Monthly Archives: December 2014

IN REMEMBRANCE: 12-28-2014


Joe Cocker onstage at Woodstock in 1969. Credit Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times

The cause was lung cancer, his agent, Barrie Marshall, said.

Mr. Cocker had been a journeyman singer in Britain for much of the 1960s, building a reputation as a soulful barreler with full-throated versions of Ray Charles and Chuck Berry songs. But he became a sensation after his performance of “With a Little Help From My Friends” at the Woodstock music festival in 1969.

His appearance there, captured in the 1970 concert film “Woodstock,” established him as one of pop’s most powerful and irrepressible vocalists. With his tie-dyed shirt and shaggy mutton chops soaked in sweat, Mr. Cocker, then 25, pleadingly teased out the song’s verses — “What would you do if I sang out of tune?/Would you stand up and walk out on me?” — and threw himself into repeated climaxes, lunging and gesticulating in ways that seemed to imitate a guitarist in a heroic solo.

Joe Cocker in about 1970. Credit Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images

On Twitter, Ringo Starr wrote on Monday, “Goodbye and God bless to Joe Cocker from one of his friends.” In a statement, Paul McCartney recalled hearing Mr. Cocker’s record of the song. “It was just mind-blowing, totally turned the song into a soul anthem,” he said, “and I was forever grateful for him for having done that.”

After Woodstock, Mr. Cocker toured widely and took his place as perhaps the rock world’s most distinctive interpreter of others’ songs — an art then going out of fashion with the rise of folk-inspired singer-songwriters and groups, like the Beatles, that wrote their own material.

His other hits included a version of the Box Tops’ hit “The Letter” and the standard “Cry Me a River,” both in 1970, and “You Are So Beautiful,” in 1975. His only No. 1 single was “Up Where We Belong,” recorded as a duet with Jennifer Warnes for the 1982 film “An Officer and a Gentleman,” for which he won his only Grammy Award.

Almost from the start of his fame, Mr. Cocker struggled with alcohol and drug addiction.

“If I’d been stronger mentally, I could have turned away from temptation,” he said in an interview last year with The Daily Mail, the British newspaper. “But there was no rehab back in those days. Drugs were readily available, and I dived in head first. And once you get into that downward spiral, it’s hard to pull out of it. It took me years to get straight.”

His early tours — particularly “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” in 1970, which was documented in a live album and film of the same name — were rowdy affairs, awash in both drugs and the artistic excesses of the era. The sprawling “Mad Dogs” entourage included not only more than 30 musicians, among them the keyboardist and songwriter Leon Russell and the drummer Jim Keltner, but also spouses, babies and pets.

At the same time, Mr. Cocker’s onstage contortions had, for better or worse, become his signature. John Belushi performed a sendup on “Saturday Night Live” in 1975 that ended with his convulsing on the floor; the next year Mr. Cocker performed Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” on the show, joined by Mr. Belushi in imitation.

Asked about his mannerisms in an interview last year with The Guardian, Mr. Cocker said that they “came with my frustration at having never played guitar or piano.” He added: “It’s just a way of trying to get feeling out. I get excited, and it all comes through my body.”

Mr. Cocker in concert in 2007. Credit MTI, via Associated Press

John Robert Cocker was born on May 20, 1944, in Sheffield, England, and began playing drums and harmonica in 1959 with a group called the Cavaliers. Influenced by Ray Charles and skiffle stars like Lonnie Donegan, he soon switched to lead vocals and rebranded himself Vance Arnold — a name inspired by both the American country singer Eddy Arnold and a character from the Elvis Presley film “Love Me Tender.”

While still a budding teenage performer, Mr. Cocker had kept his day job as a gas fitter for the East Midlands Gas Board. He was given a six-month leave when he signed with Decca in 1964. But his version of the Beatles “I’ll Cry Instead” and a tour slot opening for Manfred Mann drew little notice, so he went back to gas fitting for a time.

Mr. Cocker’s career began to take shape around 1965 when he and the keyboardist Chris Stainton formed the Grease Band, which played Motown covers in pubs throughout northern England before relocating to London two years later. In 1968, the group’s single “Marjorine,” released under Mr. Cocker’s name, became a minor hit, and a version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” — with Jimmy Page on guitar and B. J. Wilson, from Procol Harum, on drums — went to No. 1 in England.

Woodstock made Mr. Cocker a worldwide star, but throughout the 1970s his career was dogged by problems with drugs. He sometimes forgot the words to songs onstage, and while on tour in Australia in 1972 he was arrested on a charge of possession of marijuana.

“Up Where We Belong” resuscitated Mr. Cocker’s career in 1982, leading to numerous other songs in film soundtracks, among them Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On” in “9 1/2 Weeks” (1986) and “When the Night Comes,” from “An Innocent Man” (1989), which went to No. 11 on Billboard’s pop chart.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cocker was reaching millions of younger fans as the Woodstock version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” was used as the theme song for the ABC comedy series “The Wonder Years,” which started in 1988. He performed at Woodstock ’94, the 25th-anniversary version of the festival.

In all, Mr. Cocker released more than 20 studio albums, most recently “Fire It Up” in 2012.

He is survived by his wife, Pam; a brother, Victor; a stepdaughter, Zoey Schroeder; and two grandchildren.

At a concert in September, Billy Joel called Mr. Cocker “a great singer who is not very well right now.” He added: “I think he should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’m amazed that he’s not yet, but I’m throwing in my vote for Joe Cocker.”

Correction: December 22, 2014
A picture posted with an earlier version of this obituary was shown in mirror image. The bass player in a dark shirt should have been on the right.
Correction: December 24, 2014
Because of an editing error, a picture caption on Tuesday with an obituary about the singer Joe Cocker overstated what was known about the performance shown. The photograph was of Mr. Cocker singing at an unspecified location around 1970, not at the Woodstock music festival in 1969.

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We never have enough of it.

We sometimes have too much of it.

It can be bent, twisted, stretched, squeezed.

It can be watched on the ticking clock, but it moves to its own rhythm.

It cannot be sped up.

It cannot be slowed down.

It can march forward, but it can never be regained.

It cannot be controlled or be made to do our bidding.

Always, it masters us, for we can never make it our slave.

Once lost, its past cannot be changed, but, if used wisely for the precious entity that it is, it can prepare us for what lies ahead.


So very different for us all.




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Rosetta Update: Philae Landed in a Hole

Though the exact location of Philae’s landing site remains unknown, the site’s topography might allow the lander to operate longer than planned. Meanwhile, Rosetta is detecting organics on its comet.

Watching a Quasar Shut Down

Over the course of ten years, a once-brilliant quasar seems to have stopped gobbling down nearby gas.


This Week’s Sky at a Glance, December 26 – January 3

The waxing crescent Moon stars in the evening sky this weekend. After the cheering quiets on New Years’ Eve, look for Sirius and Orion high in the sky.

Have a Sirius-ly Scintillating Holiday!

Alongside bows and ribbons, Sirius adds a touch of celestial sparkle to the holiday season. Find out what makes it twinkle so.

What To See With Your New Telescope

Did you get a new telescope for the holidays, or do you know someone who did? Read our advice for how to learn your way around your telescope and your sky.


Help Name Mercury’s Craters

The International Astronomical Union is hosting a public contest to name five of Mercury’s craters, with a deadline of January 15.

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From the Southern Poverty Leadership Conference, the year in review on all the hate that reared its ugly head in 2014.

My favourite: Paul Craig Cobb.



Hatewatch 2014: A Year in Review

By Hatewatch Staff on December 23, 2014 – 5:25 pm

It has been quite the year at Hatewatch. We’ve identified those who hide in anonymity while financing the racist right. We’ve kept you abreast of events that have plotted the course of the antigovernment movement as it tries to make headway into the mainstream. And we’ve documented in detail the fallacies spread far and wide by major anti-LGBT leaders, especially as they move to advance their agenda abroad.

Before we take a break, we thought we’d give you something of a year in review—the posts on Hatewatch in 2014 that were the most pivotal in understanding the future of the radical right. But don’t worry, Hatewatch will return on Jan. 1, 2015 with more impactful coverage and analysis.

So, until then …

  • The nightmare that began last year for a small North Dakota town finally came to an end in what might have been one of the spectacular falls from racist fame in recent history. Craig Cobb, who last year came to national prominence when this blog uncovered his plans to turn Leith, N.D., into a white supremacist enclave, was sentenced to four years probation after pleading guilty to charges he terrorized residents. He also, surprisingly, went on national television and found out he was 14 percent sub-Saharan African. Since then, Cobb has become a laughing stock for the racist right and his plans have ended. Leith has returned to normal, too. A documentary on the ordeal called Welcome to Leith, by filmmakers Mike Nichols and Chris Walker, will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
  • And how can we leave out Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who in April stood down the federal government in an event that inspired dozens of imitators across the West? Owing the Bureau of Land Management more than $1 million in past grazing fees, the federal government moved to confiscate Bundy’s cattle that had been grazing illegally on public lands. They were met by armed militiamen and ranchers on April 12, who threatened bloodshed if the federal government didn’t leave.The BLM abandoned its roundup, and let Bundy stand in defiance of a U.S. District Court Order while he turned his Ranch into an armed compound with the help of the Oath Keepers and other antigovernment groups. In the time since, Bundy has become a folk hero for the radical right, and even a political spokesman.
  • This was also the year in which the anti-LGBT movement attempted to make major strides abroad. Judith Reisman, while not being well-known outside the anti-LGBT echo chamber, was tapped to serve as an “expert witness” in Jamaica in a court case challenging the constitutionality of the country’s 1864 anti-sodomy statute. Jamaica has a long history of homophobia, and its anti-LGBT policies have created a climate of violence and fear. Hatewatch also revealed how anti-LGBT groups employed the discredited Regnerus study overseas. A Russian lawmaker cited it in conjunction with a proposed bill to deny gay and lesbian parents custody of their children and the rabidly anti-LGBT French group Manif Pour Tous cited it on its website while a Polish youth group with neo-Nazi ties included reference to it in one of its fliers.
  • And speaking of a climate of fear, 2014 also saw the neo-Confederate League of the South turn rhetoric into action. While publicly it has paid for billboards that cry “SECEDE,” privately LOS leaders have encouraged members to begin preparing for a war with the federal government. In 2014, it went even farther. A Hatewatch investigation found that the LOS had begun forming a secret paramilitary militia called the “Indomitables” for the purposes of protecting Southern Nationalists for federal tyranny.
  • And last, but not least, Hatewatch learned this year that Eric Gliebe, a former boxer who in the ring billed himself as “The Aryan Barbarian,” was forfeiting his title as chairman of the National Alliance, once America’s leading hate group. His announcement came during a court hearing over a $2 million civil lawsuit, in which former NA members had accused him of a “myriad of instances of malfeasance, misfeasance, illegalities and irregularities.” We were in the courtroom to see it happen.


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IN REMEMBRANCE: 12-21-2014


Ernie Terrell, left, with Muhammad Ali, signing for a Feb. 6, 1967, bout. Terrell added tension by refusing to address Ali by his Muslim name. Credit Neil Boenzi/The New York Times

His sister Lovie Mickens confirmed the death. She said he had dementia.

At 6 feet 6 inches, Terrell was unusually tall for the era in which he fought and was lanky, generally fighting at less than 220 pounds. A solid puncher, he had an 82-inch reach that gave him an especially effective jab. (By comparison, Ali had a 78-inch reach, Joe Louis’s was 76, Rocky Marciano’s was 68 and Mike Tyson’s was 71.)

In 55 bouts, Terrell had 21 knockouts and a professional record of 46-9, including victories over the heavyweight contenders George Chuvalo, Cleveland Williams and Zora Folley as well as Bob Foster, later the light-heavyweight champion. But his most memorable bout was the loss to Ali on Feb. 6, 1967.

Terrell, right, in a 1966 bout with Doug Jones in Houston. Credit United Press International

Ali, then known as Clay, had taken the heavyweight crown from Sonny Liston in February 1964. But later that year, the World Boxing Association, one of many sanctioning agencies within the sport, stripped him of the crown, saying Clay had violated association rules in scheduling the bout. (Many W.B.A. officials were also offended by Clay’s self-promoting antics before the fight.)

To fill the vacant top spot, the association set up a bout between two contenders, Terrell and Eddie Machen. Terrell won a unanimous 15-round decision on March 5, 1965, to claim the title. He successfully defended it twice, against Chuvalo and Doug Jones.

By then, Clay was calling himself Muhammad Ali and insisting that his opponents show him respect by eschewing the use of what he called his slave name and addressing him by his Muslim name. Terrell refused. (He was not the only one. Facing Ali after his second victory over Liston, Floyd Patterson also used the name Clay and was trounced.)

Partly because Ali was such a controversial figure, many newspapers were uncertain about which name to use. During a contentious news conference in New York several weeks before their bout, Ali called Terrell an Uncle Tom. The headline over a New York Times article about the episode said, “Muhammad Ali Slaps at Terrell After Name-Calling Exchange at Garden”; the first sentence of the article, however, began: “In a tense and ugly moment overlooking Eighth Avenue yesterday, Cassius Clay called Ernie Terrell an ‘Uncle Tom.’ ”

In the days before the fight, which took place in the Houston Astrodome, Ali continued to goad his opponent, imagining the first round in a poem he recited for reporters:

Terrell who caught hell at the opening bell

Tried to retreat so he wouldn’t be beat

But Ali scuffled and shuffled and fired the punch home

And Ernie shot up through the roof of the Dome

The news quickly flashed all around town

The referee can’t count 10 till Ernie comes down

The referee is frantic

Terrell’s over the Atlantic

Who would’ve thought when they came to the fight

They’d see the launching of a colored satellite?

In the end, the bout was no contest. Terrell lasted all 15 rounds, but he was staggering, blinded by blood streaming from his eyes, when the bell sounded. During the fight, Ali had taunted him mercilessly.

“What’s my name?” Ali would shout, throwing a punch. “What’s my name?”

Ernest Terrell, one of 10 children, was born on April 4, 1939, in Inverness, Miss., in the west-central part of the state, where his parents, Lovick and Annie Terrell, were sharecroppers. Ernie grew up in nearby Belzoni and in his teens moved to Chicago, where his father worked in a factory and where Ernie graduated from high school. He was the Chicago Golden Gloves light-heavyweight champion in 1957 and, after turning professional, won his first eight bouts in less than a year.

Terrell was also a gifted singer with a sweet pop tenor. While still in high school he formed a singing group, Ernie Terrell and His Heavyweights, with several of his brothers and sisters. One of his sisters was Jean Terrell, who in 1970 replaced Diana Ross as the lead vocalist in the Supremes. The group recorded a handful of Terrell’s own compositions.

In 1974 Terrell married Maxine Sibley, who survives him. In addition to his sister Lovie, he is survived by his sisters Jean and Geniver Hines; four brothers, Jimmie, J. C., Julius and Lenon; a stepson, David Anderson; and a stepdaughter, Deborah Anderson. During his years of illness, he was cared for by a grandniece, Sherice Sanders.

After his boxing career ended in the early 1970s, Terrell was a fight promoter in Chicago. He later ran a janitorial services company there that had a contract with the city.

He was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004.




Virna Lisi and Jack Lemmon in the 1965 film “How to Murder Your Wife.” The role helped established Ms. Lisi in Hollywood. Credit United Artists, via Everett Collection

Ms. Lisi had recently been told that she had an incurable illness, her family said in a statement to the Italian news media. The statement did not indicate where she died.

When Ms. Lisi arrived in Hollywood in 1964, movie studios were searching for the next Marilyn Monroe, and she was one of several attractive European actresses who would capture the public’s imagination.

Ms. Lisi, like her contemporaries Gina Lollobrigida, Ursula Andress and Sophia Loren, proved that she could do much more than look beautiful on the screen.

After her early years playing temptresses, she had a late-career revival that culminated in her wicked portrayal of Catherine de Medici in “Queen Margot” in 1994. She received both the César, France’s version of the Academy Award, and the Cannes Film Festival best-actress award for her performance before going on to win an Italian film critics’ award, the Silver Ribbon.

In her first Hollywood role, in 1965, she played opposite Jack Lemmon in “How to Murder Your Wife,” and her arrival in America was celebrated in a multipage spread in Life magazine.

“I’ve never seen that kind of woman before — like Jean Harlow and Madeleine Carroll put together or Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly,” the magazine quoted one normally “blasé Hollywood photographer” as saying.

“In her native country, her cool and classy face is well known from 24 films and from years of smiling in toothpaste ads on TV,” the magazine reported. But when she landed the role in “Murder,” Life said, she spoke only three English phrases: “Is necessary? Is possible? Poor Virna!”

The Life profile, a glowing one otherwise, might have underestimated Ms. Lisi’s linguistic prowess: besides Italian, she was fluent in French and Spanish.

She would go on to star alongside Tony Curtis in “Not With My Wife, You Don’t” and Frank Sinatra in “Assault on a Queen.” At the same time, she continued to make films in Europe. She played the lead role in “The Birds, the Bees and the Italians,” for which she shared the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at the Cannes film festival in 1966.

In a 1965 profile in The New York Sunday News, Ms. Lisi described how she had briefly retired from acting after marrying Franco Pesci, an Italian builder and architect. The two were married for 53 years, until his death in 2013. She is survived by a son, Corrado Pesci, and three grandchildren.

Ms. Lisi in Rome in 2010. Credit Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

“My husband was not very happy about my career,” she told The News. “Like most Italians, Franco is a very jealous man — thank God! After we married he tried hard to take me away from all this movie business.” Eventually, she said, he relented.

Born in Ancona, Italy, on Nov. 8, 1936, Ms, Lisi landed her first film role before her 18th birthday. But by 1968, she had tired of being cast in roles revolving around her looks.

She turned down the part ultimately played by Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim’s “Barbarella” (1968) and returned to Europe.

“I take these things very coolly,” she once said when asked if success would change her. “I don’t believe in letting any kind of praise go to one’s head. In a career, as in life, we can be way up one day and down the next. It doesn’t pay to permit such things to affect one’s outlook.”




Mandy Rice-Davies leaving court after testifying on her relationship with Lord Astor in 1963. Credit Associated Press

Her publicist said in a statement confirming the death that Ms. Rice-Davies had endured a “short battle with cancer.” The statement did not say where she died.

In later years Ms. Rice-Davies became a businesswoman and a writer and was known by her married name, Marilyn Foreman. But Britons more widely remember her for making headlines in what was called the Profumo affair — revelations that a government minister, John Profumo, had shared a mistress, Christine Keeler, with a Soviet defense attaché, Yevgeny Ivanov.

The scandal raised questions about national security and rocked the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan.

Ms. Rice-Davies shared lodgings with Ms. Keeler but never met Mr. Profumo, who died in 2006.

In March 1963, Mr. Profumo went before Parliament to deny any “impropriety whatever” with Ms. Keeler. But he resigned three months later as details of the relationship emerged, forcing him to admit that he had lied to Parliament.

Details of the scandal were revealed in court hearings at the trial of Stephen Ward, an osteopath, who had introduced Mr. Profumo and Ms. Keeler at a party at the Berkshire country home of the aristocrat Lord Astor. Mr. Ward took a drug overdose just before he was found guilty on two counts of living off immoral earnings and died a few days later.

His story was the basis of a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, titled simply “Stephen Ward,” that opened in London late last year and closed after only a few months. At the time, Ms. Rice-Davies appeared in publicity photographs with Mr. Lloyd Webber and Charlotte Blackledge, who played her in the show. (The Profumo affair was also the basis of a 1989 film, “Scandal,” in which Bridget Fonda played Ms. Rice-Davies and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer played Ms. Keeler.)

In court hearings in 1963, the public learned of what seemed to be lurid activities involving aristocrats, government officials, diplomats, spies and call girls.

As the hearings unfolded, Ms. Rice-Davies gained renown for a pithy response to being told that Lord Astor had denied he had slept with her.

“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” she said, according to one account. (Others quoted her as saying, “He would, wouldn’t he?” or, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”)

The remark was seen as a sign of a new lack of deference in 1960s Britain, as the country struggled for greater prosperity and the class system that had shielded the upper crust from scrutiny came under assault from newly assertive ordinary people.

“It was an age of deference,” Ms. Rice-Davies said in a BBC interview this year. “People still doffed their caps.”

Ms. Rice-Davies stuck to her account of the relationship with Lord Astor despite subsequent denials by his family. She also insisted that her role had not been that of a prostitute, and that Mr. Ward had not been a pimp.

“The only reason I still want to talk about it is that I have to fight the misconception that I was a prostitute,” she said at one point, according to the news agency The Press Association. “I don’t want that to be passed on to my grandchildren. There is still a stigma.”

She also said that the era’s renown for unbridled licentiousness was exaggerated. “In those days, there were good girls and there were bad girls,” she told The Associated Press last year. “Good girls didn’t have any sex at all, and bad girls had a bit.”

Born in Llanelli, Wales, on Oct. 21, 1944, Ms. Rice-Davies spent part of her early years in the English Midlands and dropped out of high school to work in a department store in Birmingham. At 16 she left home against her parents’ wishes and wound up working in London as a nightclub dancer.

“My biggest fear was living a drab, boring life,” she wrote in an article this year in the newspaper The Mail on Sunday. “Well, I certainly didn’t end up doing that.”

As a dancer at Murray’s Cabaret Club, she added, “I met a showgirl called Christine Keeler. It was dislike at first sight.”

As the scandal ebbed, she wrote, “I was offered a job singing at a club in Germany, and I accepted with alacrity even though the only place I’d ever sung before was in the church choir.”

Ms. Rice-Davies performed in cabarets in Germany and Spain and later spent time in Israel, where, with her first husband, Rafael Shaul, an Israeli, she founded a string of nightclubs and restaurants in her name.

After a divorce and a brief second marriage, she returned to Britain in 1980, embarking on a career as an actor and writer. In 1988 she married Ken Foreman, a British businessman, who survives her. They had homes in Britain, Florida and the Caribbean. “My life has been one long descent into respectability,” she was widely reported as saying.

Besides her husband, she is survived by a daughter, Dana.

“Mandy was enormously well read and intelligent,” Mr. Lloyd Webber said in a statement on Friday. “I will always remember discussing with her over dinner subjects as varied as Thomas Cromwell’s dissolution of the monasteries and the influence of the artist Stanley Spencer on Lucian Freud. With a different throw of the dice, Mandy might have been head of the Royal Academy, or even running the country.”




  • Bob Lanier, former Houston mayor, arrives for the memorial service for Ken Lay at First United Methodist Church of Houston. Lanier died at the age of 89 on Dec. 20, 2014. Photo: Steve Ueckert, Chronicle
    Photo By Steve Ueckert/Chronicle
    Bob Lanier, former Houston mayor, arrives for the memorial service for Ken Lay at First United Methodist Church of Houston. Lanier died at the age of 89 on Dec. 20, 2014.

Bob Lanier, a 6-foot-4 cowboy boot-wearing, sports-crazy political sharpshooter who rose from modest beginnings in blue-collar Baytown to become one of Houston’s biggest developers and most influential mayors, died Saturday. He was 89.

In January 1992, Lanier began a six-year tenure as mayor that, in its successes, was hailed as a model for reducing crime and revitalizing the inner city.

At various times, for various reasons, Lanier was likened to Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The commonality was that Lanier, the son of a Methodist minister turned oilfield roustabout, invariably was measured against America’s greatest movers and shakers.

“I’d put him with (Chicago Mayor Richard) Daley and (New York City Mayor Fiorello) La Guardia as one of the great mayors in 20th century history,” University of Houston political science guru Richard Murray once said. “He has the ability to get things done.”

To former state Sen. Jon Lindsay, who entered public life as a county judge in 1975, Lanier was the most powerful person on the Houston scene in the century’s closing decades. To county Commissioner Steve Radack, he was “authoritarian with a smile.” For former city councilman and current Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, Lanier simply was “the 800-pound gorilla.”

The news of his death Saturday prompted remembrances of his fierce intelligence and confident swagger.

Mayor Annise Parker said Lanier “left a lasting mark” on Houston.

“Never one to shy away from a tough battle, he used his strength and popularity to push through affirmative action protections, rebuild the city’s wastewater system, improve neighborhoods and add hundreds of officers to the police force,” Parker said in a statement.

Lanier’s wife, Elyse, whom he married in 1984, said in a statement that his decades of public service “brought a smile to his face and a twinkle to his eye these last few years.”

“Bob wanted me to pass on a final goodbye and a hearty, ‘Thank you for making a guy like me look good!’ ” she wrote.

Ben Hall recalled Lanier selecting him to be Houston’s city attorney, in part, to help close divides with the African-American community after a contentious race for City Hall’s top job against state Rep. Sylvester Turner. Hall, who is black, said Lanier didn’t stop there, often reminding his staff in private meetings that “he would be the mayor for anybody and everybody in the city, not simply the people who elected him.”

“The thing I’ll remember most was his tendency to put his hole-ridden boots on the table while talking to you,” Hall said. “I said to myself, ‘That is one man with great confidence,’ such that I had to watch the bottom of his boots at the same time we were discussing these serious policy decisions. I just thought it was fitting for the country boy who became the intellectual that he was.”

Poverty was a goad

Lanier — the city of Houston’s 50th mayor — spent his earliest years in a Baytown house without indoor plumbing, and such poverty was a goad.

“He was a brilliant kid bored with a life of poverty,” said Dave Walden, who served as Lanier’s chief of staff. “He had a raging thirst for knowledge about any arcane subject one might come up with, from transportation theory to religion.”

Lanier once told his wife that his life’s passions were politics, sports and business. As an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico, he boxed in club matches. He remained a lifelong boxing fan, zipping around the country to attend championship matches, where he would elbow-jab companions, feign punches and grunt with the action.

Lanier was an avid golfer, an accomplished tennis player and a noisy Astros fan. His passion for basketball was so intense that he’d sometimes write letters to team members on the eve of championship games.

Lanier tried his hand at sportswriting, but jettisoned that modest-paying career in favor of the more lucrative field of law. With a degree from the University of Texas, Lanier became a lawyer with the prestigious Houston firm Baker & Botts.

In the decades leading to his ascendancy to the mayor’s office, he built giant subdivisions and apartment complexes, controlled a major savings and loan and served as chairman of the Texas Highway Commission and Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority.

“He found politics a lot more fascinating than making money,” Walden said. “He’s not a greedy person. Once he made enough to live in comfort and style, he got bored with making any more.”

Boxing was a metaphor for Lanier’s life, inside and outside the ring. He liked to tell the story of his days in the U.S. Navy, when, assigned to supervise a group of veteran cooks, he challenged the burliest of them to a boxing match. Lanier held his own — and gained the respect of his underlings.

“That’s just the way he operates,” Walden once said. “You pick a fight with the biggest fellow and then no one will mess with you.”

Lanier’s political fights were high-profile and often bitter. He tangled with former Mayor Kathy Whitmire and former city controller George Greanias. “He is ruthless,” Greanias later complained, “and he is totally committed to power and winning.”

Lanier and Whitmire were like two speeding locomotives headed in opposite directions on the same track.

As mayor, Whitmire was a strong proponent of a $1 billion, 20-mile monorail line that would have linked downtown with the Galleria, Texas Medical Center and Post Oak Boulevard business area.

As Metro chairman, Lanier was instrumental in engineering his board’s 8-1 rejection of the plan in November 1989. In response, Whitmire dumped Lanier as chairman.

No time to waste

He returned in 1991 to defeat Whitmire and Turner in the mayor’s race. “The rail war provided the personal impetus to run, but he wanted to be mayor for a whole series of reasons,” UH’s Murray said. “He saw an opportunity to rebuild part of society. With all the power he had, he didn’t have to waste much time getting these things done.”

Lanier stacked the Metro board with his appointees, and began the process of allocating more than two-thirds of the agency’s $650 million nest egg to Houston, Harris County and other cities.
Much of the money went to putting 655 police officers on the street, leading to a 21.7 percent drop in crime during his first two years in office. Over his entire tenure as mayor, crime dropped 31.4 percent.

Then, Lanier and Metro successfully campaigned for federal approval to spend $500 million in federal funds on the Better Bus System to beef up roads and traffic signals. He directed tens of millions of dollars to upgrade neighborhoods and parks.

Rail advocates blasted Lanier for his policies, arguing that in the 21st century great cities would require rail. “Mr. Lanier chose to take the easy way out,” Houston developer Howard Horne lamented as Lanier ended his tenure as mayor. “This city will pay a high price in the lack of mobility for many years to come.”

Lanier argued for a pragmatic approach in which rail would be utilized when needed. “It’s not a basic tool,” he said. “Use it when it works, don’t use it when it doesn’t. Don’t make it an ideological dispute.”

Political statesman

Lanier often contended that keeping the middle class in the city — or luring it back — was vital to Houston’s health. He pushed for downtown redevelopment, including renovation of the Rice Hotel as lofts and expansion of the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The most ironic crisis for Lanier, the sports enthusiast, came in 1994 when Houston Oilers’ owner Bud Adams threatened to move the team unless the city built him a new downtown domed stadium. Lanier attempted to block the move by asking Congress to change anti-trust laws applying to sports teams. When that effort failed, Lanier told Adams to “hit the road.”

Lanier retained his personal interest in athletics, playing tennis and golf.

Despite his health challenges — in September 1998, he underwent triple bypass surgery — Lanier insisted on remaining active. He hosted fundraisers and appeared in television advertisements for charities, always with his wife at his side to care for him and protect his image. Mark Jones of Rice University said Lanier, unlike many other living Houston mayors, remained an intellectual and financial force after leaving office.

“In contrast with Kathy Whitmire, Lee Brown and Bill White, Lanier has remained more actively involved in Houston politics, fundraising and, primarily, public policy,” Jones said. “He held the position of an elder statesmen following his departure from office and that was a position he held right up until his passing.”


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Quick Facts

The United Nations’ (UN) International Human Solidarity Day is celebrated on December 20 each year to raise public awareness on the importance of solidarity in fighting poverty.

Local names

Name Language
International Human Solidarity Day English
Día Internacional de la Solidaridad Humana Spanish
היום הבינלאומי לסולידריות אנושית Hebrew
اليوم العالمي للتضامن الإنساني Arabic
국제 인간 연대의 날 Korean
Internationaler Tag der menschlichen Solidarität German

International Human Solidarity Day 2014 Theme: “Moving Together as One Solidarity as the foundation of the UN development agenda beyond 2015”

Saturday, December 20, 2014

International Human Solidarity Day 2015

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The United Nations’ (UN) International Human Solidarity Day is annually held on December 20 to celebrate unity in diversity. It also aims to remind people on the importance of solidarity in working towards eradicating poverty.

Paper doll people in shades of blue link hands while standing on top of the world

International Human Solidarity Day reminds people on the importance of solidarity in working towards eradicating poverty.

© Weibell

What do people do?

On International Human Solidarity Day, governments are reminded of their commitments to international agreements on the need for human solidarity as an initiative to fight against poverty. People are encouraged to debate on ways to promote solidarity and find innovative methods to help eradicate poverty.

Activities may include promoting campaigns on issues such as:

  • Banning land mines.
  • Making health and medication accessible to those in need.
  • Relief efforts to help those who suffered the effects of natural or human-made disasters.
  • Achieving universal education.
  • Fighting against poverty, corruption and terrorism.

The day is promoted through all forms of media including magazine articles, speeches at official events, and web blogs from groups, individuals or organizations committed to universal solidarity.

Public life

International Human Solidarity Day is a global observance and not a public holiday.


Solidarity refers to a union of interests, purposes or sympathies among members of a group. In the Millennium Declaration world leaders agreed that solidarity was a value that was important to international relations in the 21st century. In light of globalization and growing inequality, the UN realized that strong international solidarity and cooperation was needed to achieve its Millennium Development Goals. The UN was founded on the idea unity and harmony via the concept of collective security that relies on its members’ solidarity to unite for international peace and security.

On December 22, 2005, the UN General Assembly proclaimed that International Solidarity Day would take place on December 20 each year. The event aimed to raise people’s awareness of the importance of advancing the international development agenda and promoting global understanding of the value of human solidarity. The assembly felt that the promotion of a culture of solidarity and the spirit of sharing was important in combating poverty.


The UN emblem may be found in material promoting International Human Solidarity Day. The emblem consists of a projection of the globe centered on the North Pole. It depicts all continents except Antarctica and four concentric circles representing degrees of latitude. The projection is surrounded by images of olive branches, representing peace. The emblem is often blue, although it is printed in white on a blue background on the UN flag.

International Human Solidarity Day Observances


Weekday Date Year Name Holiday type Where it is observed
Wed Dec 20 2006 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Thu Dec 20 2007 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Sat Dec 20 2008 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Sun Dec 20 2009 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Mon Dec 20 2010 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Tue Dec 20 2011 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Thu Dec 20 2012 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Fri Dec 20 2013 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Sat Dec 20 2014 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Sun Dec 20 2015 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Tue Dec 20 2016 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Wed Dec 20 2017 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Thu Dec 20 2018 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Fri Dec 20 2019 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Sun Dec 20 2020 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance

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Curiosity Finds Methane, Other Organics

NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected both methane in Mars’s atmosphere and carbon-bearing organic compounds in its rocks.

MAVEN Finds New Particles, Ion Plume

NASA’s MAVEN mission has discovered a new population of particles in Mars’s upper atmosphere. It’s also found a plume of particles escaping from the planet’s poles, confirming atmospheric loss is happening today.


This Week’s Sky at a Glance, December 19 – 27

Soon after winter solstice, a crescent Moon appears in the evenings, accompanied by Mars. Also find out when to watch for mutual events among Jupiter’s moons, as Callisto eclipses Io twice this week.

How to See the Orion Nebula in 3D

Add another dimension of viewing to winter’s favorite deep sky object, the Great Nebula of Orion.

Binocular Comet Lovejoy Heading Our Way – Update

The latest Comet Lovejoy should reach at least 5th magnitude in late December and January, when it will be nicely placed high in the dark for your binoculars or telescope. And it may become detectable with the naked eye.

Tour December’s Sky: Orion Rising

Stargaze the December skies with our podcast and find out where you’ll see the planets and bright stars, especially those of the majestic Orion.


Sky & Telescope’s New Telescope-Tutorial Videos

In a quartet of high-quality videos, Sky & Telescope editors offer newcomers solid, objective tips on how to buy, use, equip, and care for new telescopes.

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Quick Facts

The United Nations’ (UN) International Migrants Day is celebrated on December 18 each year.

Local names

Name Language
International Migrants Day English
Día Internacional del Migrante Spanish
יום המהגרים בינלאומי Hebrew
اليوم الدولي للمهاجرين Arabic
국제 이민자의 날 Korean
Internationaler Tag der Migranten German

International Migrants Day 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

International Migrants Day 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015

The United Nations’ (UN) International Migrants Day is annually held on December 18 to recognize the efforts, contributions and rights of migrants worldwide.

Muslim child and mother expressing joy.

International Migrants Day recognizes the efforts, contributions and rights of migrants worldwide.


What do people do?

Each year the UN invites governments, organizations, and individuals to observe International Migrants Day by distributing information on the human rights and migrants’ fundamental freedoms. People are also invited to share their experiences and contribute to designing action plans to ensure their protection. Organizations actively involved in promoting the day include:

  • “December 18”, a non-governmental organization in special consultative status with the UN.
  • Radio 1812, an initiative that brings together radio stations to celebrate the day.
  • Amnesty International.
  • The International Organization for Migration.
  • The National Network for Immigrants and Refugee Rights.

Many organizations and communities celebrate the day through various activities to alert the general public on facts about migrants, problems with human trafficking, the lives of migrant workers’ children, the plight of refugees and ways in combating racism. Websites, such as, gives people the opportunity to have a virtual experience of what it is like to come from a migrant background. Lobby groups may also use this day as an opportunity to pressure local public officials to look at issues concerning legalization, immigrant enforcement and migrants’ human rights. Special films and documentaries about migrants are also screened or broadcast on this day.

Public life

International Migrants Day is a global observance and not a public holiday.


According to a Global Commission on International Migration report in 2005, the number of international migrants increased from 75 million to about 200 million in the past 30 years and migrants could be found in every part of the world. The report also found that the migration could accelerate due to the growing developmental, demographic and democratic disparities that existed between different world regions. Moreover, migration is driven by powerful economic, social and political forces that governments need to acknowledge as a reality.

On December 4, 2000, the UN General Assembly, taking into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, proclaimed December 18 as International Migrants. On that day, a decade earlier, the assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Earlier celebrations of the day can be traced as far back as 1997 when some Asian migrant organizations marked December 18 as the day to recognize the rights, protection, and respect for migrants.


The UN emblem may be found in material promoting International Migrants Day. The emblem consists of a projection of the globe centered on the North Pole. It depicts all continents except Antarctica and four concentric circles representing degrees of latitude. The projection is surrounded by images of olive branches, representing peace. The emblem is often blue, although it is printed in white on a blue background on the UN flag.

International Migrants Day Observances


Weekday Date Year Name Holiday type Where it is observed
Mon Dec 18 2000 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Tue Dec 18 2001 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Wed Dec 18 2002 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Thu Dec 18 2003 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Sat Dec 18 2004 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Sun Dec 18 2005 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Mon Dec 18 2006 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Tue Dec 18 2007 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Thu Dec 18 2008 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Fri Dec 18 2009 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Sat Dec 18 2010 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Sun Dec 18 2011 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Tue Dec 18 2012 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Wed Dec 18 2013 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Thu Dec 18 2014 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Fri Dec 18 2015 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Sun Dec 18 2016 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Mon Dec 18 2017 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Tue Dec 18 2018 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Wed Dec 18 2019 International Migrants Day United Nations observance
Fri Dec 18 2020 International Migrants Day United Nations observance

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Hatewatch Headlines 12/18/14

By Hatewatch Staff on December 18, 2014 – 8:36 am

Media Matters: The most absurd anti-immigrant myths of 2014.

International Business Times: Hispanic optimism about overcoming racism tied to history, but could change, experts say.

Salon: The Obamas recount their personal experiences with racism.

Associated Press: South Carolina judge rules that 14-year-old’s murder conviction 70 years ago was an injustice.

Raw Story: Indiana church that fired gay choir director closing after sharp decline in attendance.

Vice: Ku Klux Klan is boosting its numbers by recruiting veterans.

Access ADL: Apparent extremist threatens police officers and a city employee in small Louisiana town.

Right Wing Watch: Tony Perkins warns that gay rights will destroy freedom and the American economy.

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kandinsky composition II

Composition II, Wassily Kandinsky. Oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm, 1913. The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

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