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Attn: fans of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

A man with dark, unkempt hair and a beard that can only be called scruffy stepped through the pj.jpgrounded doorway. The sand colored walls and wooden trim were dimly lit, although the rounded hallway, or tunnel, from which he had come stretched back to reveal a patch of sunlight. His button down plaid shirt and baggy gray sweater lent him a casual, professorial appearance.

"Hello. Welcome to the first of our blogs on the making of The Hobbit," said Peter Jackson, the director of the long awaited prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The approximately 10 minute video, released to fans via Jackson's Facebook page, had Jackson giving a tour of some of the most iconic sets from the Lord of the Rings, according to Terri Schwartz for the MTV Movie Blog. Bag End and Elrond's Chambers were recreated exactly for The Hobbit, so nothing new there to fans of the Lord of the Rings, but Jackson has also promised new bits of Rivendell in the film.

One new set is partially revealed--the goblin tunnels under the Misty Mountains, where main character Bilbo Baggins has an "infamous encounter", according to New Zealand's TV3 News.

The vlog also gave viewers a glimpse of other behind-the-scenes tidbits--props, costumes, fight-training, and a look at Andy Serkis all decked out in his Gollum motion capture suit, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

If that's not enough, fans were also treated to an excerpt from the Maori welcoming ceremony, or Powhiri, that was conducted at the main sound stage on the first day of filming. Although there have been some disagreements between the filmmakers and the indigenous New Zealanders who, according to Blastr, refused to allow Jackson to shoot scenes at Mount Ngauruhoe (which depicted Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings) for The Hobbit, the relationship is apparently still sound.

The Hobbit will be the first film to be shot at a rate of 48 frames per second--double the rate of every movie that has been made since the 1920's, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This will give it enhanced clarity and smoothness, Jackson said.

Only 10,000 screens worldwide have the capability of projecting at 48 frames per second, however, although Jackson hopes that will have changed by December 2012 when the first Hobbit film is due to be released. (The second one should hit theaters by December 2013.)

Gray and gold: filth and hope in La Rinconada

La Rinconada is a gray city, perched precariously on the side of a mountain peak more than 17,000 feet above sea level in southeast Peru, reported Michael Robinson Chavez for the Los Angeles Times. The pathways through the town are a mix of mud, sewage, trash, and mercury, running between the corrugated tin dwellings. This is a gold-mining town.

Not only is the city bereft of warmth and color, but also government and law. Recently, however, citizens have begun to tackle the lawlessness themselves, stepping in to settle disputes that would previously have been settled with a knife, a gun, or a fist, Chavez reported. This has made the streets somewhat safer in during the day, although stabbings are still common after dark.

Citizen-led law enforcement took on a grim reality just over a week ago when residents of La Rinconada burned three men alive for gold theft.

A group of residents caught four men carrying gold which they had apparently just stolen from a local storage facility, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. The residents held an informal "trial", during which one man was acquitted because he claimed he had been forced to take part in the heist, and the other three were subsequently burned alive.

Violence is not the only dangerous aspect of life in La Rinconada. For the miners, there are the threats of cave-ins, faulty dynamite fuses, or poisonous pockets of gas within the mines, according to Chavez.

For everybody, there is the danger that accompanies living on a cold mountainside dwarfed by a huge gray glacier and heavily polluted with, among other toxins, the mercury commonly used to amalgamate the gold.

The population of La Rinconada has doubled in the last five years to approximately 50,000, Chavez reported, as people rush to take advantage of high gold prices. Now there are enough children there that they have even built a school.

Many children still spend hours a day scaling the steep mountainside, searching for gold among the shale.

South Africa's president Jacob Zuma, who was head of an African Union delegation to Libya, announced that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had accepted an African Union-proposed "road map" to peace today, according to Voice of America.

Zuma's proposal included an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian aid, protection for foreign nationals, and political reforms, reported Peter S. Green for Bloomberg.

This may be a useless diplomacy attempt. The next step is to bring the plan to the leaders of the uprising, which the African delegation plans to do Monday.

The rebel leaders have previously rejected the notion of a cease-fire that would have left Gadhafi or one of his sons in power, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Moreover, the African Union may fail to qualify as an impartial negotiator, according to an Associated Press report. Col. Gadhafi invested substantial wealth from Libya in the AU as chair of that organization two years ago, and has received substantial support from member countries.

In Ivory Coast, slaughter over presidential conflict

Mass slaughter was reported in the Ivory Coast this last week, although the numbers are still unclear.

A report by the UK's Press Association put the death toll in the city of Duekuoe, where forces supporting the internationally recognized president-elect Allassane Ouatarra moved against those loyal to the current president, Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down, at 430.

The UK's Daily Mirror described the same incident, but reported the deaths to number 330, while Business Week claimed that at least 800 had been killed in Duekuoe. Aid groups could not confirm which forces were responsible for the killings.

Now, in what the Press Association has called "the final battle," thousands of pro-Outtarra forces have gathered some 20 miles from the presidential palace, where supporters of Gbagbo have answered a call to act as a human-shield and are waiting for their opponents with AK-47's at the ready.

The election on November 28 was the first in the Ivory Coast since a decade, according to Business Week.

A United Nations observation mission was on hand to oversee the elections, and had confirmed Outtarra's win with 54% of the vote, the Press Association reported.

Just who is Saif Gaddafi?

Saif al-Islam ("Sword of Islam") Gaddafi has the world wondering exactly who he is.

Gaddafi was born in 1972. Besides studying in Austria and at the London School of Economics, he founded the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation in 1999, according to a report on Monsters and Critics.

The second oldest son of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, he "was widely viewed as liberal, talented, and a force for change," wrote Peter Goodspeed in Canada's National Post.

That is, until he shocked many with a speech in late February wherein he repeated the government claim that protestors were on drugs and hallucinogens, said that the country was likely to descend into civil war if the protestors did not stand down, and threatened to fight to the last man, woman, and bullet.

Since that speech, former friends and business associates in the west have been distancing themselves from Gaddafi, reported BBC News.

Others who knew Gaddafi have been trying to reconcile the liberal reformer they thought they knew with the brutal, repressive figure he seems to have become. Professor David Held (quoted in the National Post), who informally advised Gaddafi during Gaddafi's time at the London School of Economics, described the Gaddafi giving the speech as "A young man torn by a struggle between loyalty to his father and his family, and the beliefs he had come to hold for reform, democracy and the rule of law."

Adding to the bewildering picture is a recent report by Reuters that Saif Gaddafi and other members of Muammar Gaddafi's entourage have been putting out "feelers" in an attempt to establish a ceasefire with the allied forces who have been conducting U.N.-backed airstrikes in Libya, or alternatively to ascertain safe passage from Libya.

It seemed to be unclear whether this outreach was authorized or even known of by Muammar Gaddafi, who had sworn in a speech in February to die a martyr on Libyan soil.

Saif Gaddafi is also known to be a surrealist painter, whose art exhibition "The Desert Is Not Silent" has been making the rounds in the west over the past eight years, according to the New Statesman. Some, but not all, of Gaddafi's paintings are political. One featured his late pet tiger Fredo.

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi drove rebel fighters from the eastern oil city of Brega, one of the last major towns before the key rebel stronghold of Bengazi, on Sunday.

The Guardian predicted that time was running out for Libya's revolution, and described scenes of rocket and shell-fire raining from the sky and exhausted rebels fleeing in pick-up trucks.

Calls by the Arab League for a no-flight zone over Libya may be considered by the United Nations Security Council this week, but such a move may be a stretch considering opposition from Russia and China and even a lack of clear support from the U.S. and Europe, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times report, increasingly beleaguered rebel forces on the ground are also still undecided on the issue of U.N. or western intervention.

Speaking from Ajdabiya, the last major town before Benghazi, former interior minister Abdel Fattah Younis, who defected to the rebel side in February and has become an unexpected leader of the revolutionary forces, called the retreat a tactical withdrawal and pledged a strong defense, according to the report in the Guardian.

But if outside support does not come, it seems unlikely that rebel forces will continue to withstand the onslaught from the far better equipped pro-government forces. "He has a tank and we have a stone," said one rebel fighter quoted in the New York Times.

The possibility of a nuclear meltdown in Japan Saturday raised global concerns over the use of nuclear power.

A magnitude-8.9 earthquake shook Japan's eastern coast on Friday and damaged several nuclear power plants. An explosion Saturday morning at the Fukushima Daiichi plant and concerns over rising pressure inside reactors were among the factors which ignited debate about nuclear energy in various countries.

In Germany, over 40,000 protestors joined to form a 28 mile long human chain stretching from a nuclear power plant in southern Germany to the nearby city of Stuttgart, reported Deutsche Welle. The protest had been planned previous to the earthquake, but the high turnout was undoubtedly fueled by fears of a nuclear meltdown in Japan.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded with a promised inspection of the country's 17 atomic energy plants, saying that business could not carry on as usual, according to the Deutsche Welle report.

Meanwhile in neighboring France green groups demanded that their country end its reliance on nuclear energy, Reuters reported Saturday. "It's clear that when there's a significant natural disaster, all the so-called safety measures fail in a country with the highest level of technical know-how," Reuters quoted the head of France's Europe Ecologie-Les Verts party as saying.

The Times of India reported increased agitation in India as well, where residents have been protesting a proposed nuclear power plant in Jaitapur. Activists said that the situation in Japan confirmed their fears of the danger posed by nuclear power plants.

And in the U.S., Rep. Edward J. Markey has called for a moratorium on building new nuclear reactors in earthquake prone areas as well as stronger containment systems for those reactors already in such seismically active areas, reported Stephanie Simon for The Wall Street Journal.

The effects of this catastrophe on the future of nuclear power could be far-reaching. Especially if a nuclear meltdown and large-scale radiation leakage occur in Japan, a country which is seen as "high-tech," the safety of nuclear power plants world-wide is likely to be called into question.

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