Hit & Run: From House to White House

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The Independent Online

What do you do if you have risen through the thickets of Hollywood to become of one of the most visible Asian-American actors in the US, with plum roles on screens both big and small? You give it all up to take an obscure job in Washington for your president and country, of course.

This was the conclusion of Kal Penn, who played pot-smoking Kumar in the Harold and Kumar comedy films, and more recently has appeared in the TV series House.

Spurring headlines about ‘Penn moving to Pennsylvania Avenue’, the actor revealed to Entertainment Weekly that he accepted a job in the Office of Public Liaison at the White House, which runs outreach programmes designed to explain the policies of President Barack Obama to various communities. Penn, who is 31, will have special responsibility for Asian-Americans.

The revelations offer some belated explanation for the rather shocking turn of events in the latest episode of House, broadcast in the US on Monday. With no warning, the action turned to the home of Dr Lawrence Kutner, played by Penn, who in the course of the night had taken his own life, a story that both stunned regular viewers and released the actor to attend to his new political duties.

“I thought this might be the right time to go off and do something else,” says Penn, who, in return for giving his talents to public service, can expect to take a pay cut. “There’s not a lot of financial reward in these jobs. But the opportunity to serve in a capacity like this is an incredible honour,” he adds.

By joining the liaison office he will be working with people who are “the front door of the White House”. Fans of Penn, who is of Gujarati Indian heritage, will know that politics and

he are not strangers. He campaigned for Obama in 2007 and 2008, speaking at universities. His grandparents marched with Gandhi during the campaign for Indian independence: “It’s probably because of the value system my grandparents instilled in me,”

But will there be any official comment from Penn regarding expected reforms to the way terrorist suspects are put on trial by the US? One of his biggest Hollywood roles came, after all, in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. David Usborne

Please don't touch the geisha

Like most hard-working geisha in Kyoto, 22-year-old Miehinna earns her money. When not sitting at a mirror for hours applying alabaster makeup, she’s entertaining drunken clients in tea rooms, sweating in full kimono and heavy wig. And by day she must dodge hordes of camera-wielding foreign tourists.

Even as the number of geisha dwindles to roughly 200 (there used to be 2,000), 900,000 visitors arrive in the city’s geisha district each year. Some get carried away, and surround the women, demanding close-ups. “It gets a bit worse every year,” Miehinna tells me.

Now, after reports that maiko (apprentice geisha) have had wigs torn from their heads, authorities have stepped in. A notice at Kyoto’s Tourism Bureau reads, “Please respect the maikos and do not follow them in the streets or touch their kimonos.” In fact, they may be saved by the recession; it is decimating tourist numbers. David McNeill

Eminem's mistaken identities

The first video from Eminem’s long-awaited comeback album has dropped and it’s, well, a bit lame. “We Made You” is, on the face of it, a phantasmagoria of celeb-bashing skits. Between the Guitar Hero and Star Trek references intended to prove that Slim Shady has at least been watching television during his time off, we get lookalikes of Lindsay

Lohan and girlfriend Sam Ronson, Amy Winehouse (with the rapper playing Blake Fielder-Civil), US socialite Kim Kardashian (with padded arse) and Sarah Palin being “nailed” by a redneck. But it’s not shocking, and even if it’s a swipe at the media’s obsession with fame – Kardashian ends up being thrown into a wood chipper which then spews out cash – it’s still not funny. Nor is it any advance on the Eminem videos of old (he impersonated Bill Clinton in the clip for “My Name Is” ten years ago). Still, the fansites are abuzz with praise and the video is climbing the viral charts. But times have moved on, and if he wants to shock, he’ll have to try harder . Simon Usborne

We're not just stuck in the middle

We have to play the diplomat from a young age, and have Unity Mitford for a poster child: second-born siblings have plenty to gripe about. Now a survey confirms all that we middles had suspected; we really do get less attention from mum and dad. Sob! A third of parents questioned admitted that, yes, they suppose they did sort of neglect their second offspring. But rather than spending the rest of their lives insecure, many middle children reported that they benefitted from the relative lack of pressure, and formed an independent outlook from an early age. You say we’re awkward? Who cares? Susie Rushton