Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams can't be dead

Robin Williams can't be dead

For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing, not even the demons in his head or the sometimes regrettable consequences of their actions, could stop. If his motor ever ceased running, even for a second, his audiences rarely noticed it. They just stayed on the edge of their seats awaiting the next eruption, and were never disappointed by whatever inspired lunacy burst forth.
Practically from the beginning, when we first saw him turn scripts from the 1978-82 ABC sitcom "Mork and Mindy" into staging areas for unalloyed free-form verbal jazz, Williams seemed in supernaturally perfect command of all the voices in his head.Whether delivering stand-up comedy or an introduction at a testimonial dinner, Williams could make a casual digression into a stream-of-consciousness lick worthy of William Faulkner, James Joyce or any surrealist you can name.
Where did he ever come up with THAT, we always wondered, whether it was a reference to an old movie we'd thought we'd forgotten or a side-swiping barb at a politician, or even something embarrassing about himself.
His own rueful experience with addiction drew from him one of the greatest quotes ever about drugs: "Cocaine is God's way of saying you make too much money." Or the one about how alcohol abuse can get so out-of-control, "you'll do things that'd make the Devil say, 'Dude.'
Someday soon, if it hasn't already happened, there will be a collection of such aphorisms, which at times approached the trenchant pithiness of Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde. The problem with remembering all of them now is that they were all but lost in the ack-ack fire of Williams' spontaneous inventions. Even when he stood still, you could almost feel the waves of energy struggling to break free. The way he contained those waves reminded us that his was a mind, paraphrasing Albert Camus, that always kept itself in check.
And besides, good actors can always make silence and space work to their advantage. Imagine our surprise when it turned out that this most formidably intellectual of his generation's comedians was also a very good -- and, at times, great actor. He channeled his high-octane inventiveness into creating indelible and endearing movie portrayals as the hip GI disc jockey in 1987's "Good Morning Vietnam," for which he received the first of his three Oscar nominations for best actor.
I thought he should have won for playing a grief-mad widower in 1992's "The Fisher King," but Hollywood showed how much they loved him by giving him the best supporting actor Oscar in 1998 for playing an emotionally wounded psychiatrist in "Good Will Hunting."
For whatever it's worth, the Robin Williams movies I most enjoyed were the ones where he took chances and/or let fly. This would, for me, exclude his title role as "Mrs. Doubtfire" (though I understand why so many cherish its memory), but would include such wildly varied work as his supersonically spritzing genie in 1992's "Aladdin"; his underrated star turn in the underrated 1980 musical "Popeye"; and, among his riskiest performances, the portrayal of the clammy, anxiety-ridden hustler Tommy Wilhelm in the 1986 TV movie version of Saul Bellow's "Seize the Day."
In all his roles, playing crazy or cute, good or evil, sagacious or sanctimonious, Robin Williams always showed you his considerable empathy, not just for the people he rendered, but for the audience; the same audience he sought to conquer, if not overpower, with his free-range comedy routines where, as with his friend and mentor Richard Pryor, he was most vividly and resoundingly himself--with all his foibles, grievances, fears and desires.
We thought we'd be able to call upon his compassion, his intelligence and his energy for as long as there was air and water. Is Robin Williams really dead? What on Earth will the weather be like tomorrow without knowing he's still around?

Monday, June 30, 2014

'Designing Women' Star Meshach Taylor Dies At 67

'Designing Women' Star Meshach Taylor Dies At 67

Meshach Taylor  who played a lovable ex-convict surrounded by boisterous Southern belles on the sitcomDesigning Women and appeared in numerous other TV and film roles, died of cancer at age 67, his agent said Sunday.
Taylor died Saturday at his home near Los Angeles, according to agent Dede Binder.
Taylor got an Emmy nod for his portrayal of Anthony Bouvier onDesigning Women from 1986 to 1993. Then he costarred for four seasons on another successful comedy, Dave's World, as the best friend of a newspaper humor columnist played by the series' star, Harry Anderson.
Other series included the cult favorite Buffalo Bill and the popular Nickelodeon comedy Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide.
Taylor's movie roles included a flamboyant window dresser in the 1987 comedy-romance Mannequin as well as Damien: Omen II.
He guested on many series including Hannah MontanaThe Unit,Hill Street BluesBarney MillerLou GrantThe Drew Carey Show, and, in an episode that aired in January, Criminal Minds, which stars Joe Mantegna, with whom Taylor performed early in his career as a fellow member of Chicago's Organic Theater Company. Taylor also had been a member of that city's Goodman Theatre.
The Boston-born Taylor started acting in community shows in New Orleans, where his father was dean of students at Dillard University. He continued doing roles in Indianapolis after his father moved to Indiana University as dean of the college of arts and sciences.
After college, Taylor got a job at an Indianapolis radio station, where he rose from a "flunky job" to Statehouse reporter, he recalled in an interview with The Associated Press in 1989.
"It was interesting for a while," he said. "But once you get involved in Indiana politics you see what a yawn it is."
Resuming his acting pursuit, he set up a black arts theater to keep kids off the street, then joined the national touring company of Hair. His acting career was launched.
After Hair, he became a part of the burgeoning theater world in Chicago, where he stayed until 1979 before heading for Los Angeles.
Taylor played the assistant director in Buffalo Bill, the short-lived NBC sitcom about an arrogant and self-centered talk show host played by Dabney Coleman. It lasted just one season, 1983-84, disappointing its small but fervent following.
Seemingly his gig on Designing Women could have been even more short-lived. It was initially a one-shot.
"It was for the Thanksgiving show, about halfway through the first season," Taylor said. But producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason told him if the character clicked with audiences he could stay.
It did. He spun comic gold with co-stars Jean Smart, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts and Delta Burke, and never left.
Meanwhile, his real life worked its way into one episode.
"We were doing some promotional work in Lubbock, Texas, and somehow Delta Burke and I got booked into the same hotel suite," he said. They alerted their respective significant others to the mix-up, then muddled through with the shared accommodations.
"When we got back I told Linda, and she put it into a show: We got stranded at a motel during a blizzard and ended up in the same bed!"
Taylor is survived by his four children and his wife, Bianca Ferguson.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

China calls U.S. bid to name street for Nobel peace laureate a 'farce'

China calls U.S. bid to name street for Nobel peace laureate a 'farce'

China on Wednesday dismissed as a "farce" and a "smear" a vote by a United States panel of lawmakers to rename a Washington road in front of its embassy after imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.
Republican Frank Wolf from Virginia submitted the amendment to the annual State Department spending bill, instructing Secretary of State John Kerry to rename the street as "No.1, Liu Xiaobo Plaza", the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
"Some people from the United States have used so-called human rights and the Liu Xiaobo case to engage in this meaningless sensationalism," China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
"It is nothing more than an attempt to smear China. We think this is purely a farce."
Liu, 58, a veteran dissident involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests that were brutally crushed by the army, was jailed for 11 years in 2009 on charges of subversion for organizing a petition urging an end to one-party rule.
Hua reiterated China's stance that Liu had violated Chinese law. Last month, China criticized as "provocative and ignorant" a group of U.S. lawmakers who called for the street to be named for Liu.
The United States and the European Union have repeatedly called for Liu's release and the removal of curbs on his wife, Liu Xia, who is rarely allowed out of her home and is almost never allowed to receive visitors.

She has not been convicted of any crime.

U.N. report: Our oceans are trashed with plastic

U.N. report: Our oceans are trashed with plastic

 A series of new reports are raising concerns about the damage plastic waste is doing to oceans -- harming marine animals, destroying sensitive ecosystems, and contaminating the fish we eat.
But experts say that the solution to the problem isn't in the ocean -- it's on land.
The United Nations Environment Programme, as well as the NGOsGlobal Ocean Commission and Plastic Disclosure Project, released reports on Monday ringing the alarm bell about the environmental impact of debris on marine life.
Plastic waste in oceans is causing $13 billion of damage each year, according to the UNEP report, and that figure could be much higher. Worldwide plastic production is projected to reach 33 billion tons by 2050, and plastic makes up 80% of litter on oceans and shorelines.
"Plastics undoubtedly play a crucial role in modern life, but the environmental impacts of the way we use them cannot be ignored," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in a press release.
Ten to 20 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year, from litter, runoff from poorly managed landfills, and other sources. Once it's in the water, plastic does not degrade but instead breaks into smaller pieces and swirls in massive ocean gyres, creating soupy surfaces peppered with the material
Scientists are especially worried about the growing prevalence of tiny microplastics which are smaller than 5 millimeters. These include microbeads, which are used in toothpaste, gels, facial cleansers and other consumer goods. Microplastics aren't filtered by sewage treatment plants, and can be ingested by marine animals with deadly effect.
Ocean debris isn't just an environmental issue -- it also complicated the search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 earlier this year, as floating debris confused satellite images.
What can be done?
It's expensive and ineffective to clean up existing marine debris. Picking trash off beaches or sweeping it from the ocean surface "does nothing to fix the problem at the source," said Doug Woodring, the co-founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance, the NGO behind the Plastic Disclosure Project.
"It's not just an ocean problem, it's a business and a municipal issue," Woodring said. "The ocean is just downstream of our activities. The real solution is upstream at the producer and user end."
Governments can help solve the problem by regulating the use of plastics and creating infrastructure to recycle them. For example, dozens of nations have banned plastic bags at supermarkets or restricted their use.
That's a "good start," said Ada Kong, a campaigner at Greenpeace. But they can go further, she said. "Governments should enforce laws to regulate the cosmetic manufactures to label the ingredients (of consumer goods), including all the microplastics."
The general public can also be conscious about their plastic footprint by simply purchasing goods without a lot of excess plastic packaging. People should also separate their plastic from other waste and recycle it, Woodring said.
From waste to resource
Companies that produce plastic goods have perhaps the biggest opportunity to make a difference, Woodring said. They can engage their customers with rebate or deposit programs, giving them incentives to bring back plastic for recycling.
"Everything from bottles to food packaging can be made from recycled plastic," Woodring said. "The technology is there today to reuse it."
His organization is hosting a "Plasticity Forum" in New York City on Tuesday featuring presentations about how to creatively reuse plastic.
Plastic isn't just waste -- it's "a valuable material, pound-for-pound worth more than steel, and we're just not capitalizing on it today," Woodring said.
The new reports come on the eve of the first-ever United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, a forum for environmental ministers, scientists, and others to discuss strategies to combat climate change and other environmental problems. An ocean conference hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, D.C. last week also focused on marine pollution.
Perhaps the greatest sign of the problem is the rapidly-growing Great Pacific Trash Patch, a massive sheet plastic and other debris that circles in a gyre across the ocean.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Prayers, tears as Japan marks 1 year since massive earthquake

Prayers, tears as Japan marks 1 year since massive earthquake

Tokyo (CNN) -- Japan gathered Sunday amid tears, prayers and a moment of silence to mark one year since an earthquake and tsunami killed thousands, and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in a quarter century.

Throngs nationwide observed a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. local time (12:46 a.m. ET), the exact time the earth shook on March 11, 2011.

At the main event at a Tokyo theater, hundreds bowed their heads in silence during the service.

"A lot of lives were lost ... I feel the grieving families' pain and I cannot express my sorrow enough," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said at the ceremony.
Emperor Akihito, who is recovering from recent surgery, also attended.

"I'd like to express my mourning for the people who passed away a year ago ... almost 20,000 died and others remain missing. Many of them were firefighters," the emperor said.

Government officials and victims' relatives laid flowers at a shrine set up at the front of the theater.

In tsunami-ravaged towns along the northeast, residents solemnly placed wreaths where homes once stood. Warning sirens wailed in some areas at the precise time the quake struck.

Clad in black, residents of Ofunato gathered to pay tribute to hundreds of the town's residents killed during the earthquake and tsunami. Some wept quietly.

The 9.0-magnitude quake shifted the earth's axis and unleashed a wall of water that swept away lives and homes. Million of people fled for higher ground. Nearly 16,000 people died and 3,000 others remain missing.

For those who survived that day, life is not the same.

"On the surface, it is business as usual," said Nicky Washida, a British expatriate who's lived in Japan for 10 years. "We wake up, we go to work, we shop for dinner. We drink, we laugh, we care for our children. But running underneath the veneer of normality is the constant reminder that life has changed."

Washida said something as simple as buying food has changed in the wake of the nuclear crisis. She said she reads labels to ensure there are no chances of contamination.

As residents scramble to return to normalcy, Noda recently addressed rebuilding efforts, which represent Japan's greatest challenge since the end of World War II.

"The Japanese people are united in working with the government to put all our might toward working on the reconstruction," Noda said this month. "The debris cleanup, the building of temporary houses and daily support for the disaster victims -- we have been making steady progress on all those issues," he said.

Following the quake and tsunami, Japan found itself dealing with the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility was knocked offline, resulting in a meltdown of three reactors, with radiation leaking into the air and contaminated water spilling into the sea. While no deaths were attributed to the nuclear disaster, more than 100,000 people remain displaced from the towns where its long-lived fallout settled.

"While always keeping in mind the tremendous responsibility we have to maintain stable conditions at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, we will continue to safely work toward the mid-to-long term decommissioning of the reactors," said Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the plant. "In addition, all TEPCO group companies will further intensify their efforts to care for the presently afflicted and provide the compensation due them in a swift manner."

One year on, Japan is far from dug out of the destruction wrought by the triple disaster, but the prime minister said he is committed to rebuilding and in re-energizing the nation in the process.

For some of the nation's youth, hope reigns amid the heartbreak and ruins.

"A lot of Japanese are very optimistic, so don't worry about (us) too much," said Kohei Maeda.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Conservative staffer resigns amid 'robocalls' probe

Conservative staffer resigns amid 'robocalls' probe

Michael Sona, left, is seen with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in this undated photo released by the Prime Minister's Office.
A Conservative staffer has resigned following reports that Elections Canada is investigating fake election day phone calls used to keep voters away from polls.

Michael Sona, who until Friday was a staffer in Conservative MP Eve Adams's office, also worked for Conservative candidate Marty Burke in Guelph, Ont.

Voters in that riding complained they were the target of automated robocalls claiming to be on behalf of Elections Canada that directed them to the wrong polling station. Telling voters to go to the wrong or non-existent polling stations is a voter suppression tactic and illegal under the Elections Act.

Opposition MPs let loose on the Conservative Party on Thursday after an Ottawa Citizen report linked a call centre used by some of their campaigns to the robocalls.

Sona offered his resignation and it was accepted, a source told CBC News.

In a statement Thursday, the Conservatives' 2011 national campaign manager hinted that whoever was behind the robocalls acted alone.

"The party was not involved with these calls and if anyone on a local campaign was involved they will not play a role in a future campaign," Jenni Byrne said in a statement.

There is no public evidence Sona was involved in the robocalls.
Calls traced to Racknine

Nine Conservative campaigns used the services of Racknine, the call centre whose services were used for the fraudulent calls. It's not unusual to use call centres for legitimate campaigning.

Ridings across the country reported fraudulent calls on May 2, 2011, redirecting voters to the wrong polling station.

The RCMP told CBC News on Thursday that Elections Canada is investigating the matter.

Sona made news before the election when he allegedly tried to grab a ballot box at the University of Guelph. He claimed the polling station was illegal. A statement released by Burke's campaign said nobody from their team touched a ballot or ballot box. Elections Canada allowed the ballots to be counted.

Sona graduated from the University of Guelph in 2010, according to a webpage showing his professional history. He worked for Conservative MP Rob Moore from June 2010 until March 2011 and from May to September 2011. He also worked for Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore for four months in 2009.
Liberals demand emergency debate

Liberal Leader Bob Rae announced Friday he's asking House Speaker Andrew Scheer for an emergency debate into voter suppression.

"In my opinion, this debate is necessary because denying someone the opportunity to vote is to deny them the most basic right that exists in our democracy," Rae says in his letter to Scheer.

"These reports undermine the reputation of Parliament and cast a shadow over the legitimacy of all parliamentary proceedings."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Indiana lawmaker: Girl Scouts in league with Planned Parenthood

Indiana lawmaker: Girl Scouts in league with Planned Parenthood

(CNN) -- An Indiana lawmaker who opposes celebrating the centennial anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America says the group "sexualizes" young girls, promotes homosexuality and is a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood.

In a letter sent to members of the Republican Caucus, Indiana State Rep. Bob Morris said many parents were "abandoning the Girl Scouts because they promote homosexual lifestyles."

"As members of the Indiana House of Representatives, we must be wise before we use the credibility and respect of the 'Peoples' House' to extend legitimacy to a radicalized organization," he said, warning them not "to endorse a group that has been subverted in the name of liberal progressive politics and the destruction of traditional American family values."

In the Febraury 18 letter, obtained by CNN affiliate WRTV, Morris lobbied lawmakers to oppose a nonbinding resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts.

Morris was the only member not to sign the measure.

After doing a "small amount" of research on the Internet, Morris said, he and his wife came to the conclusion that the Girl Scouts have become a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood and are part of an agenda that includes "sexualizing" young girls.

Morris' two daughters have been pulled from the Girl Scouts, he said, and instead will become active in American Heritage Girls Little Flowers organization -- a group that "will not confuse their conservative Hoosier upbringing."

Morris said he takes the stand despite the knowledge that "99.9% of Girl Scout troops in this country" are run by good leaders, he told WRTV. The concern, he said, is where the money goes on the national level.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana President and CEO Betty Cockrum said she was disappointed in Morris' words, calling them "inflammatory, misleading, woefully inaccurate and harmful."

The controversy is the latest involving Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation briefly cut funding for some Planned Parenthood projects amid increased scrutiny by Congress over how the organization provides abortion services.

After Komen's initial decision, Planned Parenthood said money from the foundation has largely paid for breast exams at local centers. In the past five years, it said, grants from Komen have directly supported 170,000 screenings, making up about 4% of the exams performed at Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide.

Karen Handel, a vice president with the Komen Foundation, resigned her position this month following a controversy.

In stark contrast to his Republican colleague, House Speaker Brian Bosma handed out Girl Scout cookies on the floor of the General Assembly Tuesday.

"There are a lot of sideshows at the General Assembly ... and all walks of life, and you just have to determine which one's you're going to go into," Bosma told CNN affiliate WISH.