REPLIED: Answering charges that the United States was slow and being “stingy” with its offering of $35 million in aid to countries hit by Sunday’s quake and tsunamis (where the death count has surpassed 100,000), President Bush interrupted his vacation Wednesday to say that America’s financial pledge “is only the beginning of our help.” He also stated: “These past few days have brought loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension. We will prevail over this destruction.” So far, Spain has pledged the greatest gift to those struck by the disaster, $68 million. In America, private donations are said to be strong. New York’s Daily News also reports that the Pfizer drug company has contributed $10 million in cash and $25 million worth of medicines to the relief effort.
RANKED: Eminem’s Encore has lived up to its name, with the rapper’s album returning to the top of the Billboard chart after first landing there a month ago. All told, Encore sold 430,000 copies to make it the best-selling album in the U.S. over Christmas. By returning to the top spot, Eminem took over from 2Pac’s posthumous Loyal to the Game, which slid to 13th place (with sales of 219,000 copies). The latest installment of the compilation album Now That’s What I Call Music held on to second place (356,000 in sales). No. 3 was U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which topped the chart in the first week of December.
ORDERED: Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, 19, has been sentenced to 18 months of probation, fined $250 and ordered to attend a meeting sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and to abstain from alcohol during his probation after pleading guilty to drunken driving in a Maryland courtroom Wednesday. His record will be expunged if he follows the terms of his probation. “I recognize the seriousness of this mistake,” Phelps told Judge Lloyd O. Whitehead. “I’ve learned from this mistake and will continue learning from this mistake for the rest of my life.” On Nov. 4, a state trooper stopped Phelps for running a stop sign near Salisbury University, about 85 miles southeast of Baltimore. Under the terms of his sentence, Phelps must report to a probation supervisor once a month by phone or as directed by the court.
SEARCHED: Those surfing the Internet Movie Database were most curious about Johnny Depp, the site has announced after counting its 2004 hits. The Finding Neverland star was their most-searched name, followed (in order) by Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Angelina Jolie. Keith Simanton, IMDb managing editor, tells the Hollywood Reporter that Depp and Lohan were in a close battle for the top spot, with Depp popular in the first half of the year, while Lohan was tops in the second half. He also noted that Tobey Maguire, Mel Gibson and Michael Moore ranked low in curiosity value.
PROBED: New York Police are looking into whether a rap industry feud involving platinum-selling label The Inc. led to a fatal shooting outside a nightclub party hosted by rapper Ja Rule last weekend, reports the Associated Press. Federal authorities are investigating The Inc. founder Irv "Gotti" Lorenzo and notorious crack kingpin Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff. Neither Gotti nor McGriff has been charged in the case, but court filings allege the label, formerly known as Murder Inc., laundered more than $1 million in drug money. An attorney for McGriff, who is in prison on a gun possession charge, said his client knew nothing about the early Monday shooting.
CRITICIZED: FOX is hearing protests from at least one group over scenes in its Jan. 9 season premiere of 24, in which a Muslim teenager and his parents are members of a terrorist cell plotting a mass attack on America. The episode has been seen in advance screeners, reports Broadcast & Cable magazine, which says that the advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, intends to take its case to FOX. Group spokeswoman Rabiah Ahmed says: “They are taking everyday American Muslim families and making them suspects. They’re making it seem like families are co-conspirators in this terrorist plot. … It’s very dangerous and very disturbing.” Officials at FOX had no comment.
WANTED: The North Carolina man who made $455 on eBay last week selling water from a cup once used by Elvis Presley has something even bigger to offer: the Styrofoam cup that originally held the water. Wade Jones retrieved the cup and water when he went to one of the King’s concerts in 1977 (the same year Elvis died). For this artifact, Jones – who doesn’t want to sell the cup, but is willing to put it on display, preferably on Elvis’s 75th birthday this coming Jan, 8 – seeks a minimum bid of $300, plus travel expenses. As of Thursday morning, Jones had received one bid for $300. But on the same site, there’s a ceramic Elvis mug – featuring his face and the words “The King of Rock and Roll 1935-77” – and, so far, that’s going for $4.95.