John Oliver returns to ‘Last Week Tonight,’ talks Trump, Alec Baldwin and why he’s in awe of Jimmy Kimmel

“Thank you for coming,” John Oliver told a room full of reporters who gathered this week at HBO’s midtown headquarters to query him about “Last Week Tonight.” “I realize the Westminster Dog Show is on today. The fact you're here and not there means a great deal,”Such self-deprecation is typical for the British comedian, yet as “Last Week Tonight” heads into its fifth season Sunday on HBO, even Oliver would find it hard to deny his cultural cachet. His show has won a slew of praise, including back-to-back Emmys for variety talk series, and perhaps even more remarkably, gotten Americans fired up about such seemingly bone-dry subjects as net neutrality and civil asset forfeiture.Maintaining the show’s focus on overlooked subjects amid a non-stop cycle of all-consuming Trump-related news has been challenging, Oliver told reporters. “It’s such a firehose of ... That's the tricky thing. There’s so much low-hanging fruit, you can end up eating too much.”But so far, “Last Week Tonight” has figured out a way to cover Trump without piling on the day-to-day firestorms — a good thing for a show that has been on hiatus since November, meaning it’s missed out almost entirely on material about Stormy Daniels, Rob Porter or Judge Roy Moore.Last season included reports on gerrymandering and dialysis, for instance, but was book-ended with big-picture looks at Trump’s influence on American democracy. “Lots of times the main story we talk about is pretty irrelevant to the week,” Oliver said, “but pretty relevant, we would argue, to the concept of being alive.”After the breakfast, Oliver sat with The Times to talk about the show’s labor-intensive creative process, Dustin Hoffman, Alec Baldwin and how fatherhood has influenced his comedy.So you’re heading into your fifth season. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far Continue Reading

By ex-felons, for ex-felons: Re-entry that works

The eighth in a series of multimedia projects that examine causes for recidivism in the American justice system.NEW ORLEANS — It’s a typical August day in New Orleans — hot, humid and wet.Several men and one woman are packing up utensils and covering large trays of food with aluminum foil — left overs from a fish fry — on the porch of a small one-story home. A fundraiser for their organization, The First 72+, has just ended. The group helps men recently released from prison get their lives back together.It was started three years ago by six men — brothers Ben and Tyrone Smith, Blair Boutte, Kenneth "Jack" Dilosa, Calvin Duncan and Norris Henderson — who know more than any government program or prison warden why U.S. recidivism rates are so high. They have all served time (for everything from second-degree murder, and manslaughter to drug distribution).  RE-ENTRY: Is America failing its prisoners? The road to a stable life wasn't easy for any of them, and most have recidivated at least once.But it's their struggles — the re-incarceration, the bouts of poverty, the one-time doubts about their ability to succeed — that help make the program, and their interactions with inmates, most effective."They don't see me as an authority figure," Ben Smith says. "They see me as one of their own." Rebuilding a lifeThe transitional house sits on the corner of a street in the heart of New Orleans, just across from the parish jail and a few blocks away from the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.The three-bedroom home is lightly decorated: a pull-out couch hugs a wall in the den, a table for four is planted in the middle of a small kitchen. Each bedroom has two beds and a closet with donated clothes sits between them. Many of Continue Reading

Fifth annual ‘Newsies!’ celebrate the best of New York City’s high school student journalism

The Newsies! return to celebrate another year of high school student journalism—and it’s the biggest year yet. Funded by The Dow Jones Foundation and the Harnisch Foundation, and produced by the NYC High School Journalism Collaborative at Baruch College, the Newsies! are in their fifth year of honoring up-and-coming reporters and featuring them on the NY Daily News website. If this year’s slate of entrants is anything to go by, the Newsies! are continuing to spark the journalism bug in schools around the city. According to Katina Paron, Director of the New York City High School Journalism Collaborative at Baruch College, nine new schools are submitted for the awards this year with five schools submitting for the Best New Newspaper category. “A lot of the schools winning are in their first time entering the competition,” Paron told the News of the increased participation this year. “They’re not just new, but new and good, which is a hallelujah moment for me.” While last year’s entries focused primarily on Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, Paron saw a lot of focus on culture in this year’s batch. “I think there’s a lot of ‘identity journalism’ among a lot of young people,” Paron said. “They’re seeing how stories about themselves are related in the mainstream media and doing their own version in their school newspapers.” Crossing the digital divide remains a priority, however. “Schools still figuring out how to use the online networks that they have through their online newspaper and social media,” Paron said. In an effort to further connect social media and journalism, this year’s NYC High School Journalism Conference will be live tweeted for the first time ever. “I think it’ll be a fun way to kind of have a taste of social media and journalism,” Paron explained. “There’s so many journalism things they can learn Continue Reading

Barbra Streisand returns to the screen as Seth Rogen’s mom in ‘The Guilt Trip’

Barbra Streisand plays to win. The notoriously selective actress is as choosy with her blackjack cards as she is about picking roles. “I played in Vegas with Barbra while we were filming, and she won every time,” says Dan Fogelman, the screenwriter behind “The Guilt Trip,” opening Wednesday. “She hadn’t played in a while, so she would make a mistake and get them to take back the card,” Fogelman says with a laugh. “I told her, ‘I think you are the only person this has ever been done for in a casino.’ ” Who can say no to Barbra? Fogelman and “Guilt Trip” director Anne Fletcher even agreed to film the entire pan-American adventure within 45 minutes of her Malibu mansion. That concession was designed to convince Streisand to take on her first leading film role since 1996’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces.” “The Guilt Trip” follows a mother (Streisand) and son (Seth Rogen) on a cross-country drive. A Los Angeles sound stage stood in for the Grand Canyon, a Nashville roadhouse and the Jersey suburbs. Vegas was their farthest actual jaunt. Film producer John Goldwyn says, “We literally took a stopwatch and timed each location from the gate in front of her house to make sure we abided by the covenant of her deal. “It was a challenge, but it was a fun challenge,” he adds. “We knew we had to create the best possible environment for her to work in.” Fogelman based his screenplay on a road trip he took with his own mother, who died a few years ago. To Fogelman, only one woman was right for the part. “Barbra is kind of like your own mom, if mom had unlimited wealth, fame and power,” says Fogelman. But he found out something pretty surprising, too: Streisand is normal. “She likes watching movies and hanging out at her house, and she’s obsessed about good food,” Fogelman says. Continue Reading

Cycling the Erie: Waterway gave birth to our region’s economy

Follow us: Interactive map, journal entries, tweets, videos & photosThe canal: Historical photos | Retrofitting Rochester | Fun factsFour white horses stepped onto the towpath in Buffalo on Oct. 26, 1825, and a series of cannons, evenly spaced at the edge of earshot all the way to Albany, fired in salute one after another. The horses were tethered to the Seneca Chief, the boat that would carry Gov. DeWitt Clinton and other dignitaries on the inaugural journey along the newly completed Erie Canal. The cannons had been captured from the British in the War of 1812's Battle of Lake Erie by Commodore Matthew Perry. The battle, and the war, solidified the standing of the United States — still within two generations of its founding — as a legitimate political power among the British, French and Spanish in the competition for land and profit in North America. Two staffers, reporter Justin Murphy and photographer Annette Lein, will tweet, blog and take video and pictures as they join a bike ride from Buffalo to Albany.But in fact, the prospects for national expansion were daunting. Intrepid settlers inched blindly into the unknown West, hacking isolated farms from endless acres of untouched wilderness without neighbors for comfort or markets to sell their harvest."Where civilization ended on the other side of the upper Hudson, it ended abruptly, and beyond it there was no tomorrow to be seen," author George Condon wrote in his history of the canal. "It loomed large and lonely, and beyond its frontline trunks of great girth there was a darkness and a mystery that offered no future at all."The Erie Canal became that future.Before the ditch was filled with water, Clinton and other influential advocates poured out flattery, threats and imprecations in Albany and New York City, promising "a work more stupendous, more magnificent and more beneficial than has hitherto been achieved by the human race."Thousands of immigrant laborers wrestled that promise into Continue Reading

Byrne: Des Moines ‘moved and inspired’ me

Last summer David Byrne performed in Des Moines for the first time in 30 years as one of the headlining acts of the 80/35 Music Festival.This week he returns to give the keynote address at the grand opening of the Des Moines Social Club's new building.Byrne rose to fame in the '70s and '80s as the frontman for the new wave act Talking Heads. Byrne's band was known for its often avant-garde performance style, featuring elements like Byrne performing in an oversized white suit. Byrne and the band have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Byrne has won Grammys, a Golden Globe and even an Oscar.Byrne answered some questions via email about his time in Des Moines, what brought him back and how he sincerely appreciates the city. Q: Last summer you wrote three journal entries on Des Moines on your website. You posted information you had found on Wikipedia, but also from an email exchange you had about Des Moines with Adam Green from the University of Chicago. I'm curious how much time you spent thinking about and researching Des Moines for your writing.As you noted I got help — I often spend a week or so working on one of these multipart blog posts. Adam really helped give some historical perspective. My tour happened to have a rare couple of days off (4th of July weekend) which allowed me to explore a little .... and obviously I was moved and inspired — which was completely and pleasantly unexpected. Q: Is this a common element of your touring, or are there just certain cities that make you want to do more reading and discussion?The simple fact that I had time to wander (on my bike) and explore helped. ... The weather was gorgeous, there were festivities and picnics underway. It's also not a city I was familiar with — unlike Austin, Nashville or Chicago, for example — so I was curious about this place I'd never been to.Q: You were generally positive in your discussion of Des Moines and Iowa.I meant it too! I didn't want to Continue Reading

Lafayette theater shooter references ISIS, South Carolina shooter in journal

The just-released journal of Grand 16 Theatre shooter John Russel Houser of Phenix City, Alabama, includes chilling entries made in the hours before the shooting, foretelling his own death and the attack he would perpetrate in Lafayette.On July 23, about 20 minutes into the 7:15 p.m. showing of the movie "Trainwreck," Houser stood up in Room 14 of the theater and opened fire, killing two young women — Jillian Johnson and Mayci Breaux — and wounding nine others before killing himself as police closed in.Houser's journal, recovered after the shooting by law enforcement officers in a room at a Lafayette Motel 6, was released Wednesday.It reveals a troubled man dissatisfied with his country and his government, who called himself "radicalized" and believed America and Europe are heading for a collapse that will allow countries like North Korea, China and Russia to rise.He called himself the Isis the U.S. should be afraid of and wrote about Dylann Roof, who killed nine people at a Charleston, S.C., church on June 17.Houser wrote critically of black people, women and homosexuals, implying they are inferior to white men, and chastised the media, including FOX News."The truth is only known when all are heard," Houser printed on the front of the journal.Inside, his first entry reads, "America is a filth farm" where liberal policies that "lack logic, morality or financial responsibility" are implemented without a vote of the people.This makes citizens' blood boil, he wrote."If you have not stood against filth, you are now a soft target. No carrot under my nose."Houser then lists his favorite movies, mostly older films, including "Casablanca," "Dr. Strangelove" and "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome."Some of his favorite songs included "That's Where the Music Takes Me," "Soldier of Love" and "Superfly," while his favorite groups and artists included the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner and Continue Reading

WARNING: GRAPHIC LANGUAGE Excerpts from suspected Pittsburgh gunman George Sodini’s journal

Excerpted from the online journal of George Sodini, the suspected gunman in the Pittsburgh-area health club shootings that left four dead. (Warning: The entries are unedited except for redacting certain full names and profanities.)George SodiniDOD 8/4/2009Pennsylvania USA --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Why do this?? To young girls? Just read below. I kept a running log that includes my thoughts and actions, after I saw this project was going to drag on. November 5, 2008:Obama! He will be successful. The liberal media LOVES him. Amerika has chosen The Black Man. Good! In light of this I got ideas outside of Obama's plans for the economy and such. Here it is: Every black man should get a young white girl hoe to hone up on. Kinda a reverse indentured servitude thing. Long ago, many a older white male landowner had a young Negro wench girl for his desires. Bout' time tables are turned on that XXXX. Besides, dem young white hoez dig da bruthrs! LOL. More so than they dig the white dudes! Every daddy know when he sends his little girl to college, she be bangin a bruthr real good. I saw it. "Not my little girl", daddy says! (Yeah right!!) Black dudes have thier choice of best white hoez. You do the math, there are enough young white so all the brothers can each have one for 3 or 6 months or so. Google for hours to relax. TV and most movies are dull.December 31, 2008:January 5, 2009:Auschwitz Syndrome, to be in serious pain so long one thinks it is normal. I cannot wait for tomorrow! January 6, 2009:It is 8:45PM: I chickened out! XXXX! I brought the loaded guns, everything. Hell! April 24, 2009:I predict I won't survive the next layoff. That is when there is no point to continue. RIght now, life is bearable and I can get by indefinitely. Something bad must happen. The paycheck is all I have left. The future holds nothing for me. Twenty five years of nothing fun. I never even spent one weekend with a girl in my Continue Reading

Michael Jordan ends his retirement and returns to the Chicago Bulls in 1995 with two simple words: ‘I’m back’

(Originally published by the Daily News on Sunday, March 19, 1995; written by Ian O'Connor) INDIANAPOLIS - It was short and far from sweet, a declaration of sheer arrogance. "I'm back," the Great One announced to the proletariat, through his agent no less. Michael Jordan had no use for questions yesterday because he could only answer them today at noon, when the world will discover whether his wings still work. Jordan is going to play pro basketball for the first time since he scrambled around the Phoenix court that June night in 1993, pushing through delirious teammates in search of the game ball. He hugged the ball, kissed the trophy, poured the champagne. Now he is wasting little time finding out whether he can ever feel that way again. He gets Reggie Miller and the Pacers today, Reggie Lewis Night in Boston Wednesday, Shaq and Penny Friday, the Knicks in the Garden the following Tuesday. Michael Jordan could've played it safe, could've started out with the Bullets or Bucks at home. The gambler in him wouldn't allow it. Jordan is taking a considerable risk right out of the gate, for not only should the Bulls lose in Indianapolis, Reggie Miller should be the best shooting guard on the floor. MICHAEL JORDAN'S TOP 10 MOMENTS BEFORE FIRST RETIREMENT In Chicago last fall, Jordan dropped 52 in Scottie Pippen's charity game, then dropped to his knees to kiss away the old dump on Madison. He said afterward that he would always love basketball, always play basketball, but never again for money. He said the new place across the street, the United Center, would have to make do with the bronze statue, the retired jersey, the supporting cast. Meanwhile, Jordan was having private conversations with Phil Jackson about a return to the Bulls. Baseball was shut down. Jordan's proficiency for golf, much exaggerated over time, could never take him to the Seniors Tour, never mind the Masters. He needed a game. Basketball Continue Reading

Writer-director Lou Howe, star Rory Culkin wrap their minds around mental illness in ‘Gabriel’

What we glean of mental illness from cultural sources can be insular while still saying volumes. The novels of J.D. Salinger, for instance, or the music of Brian Wilson and Kurt Cobain. Writer-director Lou Howe’s debut feature “Gabriel,” opening Friday, is a hauntingly moving addition to those. It tells a story of Gabe (Rory Culkin, in a gripping, heartbreaking turn), a young man returning to his Long Island home after a suicide attempt landed him in a hospital. Gabe’s father had killed himself years earlier, and while his mother and and older brother watch warily, Gabe spins between sly manipulation and mournfulness, until he makes a desperate play for happiness by seeking out a girl he once knew. The film is fiction, but is based in part on a friend Howe knew when he was young. “The seed of the idea came from one of my closest childhood friends, who has struggled with mental illness since we were teenagers,” Howe says. “That experience has always had a big effect on me. It’s a good sign when something effects you in a visceral way — there’s a good chance the story might have the same effect on an audience.” Howe, who grew up in New York City before studying film at Harvard and the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, began the writing process for “Gabriel” by creating backstories for the characters and Gabriel’s diary. “I started by giving myself a writing exercise, which was to do first-person journal entries of someone in my friend’s position. Very quickly, that person became Gabe, and the world of the movie grew out of those journals — his family and his history, it all organically came from there. “Once the story had shape, it became a kind of quest movie. Gabe’s not the type of character that’s comfortable anywhere, or knows where he is internally, Continue Reading