Sunday, 16 May 2010

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Miranda Kerr

With her gorgeous looks and easygoing nature, Australian model Miranda Kerr has taken the fashion world by storm in recent years, appearing in major campaigns and magazines the world over. "We love her because she has the most incredible girl-next-door look and she's also insanely beautiful," says one leading photographer about her appeal. "It means women are not intimidated by her looks and guys think they might be able to talk to her. It's a fantastic combination."

Of English, French and Scottish descent, Miranda May Kerr was born in Sydney on April 20, 1983 to parents Therese and John.

Raised in the small town of Gunnedah, New South Wales, 300 miles outside of Sydney, she later moved to Brisbane to experience city life along with mum and dad and her younger brother Matthew.

In 1997, aged 13 she won the annual Dolly magazine/Impulse Model Competition and was flown to Sydney to shoot for the magazine. The subsequent photos caused something of a media furore due to her young age.

After signing to the Chic Management agency in Sydney, the blue-eyed brunette found success in a series of beachwear ads for brands such as Billabong and relocated to New York.

There in early 2004 she joined the Next model agency and appeared in campaigns and on the runway for major labels such as Levi's, John Richmond and Roberto Cavalli, as well as in the pages of Elle and Harper's Bazaar.

But she really made her mark in the US in 2006 after signing a lucrative contract with Maybelline New York and featuring in a campaign that ran in several big international beauty magazines.

The success led her to become the first Australian Victoria's Secret Angel the following year, lining up alongside the likes of Alessandra Ambrosia, Adriana Lima and Heidi Klum for the famous lingerie firm.

Since then Miranda has become the face of many more brands, appeared on the covers of Harper's Bazaar, FHM, and GQ magazines, as well as in the 2010 Pirelli calendar.

Now one of the world's ten highest-earning models, she also has a superstar private life to match, having started dating Lord of the Rings star Orlando Bloom in late 2007.

The spiritual pair are both members of Soka Gakkai International, a worldwide Buddhist network which promotes peace, culture and education through personal transformation and social contribution.

She is also a keen supporter of environmental causes, and launched her own organic skincare line, called Kora, in Australia in October 2009.

But outside interests apart, Miranda's main focus remains her highly successful modelling career.

"I am focused on what I am doing and still feel like I have a lot to learn," she has said. "I always enjoy trying new things and exploring new opportunities, so we will just have to wait and see.''

"I believe to be successful at anything you have to give it a 100 per cent commitment and that is what I still do to this day."

Angela Merkel

Diminutive in the imposing vastness of her office, Angela Merkel appears surprisingly frail for someone who's spent the past 20 years upending political norms. Now 55, Merkel, Germany's first Chancellor raised in the communist East, is the head of a democratic form of government and the guardian of individual freedoms that she was denied until her 30s. She outsmarted phalanxes of gray-haired, gray-suited machine politicians to set two other precedents, becoming the first woman to occupy the Chancellery as well as its youngest incumbent. Then in September, after four tricky years helming a coalition that yoked her conservative Christian Democrat bloc with the Social Democratic Party, she won a new mandate, with center-right coalition partners of her choosing. Now, as the emboldened leader of Europe's most populous nation and most powerful economy, Merkel has the ability to make her personality and priorities count on a global stage. But what, exactly, does she want to do with her power? And how will she go about doing it? Merkel has spent decades being underestimated. There are still plenty of observers of the German political scene who regard her myriad achievements as flukes. "Merkel has never given a speech that stayed in the memory," wrote her most recent biographer. She can indeed seem reserved and self-effacing at times, but there should be little doubt that she has confidence and ambition aplenty. "You could certainly say that I've never underestimated myself," she says with a smile that in another context could only be described as kittenish. "There's nothing wrong with being ambitious." The daughter of a Protestant pastor who settled in the East German state of Brandenburg, Merkel excelled at math and science and originally pursued a career as a physicist. But growing up where she did, she discovered early on that there were limits to what she would be permitted to do. "In East Germany," she says, "we always ran into boundaries before we were able to discover our own personal boundaries." Paradoxically, Merkel's life under communism may have helped when it came to starting a political career as the Iron Curtain began to crumble. She knew how to navigate around blockages and when to keep a low profile. Her rise to prominence went all but unnoticed, except by the rivals she deftly derailed along the way. Elected to the first parliament of the reunited Germany, she was appointed a Cabinet minister by Chancellor Helmut Kohl just one year later. He called her das M├Ądchen, "the girl." She was used to sexism. "There was no real equality in the German Democratic Republic," she says. "There were no female industrialists or members of the politburo." So she smiled her feline smile and made no protest but quickly distanced herself from her patronizing patron once he became entangled in a party finance scandal. Childless and twice married, Merkel was cast as an indulgent mother to the electorate during the 2009 campaign. Though she claims to bake the occasional plum cake, she doesn't exactly match the ideal of a German hausfrau. Her second husband, an eminent chemist, often ducks out of official events. "He needs the working day for his science," says Merkel. Such attitudes may have annoyed traditionalists, but her quiet determination has helped her gain broad support well beyond the Christian Democrats' core voters. Even among those who identify themselves as Social Democrats, Merkel's unstuffy pragmatism, social liberalism and commitment to fighting climate change — a key issue in Germany — have made her surprisingly popular. A December poll by Germany's Infratest Dimap Institute showed Merkel was Germany's favorite politician, with 70% of Germans proclaiming themselves satisfied with her work.

Helen Keller

Monday, June 14, 1999
Helen Keller was less than two years old when she came down with a fever. It struck dramatically and left her unconscious. The fever went just as suddenly. But she was blinded and, very soon after, deaf. As she grew up, she managed to learn to do tiny errands, but she also realized that she was missing something. "Sometimes," she later wrote, "I stood between two persons who were conversing and touched their lips. I could not understand, and was vexed. I moved my lips and gesticulated frantically without result. This made me so angry at times that I kicked and screamed until I was exhausted." She was a wild child.
I can understand her rage. I was born two months prematurely and was placed in an incubator. The practice at the time was to pump a large amount of oxygen into the incubator, something doctors have since learned to be extremely cautious about. But as a result, I lost my sight. I was sent to a state school for the blind, but I flunked first grade because Braille just didn't make any sense to me. Words were a weird concept. I remember being hit and slapped. And you act all that in. All rage is anger that is acted in, bottled in for so long that it just pops out. Helen had it harder. She was both blind and deaf. But, oh, the transformation that came over her when she discovered that words were related to things! It's like the lyrics of that song: "On a clear day, rise and look around you, and you'll see who you are."

I can say the word see. I can speak the language of the sighted. That's part of the first great achievement of Helen Keller. She proved how language could liberate the blind and the deaf. She wrote, "Literature is my utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised." But how she struggled to master language. In her book "Midstream," she wrote about how she was frustrated by the alphabet, by the language of the deaf, even with the speed with which her teacher spelled things out for her on her palm. She was impatient and hungry for words, and her teacher's scribbling on her hand would never be as fast, she thought, as the people who could read the words with their eyes. I remember how books got me going after I finally grasped Braille. Being in that school was like being in an orphanage. But words — and in my case, music — changed that isolation. With language, Keller, who could not hear and could not see, proved she could communicate in the world of sight and sound — and was able to speak to it and live in it. I am a beneficiary of her work. Because of her example, the world has given way a little. In my case, I was able to go from the state school for the blind to regular public school from the age of 11 until my senior year in high school. And then I decided on my own to go back into the school for the blind. Now I sing jazz.
As miraculous as learning language may seem, that achievement of Keller's belongs to the 19th century. It was also a co-production with her patient and persevering teacher, Anne Sullivan. Helen Keller's greater achievement came after Sullivan, her companion and protector, died in 1936. Keller would live 32 more years and in that time would prove that the disabled can be independent. I hate the word handicapped. Keller would too. We are people with inconveniences. We're not charity cases. She was once asked how disabled veterans of World War II should be treated and said that they do "not want to be treated as heroes. They want to be able to live naturally and to be treated as human beings."

Those people whose only experience of her is "The Miracle Worker" will be surprised to discover her many dimensions. "My work for the blind," she wrote, "has never occupied a center in my personality. My sympathies are with all who struggle for justice." She was a tireless activist for racial and sexual equality. She once said, "I think God made woman foolish so that she might be a suitable companion to man." She had such left-leaning opinions that the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover kept a file on her. And who were her choices for the most important people of the century? Thomas Edison, Charlie Chaplin and Lenin. Furthermore, she did not think appearing on the vaudeville circuit, showing off her skills, was beneath her, even as her friends were shocked that she would venture onto the vulgar stage. She was complex. Her main message was and is, "We're like everybody else. We're here to be able to live a life as full as any sighted person's. And it's O.K. to be ourselves."

That means we have the freedom to be as extraordinary as the sighted. Keller loved an audience and wrote that she adored "the warm tide of human life pulsing round and round me." That's why the stage appealed to her, why she learned to speak and to deliver speeches. And to feel the vibrations of music, of the radio, of the movement of lips. You must understand that even more than sighted people, we need to be touched. When you look at a person, eye to eye, I imagine it's like touching them. We don't have that convenience. But when I perform, I get that experience from a crowd. Helen Keller must have as well. She was our first star. And I am very grateful to her.

Diane Schuur's latest jazz CD is Music Is My Life from Atlantic Records

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