Updated 

Nation roundup for July 21


Film, television legend Garner dies at age 86

NEW YORK (AP) — Few actors could register disbelief, exasperation or annoyance with more comic subtlety.

James Garner had a way of widening his eyes while the corner of his mouth sagged ever so slightly. Maybe he would swallow once to further make his point.

This portrait of fleeting disquiet could be understood, and identified with, by every member of the audience. Never mind Garner was tall, brawny and, well, movie-star handsome. The persona he perfected was never less than manly, good with his dukes and charming to the ladies, but his heroics were kept human-scale thanks to his gift for the comic turn. He remained one of the people.

He burst on the scene with this disarming style in the 1950s TV Western “Maverick,” which led to a stellar career in TV and films such as “The Rockford Files” and his Oscar-nominated “Murphy’s Romance.”

The 86-year-old Garner, who was found dead of natural causes at his Los Angeles home on Saturday, was adept at drama and action. But he was best known for his low-key, wisecracking style, especially on his hit TV series, “Maverick” and “The Rockford Files.”

His quick-witted avoidance of conflict offered a refreshing new take on the American hero, contrasting with the blunt toughness of John Wayne and the laconic trigger-happiness of Clint Eastwood.

There’s no better display of Garner’s everyman majesty than the NBC series “The Rockford Files” (1974-80). He played an L.A. private eye and wrongly jailed ex-con who seemed to rarely get paid, or even get thanks, for the cases he took, while helplessly getting drawn into trouble to help someone who was neither a client nor maybe even a friend.

RJ Reynolds vows to contest $23.6B verdict

MIAMI (AP) — The nation’s No. 2 cigarette maker is vowing to fight a jury verdict of $23.6 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by the widow of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. executive J. Jeffery Raborn has called the damages awarded by a Pensacola jury “grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law.”

“This verdict goes far beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness, and is completely inconsistent with the evidence presented,” Raborn, a company vice president and assistant general counsel, said in a statement. “We plan to file post-trial motions with the trial court promptly, and are confident that the court will follow the law and not allow this runaway verdict to stand.”

One of the widow’s attorneys said the verdict Friday night sends a powerful message to tobacco companies.

“The jury wanted to send a statement that tobacco cannot continue to lie to the American people and the American government about the addictiveness of and the deadly chemicals in their cigarettes,” said Christopher Chestnut, one of Cynthia Robinson’s attorneys.

The case is one of thousands filed in Florida after the state Supreme Court in 2006 threw out a $145 billion class action verdict.

Study: Top schools help poor teens’ health

CHICAGO (AP) — Disadvantaged teens may get more than an academic boost by attending top-notch high schools — their health may also benefit, a study suggests.

Risky health behavior including binge-drinking, unsafe sex and use of hard drugs was less common among these kids, compared with peers who went to mostly worse schools. The teens were otherwise similar, all from low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods who applied to top public charter schools that admit students based on a lottery system.

The researchers compared behavior in almost 1,000 kids in 10th through 12th grade who were admitted to the high-performing schools and in those who went elsewhere. Overall, 36 percent of the selected kids engaged in at least one of 11 risky behaviors, compared with 42 percent of the other teens.

The study doesn’t prove that the schools made the difference and it has limitations that weaken the results, including a large number of students who refused to participate. Still, lead author Dr. Michael Wong said the results echo findings in less rigorously designed research and they fit with the assumption that “better education will lead to better health.” Wong is an internist and researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The study involved mostly Latino students who applied to one of three top-performing public charter schools from 2007 to 2010. About half of the kids had parents who didn’t graduate from high school and most didn’t own their own homes.

Results were published online Monday in Pediatrics.

Teens were given computerized questionnaires to answer in private, to improve the chances for accurate self-reporting. Standardized test scores were obtained from the California Department of Education.

The results aren’t a referendum on charter schools but the lottery system they use for enrollment made the comparison fairer, Wong said.

Despite the limitations, the study “is a beautifully conducted natural experiment” that could occur because there’s more demand for high-performing schools than there is space available, said Kelli Komro, a professor of health outcomes and policy at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She was not involved in the research.

Because the Los Angeles schools’ lottery system selects students randomly, not on grades or other differences, the study design “mimics a randomized controlled trial, the gold standard in health research,” Komro said.

Most of the selected kids chose to attend those schools, while 83 percent of those not picked went to schools with worse performance records. Math and English scores after freshman year were higher in selected kids than the other teens. Moreover, just 9 percent of the selected kids dropped out of school, versus almost 1 in 4 of the others.

Prof. Harold Pollack, a University of Chicago public health researcher, said the study is important and highlights the challenge — and need to — create “a much larger number of schools that serve kids well.”

Pollack said better academic performance among the charter school kids is likely more important for their long-term health than their risky behavior choices.

“Educational outcomes are just so critical for people’s well-being,” he said.

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