Friday, May 20, 2016

Morley Safer — 1931-2016

From the New York Times:

Morley Safer, a CBS television correspondent who brought the horrors of the Vietnam War into the living rooms of America in the 1960s and was a mainstay of the network’s newsmagazine “60 Minutes” for almost five decades, died on Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 84.

His wife, Jane Safer, said he died of pneumonia.

Mr. Safer was one of television’s most celebrated journalists, a durable reporter familiar to millions on “60 Minutes,” the Sunday night staple whose signature is a relentlessly ticking stopwatch. By the time CBS announced his retirement on May 11, Mr. Safer had broadcast 919 “60 Minutes” reports, profiling international heroes and villains, exposing frauds and corruption, giving voice to whistle-blowers and chronicling the trends of an ever-changing America.

Mr. Safer joined the program, created by Don Hewitt, in 1970, two years after its inception. His tenure eventually outlasted those of his colleagues Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley and Andy Rooney, as he became the senior star of a new repertory group of reporters on what has endured for decades as the most popular and profitable news program on television.

But to an earlier generation of Americans, and to many colleagues and competitors, he was regarded as the best television journalist of the Vietnam era, an adventurer whose vivid reports exposed the nation to the hard realities of what the writer Michael J. Arlen, in the title of his 1969 book, called the “Living-Room War.”

With David Halberstam of The New York Times, Stanley Karnow of The Washington Post and a few other print reporters, Mr. Safer shunned the censored, euphemistic Saigon press briefings they called the “5 o’clock follies” and went out with the troops. Mr. Safer and his Vietnamese cameraman, Ha Thuc Can, gave Americans powerful close-ups of firefights and search-and-destroy missions filmed hours before airtime. The news team’s helicopter was shot down once, but they were unhurt and undeterred.

In August 1965, Mr. Safer covered an attack on the hamlet of Cam Ne about 10 miles west of the port city of Da Nang. Intelligence had identified Cam Ne as a Vietcong sanctuary, though it had been abandoned by the enemy before the Americans moved in. Mr. Safer’s account depicted Marines, facing no resistance, firing rockets and machine guns into the hamlet; burning its thatched huts with flamethrowers, grenades and cigarette lighters as old men and women begged them to stop; then destroying rice stores as the villagers were led away sobbing.

Between him and Ed Bradley, they were the only reasons I watched “60 Minutes.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Friday, April 15, 2016

Short Takes

Nine dead from 6.4 earthquake in Japan.

Canada proposes a physician-assisted suicide law.

Microsoft sues U.S. over gag orders on search warrants.

Coal in the red: Peabody Energy files for Chapter 11.

R.I.P. Anne Jackson, legendary actor on stage and screen.

The Tigers beat the Pirates 7-4.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Short Takes

Belgian prosecutors: France was actually the intended target.

CIA Chief Brennan: The CIA won’t waterboard again even if ordered to.

Cruz wins Colorado caucuses; Trump throws tantrum.

Danny Willet won the Masters after Jordan Spieth folded like a lawn chair on the back nine.

Ah, springtime: dangerous storms hit the South while cold hits the Northeast.

R.I.P. William Hamilton, 79, cartoonist for The New Yorker.

The Tigers and the Yankees were rained out.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Friday, April 1, 2016

Short Takes

A car bomb explodes in Turkey, killing seven police officers.

President Obama welcomed world leaders to Washington for a nuclear security summit.

Yet another mass shooting, this time at a bus station in Richmond, Virginia.

All talk… Two more GOP senators agree to meet with Judge Merrick Garland.

Mississippi joins the boycott-bait states thanks to the passage of a law that enshrines gay discrimination.  (Like anyone would go there on purpose.)

R.I.P. Zaha Hadid, architect; the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Monday, March 28, 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Short Takes

Merrick Garland is President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court.

American ISIS fighter is a “gold mine” for U.S. intelligence.

U.S. hits North Korea with new sanctions for nuclear tests.

Denmark regains its standing as the “happiest nation.”

What if Fox had a debate and nobody came?

R.I.P. Frank Sinatra, Jr., 72.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Nancy Reagan — 1921-2016

Rest in peace.

Nancy Reagan, the influential and stylish wife of the 40th president of the United States who unabashedly put Ronald Reagan at the center of her life but became a political figure in her own right, died on Sunday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 94.

The cause was congestive heart failure, according to a statement from Joanne Drake, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Reagan.

Mrs. Reagan was a fierce guardian of her husband’s image, sometimes at the expense of her own, and during Mr. Reagan’s improbable climb from a Hollywood acting career to the governorship of California and ultimately the White House, she was a trusted adviser.

“Without Nancy, there would have been no Governor Reagan, no President Reagan,” said Michael K. Deaver, the longtime aide and close friend of the Reagans who died in 2007.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Short Takes

Iranian moderates make strong gains in parliamentary elections.’

North Korea shows detained U.S. student on TV.

It’s Super Tuesday for primaries.

R.I.P. George Kennedy, 91, Oscar-winning character actor.

He Talks! — Clarence Thomas breaks 10 years of silence on the Supreme Court.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Harper Lee

Rest in peace, Scout.

Harper Lee, whose first novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” about racial injustice in a small Alabama town, sold more than 10 million copies and became one of the most beloved and most taught works of fiction ever written by an American, has died. She was 89.

[…]

Nelle Harper Lee was born in the poky little town of Monroeville, in southern Alabama, the youngest of four children. “Nelle” was a backward spelling of her maternal grandmother’s first name, and Ms. Lee dropped it when “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published, out of fear that readers would pronounce it Nellie, which she hated.

Her father, Asa Coleman Lee, was a prominent lawyer and the model for Atticus Finch, who shared his stilted diction and lofty sense of civic duty. Her mother, Frances Finch Lee, also known as Miss Fanny, was overweight and emotionally fragile. Neighbors recalled her playing the piano for hours, fussing with her flower boxes and obsessively working crossword puzzles on the front porch. Truman Capote, a friend of Ms. Lee’s from childhood, later said that Nelle’s mother had tried to drown her in the bathtub on two occasions, an assertion that Ms. Lee indignantly denied.

Ms. Lee, like her alter ego Scout, was a tough little tomboy who enjoyed beating up the local boys, climbing trees and rolling in the dirt. “A dress on the young Nelle would have been as out of place as a silk hat on a hog,” recalled Marie Rudisill, Capote’s aunt, in her book “Truman Capote: The Story of His Bizarre and Exotic Boyhood by an Aunt Who Helped Raise Him.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was the first grown-up movie my parents took me to see, it was on my summer reading list for Grade 9, and of course it was the automatic choice when I first taught high school English.  Every writer, I think, secretly harbors the wish that they could paint so delicate a portrait of life and character as she did.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Scalia Dead

Via the New York Times:

Justice Antonin Scalia, whose transformative legal theories, vivid writing and outsize personality made him a leader of a conservative intellectual renaissance in his three decades on the Supreme Court, was found dead on Saturday at a resort in West Texas, according to a statement from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. He was 79.

“He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues,” Chief Justice Roberts said. “His passing is a great loss to the Court and the country he so loyally served.”

The cause of death was not immediately released.

In the Quaker tradition, I hold him in the Light.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Show Must Go On

Alan Rickman was a fine actor, playing everything from villains to a Shakespearean actor reduced to playing an alien on a space opera and relegated to attending science fiction conventions, but he always looked like he was having fun.  He gained a lot of fans by playing Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series, but his role in Galaxy Quest perhaps reflected all of his facets.

Brian Bedford — 1935-2016

A great actor has made his exit.  From the Globe and Mail:

Acclaimed British actor Brian Bedford, a Tony Award-winning mainstay of Broadway and Ontario’s Stratford Festival, has died.

The festival in Stratford, Ont., told The Canadian Press that Bedford died on Wednesday in Santa Barbara, Calif., after a 2 1/2-year battle with cancer. He was 80.

“The doctors were just astounded by his will to live,” said Ann Swerdfager, the festival’s publicity director.

Antoni Cimolino, the festival’s artistic director, said in a statement that “Brian Bedford was the prime reason I went into the theatre.”

Bedford had been ailing in recent years.

In early 2014, illness forced him to pull out of his role as the pope in a touring production of the Vatican mystery thriller “The Last Confession” that visited Toronto. It was a part he said he’d been “really looking forward” to, noting John Paul I was “a very, very sweet, modest, lovely person and I haven’t played that kind of part for a long, long time.”

In June 2013, he withdrew from his role as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” at the Stratford Festival due to “a medical condition.” He also missed shows during the festival’s 2011 season.

Bedford was a fixture in the southwestern Ontario community of Stratford, where he worked at the festival for 29 seasons, acting and directing.

In 2009, he brought down the house directing and starring (in full drag) as Lady Bracknell in the festival’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which moved to Broadway and earned him a 2011 Tony Award nomination for best actor. The production itself won a Tony for best costume design and was nominated for another for best revival of a play.

I saw the performance of “Earnest” at Stratford (my notes here) and thought it was one of the best plays I’d seen in all my years there.

He was a great actor, a fine director, and by all accounts, a very nice person.