Monday, March 27, 2017

SEE IT: McDonald's worker, 94, honored for more than four decades of service with fast-food chain

A 94-year-old Evansville, Ind. woman was celebrated for her 44 years of dedicated service at a variety of local McDonald's restaurants.
Loraine Maurer, who is currently employed at the North Green River location, was surrounded by dozens of family, friends and community members inside the burger joint last Thursday.
In an interview with the Courier & Press, a smiling Lorain said most of her time spent over the last several years was in full swing, running operations at the fast-food place.
"I get in here at 5 o'clock when they open. I have to get up at three," Maurer said. Click here to continue reading.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Movie Review—The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending.jpg
by Peter J. O'Connell

The Sense of an Ending. Released: March 2017. Runtime: 108 mins. MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, a violent image, sexuality and brief strong language. 

Londoner Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent), the protagonist of director Ritesh Batra's film The Sense of an Ending, leads what might be called a “clockwork life.” Up at 7:00 a.m. every day, then a simple breakfast, then a chat with the postman, then to his modest shop where, in retirement from a professional career, he repairs and sells vintage cameras and watches. In short, Tony is living in a cozy cocoon. He is closed off from disturbing phenomena, just as his shop has its door locked, with no one admitted until Tony eyes him or her carefully. 

Tony's personal relationships also seem quite quiet and “under control.” He is divorced but on amiable terms with Margaret (Harriet Walter), his ex. And he dutifully, though not enthusiastically, accompanies Susie (Michelle Dockery), his unmarried but pregnant daughter, to her birthing class. 

But one day, in a classic literary trope, a letter from a law firm cracks open Tony's cocoon. The ensuing events reveal that Tony is not a very good “human camera.” As Margaret says, he has a “great ability to not see what is right under your nose.” And, though he works with timepieces, Tony has to learn the lesson that Faulkner once summarized as: “The past is not dead; it isn't even past.” 

The letter from the law firm informs Tony that Sarah Ford, the mother of a girlfriend of his from the early 1970s, Veronica, has died, leaving Tony a modest sum of money and the diary of Adrian Finn, a school chum of Tony's. Adrian became Veronica's boyfriend after she and Tony broke up while at university. Adrian committed suicide while still Veronica's boyfriend. 

When Tony goes to the law firm to obtain his inheritance, he is told that Veronica has the diary and is refusing to give it up. Tony is nonplussed by these developments, which trigger a flood of flashbacks, a tidal-bore of memories. 

Tony remembers Adrian (Joe Alwyn) as engaged in brilliant verbal jousting with a teacher (Matthew Goode) about issues of historical and personal responsibility and even life and death. Tony remembers his own relationship with Veronica (Freya Mavor as young Veronica and Billy Howle as young Tony), the beautiful but enigmatic girlfriend, who apparently wanted their relationship to proceed in a way that was out of sync with the usual progression. And he remembers Veronica's quirky family, particularly her flirty mother (Emily Mortimer). The question arises, however, as to how much of what was actually going on Tony was aware of—and how much of what he “remembers” is being accurately recalled. 

Troubled, Tony seeks advice from the patient Margaret. He also undertakes his own somewhat inept investigation that puts him back in contact with Veronica (Helen Mirren as the older Veronica) after decades. Veronica is furious with Tony, so furious that she barely speaks to him, but she does tell him that she has burned Adrian's diary. And she gives him a letter that he once sent to Adrian. The letter is shocking . As Tony attempts to deal with the significance of the letter, he also uncovers some shocking truths about Veronica's family, past and present.

Is Tony able to deal with issues from the past in such a way as to “repair” his personality and make it a more aware and “alive” one so that, for example, he can respond more meaningfully to the needs of his daughter and the child that she gives birth to? This is the ultimate question raised by Ritesh Batra's rendition of Julian Barnes' award-winning novel. Batra's direction, appropriately enough, like Tony's life, has a calm quality, swept by periodic flashes of intensity. 

Batra is blessed with a splendid cast. Broadbent, quietly, Walter, sardonically, and Mirren, ferociously, command or share command of the screen whenever on it. And Mortimer is able to create the sense of a total, quite memorable, character in only a few minutes of screen time and a few lines of dialogue. The Sense of an Ending has a subtle, yet provocative, quality that will stay with an audience long after the film concludes.         

4 Lifestyle Changes to Cut Cancer Deaths in Half

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A lot of news about cancer shines the spotlight on new and exciting drugs or treatments. Lost in the shuffle is something scientists have long known: lifestyle plays a big role in the prevention of many types of cancer.

Such a strong role, in fact, that a recent study in the journal JAMA Oncology suggests four key lifestyle habits — not smoking, exercising regularly, keeping weight at a healthy level,and drinking in moderation — could potentially cut cancer deaths in half. That’s right: 50 percent of all cancer deaths might be prevented with some simple changes in the way you eat, drink and live.

The study in a nutshell: Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston pooled data from long-term studies done on two large groups of health professionals (more than 136,000 men and women aged 40 to 75).

They placed participants into “low-risk” and “high-risk” groups based on four key lifestyle habits strongly connected with cancer risk. What they discovered is that about half of cancer deaths might be prevented with the right lifestyle habits.

The scientific reality is that the less you smoke, the better your chances of preventing certain types of cancer, particularly lung cancer.
Here’s a detailed look at these “low-risk” behaviors:
1. Smoker or former smoker? Cancer risk varies depending on two key factors.
Obviously, the best cancer prevention strategy regarding smoking  is to never smoke. But for former smokers, “the amount of risk reduction depends on the number of years you smoked and the amount of cigarettes you smoked before quitting,” says lead study researcher Dr. Mingyang Song of the T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health.
For the study, he considered former smokers at low risk for cancer if they smoked for less than five years (no more than one pack per day). But Song says if you do smoke, whenever you quit, you’ll reap health benefits.
It’s something his friends and family still question. And he frequently hears this same reasoning: “I know someone who didn’t smoke and exercised but he still ended up with lung cancer. So why should I stop smoking?”
Song suspects stories about people who adopt healthy lifestyle habits, like not smoking, and are able to prevent cancer don’t tend to make headlines. Nor do they hold the kind of strong emotional impact as someone who seemingly did everything right and still developed cancer.
However, the scientific reality is that the less you smoke, the better your chances of preventing certain types of cancer, particularly lung cancer. Song says approximately 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths could be avoided if everyone adopted the lifestyle habits of the low-risk group, particularly quitting smoking.

2. Moderate and high-intensity exercise are both good.
Plenty of strong and convincing evidence shows that people who are physically active have a lower risk of developing a whole host of chronic diseases, including cancer. (Evidence confirms that the cancer-fighting benefits are particularly strong for cancers of the colorectum, breast and endometrium.)

There’s also plenty of agreement about just how much exercise is preventive. Researchers in the Boston study defined activity levels as “low-risk” if study participants met the basic government Physical Activity Guidelines: 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week or half as much time spent on high-intensity pursuits. Song says it doesn’t matter how those numbers are achieved — in 10-minute increments or all at once.
Not sure what’s meant by moderate-intensity pursuits? That includes things like brisk walking (three miles per hour or more), water aerobics, ballroom dancing, doubles tennis or any pursuit where you’re easily able to talk while exercising but don’t have enough lung power to sing a few bars of a favorite song.

Vigorous-intensity activity is defined as the kind of exertion you experience when hiking up a steep hill, swimming laps, jogging, playing singles tennis or aerobic dance pursuits like Zumba. You know the feeling: while exercising, it’s hard to say more than a few words to someone without pausing to catch your breath.

3. Just the right amount of alcohol.
Researchers defined “low-risk” as not drinking at all or drinking only moderate amounts of alcohol — one drink or less per day for women or two drinks per day for men. That amount appears protective not just against cancer but for cardiovascular disease as well.
Keep in mind, however, this scientific “evidence is based on moderate amounts,” stresses Dr. Walter C. Willett, one of the top nutrition experts in the country and professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

And in our supersize-it culture, it’s unbelievably easy to lose sight of what a moderate serving of alcohol looks like. Opening a bottle of wine? Count on getting five (5-ounce) servings.  Sipping on an after-dinner brandy? One serving is a tiny 1.5 ounces or one shot glass full. Check here for “standard” drink serving guidelines.

One last caveat: If you’re a woman and worried about alcohol and breast cancer, talk to your doctor about individual risk. “Alcohol is complicated, especially for women,” admits Willett. “With one drink, there is a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, but there’s a very clear elevation in breast cancer risk. So there’s a trade-off there.”

4. The challenges of determining what is a healthy weight.
Although researchers in this study compared weight in relation to height — a measure called Body Mass Index (BMI) — to arrive at “low-risk” and “high-risk” body fat categories, chances are you already know if you’re overweight, says Willett. It could be a growing waist size or maybe the numbers on the scale are creeping up. Click here to continue reading.

How the Young and Old Worry About Aging

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Young and old Americans, it turns out, have very similar worries about aging, according to a fascinating new survey unveiled at the American Society on Aging conference I’m attending in Chicago.

The West Health Institute/NORC Survey on Aging in America polled 3,026 adults age 30 and older to see how people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70+ perceive aging. The researchers, who presented their results in a panel, particularly wanted to ask thirtysomethings and fortysomethings because “they’re involved in the aging experience through family members and as caregivers and because they’ll be the seniors of the future,” said Dr. Zia Agha, chief medical officer and executive vice president of clinical research at the West Health Institute (a nonprofit dedicated to helping older Americans age in place).

Worries About Aging Loom Large

The upshot of the survey: “Worries about aging loom large for Americans over 30 for the country and for themselves,” said Agha. “About 70 percent think the country is ‘a little or not at all prepared’ to address the needs of the fast-growing senior population.”
And, the survey found, 59 percent believe the efforts under way to address the health care and social support needs of older Americans are “not going in the right direction.” Agha’s take: “It’s very clear that today’s health care is not addressing all the needs” of older Americans. “We need more patient-centeredand senior-centered models of care,” he added.

About 70 percent think the country is ‘a little or not at all prepared’ to address the needs of the fast-growing senior population.
— Dr. Zia Agha, chief medical officer, West Health Institute

Common Fears Across the Generations

Perhaps the most striking survey finding is how much the generations agree on what they worry may happen to them as they age. Fear of losing independence as they grow older is a key concern across the ages — whether that could mean losing memory, being in poor health or not having financial security. Each of these is a worry of roughly 71 percent of respondents.

For those in their 30s, 40s and 50s, the top aging worry (by a hair) is financial security. Losing memory is the biggest aging concern, just barely, among those in their 60s and 70s. “Patients have been educated on how to prevent diabetes. They don’t know what to do to protect themselves from dementia,” said Agha. “There isn’t much we can tell them.” Click here to continue reading.

Movie Review—Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island
Kong standing right front of the sun, near the hills and Soliders chasing him in the water.
Theatrical release poster

by Peter J. O'Connell

Kong: Skull Island. Released: March 2017. Runtime: 118 mins. MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.

Kong: Skull Island, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is the latest iteration of the already thrice-told tale of the big ape's encounter with modern civilization. This movie, though, has major differences from the earlier ones, of 1933, 1976, and 2005. Whereas those three might be summarized as “big ape trashes big city,” this one keeps Kong on his home island rather than Manhattan, and his clashes are with scientists and soldiers intruding there—and with other really, really big critters on the island. 

The template of the King Kong story, established in the 1933 original, has an archetypal power—whether one, in that heyday of Freudianism, viewed Kong as like the id seeking liberation from the restraints of the superego; or in a time of social upheaval, saw him as the representative of the “wretched of the earth” striking out at their oppressors; or with the conservation movement (now “environmentalism”) growing, as a symbol of the natural world resisting exploitation.

The current Kong tale seeks to gain some of that same power through its spectacular computer-generated imagery—King is much bigger than in the earlier versions, for example; “yuge” you might say—but also by borrowing from both a literary classic and a cinematic one.

The literary classic is Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness (1899), which evocatively details narrator Marlow's journey up the Congo River in search of the mysterious “Mistah Kurtz.” The cinematic classic is Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979), which adapts Heart of Darkness by sending a young officer, Marlow (Martin Sheen), up the Mekong River during the Vietnam War in search of the mumbly “Col. Kurtz,” played by Marlon Brando. Heart of Darkness depicts the horrors of colonialism, Apocalypse Now the horrors of war. 

Kong: Skull Island is an adaptation of an adaptation. Set near the end of the Vietnam War, it depicts an expedition to Skull Island, promoted by scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman) and guarded by Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his troop returning from Vietnam. Mercenary James Conrad (!), played by Tom Hiddleston, and photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) are among the expedition members. 

However, instead of traveling upriver to discover “the horror, the horror,” our heroes try to escape downriver from horrors. And the longtime jungle denizen who guides them is neither a mysterious nor a mumbly Kurtz but amiable Hank Marlow (!), played by John C. Reilly, a U.S. pilot who crashed on the island during World War II. 

As far as performances go, John Goodman as Randa is blander than usual; Samuel L. Jackson, as usual, speaks very vehemently; Tom Hiddleston is handsome and well-coifed; Brie Larson (2016 Oscar winner) seems a little embarrassed; and John C. Reilly fits his role like a comfortable slipper fits a familiar foot.

But the real star, of course, is the Big Guy. Vogt-Roberts pays homage to Apocalypse Now by putting helicopters into combat—and Kong effortlessly bats them out of the sky in spectacular scenes that make the audience gasp. And, the word from Tinseltown is that in 2020 King Kong will take on Godzilla!     

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Where's the line? Theme parks aiming to eliminate them

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — At Universal Orlando Resort's new "Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon" ride, waiting in line has been replaced by lounging on couches and listening to a racy barber shop quartet sing until it's time to enter the ride.
Universal is leading the theme-park charge into "virtual lines" that give visitors options for exploring a park or watching live entertainment instead of the tedium of looking at someone's back as you inch forward step by step to the thrill ride.
"It's kind of a bit of a science experiment for all of us," said Jason Surrell, a Universal creative director said about the "queue-less" waits. "We've known for years that waiting in line is one of the biggest dis-satisfiers in our guests' day."
Universal is also trying the concept at another attraction. Later this year, when Universal opens its new Volcano Bay water park in Orlando, visitors will be given wristbands that will alert them when it's their turn to get on a ride.
"I think it represents the future of what we're going to be doing in themed entertainment," Surrell said. "I kind of joke that this is the first step on a journey that will eventually lead us to a generation that doesn't even know about theme park lines. It will be 'What do you mean, wait in a queue? What's that, Grandpa?'"
Virtual lines are the latest evolution in theme parks' efforts to shorten or eliminate waits for rides, or if waits are necessary evils, to improve the experience of biding one's time.
Almost two decades ago, those efforts were concentrated on elaborately-designed "pre-ride" lines such Universal's The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, which goes past an elaborately-detailed "Daily Bugle" newsroom.
A few years later came the ride reservations systems of the FastPass and Express Pass at Disney and Universal parks, respectively, in which ride-goers are assigned periods of time to show up for rides. But those reservations need to be made ahead of time, for the most part, and visitors can only make them on three rides a day.
Universal opens that concept to everybody, not just advanced planners, with its two new attractions, while also offering entertainment during the wait.
"Everybody is trying to do this, working not only on the rides but how to get you on the rides," said Dennis Speigel, who heads the theme park consulting firm, International Theme Park Services. "Universal is at the forefront right now." Click here to continue reading.