Andrew Breitbart, controversial conservative blogger, has died

Andrew Breitbart, conservative blogger who has captured the headlines time and again with his controversial approach to journalism, has died.

Breitbart, author of last year's Righteous indignation : Excuse me while I save the world! has emboldened the right and inflamed the left with his involvement in many hot news stories, including those about former Congressman Anthony Weiner and Shirley Sherrod who lost her job at the Department of Agriculture following Breitbart's actions. The status of her lawsuit against Breitbart and two other individuals, for defamation is unclear.

His propensity for intense journalistic activism was so intense that social media this morning were flooded with messages skeptical of his passing until several independent sources confirmed it with the UCLA Medical Center where he died shortly after midnight this morning of natural causes.

Breitbart was 43.

The Art of Emblems

The art of emblems goes way back to the “impresa” which wealthy people used to create their personal mythology. An emblem or logo may represent schools, countries or even types of gardens. Emblems can be windows into cultures and eras of human history. Of course Ann Arbor’s emblem has something we are famous for. One of the most recent popular emblems plays a dramatic role in the book , The Hunger Games, also coming soon to a theater near you!

Feeding the Downton Fever

If you are one of the 142 library patrons waiting to catch up on the First Season of the PBS Masterpiece Theater's Downton Abbey, or you'd scheduled your Sunday activities around the Second Season now in progress, then read on.

This immensely popular British period drama set in a grand country house in North Yorkshire is largely the creation of actor/writer Julian Fellowes (with illuminating behind-the-scenes tidbits), whose niece, author Jessica Fellowes has published The World of Downton Abbey (photography by Nick Briggs) - a companion book about the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, as well as insights into British society in the early years of the twentieth century.

If you and your friends are caught up in the Downton fever that's sweeping the country, the New York Times has some smashing ideas that involve theme parties (tiaras optional, menus suggested).

If your participation tends to be the solitary variety, or you are already suffering from fear of withdraw once the last episode airs on February 19, then be comforted that the major publishers have already anticipated your needs with a further reading list.

Readers Advisory Guru (and my good friend) Neal Wyatt has come up with her impeccable suggestions in this RA Crossroads article "What To Watch (and Read) After Downton Abbey" that is sure to bring you many hours of reading/viewing/listening pleasure until Season 3.

Zoom Zoom Zoom: Watch the Snow Plows Go

Chicago, Schimago. Ann Arbor was first. Track A2 city snowplows as they plow through the streets (when we get snow to plow) at Snow, the new Automatic Vehicle Location web page. Zoom into the city snow route map to see the real-time locations and status of snow plow activity, where the plows are right now and what they are doing. You'll know whether they're salting or plowing and can even find out what kind of truck is being used on any street. So how many miles of plowing are we talking in A2? The city’s street maintenance unit is responsible for snow removal on 358 lane miles of salt route roadway and 10 bridges.

More December's Books to Film

Steven Spielberg directs Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and David Thewlis in War Horse (PG-13), based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo - a tale of loyalty, hope and tenacity set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War.

It begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets.

John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is adapted by Director Tomas Alfredson for Universal Pictures into a feature film starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, and Tom Hardy.

This international espionage action-thriller is set at the height of the Cold War when George Smiley, a disgraced British spy, is rehired in secret by his government in fear that MI-6 has been compromised by a double agent working for the Soviets.

Christopher Hitchens, brilliant, acerbic columnist, has died

Christopher Hitchens, contributing editor of Vanity Fair magazine and best known for his unapologetic defense of atheism, died December 15th in Houston.

Hitchens, born in Great Britain in 1949, was a lightning rod for fury from both the left and the right. Conservative Christians were shocked by his 2007 bestseller, God Is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and his dissing of Mother Teresa in The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (1995). The left howled in outrage over Hitchens' full-throated support for the US war in Iraq and for his skewering of President Clinton in No One Left to Lie to: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton (1999).

Hitchens was drawn to political hotspots and wrote about these conflict for The Nation and England's The New Statesman.

A lifelong heavy drinker and smoker, Hitchens, who was 62, died of complications from esophageal cancer.

Vaclav Havel, author, dissident, and world leader, has died

Vaclav Havel, author, dissident, and former president of Czechoslovia and the Czech Republic, died Sunday.

Havel first gained fame as a playwright and essayist, writing brilliant anti-communist pieces that landed him in jail for many years followed by decades being followed by the secret police.

He was credited with orchestrating the Velvet Revolution in 1989, a bullet-free street demonstration revolt that resulted in the toppling of the four-plus decades Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Havel was appointed the country's tenth and last President.

In 1993, when the country was split in two, he became the first President of the Czech Republic. Under his leadership, the CR joined NATO and the European Union.

After his 2003 retirement, world leaders continued to meet with him for political advice and analysis. President Obama remarked on his passing that Havel "...proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon."

Havel, who was a lifelong heavy smoker, was 75 when he died of severe respiratory distress.

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Kim Jong-il, North Korea's elusive dictator, is dead

Kim Jong-il, brutal dictator of North Korea for the past seventeen years, died December 17th.

Kim Jong-il was mocked and ridiculed for his short stature, elevator shoes, and fascination with all things Hollywood. However, US diplomats who met with him, learned to reassess that caricature as he continually surprised them with his political knowledge and dexterity.

Relations between the US and North Korea have teetered on a fragile balance for a very long time as Kim Jong-il pursued the development of nuclear weapons despite coordinated international condemnation and sanctions.

Kim Jong-il, secretive to the end, was 69 or 70 years old.

Holiday Reminders You Don't Usually Think Of: When Will They Pick Up My Garbage?

There are checklists for gifts, for meals, for trips, but the one we rarely remember until the bins are full and the tree has more needles on the floor than on the branches is the exciting and much-anticipated Solid Waste Holiday Checklist from the City of Ann Arbor.

Makes you all warm and fuzzy just reading the title. And this year there is something to really knock the socks off the mantle: Single-family Ann Arbor residents can get rewards for holiday recycling by signing up with Recyclebank.

Trash and recycling will not be picked up on Monday, December 26, 2011, or Monday, January 2, 2012, due to holiday observances. Solid waste collections will be delayed one day both weeks and occur Tuesday through Saturday. Undecorated holiday trees may be dropped off—free and 24/7—in the parking lot adjacent to the Drop-Off Station at 2950 E. Ellsworth starting December 15 through January 31, 2012.

Happy Holidays and let's re-use, recycle, and re-gift all year.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #302

Just about now - as the days get shorter and the temperature dips below freezing, my reading drifts toward the upbeat and heartwarming, and I am glad to have found Angelina's Bachelors : a novel, with food *.

Angelina D'Angelo's Frangelico Chocolate Dream Cake (recipe included) is to die for and unfortunately her husband Frank did just that. Grieving and listless, she turns to her one passion - cooking. To make ends meet, she gathers the hungry bachelors in the neighborhood and offers to feed them. Apart from the out-of-this-world meals she painstakingly prepared daily, each of them comes to find community and riches far beyond his/her expectations.

Angelina marks the fiction debut for cookbook author and TV cooking-show producer Brian O'Reilly whose "keen ear for the neighborhood (South Philly) swells lends a charming, timeless quality to the tale."

And the recipes by Virginia O'Reilly... they are fabulous. The O'Reillys are no strangers when it comes to food and cooking. Between them, they have published two cookbooks (Mission: Cook!: My Life, My Recipes, and Making the Impossible Easy, and Impossible to Easy: 111 Delicious Recipes to Help You Put Great Meals on the Table Every Day), with Robert Irvine, the star of the Foodnetwork television program they produced, called Dinner Impossible.

Unlike recipes in other novels, these are neither cute nor cheeky. They are gourmand-serious and kitchen-tested. I have ordered my own copy of the book so I could try out the Stracotto (Italian Pot Roast) this holiday season.

* = starred review

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