by the ice sheet cover some, but not much."

As scientists study receding ice in Greenland, many residents simply do what they've always done: adapt. As scientists study receding ice in Greenland, many residents simply do what they've always done: adapt.
"We're used to change,'' said Greenlander Pilu Neilsen. "We learn to adapt to whatever comes. If all the glaciers melt, we'll just get more land." Nielsen and his brother Kunuk, piloting the boat, try to capture a goat that became stuck at the bottom of a cliff near the water on the family's farm on July 30 in Qaqortoq."We're used to change,'' said Greenlander Pilu Neilsen. "We learn to adapt to whatever comes. If all the glaciers melt, we'll just get more land." Nielsen and his brother Kunuk, piloting the boat, try to capture a goat that became stuck at the bottom of a cliff near the water on the family's farm on July 30 in Qaqortoq.
Arnaq Egede works among the plants in her family's potato farm on July 31 in Qaqortoq. The farm, the largest in Greenland, has seen an extended crop-growing season because of climate change.Arnaq Egede works among the plants in her family's potato farm on July 31 in Qaqortoq. The farm, the largest in Greenland, has seen an extended crop-growing season because of climate change.
A boat navigates among calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glacier on July 31 near Qaqortoq. Boats are a crucial mode of transportation in a country that has few roads. A boat navigates among calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glacier on July 31 near Qaqortoq. Boats are a crucial mode of transportation in a country that has few roads.
Calved icebergs from the Twin Glacier float July 30 near Qaqortoq.Calved icebergs from the Twin Glacier float July 30 near Qaqortoq.
Trout caught in a stream July 30 in Qaqortoq. Even though this summer has not been as warm as last year, the warmer weather has extended the growing season.Trout caught in a stream July 30 in Qaqortoq. Even though this summer has not been as warm as last year, the warmer weather has extended the growing season.
Greenland adapts to climate change
Greenland adapts to climate change
Greenland adapts to climate change
Greenland adapts to climate change
Greenland adapts to climate change
Greenland adapts to climate change
Greenland adapts to climate changeGreenland adapts to climate change

The discovery is a byproduct of the intense scientific focus on Greenland amid concerns about rising global temperatures. The radar images were shot by NASA's Operation IceBridge, which flies aircraft over the island because the ice sheet is too thick for satellite-based radar to penetrate, said Michael Studinger, the project's lead scientist.

Bamber and colleagues from Bristol, the University of Calgary in Canada and Urbino University in Italy published their findings Thursday in the journal Science. They were trying to compile an updated set of ice-sheet records when they noticed "this long linear feature that seemed to be pretty continuous," Bamber said.

"It looks like it was a pretty extensive river system millions of years ago," he said.

The find isn't a "first-order concern" for scientists studying climate change but will help researchers understand how the ice ebbs and flows across the face of Greenland and other polar environments, Bamber said.

The main reason Greenland is under study is to record the height of the ice above it, not to map the land beneath, Studinger said. The existence of the canyon is "basically a tiny piece in the big puzzle of what's going on in Greenland," but still an exciting find, he said.

"We live in the 21st century, and we are still discovering 750-kilometer features under the Greenland ice sheet that we didn't know about," he said.

As climate warms, Arctic spawns massive ice islands

31 most beautiful sights on Earth

Sossusvlei means "the gathering place of water" but you'll need to bring your own if you don't want to dehydrate at this, one of Namibia's most outstanding attractions.Sossusvlei means "the gathering place of water" but you'll need to bring your own if you don't want to dehydrate at this, one of Namibia's most outstanding attractions.
Torres del Paine: created with screen savers and inspirational corporate posters in mind.Torres del Paine: created with screen savers and inspirational corporate posters in mind.
We love the wildebeest migration, which traverses the major nature parks in Kenya and Tanzania throughout the year, and so do the lions.We love the wildebeest migration, which traverses the major nature parks in Kenya and Tanzania throughout the year, and so do the lions.
Orion, Pegasus and about a million of their friends are visible in Mackenzie Basin in New Zealand.Orion, Pegasus and about a million of their friends are visible in Mackenzie Basin in New Zealand.
With its mountain backdrop and shores lined with ancient houses, the Nanxi River inevitably became the cradle of classic Chinese water-and-ink painting. It's also where travelers can watch local fishermen team with cormorants to catch fish.With its mountain backdrop and shores lined with ancient houses, the Nanxi River inevitably became the cradle of classic Chinese water-and-ink painting. It's also where travelers can watch local fishermen team with cormorants to catch fish.
Lucky us, the world didn't end in 2012, so we still have time to see the Mayan ruins in Palenque.Lucky us, the world didn't end in 2012, so we still have time to see the Mayan ruins in Palenque.
Your camera's memory card might blow up inside this Iceland volcano, but otherwise it's all cool.Your camera's memory card might blow up inside this Iceland volcano, but otherwise it's all cool.
Monument Valley -- more beautiful in reality than in the movies. How many screen legends can say that?Monument Valley -- more beautiful in reality than in the movies. How many screen legends can say that?
Yes, five million bats can look beautiful. They cluster together in one tiny corner of Zambia's Kasanka National Park every November.Yes, five million bats can look beautiful. They cluster together in one tiny corner of Zambia's Kasanka National Park every November.
Snake-charmers, henna painters and more. Snake-charmers, henna painters and more.
Workers on Kawah Ijen, a volcanic lake in Java, Indonesia, collect sulfur to sell to a refinery. Conditions are treacherous, pungent smoke billows from gashes in the ground and at least one tourist is reported to have died while climbing down the crater. But local miners spend hours here each day mining sulfur, earning around $10 a day.Workers on Kawah Ijen, a volcanic lake in Java, Indonesia, collect sulfur to sell to a refinery. Conditions are treacherous, pungent smoke billows from gashes in the ground and at least one tourist is reported to have died while climbing down the crater. But local miners spend hours here each day mining sulfur, earning around $10 a day.
Approximately 40% of Korea's tea is produced in the rolling fields of Boseong, which have also provided the backdrop of many Korean dramas and films.Approximately 40% of Korea's tea is produced in the rolling fields of Boseong, which have also provided the backdrop of many Korean dramas and films.
Every year, armies of young backpackers flock to the ancient town of Fenghuang (which literally means "Phoenix") in Hunan province, for its rich Miao and Tujia ethnic culture as well as a glorious photo opportunity.Every year, armies of young backpackers flock to the ancient town of Fenghuang (which literally means "Phoenix") in Hunan province, for its rich Miao and Tujia ethnic culture as well as a glorious photo opportunity.
Guests staying within the village compound are allowed to enter this 9th century monument, hidden beneath volcanic ash for centuries, before opening time.Guests staying within the village compound are allowed to enter this 9th century monument, hidden beneath volcanic ash for centuries, before opening time.
They're not exotic and in the European case they're not even that pretty, but they are one of the most mesmerizing sights in nature.They're not exotic and in the European case they're not even that pretty, but they are one of the most mesmerizing sights in nature.
The Rialto, the Bridge of Sighs, the vast expanse of San Marco look much as they did 400 years ago, but nothing evokes the mystery of La Serenissima quite like Santa Maria Salute looming out of the mist at the entrance to the Grand Canal.The Rialto, the Bridge of Sighs, the vast expanse of San Marco look much as they did 400 years ago, but nothing evokes the mystery of La Serenissima quite like Santa Maria Salute looming out of the mist at the entrance to the Grand Canal.
From thunder to lightning to tornadoes, you can see it all by joining a storm-chasing crew in Tornado Alley, the area between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains where 25 percent of America's "significant" tornadoes occur, according to the National Atlas by the US government.From thunder to lightning to tornadoes, you can see it all by joining a storm-chasing crew in Tornado Alley, the area between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains where 25 percent of America's "significant" tornadoes occur, according to the National Atlas by the US government.
It may be one of the most hyped buildings in the world, but it lives up to its publicity. Visitors still gasp the moment they first set eyes on the world's most famous shrine to love.It may be one of the most hyped buildings in the world, but it lives up to its publicity. Visitors still gasp the moment they first set eyes on the world's most famous shrine to love.
Clean, secluded and easy to skip because it takes some effort to get here, the beaches of the Seychelles are the benchmarks against which others must be judged. Clean, secluded and easy to skip because it takes some effort to get here, the beaches of the Seychelles are the benchmarks against which others must be judged.
Scandinavia gives you a chance to see the most dazzling light display on Earth. <!-- -->
</br><strong>Click the double arrow to continue the gallery</strong>Scandinavia gives you a chance to see the most dazzling light display on Earth. Click the double arrow to continue the gallery
Not always this clear, we know, but still Yosemite.Not always this clear, we know, but still Yosemite.
In the Lake District it's OK to ponder like a poet. In the Lake District it's OK to ponder like a poet.
Some 230 meters beneath a stand of cactus-studded rocky slopes in New Mexico lies a wonderland of 117 caves formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone.Some 230 meters beneath a stand of cactus-studded rocky slopes in New Mexico lies a wonderland of 117 caves formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone.
The Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia is home to the highest tides in the world, creating a rare tidal bore -- or giant wave -- in the Shubenacadie River. Some adventurous types surf or canoe the wave as it moves upriver. The Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia is home to the highest tides in the world, creating a rare tidal bore -- or giant wave -- in the Shubenacadie River. Some adventurous types surf or canoe the wave as it moves upriver.
Every evening, these stunning peaks lay on a glorious display of color, starting out bright yellow before turning an intense red that softens to indigo and violet before darkness finally envelops the mountains.Every evening, these stunning peaks lay on a glorious display of color, starting out bright yellow before turning an intense red that softens to indigo and violet before darkness finally envelops the mountains.
Dubbed "the greatest shoal on earth," the sardine run on South Africa's Wild Coast holds two titles -- the world's largest animal migration also featuring the greatest gathering of predators on the planet.Dubbed "the greatest shoal on earth," the sardine run on South Africa's Wild Coast holds two titles -- the world's largest animal migration also featuring the greatest gathering of predators on the planet.
A rainbow created by the moon -- definitely worth a look.A rainbow created by the moon -- definitely worth a look.
Seen one beach you've seen them all? Not a chance.Seen one beach you've seen them all? Not a chance.
Not your everyday ruins.Not your everyday ruins.
Early settlers made homes in these natural formations called fairy chimneys.Early settlers made homes in these natural formations called fairy chimneys.
Old mines reborn as tourist attractions.Old mines reborn as tourist attractions.
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  • Starling murmurations, wildebeest migrations and sardine runs -- some of nature's wondrous sights
  • Love a night sky? New Zealand and Scandinavia are great
  • Manmade icons represent too -- Taj Mahal and Borobudur particularly noteworthy

(CNN) -- Editor's note: A previous version of this article was published in July 2012. We've added a few items and updated the list. We'd love to hear about your own "incredible sights" in the comments too.

Temples that tower out of mist-cloaked jungles; a herd of wildebeest, one million-strong, trekking across the African plains; a midnight sky filled with stars.

There are some things around the world that provide photo-showing rights for decades.

We haven't got them all -- in fact we barely scratched the surface.

But we have picked out a few of the scenes that, if you're lucky enough to witness them, will invariably leave you spellbound. 

Let us know what other beautiful sights you've witnessed on your travels in the comments

1. Sossusvlei Dunes, Namibia

Sossusvlei means "the gathering place of water" but you'll need to bring your own if you don't want to dehydrate at this, Namibia's most outstanding attraction.

The dunes have developed over millions of years, the result of material flowing from the Orange River into the Atlantic, carried north and returned again to land by the surf.

Climbing the dunes yields breathtaking views, including the Deadvlei, a ghostly expanse of dried white clay punctuated by skeletons of ancient camelthorn trees.

More info at www.namibian.org

More: Namibia -- a wildlife photographer's paradise

2. Torres del Paine, Chile

In the heart of Patagonia, glaciers rise in the midst of mountainscapes and alpine meadows, close enough to hike right up to and touch. They make Torres del Paine one of the most special national parks in the world — you'll never forget your first sight of ice on the beach.

Explora offers a four-night package including transfers from Punta Arenas, full board and excursions from $2,780; lastfrontiers.com

Share your no. 1 travel tip

3. The great migration, East Africa

No sight in the world replicates the timeless drama of tens of thousands of wild beasts charging across the African plains in search of food and water while pursued by their predators.

The best way to experience the migration is via a mobile camp which ups sticks and follows the animals every day.

A four-night safari combining two nights in Singita's Explore mobile camp and two in a fixed location in the Serengeti costs from $5,110, including internal flights, full board and safari activities; aardvarksafaris.co

4. Star-filled sky, Mackenzie Basin, New Zealand

Picking out Orion's Belt and The Big Dipper is even more impressive if there are a million other stars distracting you from the task.

A 1,600-square-mile area in New Zealand's South Island comprising Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin has just been designated the world's fourth International Dark Sky Reserve, making it "one of the best stargazing sites on Earth" according to Bob Parks, executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association.

Nature's Highway arranges three-night/four-day cycling tours to Mackenzie Basin from $995 per person. Includes accommodation, bike hire and luggage transport; natureshighway.co.nz/tour-dates-and-price

5. Cormorant fishing, China

The Nanxi River -- where travelers can watch local fishermen team with cormorants to catch fish.
The Nanxi River -- where travelers can watch local fishermen team with cormorants to catch fish.

With its mountain backdrop and shores lined with ancient houses, the Nanxi River in Zhejiang inevitably became the cradle of classic Chinese water-and-ink painting.

By drifting down the Nanxi River on a bamboo craft, travelers can enjoy views of locals doing laundry along the river and fishermen employing traditional methods of using cormorants to catch fish. The xiangyu is a rare freshwater fish unique to the Nanxi.

The nearest traffic hub to Nanxi River is Wenzhou, a major city in Zhejiang Province. It's about 23 kilometers away. Major cities connected to Wenzhou Airport by direct flights include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hangzhou.

More: 40 beautiful places to visit in China

6. Jungle pyramids, Palenque, Mexico

Mayan pyramids pervade the eastern side of Mexico, but none are more breathtaking than those of Palenque in the far south. The jungle temple of this site inspired "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and it has a lost-world, Indiana Jones kind of feeling other ruins lack.

This is the year to hit the Mayan ruins — the ancient tribe believed the world would end in 2012.

Tucan Travel's 22-day End of the World tour hits Palenque on New Year's Eve and takes in other Mayan sites; $2,240; tucantravel.com/tour

7. Inside the Thrihnukagigur volcano, Iceland

Iceland is a spectacular living wilderness, and in summer it's possible to journey right into the inner cavity of the Thrihnukagigur volcano, which has been dormant for 4,000 years.

After a short hike across lava fields, participants descend 120 meters via a cable car into the heart of the volcano and its magma chamber, only accessible between mid-June and the end of July.

Discover the World offers three nights in Iceland including accommodation, volcano visit and a look at other natural wonders as well as the capital, Reykjavik, from around $1,130; discover-the-world.co.uk

8. Monument Valley, United States

You'd be forgiven for thinking this thrilling red rock vista at the conjunction of Arizona and Utah was a movie set. But although it's served as the backdrop for many John Ford movies, this corner of the Navajo Nation is for real.

The best way to experience the area is to stay overnight, then ride into the park with a Native American guide who can arrange a visit with some of the residents. Particularly magical is a nighttime visit around the time of the full moon.

General admission $5; navajonationparks.org

More: 10 easy ways to experience Navajo America

9. Kasanka bat migration, Zambia

Five million bats cluster together in one tiny corner of Zambia's Kasanka National Park every November.

Orange-brown in color, they feed off the swamp forest's delicious wild fruits, on which they chomp solidly every night (making sunset and dawn the best times to view them). After the bats abandon it, Kasanka is spectacular in a different way: all that remains of Bat Central are stripped, broken trees and an eerie silence.

Naturetrek has a Swamps & South Luangwa Zambia safari departing on November 4, taking in the bat migration. $2,725 includes all transport, full board accommodation, park fees and guides; naturetrek.co.uk

10. Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech, Morocco

Fancy a camel spleen kebab or a super-sweet, deep-fried, sesame cookie? Here\'s the lowdown on street snacking, Moroccan-style.
Fancy a camel spleen kebab or a super-sweet, deep-fried, sesame cookie? Here's the lowdown on street snacking, Moroccan-style.

If any city has a vast expanse of street theater at its beating heart, it's this Moroccan metropolis where Moorish influences give way to a throbbing African pulse.

This huge empty space over which the sun rises comes to life from mid-afternoon as the local characters creep in — storytellers, snake charmers, musicians, Berber apothecaries, henna-painters and lady-boy dancers.

First-floor cafes are the best places to overlook the action as the scene unfolds, but when night closes in and smoke starts rising from the food stalls, it's time to join the crowds at trestle tables for a $5 feast of grilled meats and flatbread.

Stay in a riad — a traditional townhouse hotel — within the Medina for maximum impact. Riad Farnatchi sets out a great little handbook for guests of what not to miss, including the best food stalls on the square. Rooms from US$360 per night; riadfarnatchi.com

11. Kawah Ijen, Indonesia

The daily routines of the sulfur miners on Kawah Ijen, the "solitary crater" of East Java, Indonesia, will make any office-worker frustrations appear trivial.

Surrounded by noxious sulfur fumes, these men work inside a live volcano, within spitting distance of its acidic lake to collect crystalline sulfur, which they sell to a refinery.

The volcano is active, with a small eruption occurring in 2002 and more activity, where the lake changed color and emitted sulfurous rocks and foam, causing it to be closed to tourists in 2004.

The paths are treacherous. In 1997 a French tourist fell and died here.

Ferries make the 20-minute journey from Bali to Ketapang, Java every day. Tours to Kawah Ijen are available from Ketapang itself, or you can take the bus to other nearby towns such as Bondowoso or Banyuwangi.

More: Wild Wakatobi: Indonesia's spectacular and little-known dive destination

12. Boseong tea fields, South Korea

Approximately 40% of Korea's tea is produced in the rolling fields of Boseong, which have also provided the backdrop of many South Korean dramas and films.

Yes, green tea-related specialties (fresh green tea ice cream and green tea pork belly) are tasty treats, but the spectacular view of the seemingly endless tea fields is the real reason so many visitors stop by Boseong.

A green tea festival is held every May while in the winter, the fields are decorated with tiny light bulbs.

The best way to get to Boseong is by bus from Seoul. Take an express bus to Gwangju from Seoul Seoul Central City Bus Terminal. From Gwangju Express Bus Terminal, take an intercity bus to Boseong.

13. Fenghuang, China

Every year, armies of young backpackers flock to the ancient town of Fenghuang (which literally means "Phoenix") for its rich Miao and Tujia ethnic culture.

Many also come to pay homage to celebrated Chinese writer Shen Congwen, whose novel "Frontier City" put the 1,300-year-old town in limelight.

Fenghuang maintains its original layout and architecture, with around 200 residential buildings, 20 streets and 10 winding alleys, all of which date as far back as the Ming dynasty.

Admission: RMB 148. Fenghuang is 430 kilometers west of Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan. Long-distance buses are available four times a day from West Changsha Bus Terminal to Fenghuang Bus Terminal for RMB 130. The journey takes nearly four hours.

14. Borobudur at sunrise, Java, Indonesia

Watching the sun rise over the hundreds of stupas and Buddhas at Borobudur before the public descends in droves to disturb the peace is one of the world's most rarefied experiences.

Guests staying within the village compound are allowed to enter this 9th century monument, hidden beneath volcanic ash for centuries, before opening time.

Black Tomato offers three nights bed and breakfast with private sunrise tour at lavish Amanjiwo, decorated with its own Buddhas and stupas, from $1,195 per person; blacktomato.com

15. Starling murmuration, Brighton Pier, England

One of the most mesmerizing sights in nature.
One of the most mesmerizing sights in nature.

They're not exotic, and in the European case they're not even that pretty, but when you have thousands of starlings swooping and wheeling like some kind of hypnotic cloud, they become one of the most mesmerizing sights in natur See a stunning video of the phenomenon on Vimeo.

These murmurations happen just before the birds roost down for the night, and while starling numbers have crashed in the UK, you can still see up to a million birds coming together in these huge swarms in England's nature reserves or at certain piers such as Brighton Pier, just an hour's train journey from London.

The murmurations are most common in winter, November being the best month.

See the RSPB website for details on where and when to see them.

More: London as a local: 10 tips for survival

16. Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Italy

Because they've been the subject of so many Renaissance paintings, the iconic landmarks of Venice stop the heart when you see them for the first time.

The Rialto, the Bridge of Sighs, the vast expanse of San Marco look much as they did 400 years ago, but nothing evokes the mystery of La Serenissima quite like the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute looming out of the mist at the entrance to the Grand Canal.

The perfect place to catch this view is from a vaporetto approaching Venice from the lagoon — the most magical way to arrive from the airport; turismovenezia.it

17. Electrical storm, Tornado Alley, United States

From thunder to lightning to tornadoes, you can see it all by joining a storm-chasing crew in Tornado Alley, the area between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains where 25% of America's "significant" tornadoes occur, according to the National Atlas by the US government.

The best time to catch a glimpse of one is from May to June.

Wannabe stormers can join the seven-day tour hosted by Storm Chasing Adventure Tours. Be prepared for a rough and tough tour — they may drive 500 miles a day in the chase.

Seven-day tour costs US$2,400; stormchasing.com

18. Taj Mahal, India

It may be the most clichéd image in the world, but visitors still gasp the moment they first set eyes on the world's most famous shrine to love.

Best enjoyed at sunset, when there are not too many tourists around to spoil the spell, or over a drink from a distance at Amarvilas, a luxury hotel overlooking the magnificent white marble mausoleum.

Built by Shah Jehan in the 17th century in memory of his third wife Mumtaz, the Taj Mahal forms part of the Golden Triangle, which is the classic first tour for visitors new to India.

Intrepid Travel offers seven days from Delhi, taking in the pink city of Jaipur as well as the Taj Mahal, from $805; intrepidtravel.com

More: 10 classic Indianisms: 'Doing the needful' and more

19. Pristine beaches, Seychelles

Clean, secluded and easy to skip because it takes some effort to get here, the beaches of the Seychelles are the benchmarks against which others must be judged.

From Grand Anse and Anse Source d'Argent on La Dique island, to Beau Vallon on Mahe to the entire Bird Island -- the Seychelles' beaches bring bright sands, copious wildlife and possibly the best beach vacation you'll ever have.

They even won first and fourth spot in our list of the world's best 100 beaches.

Seychelles' relaxed visa policy (you don't need one) is only slightly offset by the need to have pre-booked accommodation. Flights head to Seychelles International Airport from various major hubs including Johannesburg, Nairobi, Dubai and Doha.

20. Northern Lights, Scandinavia

Since most of Lapland is situated within the Arctic Circle, it\'s an ideal spot to watch the northern lights.
Since most of Lapland is situated within the Arctic Circle, it's an ideal spot to watch the northern lights.

This astronomical phenomenon is best seen in winter from northern Scandinavia — but there are never any guarantees, which makes the magic moments when they do appear all the more special.

A great place to keep watch is from the sheltered coastal waters of western Norway, whose coves are free of artificial light.

Travel there on Hurtigruten, the country's national coastal steamer, and enjoy inspirational fjord views by daylight.

Six-day voyages from $735; hurtigruten.co

21. Yosemite peaks, California

Not just any old mountains, Half Dome, Sentinel and El Capitan have been immortalized by landscape photographer Ansel Adams. The view catches in the throat of first-time visitors who trace the route taken by the Gold Rush settlers who discovered this breathtaking land of pine forests and soaring granite peaks around 1850.

It's mandatory to stay within the National Park boundaries to breathe the pine-scented air, absorb the grandeur and hike in peace after the day-trippers have left. While simple lodge cabins are good value, the magnificent 1920's Ahwahnee Hotel overlooking Half Dome is worth the splurge (rooms around $450 per night); yosemite.com

More: America's most amazing hotel pools

22. Lake District lakes, England

There's something mystical about the quiet bodies of still water ringed by majestic fells that feature in the new movie "Snow White and the Huntsman."

The Lake District is the glory of northwestern England, and was a favorite of poets Wordsworth and Coleridge as well as Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit, who celebrates his 110th anniversary this year.

At Keswick travelers can climb the fell above Ashness Bridge to see two lakes at once, including magnificent Derwentwater. Also spot the serene Ullswater, dark and dramatic Wastwater and tiny but perfectly formed Grasmere, where the poets hung out.

Pullwood Bay offers award-winning lakeside and woodland self-catering cottages, plus a boathouse; pullwoodbay.com

Lake District visitors' information at visitcumbria.com.

23. Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico, United States

Although Carlsbad also has a colony of bats that fly out at dusk when the cavern is closed, they can't equal the utter spectacle within.

Some 230 meters beneath a stand of cactus-studded rocky slopes in New Mexico lies a wonderland of 117 caves formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone.

Allow a couple of hours to marvel at the eerily-lit stalactites, stalagmites and other rock formations as you wander through these amazing subterranean halls.

It's like being in Hans Anderson's "Snow Queen," the fairy-tale set in a mysterious ice palace — but this one is just comfortably cool and not slippery. There's even an elevator for the 79-story ride back to the surface; nps.gov/cave/index.htm

24. Tidal bore, Canada

The Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia is home to the highest tides in the world, creating a rare Tidal Bore — or giant wave — in the Shubenacadie River.

The tide enters at its widest point and the water piles up as it flows up the bay. At the head of the bay, this advancing tide becomes a wave, varying from a ripple to up to three meters high.

The Shubenacadie River Runners operate Zodiac trips which ride the crest of the tidal surge and on through several sets of natural sand rapids; half-day rafting from $60 per person; tidalborerafting.com

More: How to pretend you're Canadian when you travel

25. Enrosadira, Italy

Every evening, these stunning peaks lay on a glorious display of color.
Every evening, these stunning peaks lay on a glorious display of color.

Sunset in the Dolomites — which were recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site — is a time when a unique natural phenomenon known as Enrosadira occurs, turning the west-facing rock face flame-red in the dying rays of the sun.

Every evening, these stunning peaks lay on a glorious display of color, starting out bright yellow before turning an intense red that softens to indigo and violet before darkness finally envelops the mountains.

Formed over 250 million years ago, the Dolomites were part of the earth's tropical zone where coral, algae, fish and mollusks collected on the seabed, with magma from volcanic eruptions. After the passing of the Ice Age, rivers, landslides, wind and rain sculpted the valleys, leaving today's spectacular landscape behind.

Relais & Châteaux Gardena Grödnerhof has a prime view of the mountains. Rooms from $525 per person for three nights; gardena.it; valgardena.it

26. Sardine run, South Africa

Dubbed "the greatest shoal on earth," the sardine run on South Africa's Wild Coast holds two titles — the world's largest animal migration also featuring the greatest gathering of predators on the planet.

Sharks, dolphins, Cape Gannets, cormorants, seals -- and sometimes Orcas -- follow the sardines as they head to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

The spectacle is best viewed on a scuba dive in late June and throughout July; however, if you have a snorkel, you can still get in on the underwater action.

Acacia Africa runs a seven-day Coast To Cape Town small group safari from around $1,300 including transfers, accommodation, most meals and local guide; acacia-africa.com

27. Lunar rainbow, Victoria Falls, Zambia

This rare natural phenomenon occurs for three days around the full moon during high-water season at Zambia's most stunning waterfall.

The best "moonbows" tend to occur between April and August, and a great place to view them is on the banks of the Zambezi at Tongabezi just upstream from the heart of the action.

Tongabezi guests stay in thatched lodges and can take canoe safaris, swim in the Devil's Pool, go rafting under the falls and gaze upon the moonbows. From $485 per person, per night including all meals, drinks, laundry service and activities; tongabezi.com

More: Southern Africa's best boutique safari reserves

28. Cape Tribulation, Australia

The lush green coastal strip of Cape Tribulation, the most northerly settlement of Queensland, Australia, is one of the few places where the rainforest meets the sea.

Nowhere else are these two natural side-by-side wonders so accessible to travelers. It's understandable, then, why this is one of the world's finest spots to watch a sunset.

Visitors can rent a four-wheel drive out of Port Douglas, drive to Daintree, take the five-minute ferry crossing across the mangrove-encrusted estuary and brace for an endurance test of a drive, enough to test the suspension of any off-roader.

Once at Cape Tribulation, a variety of boardwalks lead to the shoreline and, at sunset, one of the world's most breathtaking views; experiencequeensland.com

29. Rock face city of Petra, Jordan

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the rediscovery of this former lost city, considered one of the greatest jewels of the Middle East.

Carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, people who settled here more than 2,000 years ago, this magical rose-red metropolis was a hub for the silk and spice routes in ancient times.

Entrance to the city is through the Siq, a narrow gorge flanked on either side by soaring, 80-meter high cliffs. The colors and rock formations are dazzling, and at the end of the gorge stands the first-century Treasury, with its fabulous carvings.

Movenpick's Resort Petra is located at the entrance to the ancient city, and its roof garden has spectacular views of the Great Rift Valley. Rooms cost from around $155 per night double, including breakfast; moevenpick-hotels.com

30. Fairy chimneys, Cappadocia, Turkey

Göreme valley and its surroundings contain rock-hewn sanctuaries that provide unique evidence of Byzantine art.
Göreme valley and its surroundings contain rock-hewn sanctuaries that provide unique evidence of Byzantine art.

This remote area of Central Turkey is covered in amazing "fairy chimneys" — volcanic peaks through which it's possible to trek, explore the caves of an underground city or survey from above in a hot air balloon or helicopter.

Early settlers made homes within these chimneys, creating rock-cut churches, whose facades interplay with the natural castles and other formations.

Travel the Unknown's Magic of Cappadocia tour covers the region over three days from $655 including domestic flights, ground transport, entrance fees, guides and half-board accommodation; traveltheunknown.com/cca

31. Cornwall's ruined mines, England

The tin mines may be closed, but the ruins of the structures which once housed them near St. Just make a thrillingly dramatic counterpoint to the rugged rocks and wild seas of Cornwall's north coast.

The remnants of 3,000 engine houses built in the 18th and 19th centuries were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.

Visitors can walk heritage trails, go underground to see how the miners labored, pan for minerals and gems or bike the 31-kilometer coastal trail known as the Cornwall Mineral Tramway; cornish-mining.org.uk

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Freelancer Anthea Gerrie contributed to this report