Oh, friends, my heart is heavy with everything happening this week. I cannot cover it all, but I can at least give you a few interesting stories, and we’ll end on an up-note, I promise.
First, you’d have to be living on the moon to not have heard by now that Robin Williams died this week. (And even if you did live on the moon, somehow I sense that the news would have reached you anyway, such is the impact of his loss.) Official cause of death was suicide by asphyxia. He was 63 years old. In addition to his struggles with depression and addiction, his wife also revealed that he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
Everyone has a favorite Robin Williams movie, and the staff at Pajiba offered up an excellent tribute to his work: “He was the kind of performer we carried with us.”
Russell Brand, no stranger to addiction and its intersection with mental health, wrote beautifully about him in The Guardian: “Is it melancholy to think that a world that he can’t live in must be broken?”
On Twitter, Norm MacDonald told a story about meeting him backstage at Letterman, and how funny he was even when no one else was around.
Letterman is in reruns right now while he’s on vacation, but the late night hosts who have been doing new episodes paid tribute to Williams. How could they not? His late night performances were some of the best.
NBC News has a variety of stories covering both Williams’ career and the broader topic of depression, including studies on how a celebrity’s death affects national suicide numbers. The headline is a bit sensationalist, but it’s an interesting article.
May they also Rest in Peace:
Legendary actress Lauren Bacall died at age 89 on Tuesday, due to stroke-related complications. Vanity Fair also has their famous Proust Questionnaire with her online, and it’s further evidence of her quick wit and sly (yet delightful) crankiness.
Actor JJ Murphy died last Friday, four days after filming his first scenes for Game of Thrones. He was 86 years old.
I wish I could transition this into better news, but…
What’s Happening in Ferguson?
After a police officer fatally shot unarmed Michael Brown last Saturday in the St. Louis suburb Ferguson, two different eye witnesses have stepped forward with their accounts of what happened that night. MSNBC reports:
About 20 minutes before the shooting, Johnson said he saw Brown walking down the street and decided to catch up with him. The two walked and talked. That’s when Johnson says they saw the police car rolling up to them.
The officer demanded that the two “get the f—k on the sidewalk,” Johnson says. “His exact words were get the f—k on the sidewalk.”
After telling the officer that they were almost at their destination, Johnson’s house, the two continued walking. But as they did, Johnson says the officer slammed his brakes and threw his truck in reverse, nearly hitting them.
Now, in line with the officer’s driver’s side door, they could see the officer’s face. They heard him say something to the effect of, “what’d you say?” At the same time, Johnson says the officer attempted to thrust his door open but the door slammed into Brown and bounced closed. Johnson says the officer, with his left hand, grabbed Brown by the neck.
Missouri politicians have issued (rather bland) statements, and after community protests, the Ferguson police chief says he understands “the frustration of the community,” although suspended officer’s name has not been released and then, THEN…
I counted 70+ SWAT officers. Guns trained on crowds. Insanity. pic.twitter.com/stev2G6v4b
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 13, 2014
Ryan J. Reilly, by the way, was one of two reporters arrested on Wednesday night. Reilly (from Huffington Post) and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery were assaulted, arrested, and then released without any explanation after the two apparently did not immediately vacate the McDonald’s in which they were working.
So, with 70+ SWAT officers given major weaponry against a (predominantly peaceful) protest against police violence, and with “regular” media being detained or otherwise harassed, how are we learning about all these details? Twitter.
[You’re] goddamned right I get my news from Twitter first. — Roxane Gay (@rgay) August 14, 2014
A cop in SWAT gear braying YOUR RIGHT TO ASSEMBLE IS NOT BEING VIOLATED from atop a tank is ludicrous in a way Terry Gilliam couldn’t touch.
— Bo Bolander (@BBolander) August 14, 2014
I’m so glad we’re cutting food stamps and can’t extend unemployment, but we can deploy an army armed to the teeth in a middle America suburb — Nolan Treadway (@Nolan) August 13, 2014
Zeynep Tufekci at Medium has an excellent examination on how net neutrality, news, and using #Ferguson on Twitter intersect, especially when cable news outlets can be frustrating, to say the least.
(Speaking of cable news: “It Had Been a Few Hours Since Fox News Had To Apologize For Anything Stupid, So They Called Michelle Obama Fat.” Sigh.)
In Other Activism News:
The Florida pastor who decided to cancel a man’s funeral because he was gay is still busy being an asshole homophobe:
Pastor Jenkins has been the subject of countless news reports. The church’s Facebook page received well over 1000 negative reviews and comments — until it was taken down. The church removed all their contact information from their website. And on Sunday, for a time, they refused entry to a local news reporter.
But once inside, Tampa’s WTSP recorded the pastor talking about the nation’s anger. “Our trials come to make us strong,” Jenkins told his flock. “My family is doing fine,” Jenkins can be heard telling his parishioners. And he asked his “church family” to “please remain focused and prayerful … and we will continue to stand on the word of God.” The church members applauded.
In Georgetown, Texas, citizens are presenting the city council with a petition as a symbolic gesture, saying that they welcome immigrant children leaving Mexico:
“The purpose of the petition was just to show to city council that there are a lot of people in town who don’t believe this and don’t listen to the Tea party over the rest of the people in the town they are a vocal minority, a very vocal minority and we don’t want them to represent us,” said Dr. Sherwin Kahn, a Georgetown resident.
And in my home state of Montana, the Billings city council decided to not pass a nondiscrimination ordinance, by a vote of 6-5. While I’m heartened that it wasn’t a blowout defeat, it’s still extremely disappointing that this is even a topic up for discussion. What are we saying here, “Hey, I think it’s totally okay to be a discriminatory asshole?”
On the next season of House of Cards, two members from Pussy Riot, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, will appear in as-yet undisclosed roles.
In Other News:
Tracy Morgan’s lawyer issued a statement saying that his client is still struggling with his injuries stemming from his auto accident, and the suit against Walmart (whose semi truck crashed into Morgan in June) goes on.
On the 30th anniversary of the PG-13 rating’s creation, Flavorwire has rounded up 5 films that should have had a PG-13 rating vs. R, and vice versa.
Finally, something good: Stanford professor Maryam Mirzakhani has become the first woman to win the highest prize given for work in maths, The Fields Medal. Slate reports:
Mirzakhani was raised and received her undergraduate degree in Iran before attending graduate school at Harvard, where she finished her doctoral thesis in 2004. She’s won the Fields for her work with the “dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.”
Highest of fives, Maryam.
See you next week, where hopefully I’ll have a better mix of stories to report. Until then.