The White House has confirmed it was the target of a cyber-attack but says the breach hit an unclassified network.

An unnamed administration official told US media that there was no indication any data had been removed.

The conservative Washington Free Beacon reported on Sunday that hackers linked to the Chinese government had breached the White House Military Office.

The White House would not say if the attack originated in China, describing it as a "spear-phishing" attempt.

"Spear-phishing" typically works by sending fake e-mails that look like legitimate correspondence and links to a malicious website or file attachment.

"These types of attacks are not infrequent and we have mitigation measures in place," the official, who was not authorised to speak on the record, told the Associated Press and other US media.

Cyber-attacks from Chinese-linked hackers have been an increasing concern among US government offices, including the Pentagon, the top US cyber defence official told Reuters last week.

"Their level of effort against the Department of Defense is constant," Rear Admiral Samuel Cox said.

In 2011, Google blamed computer hackers in China for a phishing effort against Gmail accounts of several hundred people, including senior US government officials and military personnel.

That November, senior US intelligence officials for the first time publicly accused China of systematically stealing American high-tech data for its own gain.
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Quisque quis urna lorem, vel dictum orci. Ut eu lacus pretium lacus gravida aliquam eget sed diam. Phasellus augue mauris, suscipit at cursus in, hendrerit quis nulla. Donec commodo sodales arcu, non euismod est consequat non. Phasellus mollis feugiat nisi non congue. Praesent at purus non ipsum faucibus laoreet ut at ante. Vivamus sit amet leo non leo mollis sagittis eget ac purus. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Sed blandit est quis sem accumsan tempus. Cras at justo eget quam consequat venenatis at vel tortor. Suspendisse vel ligula ipsum. Nunc volutpat consectetur suscipit. Curabitur mattis ornare velit vel faucibus. Ut auctor lacus ut augue bibendum gravida. Praesent sagittis tincidunt iaculis. Praesent vulputate commodo mi, sed vulputate odio malesuada facilisis. Aliquam non eros id ante pretium consectetur. Aenean adipiscing metus luctus mauris volutpat eget adipiscing libero auctor. Nulla justo est, eleifend in pulvinar sit amet, laoreet vel eros.

Nullam facilisis, risus et bibendum porttitor, sapien magna viverra lacus, fermentum volutpat ligula mi vitae tortor. Proin non nisi ut tellus mattis dictum. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Curabitur eros sem, adipiscing ut viverra in, aliquet id orci. Ut ut erat a elit consectetur dictum in id turpis. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Nam sit amet mauris neque. Nulla pretium diam et turpis aliquam quis elementum sapien sodales. Vivamus ut nisi et arcu vehicula eleifend. Nullam eros sem, consectetur sed condimentum quis, scelerisque id nunc. Vivamus placerat urna eget dui pretium in hendrerit eros vestibulum. Etiam a nunc dui, ac dapibus ligula. Pellentesque erat lacus, scelerisque a aliquet quis, condimentum vitae erat. Nullam ultrices tellus quis odio blandit commodo. Quisque ante dui, tempus in porttitor at, volutpat eu lorem. Donec auctor enim quis nulla malesuada aliquam. Vestibulum vel lectus vitae felis dapibus rhoncus. Aliquam tempor porttitor odio quis pulvinar. Curabitur velit est, convallis sit amet interdum at, pulvinar ac mi. Etiam scelerisque auctor justo nec volutpat.

Etiam commodo dictum adipiscing. Nulla laoreet nisi lacinia dui blandit non pretium neque porttitor. Suspendisse congue, ipsum eget commodo aliquet, dui ligula ultrices risus, et eleifend odio ligula non ipsum. Quisque volutpat, massa in dictum varius, arcu augue pellentesque erat, aliquam varius mi urna et dolor. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc sem justo, pretium nec fringilla at, aliquam sed nunc. Vestibulum bibendum dapibus nunc quis ullamcorper. In nec sem non nisl tempor pellentesque imperdiet in sem. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Vestibulum non diam ligula, et egestas diam. Phasellus egestas elementum rhoncus. Praesent nisi quam, euismod nec lobortis eget, cursus a ipsum. Cras ac est eget velit vulputate ornare a sed dolor. Curabitur diam erat, lacinia convallis venenatis quis, congue non risus. Suspendisse consectetur orci nec nisl gravida id ultrices lectus bibendum. Vestibulum vehicula fringilla leo, sit amet commodo elit aliquet sed. Donec ante purus, semper et pharetra a, convallis ac nisl. Morbi tincidunt condimentum elit ut ultrices. Nullam lobortis vulputate erat vitae iaculis. Nam nisi lorem, condimentum ut fringilla eget, ultrices feugiat nunc.

Pellentesque scelerisque ultricies fringilla. Nunc vitae nisl et enim interdum porta eget vitae enim. Phasellus iaculis arcu sed elit sagittis nec vulputate lacus molestie. Suspendisse quis odio nibh, mattis iaculis elit. Duis sed est arcu, vel malesuada libero. Vestibulum ac nunc eu nisi malesuada ullamcorper. Pellentesque auctor malesuada magna, quis feugiat purus scelerisque id. Mauris elit elit, venenatis sit amet rhoncus non, posuere quis mauris. Nullam dignissim, lectus id malesuada imperdiet, mauris ipsum vestibulum libero, ac interdum dolor magna non mi. Etiam nulla nulla, congue et dignissim sed, viverra a purus. Duis ligula eros, tincidunt ac congue et, tempor eget leo. Morbi eget tincidunt odio. Aliquam venenatis semper semper. Curabitur consectetur, dui id molestie viverra, turpis leo condimentum odio, mollis suscipit justo felis sit amet mauris. Cras volutpat pellentesque enim, in viverra nulla euismod quis. Etiam fermentum rhoncus tellus quis fringilla. Proin commodo, quam eget elementum congue, nibh orci feugiat augue, non rhoncus magna tortor ut nibh.

Stephen Moyer, who plays vampire Bill Compton on HBO’s “True Blood,” says he’ll occasionally bite his fans, but only when they ask him to.

“If the person looks clean and wholesome, I might oblige,” Moyer told The Advocate.

In the interview, which appears in the magazine’s August issue, the actor talks about “True Blood’s” dedicated LGBT fan base and the sexual tension between his character and Eric, played by Alexander Skarsgård.

When asked if Bill and Eric would ever be intimate, Moyer said, “Alex and I would absolutely embrace that. Last year, when Sookie had her fantasy about the two of them with her, we even suggested it.”

Of course, as we reported in 2010, Skarsgård declines to cover his goods with a modesty sock while filming the series, now in its fifth season. But Moyer, who opts to don the sock, says he doesn’t mind.

“We all know each other really well, and it’s not that I care about what the actors think, but I don’t think the crew necessarily needs to see my bits,” he said.

One costar Moyer knows extremely well is wife Anna Paquin, who plays Sookie on the vampire drama. The pair are currently expecting twins, according to US Weekly.

As to whether or not “True Blood’s” broad sexuality alienates some viewers, Moyer says, “We live in a very different world than we grew up in, so if people can’t embrace that aspect of our show, then that’s a shame.”

Image : CNN

At the beginning of 1962, Britain barely figured as an influence on the rest of the world of popular music. By the end of the year the fuse was lit for an unprecedented explosion of creativity that would turn the entire music business upside down. At this stage, "pop music" - especially "pop music" in the shape of rock'n'roll - was still regarded as a second-rate and largely disposable noise, even within the entertainment industry itself. That year, a bunch of spotty blues, and rhythm & blues fans from Liverpool and London would set in motion a process of change that transformed this perception dramatically and swiftly. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones would create a new, artistic language uniquely suited to reflect the concerns, hopes, and fears of their generation.

Rolling Stones gather to plot 50th anniversary bash

In October 1961, nineteen-year-old father of three, Lewis Brian Hopkin-Jones (born 28 February 1942), and a fellow blues enthusiast, Dick Hattrell, attended a concert by Chris Barber's Jazz Band in their sleepy, conservative hometown, Cheltenham. During the interval, one of the members of Barber's band - the guitarist Alexis Korner - gave his own blues performance. Such was the purist attitude amongst the small community of blues cognoscenti in Britain, that Korner and his previous outfit had been sacked from their regular gig at the London Blues and Barrelhouse Club when they dared to introduce electric amplification. According to Barber, ever the supporter of fresh ideas (Bill Wyman calls him "virtually a founding father" of the British rock scene), Korner was the only British blues player who was amplifying his guitar at the time. Brian Jones was blown away by what he saw. Already known around town as a bit of a lad and a talented guitarist, he had no trouble being admitted backstage to speak to Korner and exchange telephone numbers. Two months later, Brian descended on the Korners in London, staying several days and spending most of his time perusing the older man's record collection. Discovering, amongst others, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf and Robert Johnson, he purchased an electric guitar as soon as he was back in Cheltenham and began to practise with an obsession matched only by his pursuit of female companionship. Indeed, the influence he would later exert over the nascent Rolling Stones might not just have been in terms of music, but also in terms of attitude and lifestyle.

Brian Jones's father, Lewis, was an aeronautical engineer and his mother, Louisa, a piano teacher. He grew up in the quiet environment of a comfortably well-off family, whose attitudes had been shaped by memories of the War itself and the uncertainty of the post-War austerity years. He was clever, sporty and popular in school. Aged fifteen, he joined a skiffle band, playing washboard. He liked trad jazz -- aka Dixieland, the dominant style of dance music in Britain at the time -- until he discovered the saxophonist Charlie Parker. And then, Brian Jones went off the rails in spectacular fashion. Discipline became an anathema to him. Refusing to go to university, he was sacked from a long series of jobs, usually for helping himself to the contents of the till. Friends and acquaintances despaired of him, so wantonly did he abuse their generosity. He even featured in the national press as an example for the wayward and amoral ways of modern youth, when one of his underage lovers became pregnant. If Brian Jones cared, he certainly didn't show it, and he most definitely didn't change his ways. According to perspective he was a damned nuisance, a peril to society, or a charming, modern-day libertine.

Gallery: Stones in pictures

On the morning of 17 October 1961, eighteen-year-old Mick Jagger (born 26 July 1943) was waiting on the platform of Dartford railway station for the train to take him the 16 miles into central London, where he was a mediocre student at the highly respected London School of Economics. He was clutching a Chuck Berry album, Rockin' at the Hops, and The Best of Muddy Waters under his arm. Shortly afterwards, seventeen- year-old Keith Richards (born 18 December 1943) arrived on the same platform on his way to Sidcup Art College. The two young men recognised each other from primary school. Studying the records on the train, Richards became even more envious of Jagger when he heard that he had actually seen Buddy Holly live in concert.

Time: Celebrating 50 years since they "start it up"

Two years earlier, Keith had received his first guitar as a gift from his mother. He was the only child of Bert, a factory worker, and Doris, whose mother had been the mayor of the Municipal Borough of Walthamstow (which is now part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest). Keith was a loner who was often bullied and the older he got, the more difficult he found it to accept the teachers' authoritarian rule. Music ran on his mother's side of the family; his grandfather had toured Britain with a big band, Gus Dupree and his Boys. Bert, on the other hand, was not keen on his son's growing interest in the guitar, especially after he was expelled from school for a variety of misdemeanors. As in school, two different worlds came up against each other in the family. "My parents were brought up in the Depression, when if you got something, you just kept it and you held it and that was it." Richards wrote in his autobiography. "Bert was the most unambitious man in the world. Meanwhile, I was a kid and I didn't even know what ambition meant. I just felt the constraints. The society and everything I was growing up in was just too small for me." By the time Richards arrived at art college -- it was the inspired idea of an art teacher to send him there -- he was deeply engrossed in music. Having started with Little Richard and Elvis, he had moved on via Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Marty Wilde and the like, to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Lightnin' Hopkins. British art colleges, then as now, have always been a fertile breeding ground for musical ideas. It was the one side of his education Keith relished.

Jagger credits Stones' success to luck, hard work, fans

Michael Philip Jagger was the son of Joe Jagger, a physical education instructor at a teacher training college, and Eva, a hairdresser who had grown up in Australia. Everyone called him Mike until some way into his studies at the LSE when, in a sudden change of style, he swapped his grey suit for sharp beatnik attire and insisted on being called the rather more working class-sounding "Mick". His life was comfortable. He excelled at cricket, but music was his main interest. A constant flow of friends came and went at the Jaggers' house to listen to skiffle, blues and rock'n'roll records with Mick and his brother Chris, and to attempt playing the songs themselves. In July 1961, Mick passed his A-level exams with respectable results and won a scholarship to the LSE, where he started after the summer break.
Britain after World War 2 was a dour place. When the author J.G. Ballard - who had spent several teenage years under the most horrendous conditions in an internment camp in Shanghai -returned to the UK, he observed that looking at the people around him, it was impossible to believe that they had won the war: "They behaved like a defeated population." Well into the 1950s, food rationing deprived British kitchens of a great many ingredients that would have brought actual pleasure to the plate, especially sugar, dairy products and meat (British cheese production only began to recover from the blow in the late 1970s). On a political level, the government's disastrous handling of the Suez crisis in 1956, severely damaged Britain's standing as a world power. This required a serious and ego-denting re-evaluation of the country's historical as well as present-day role at the head of a colonial empire. The Conservative Prime Minister Anthony Eden had to resign as a consequence of his handling of the situation. Like many other Members of Parliament, he came from an old, rich, landed gentry family. His failure badly undermined the credibility of the upper class that was dominating not just politics in Britain, but many other aspects of public life as well, including the media. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), formed in 1957, was perhaps the most important movement to give dissenting voices a new focus. A group of writers from literature and theatre, dubbed "Angry Young Men", expressed a growing sense of revolt against the old order. The group included John Osborne, Kingsley Amis, Arnold Wesker and Harold Pinter, amongst others. In Soho, London's red light and party quarter, a bohemian and often gay crowd of painters, writers and musicians -- amongst them Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Daniel Farson and Colin MacInnes -- delighted in scandalising conventional mores with their hedonistic antics.

Watch: Jagger on his critics

Music, too, offered a popular platform for protest. The folk scene around the socialist poet and songwriter Ewan MacColl, in particular, was a hive of political activity. And then there were the Teddy Boys. For the first time, British teenagers followed the example of US teenagers and banded together, forging their own group identity with the aid of clothes, music and a hearty desire to rile everyone else. The Teds were the first British rock'n'roll fans.

When the film Blackboard Jungle (featuring the music of Bill Haley & His Comets) reached London in 1956, a whole year after its release in the United States, riots broke out in the cinemas. The young Mick Jagger saw the film six times in Dartford. When the next rock'n'roll film, Rock Around the Clock, appeared another year later, Dartford Council promptly banned it - so successful was this raucous import from America in offending regular British sensibilities. The Teds, meanwhile, had already found their own way of getting up the noses of the middle and upper classes. They had appropriated the Edwardian clothing style that was extremely popular amongst the foppish and rich male students from private schools, joyously exaggerated its most obvious features (tapered trousers, drape jackets, brocade waistcoats, brothel creepers) and combined it with the greasy quiff of the archetypal American rock'n'roller. A certain degree of gratuitous violence was part of the required behaviour. In the context of Britain's first race riots in London's Notting Hill area in 1958, Teds were implicated as ringleaders in attacks against a mostly West Indian populace, an ugly harbinger of things to come. In Liverpool, the police were therefore happy to tolerate the not so legal Casbah Coffee Club, which Mona Best, mother of original Beatles drummer Pete, had opened up in the basement of the vast family house. Thanks to a bunch of teenagers called The Quarrymen, as well as skiffle and Coca-Cola (then a total novelty in North West England), the Teds were bored no longer -- and whilst they were at the Casbah, there was no fighting in the streets.

Most people involved in weight loss believe that it's all about the calories. If you burn calories more than you take in, you lose weight. If you take in more calories than you can burn, the body gains fat. While this piece of logic may make sense, it is only partly true. What burns calories nonstop is actually the lean muscle mass underneath body fat that allows more intake of calories without weight gain.

The body actually adapts to the changes it undergoes. Losing weight without exercising increases the risk of losing lean body mass, slowing the metabolism and putting the body into fat-storing mode. People who have lost body fat and muscle mass may notice that they don't have the muscle mass they once had. Worse yet, once they overeat even a little bit, they start filling up on body fat once again.

Building up muscle mass

An important thing to remember when undergoing a weight loss program is to understand what needs to be done. Realistic and achievable goals can help in building the confidence needed to make the necessary leap for the achievement of a desired weight.

Researchers at the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University took a look at some popular abdominal exercises and ranked them. Results of the study revealed that exercises that require constant abdominal stabilization and body rotation resulted in the most muscle activity in the abdomen.

Below are the top five belly exercises as ranked by the study:

1. The Bicycle Exercise - best for targeting the six pack muscles and the obliques. To do this exercise, get into a supine position with hands at the back of your head. Bring knees to the chest while lifting shoulders off the floor. Slowly bring your right elbow towards your left knee as you straighten your right leg. Switch sides and continue in a pedaling motion. Do 1 to 3 sets with 12 to 16 repetitions.

2. The Captain's Chair Leg Raise - This exercise requires a captain's chair, a rack with padded arms allowing for the legs to hang free that is commonly found in gyms or health clubs. To do this exercise, stand on the chair and grip hand holds. Press back against the pad then raise knees to the chest to contract the abs then lower them back down. Do 1 to 3 sets with 12 to 16 repetitions.

3. Exercise Ball Crunch - For this exercise, an exercise ball is necessary. In this routine, the abdomen does more exerting but will still need the entire body to stabilize it throughout the routine. To do this exercise, lie on the ball with your lower back fully supported. Place hands behind the head. To lift the torso off the ball, contract the abs to pull the bottom of the rib cage towards the hips. Keep ball stable as you curl up, then lower back down to stretch the abs. Do 1 to 3 sets with 12 to 16 repetitions.

4. Vertical Leg Crunch - Performing this exercise is similar to doing a leg crunch except that the legs are straight up, forcing the abs to work and adding intensity to the routine. To do this, lie on the floor with the legs straight up, knees crossed, and place the hands beneath the head for support. Contract abs lifting the shoulders off the floor and keep legs in a fixed position to crunch. Do 1 to 3 sets with 12 to 16 repetitions.

5. Long Arm Crunch - This is a variant of the traditional floor crunch where the arms are held straight behind you, adding a lever to the move and making for a challenging exercise. To do this, lie on the floor or a mat then extend arms straight behind, keeping them clasped and next to the ears. Slowly contract abs and lift shoulders off the floor carefully to keep the arms straight. Do 1 to 3 sets with 12 to 16 repetitions.

The best strategy to weight loss is to observe a healthy diet coupled with exercise of at least an hour a day. Although there is no sure fire way to deal with belly fat, there are a number of activities from which to choose and enjoy. As long as you're having fun, you can lose weight without realizing it. It is important to look for an exercise you enjoy. If the suggested exercises above do not suit your taste, taking a hike, swimming or biking are just as effective in burning fat and toning muscles.

If you enjoy hearing, as I do, a spirited denunciation of stubborn Republican resistance to Barack Obama over the past three years, then you could do a whole lot worse than have it declaimed to you by Morgan Freeman in his warm and ever authoritative baritone.

"At the outset of Obama's administration, the political right [meaning Senator Mitch McConnell] literally said, out loud: 'The No1 project of this party is to make sure that this guy – this guy – only serves one term.' How do you make sure of that? You don't allow him to do anything good or worthwhile. Every chance you get, block him, and that's what they've done. Which now allows them to say: 'He's failed, he can't get anything done.' If he loses, it simply proves what you always feared, that democracy can be bought, and that the country is owned by the rich. And if everything gets bought, how do we ever get the country back?"

For all the subdued anger in his voice, Freeman is, as expected, a cool and emollient presence as around him the press junket for The Dark Knight Rises noisily unfolds. The last time we met, he stood up and I got a sore neck waiting for him to reach his full height. Now, quite still, with long slender arms on the chair arms, back straight and knees bent, he creates an impression of serpentine undulation, like a slinky-toy spooling itself down steps.

So, the election of an African-American president has not cast us into a sunlit utopian "post-racial" society? "No, not at all, instead the whole thing uncovered" he pauses in sorrow or anger, "plenty of maggots still squirming around there under the stone."

We're here to talk about the concluding panel of Christopher Nolan's Batman triptych, which he resisted directing for a while, having failed to answer for himself the pertinent and sobering question: how many movie trilogies have a triumphant part three? Once all doubts had been cast off and filming began, though, Nolan threw himself into the project, a calm head at the centre of the whirlwind, like Napoleon leading his grande armée film crew across the globe. Not that he's Napoleonic, says Freeman.

"If you walked on the set and I said go talk to the director, you'd have a hard time picking him out. And even then, you might look straight past him. He's quiet, but it's a quiet authority, and he enjoys doing it."

It was always going to be a problem topping Heath Ledger's vivid and unsettling performance as the Joker in the second film. Here, Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne, reclusive, inactive for eight years, weakened and chastened, comes out of his obscurity to tackle Bane (Tom Hardy), a giant who wears an immovable mask that pumps perpetual doses of anaesthetic into his bulked-up body. Where Ledger was chaos embodied, Bane is unstoppable brute strength. As Freeman has it: "Bane is to Gotham what bats were to Batman, a fear the city has to overcome."

What impact did the death of Ledger after The Dark Knight have? "Well, it's a downer when anything happens to an actor in mid-production. In fact, he didn't die during production, his part was wrapped up, but the movie itself wasn't out yet. People connected the character to his death because the character was so ... evil – people imagine that the role leaks into the man or something. And I don't think that was the case at all."

Like its two predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises contains political echoes of the zeitgeist. The League of Shadows had an al-Qaida-ish lust to destroy what they saw as an incorrigibly corrupt Gotham, while The Dark Knight's Joker embodied chaos, which Freeman calls "a quality I associate with the right". For the villain in The Dark Knight Rises to share a name, during this election, with Mitt Romney's increasingly infamous investment group – Bain Capital – seems almost too good to be true, especially since Bane also makes ever more demagogic appeals to a Gotham populace polarised along Tea Party/Occupy-movement lines, even as he is readying the immolation of their city.

I couldn't quite make the timeline work on this, though: surely shooting had wrapped before Occupy took off? Freeman clarifies: "Someone asked Christopher that question yesterday, and he said he didn't intentionally think of anything political in the development of the story. So I think the politics here, if there are any, is like art or beauty, it's largely in the eye of the beholder."

In the midst of all this stand Bruce Wayne's father-surrogates, Michael Caine's avuncular Alfred and Freeman's Lucius Fox, CEO of Wayne Enterprises and personal armourer to the Batman, ever eager to show off his new toys, which this time include "the Bat", a tooled-up helipod that, yes, comes in black. When I remind Freeman that Nolan has expressed interest in doing a Bond movie, he chuckles long and hard, imagining what franchise-invigorating mayhem the director might wreak on Bond. "Funny thing is, with Lucius Fox, Chris is already halfway there – after all, Lucius is Batman's 'Q'."

Father-surrogate to Batman or not, Freeman's career, at the age of 75, is inevitably taking on certain crepuscular, autumnal hues. Recently he featured in the Geritol Generation dream-cast of oldsters in RED ("Retired"), and The Bucket List, his "dream-come-true to work with Jack" [Nicholson], a comedy about facing impending death with dignity, a large scotch and a parachute. His next movie, Last Vegas, features Freeman and fellow pensioners Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and Michael Douglas on an old farts' bachelor weekend in Sin City. "Guess which one's the Lothario skirt-chaser?" he asks, and we enjoy a dirty laugh at Douglas's expense.

Many of his co-stars of the same age are walking off into the sunset, including Gene Hackman, Freeman's tormentor from Unforgiven. "Gene and I share the same agent, and he is fully retired. He's like, nah, I wanna stay home and write my novels and paint." And although Unforgiven director Clint Eastwood has also largely retired from acting, Freeman says: "He will keep directing literally until he drops dead. Working for him was three of my happiest times in the movies. He's the same way John Huston was: 'The art of directing lies mainly in casting; once you cast somebody, get out of the way.' I love that. And Huston kept directing right till the last moment, too."

So what keeps Freeman going, now that he's worth an estimated $70m (£45m) and should by rights be sailing his 40ft ketch in the Caribbean, instead of slogging it out with the media?

"What keeps anyone going? I have work. I have things to do. I prefer working to idleness. And I like my job. I'm lucky, I'm not working because I have to; I'm working because I love to."

He especially loved playing Nelson Mandela in Eastwood's Invictus. He has known Mandela for years. "It's funny how we met – he kind of summoned me. When he published Long Walk to Freedom, he was asked: who would you want to play you in the movie? And he said: 'Morgan Freeman.' Which was pretty nice of him, I thought. So I met him at his house in Jo'burg. I said: 'If we do this, I'm going to need to have access to you, to be close enough to hold your hand.' So every time we were in any kind of proximity or I had a shot at being around him for a while, we sat down together." What's he like? "From a distance, he has an aura, that legendary quality. Up close, the reassuring thing is, he's just a guy."

And South Africa? "First time I was terrified, in 1992, I think. Mandela was out of jail, but he wasn't president yet. The Zulus and the Nationals were combining because they knew that the ANC had the numbers behind them. So riots were sprouting up all over the place. We were there to make a movie called Bopha [Freeman's directorial debut, starring Danny Glover, 1992]. It was about a black policeman, a guy his own community basically ostracises as an agent of apartheid, when he's really just trying to keep chaos at bay. We asked permission to film in Soweto, we had two riots to shoot, and we just figured, well, we'll just start a riot today," and he bursts out laughing at the suicidal idiocy of the idea. "We did it elsewhere in the end."

Today however, he sees growing political dysfunction in South Africa. "Right now," he says in a disenchanted tone, "the politics are totally controlled by the ANC. They can pretty much buy the presidency. I was there for the Jacob Zuma election and they had guys going out in the townships, buying people's votes with food parcels. They do it here, they do it over there ..."

Freeman's political astuteness, his unwillingness to draw antagonistic lines between black and white, reflect a childhood spent in segregated 1940s Mississippi, and in bleak northern ghetto towns such as Gary, Indiana and Chicago's South Side, and an early manhood spent in a US Air Force that had only recently become desegregated. In New York in the 60s, the theatre kept him busy until he snagged a part in the ensemble, pre-Sesame Street kids' programme The Electric Company, from 1970 to 1977 (I especially liked his crooning vampire, who bathes in a coffin). His was a long apprenticeship in movies, until his vicious pimp character in the 1987 thriller Street Smart won him an Oscar nomination. From that point on, the string of titles we now associate him with began – Daisy, Glory, Shawshank Redemption, Seven, Kiss the Girls, leading to roles such as President Tom Beck in Deep Impact, which made him America's leading cinematic purveyor of assurance, calm and steadiness. And, not unimportantly, a cultural harbinger of President Obama.

Not that he's always so emollient. He has taken well-aimed pot-shots at PC linguistic niceties – "I hate the phrase 'African American'," he says, "because 'black' is beautiful. One syllable versus seven" – and other sacred cows such as Black History Month, which he sees as a form of temporal segregation, with blacks ghettoised within February, the Tuesday of the year. "I've said it before, black history is American history, they're completely intertwined."

We end where we began, with Obama: "The thing that really makes me angry is the whole rightwing focus on his blackness – his white mother is never mentioned. Even today, all this reminds you that if you have mixed-race parents, the first thing you learn is that the white half doesn't matter to anyone but you. Don't think you're white, because no one out there will ever let you forget you're black. It ain't gonna work."

Delivered again in that beautiful baritone, even a harsh lesson like that goes down smoothly.

BEIRUT — Syrian activists reported a new massacre late Thursday in the central Hama province, saying regime forces killed more than 100 people in shelling and other attacks.

There were few details on the attack, which was reported by the Local Coordination Committees activist group and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said it was aware of up to 100 killed from sources on the ground, but the group had only confirmed the names of 30 people so far.

Death tolls are nearly impossible to independently verify in Syria, where the government restricts journalists and where more than a year of violence has convulsed much of the country.

There were few details of the violence in Hama's Tremseh area.

Activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011, and he is coming under growing international pressure to stop the violence. But as the bloodshed continues, and the conflict morphs into an armed insurgency, hopes for a peaceful transition are dimming.

The latest report of violence came in the wake of the highest-level defector yet from President Bashar Assad's regime – his ambassador to Iraq.

Defections from the Syrian regime have stirred hopes in the West Assad's inner circle will start abandoning him in greater numbers, hastening his downfall.

But the tightly protected regime has largely held together over the course of the 16-month-old uprising, driven by a mixture of fear and loyalty.

The latest official to flee, Ambassador Nawaf Fares, announced that he was joining the revolution, asserting Thursday that only force will drive Assad from power.

"There is no road map ever with Bashar Assad, because any plan, any statement that is agreed on internationally he delays on and ignores," Fares told the Al-Jazeera satellite channel. "There is no way that he can be pushed from power without force, and the Syrian people realize this."

Syria's Foreign Ministry denounced Fares, saying he should face "legal and disciplinary accountability."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell hailed what he called the "first major diplomatic defection," adding: "We think this a wider sign that the regime is feeling the pressure. The pressure is up and the regime is really starting to fall apart."

Fares is the second prominent Syrian to break with the regime in less than a week. Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, an Assad confidant and son of a former defense minister, defected last week, but has not spoken publicly.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tlass has been in contact with the Syrian opposition. He would not comment on reports that Tlass was in Paris.

"I know that there is some closeness between the opposition and the general... Contact has been made," Fabius told journalists in Paris.

Assad's regime has suffered a steady stream of low-level army defectors, who have joined a group of dissidents known as the Free Syrian Army, now numbering in the tens of thousands. There have been several high-level defections in the past – including a Syrian fighter pilot who flew his plane to neighboring Jordan during a training mission in June in a brazen move.

Antartic. By Peter Rejcek

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Scientists say a gene variation could contribute up to 155g (5.5oz) to a child's birthweight.

The gene studied is believed to act as a growth suppressor, reducing birthweight.

But the UK-based researchers found a particular variant passed down from the mother can add 93g (3.3oz) to the birthweight, or 155g if passed down from the maternal grandmother.

Details are published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Professor Gudrun Moore of University College London and colleagues looked at a gene called PHLDA2 in nearly 9,500 DNA samples taken from mothers and their babies, collected in three separate studies.

They found a gene variant called RS1 appeared to change the way in which the gene functioned, leading to higher birthweights.

"The gene is already known to have a profound effect on birthweight by acting as a growth suppressor," Prof Moore told BBC News.

"We have found a genetic variant of PHLDA2 that when inherited from the mother, causes the baby to be 93g bigger on average, or even 155g bigger on average, if inherited successively from the mother's mother."

The RS1 variation was found in around 13% of the individuals studied, with 87% possessing the RS2 variation.

"We suggest that the more common RS2 gene variation, which is only found in humans, has evolved to produce a smaller baby as a protective effect to enhance the mother's survival during childbirth," said Prof Moore.

"Dad's lack of involvement in evolutionary terms may stem from his own survival not being at stake and he can continue to reproduce with other females."

Gene 'silenced'
The PHLDA2 gene is unusual in that only the copy inherited from the mother is active, while the copy inherited from the father is "silenced". This silencing of the paternal gene results from molecular processes around the DNA known as epigenetics.

Scientists do not know why, but have speculated that it is to ensure birthweight is reduced to ensure the mother survives childbirth.

Dr Caroline Relton of Newcastle University said: "Although this study looks only at birthweight as an outcome, it is possible that this genetic variant may have longer-term health consequences.

"Indeed the long-term health consequences associated with extremes of birthweight might be due in part to this and other contributory genetic factors."