The reason that the death of Robin Williams seemed so particularly shocking, so cruel, even so personal, very nearly like a betrayal, is that when we think of him — his body of work, his persona, everything we know about him — our very first thought is of an irrepressible life force the likes of which we have never seen on the stage or screen. It was obvious from the very first minute that he captured America’s imagination as Mork from Ork on the 1970s television sitcom “Happy Days” that Williams was that rarest of birds — a complete original. He would remain so for nearly 40 years, not only continuing to find new ways to make us laugh, but by taking unexpected turns into drama, revealing depths that we hadn’t been able to imagine, perhaps giving us a glimpse of the darkness deep inside that eventually pulled him under.
By Doug Wingeier • Columnist
Based on actual events, the movie “The Railway Man” tells the story of how British soldiers captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in 1942 were taken in boxcars four days north through Malaya and Thailand and forced to work under inhuman conditions on a railway line along the River Kwai in Burma. The film contains graphic scenes of beatings and torture, including the infamous technique of waterboarding. Although the film ends with a moving scene of forgiveness and reconciliation between the British lieutenant and his erstwhile Japanese torturer, it still leaves the viewer pondering the question, “What possesses human beings to dehumanize and torture one another in such brutal ways?”
The sad fact is that throughout human history torture has been an all-too-common practice in war, criminal justice and relations between ethnic and even religious groups. It is practiced as a means of demonstrating power, vengeance, intimidation or coercion. It is used to break the spirit in order to extract submission, confession and information — even though these are often false and unreliable, uttered simply to stop the excruciating suffering.
EDISTO ISLAND, S.C. – My daughter has ordered an elaborate omelet, with spinach and cheese and who knows what else, but she seems to have lost all interest in actually eating it.
Instead, she pokes listlessly at one edge, as if her plate has an invisible fence around it and she is guiding the omelet toward the gate, trying to help it escape. Though we are only a little over two days into our weeklong summer vacation and enjoying our first meal out, she is also dreaming of escape. Her omelet has become a metaphor.
“Daddy,” she says with a laden sigh, “I’m ready to go back to North Carolina.”
Most anyone who has worked for a living, volunteered, or held elected office has stood at the edge of the abyss, looked over it, and made a very important decision: complete honesty and unyielding integrity, or maybe a little dishonesty, maybe a seemingly harmless white lie. The dishonesty might concern office supplies or maybe tools, perhaps a few dollars from the organization no one would miss; for an elected official, it could mean cozying up and getting favors from someone who could benefit from your vote, or perhaps it could mean a little extra money or a gift from such a person.
The situation that The Smoky Mountain News reported about last week concerning the Junaluska Sanitary District is a great illustration of how this happens. The district’s former employee developed a scheme for embezzling a little money each day over a long period of time. Finally caught, she admitted to stealing $210,000 over six years. She repaid it all and did not serve any jail time.
There are movies that I simply cannot turn off once I stumble into them when I am switching channels, which I do whenever there is a commercial, as men have been hardwired to do since the dawn of the remote control. One of those movies is “Fargo,” by the Coen brothers, which I consider to be one of the five best movies ever made. Another is “Tombstone,” a western that I do not really even consider to be a very good movie, though it does contain an astonishing performance by Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.
In fact, it is Kilmer’s Holliday that compels me to keep watching every time I find “Tombstone” on cable. I can tell within five seconds exactly where we are in the movie, what scene featuring Holliday will come up next, and what the dialogue is in that scene, even when Holliday and his nemesis Johnny Ringo are trading ominous bits of Latin in their first encounter in the Oriental Saloon.
By John Beckman • Guest Columnist
About eight months ago I had a misunderstanding with a pile of lumber which, when resolved, left me with shattered right wrist. Yes, that right wrist, just like the one you use everyday. Two surgeries and a stack of medical bills later there is still a lot of recovery yet to do, both physically and financially.
My wife and I have paid for private health insurance out-of-pocket every month for the past 25 years. Our policy has a $5,000 deductible that we pay before the insurance kicks in and then we pay 30 percent of all covered expenses after that, as well as all the uncovered ones. Even a relatively minor incident can end up costing plenty.
Haywood County’s hospital was in trouble. The average number of patients staying overnight had dropped precipitously, causing severe problems to the hospital’s cash flow. The relationship between the administration and most of the physicians was fractured. Many of those doctors and many Haywood County citizens feared the hospital might close if it didn’t adapt to the fast-changing health care landscape.
Though that sounds eerily similar to just a few years ago, it was 1993. I was a new-to-the-job 33-year-old editor of The Mountaineer in Waynesville. i was just a few months in town when rumblings of the hospital’s woes began trickling out. A group of five or six doctors decided they wanted the local media to hear their side — off the record — and so invited my wife and I to a dinner at one of their homes.
“Absolutely ridiculous.” Those are the words of Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, to describe the actions of Rep. Michelle Presnell, R-Burnsville, who has twice in two consecutive legislative sessions stopped in its tracks a bill that would merge Lake Junaluska with Waynesville.
Rep. Queen is being too kind by far. Asinine might better describe her opposition to this bill.
A few weeks ago, my brother called me to ask if I thought he should apply for the job as president of Wilkes Community College. I have been teaching in the community college system for 23 years and was a dean for several years, so he thought I might have some special insight.
True story. My wife Lori and I were enjoying a delicious, refreshing IPA at the Wedge Brewery on Sunday afternoon, rewarding ourselves after a brutal trail run in the mid-day heat at Bent Creek (brutal, at least, by my estimation; Lori and our dog, Django, were just loping along the entire time, well ahead of me). The brewery in the Asheville River Arts District was relatively crowded and the sun was blazing, so we shared a shaded table with a couple about our age who invited us to sit after making friends with Django.
We soon found out they were from the Charleston area, he an engineer with Boeing and she a public school secretary. More interesting, however, is why they decided to come to the mountains for a long weekend: beer.