INDEPENDENT 2024-02-07 06:11:10


Humiliation for Haley as she loses to ‘none of the above’ in Nevada

Republican presidential rivals Nikki Haley and Donald Trump are turning their attention to the western state of Nevada this week, which is holding a state-run primary on Tuesday followed by a GOP-organised caucus on Thursday.

The candidates will not be pitted against each other this time, however, with Ms Haley appearing in the former and competing against three lesser-known contenders and Mr Trump in the latter contest and running against Texas pastor Ryan Binkey.

The state’s 26 delegates will only be available in the caucus but Ms Haley may be able to pick up some much-needed momentum for her campaign ahead of this month’s crucial showdown in South Carolina if she can make a strong showing.

On Saturday, president Joe Biden unsurprisingly won the first Democratic primary of this election year, also in South Carolina, taking a majority of the votes and delegates as he easily beat Minnesota representative Dean Phillips and self-help author Marianne Williamson.

The incumbent’s rivals have received minimal media attention and appear not to stand any realistic chance of upsetting Mr Biden’s bid for a second term in the White House but continue to run in the interest of offering voters an alternative.

Dentists to be offered cash to take on extra NHS patients

Dentists are to be offered cash to take on new patients and given “golden hellos” to work in communities with a lack of NHS dental services, according to a leaked dentistry rescue plan.

The NHS Dental Recovery Plan was supposed to be published on Wednesday but an early version of the document was sent out to MPs of all parties accidentally.

The email includes a number of details set out in the plan, including a £200 million investment in dental services, dentists being given cash to take on new patients and cash incentives to encourage dentists to work in areas which are underserved by NHS dentists.

Some 240 dentists will also be given £20,000 “golden hellos” if they deliver care in underserved communities for at least three years.

Hundreds of people were seen queuing in Bristol on Monday and Tuesday after a dentist opened its books for NHS patients.

A video posted on social media on Monday appeared to show police community support officers telling patients the queue had “finished” as they urged prospective patients to try their luck another day.

Commenting on the leaked document, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “After 14 years of Conservative neglect, patients are desperately queuing around the block to see a dentist, literally pulling their own teeth out, and tooth decay is the number one reason for six to 10-year-olds being admitted to hospital.

“The Conservatives are only promising to do something about it now there’s an election coming. It will be left to the next Labour government to rescue NHS dentistry and get patients seen on time once again.”

The British Dental Association said claims that the reforms would generate “millions” of new appointments appeared to lack credibility.

“None of the modelling supporting these claims has been published,” a spokesperson said.

“The professional body is struggling to see how the whole package delivers more appointments, when most of the funding is drawn from recycling existing budgets.

“There is nothing in the plan to draw dentists back into NHS dentistry to enhance workforce capacity.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said: “The image of hundreds of desperate people queuing outside a new dentist in Bristol tells you everything you need to know about the state of dental practices in this country.

“This plan comes too little too late for those left waiting in pain for dental care or the children admitted to hospital for tooth decay.

“With over 12 million waiting for help, this pledge to help just one million is a drop in the ocean and shows the Government isn’t serious.

“The Conservatives have overseen years of dental decay and now it’s people across the country who have been left to pay the price.”

The Department for Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.

Blazing Saddles at 50: Story of the wackiest western ever made

It was “too dirty” for John Wayne to accept a part. Too “disgusting and vulgar” for Ted Ashley, the chairman of Warner Brothers, who threatened to “bury” the film. But director Mel Brooks stuck to his guns, refusing to make edits, and was vindicated. Blazing Saddles, 50 this February, was a massive hit, one Brooks declared “the funniest motion picture ever”.

The story of the creation, making and legacy of Blazing Saddles is as anarchic as the movie itself. The idea for a film about Sheriff Bart, a Black dandy who saves a town of rednecks from an unscrupulous developer and his violent henchmen, came in 1972 from a young screenwriter, Andrew Bergman, who had recently completed a PhD in American movie history. Warners asked Brooks to flesh out Bergman’s 30-page “skeletal outline” for a western called Tex-X.

Brooks, then 46, was unemployed and “absolutely broke”, despite the acclaim for his 1967 movie The Producers. His actress wife Anne Bancroft was expecting their first child. He leapt at the chance to write and direct “the wackiest, most insane movie ever made”, one that lampooned racism and spoofed the westerns he watched growing up as Max Kaminsky in Williamsburg, New York.

The screenwriting team led by Brooks included Bergman, Norman Steinberg, Alan Uger and the volatile comic Richard Pryor. Brooks, clearly a fan of the superlative, described the late Pryor as “the greatest stand-up comedian who ever lived”, albeit one with demons and a ferocious appetite for Rémy Martin. Pryor, who once saw his mother tear open his father’s testicles during a fight at the family-run brothel, was also a drug addict, who had snorted cocaine with jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. When Pryor offered a vial to Brooks during a writing session, the director joked, “Me? Never before lunch.”

To Warner Brothers, Pryor was “a known sniffer” (in Brooks’s words) and, following a drugs arrest, they flatly rejected the proposal that the “uninsurable” comedian play Black Bart, the sheriff of frontier town Rock Ridge. Pryor and Brooks auditioned about 100 actors until being captivated by Cleavon Little, a Broadway star Brooks described as “this beautiful, sculptured, laidback man”. Pryor was blunter. “I’m coffee-coloured and have a moustache, I look Cuban,” he told Brooks. “That mother****er is so Black; he’s gonna scare the s*** out of that town.’”

For the white screenwriters, the racist slurs were a problem. However, Pryor was adamant they must use the “N” word – and frequently. “We are writing a story of racial prejudice. That’s the word, the only word. It’s profound, it’s real, and the more we use it from the rednecks, the more the victory of the Black sheriff will resonate,” he said. The result was a groundbreaking satire of bigotry, with the sophisticated Bart (he has a Gucci saddlebag) deftly exposing the stupidity of the white racists. When a chain-gang boss demands a “good old n***** work song”, the Sheriff and his Black co-workers croon Cole Porter’s “I Get No Kick from Champagne”. The punchline is that the white cowboys end up in a ludicrous demonstration of how to sing and dance to “De Camptown Races”. Later, when the townsfolk want to shoot Bart, he escapes by holding a gun to his own throat and faking a surreal self-hostage situation. “Oh, baby, you’re so talented… and they are so dumb,” he remarks.

The most unsettling moment, though, is when Bart meets a resident from Rock Ridge, the sort of bonnet-wearing, sweet-looking old lady who is a stereotype of the western, and she yells: “Up yours, n*****!” in his face. When Bart returns to his sheriff’s office, his drunken gunslinger deputy Jim the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) notices his crestfallen face and says, “These people are the common clay of the New West… you know… morons.” Brooks said that line always got the biggest laugh from cinema audiences, who were sampling the big screen’s first interracial buddy comedy.

Wilder was hired by chance. Brooks originally cast Gig Young, an Oscar winner for 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, after being told the star was in recovery. Brooks joked that he was delighted to hire “a real old alkie”. Sadly, after one attempt at his first scene, Young began screaming, shaking and spewing green vomit, and had to be taken away in an ambulance. Brooks rang Young’s manager and quipped, “He ain’t quite recovered.” Gigs later filed a $100,000 suit for damages but was reportedly unsuccessful. Wilder answered Brooks’s plea to replace Young and flew straight to California from New York. He learned lines on the plane and was magnificent, without a single rehearsal.

One lawsuit that did earn a payout was to the Golden Age actress Hedy Lemarr, who took exception to Brooks’s scheming attorney general Hedley Lamarr (played by Harvey Korman) and the running joke over his name. In June 1974, she filed a $10,000,000 suit for invasion of privacy and exploiting her name without permission. “We settled out of court,” Brooks admitted. “It wasn’t a lot, a couple of thousand dollars. I apologised to her for ‘almost using your name’… I don’t think she got the joke.”

Another running gag was around the gargantuan subliterate thug Mongo, played by former Detroit Lions American football star Alex Karras. Pryor wrote witty dialogue for Mongo’s scenes, including Jim’s advice to Bart, “Don’t shoot him, it will just make him mad.” Pryor also penned the poignant line when, gazing up with puppy eyes, the hulking outlaw says, “Mongo only pawn in game of life.”

Mongo’s most famous scene, however, was knocking down a horse with one mighty punch, after riding into town on a Brahman bull. Brooks had been told by comedian Sid Caesar about the time he slugged an unruly horse between the eyes. The screenwriter stored the anecdote away. Brooks said he got about a thousand letters of complaint from animal lovers, even though it was a horse trained to fall when the stunt ride pulled back on the bridle, before contact with Mongo’s fist.

The supporting cast – including Slim Pickens, David Huddleston, Burton Gilliam, Madeline Kahn and bandleader Count Basie (playing himself in a funny music scene in the desert) – were superb. Brooks had fun playing a Native American chief who talks with a Yiddish accent, and the lecherous, cross-eyed Governor William J Le Petomane (named after the 19th-century Frenchman Le Pétomane, whose whole act was based on flatulence). One of the most cutting moments in the film is when Le Petomane praises the “fair” scheme to give Indigenous Indians a box of paddleball toys in exchange for duping them out of 200,000 acres of their land.

Perhaps the most celebrated scene in the film, though, is when a band of outlaws sit around a campfire eating beans. They belch and fart loudly for over a minute. Brooks asked a friend about the edginess of the scene and was told, “If you are going up to the bell you better ring it.” Brooks was asked in 2016 whether Blazing Saddles could have been made in the 21st century. “I don’t think so, no,” he replied. “Maybe you could get away with the campfire scene with the farting. I think you could. But I don’t think you could ever get away with the “N” word being done by so many white people so many times.”

Although the film is a terrific parody of racism and small-mindedness – and full of clever inside jokes, routines, sight gags and homages about iconic westerns such as High Noon, Looney Tunes cartoons, vaudeville acts, Busby Berkeley dance routines and William Shakespeare’s Henry V – it is less clear how much the casual homophobia (with repeated use of slurs) is there to also expose redneck prejudice or whether it’s simply another dismal example of a vile pejorative from a backward time.

Right up to the final editing process, Brooks played with the title. After rejecting Tex-X, he proposed Black Bart and then The Purple Sage (Warners thought it was “too arcane”) before having a “Eureka!” moment in the shower and coming up with Blazing Saddles. Bancroft told him “it doesn’t make any sense”, but Brooks insisted, “It says western and it says crazy.”

After the infamous screening for Warner executives, Ashley told Brooks to axe 26 scenes, ordering him to write on a legal pad: “The farting scene has to go. You can’t punch a horse. You can’t hit an old lady. And you can’t use the ‘N’ word.” “If I cut those we’d have a 15-minute film,” Brooks later said. “I wrote it all down and then, after he walked out, I crumpled up the pages and tossed them in the wastepaper bin.” Co-writer Steinberg had an even starker memory of the clash, telling AV Club: “We showed the film to the Warner office workers. And they went bats***. People were falling on the floor – because it was so outrageous at the time. And Mel said, ‘F*** ’em, this is our film,’ and that was the film that was released.”

Blazing Saddles had its world premiere on 7 February 1974, at the Pickwick Drive-In Theatre in Burbank, and the 250 guests – including Little and Wilder – arrived on horseback. The movie became Warner’s top moneymaker that summer, grossing $16,500,000. Brooks received $50,000 “for all the writing, directing and sweeping up”. The film received three Oscar nominations: for film editing, best song (“Blazing Saddles” was written by Brooks and John Morris and sung by Frankie Laine, who had sung on the classic Gunfight at the OK Corral) and for Kahn as Best Supporting Actress (playing Lili Von Shtüpp).

The film is not available on streaming outlets and rare television showings are usually the bowdlerised version that Brooks decries as having been “cut by prudes”. Seek out the original. Half a century on, Blazing Saddles stands as a remarkable comedy. “The film allowed me to be the lovely Rabelaisian vulgarian that I am,” Brooks said proudly.

Drake appears to respond after trending over ‘leaked’ X-rated video

Drake was trending on Twitter/X on Tuesday (6 February), but not because of his music.

Hundreds of thousands of people on the social platform were reacting to an alleged leaked video that appeared to show the Canadian rapper naked and engaging in a sexual act.

Popular Kick streamer Adin Ross, who has appeared in videos with Drake, 37, before, decided to send him a voice memo about the clip.

In the recording shared on social media, Ross says: “We was just looking at the s***. It’s like crazy bro, like god damn.

“You’re blessed with your voice, you’re blessed with performing, you’re blessed to be you, you’re blessed to be number one and you’re also blessed to have a f***ing missile.”

Ross then claims that Drake texted him back and “put like eight laughing emojis”, before suggesting he might use the streamer’s voice note as his “next album intro”.

Drake has not commented publicly on the alleged leak, which Ross and others have speculated appears to be filmed on his private jet.

Drake’s representatives declined The Independent’s request for comment.

The clip comes weeks after pornographic deepfake images of Taylor Swift were widely circulated on X, despite the platform’s rules against such media.

The nonconsensual images, which appear to have been made using AI, showed the pop star in sexually suggestive and explicit positions.

US media reports that some posts sharing the images amassed more than 27 million views and 260,000 likes in 19 hours, before the account that posted the images was suspended.

X then temporarily blocked searches of the singer’s name. Joe Benarroch, head of business operations at the social media company, told the Wall Street Journal that the move was a “temporary action” and had been done “with an abundance of caution” as the site “prioritise safety on this issue”.

In a statement, X said posting such content was “strictly prohibited” and it had a “zero-tolerance policy” towards it.

Although the company did not mention Swift by name, it said: “Our teams are actively removing all identified images and taking appropriate actions against the accounts responsible for posting them.

“We’re closely monitoring the situation to ensure that any further violations are immediately addressed, and the content is removed. We’re committed to maintaining a safe and respectful environment for all users.”

Chile ex-president dead in a helicopter crash, reports claim

Sebastián Piñera, the former president of Chile, has died in a helicopter crash, his office has confirmed. He was 74.

In a statement to Chilean media, the former president’s office confirmed he had died in a helicopter accident. His death was first reported by local media, according to Reuters.

SENAPRAD, the country’s national disaster agency, confirmed that there had been a helicopter crash in Lago Ranco, a town in the southern part of Chile.

Mr Piñera was reportedly the only person killed in the crash, while three others were injured.

In a televised address, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said the aircraft had crashed into Lake Ranco, and that the three other passengers swam to shore, according to the New York Times. The Chilean Navy recovered Mr Piñera’s body from the wreckage, she said.

Mr Piñera, a businessman and billionaire, served as president from 2010 to 2014, and again from 2018 to 2022. He was married and a father of four.

The conservative politician was credited with steering Chile towards significant economic growth and decreased unemployment in his first term as president.

In his second term, widespread protests broke out across Chile, with demonstrators calling for change amid stark economic inequality. Mr Piñera ultimately agreed that the country would hold a vote to rewrite the constitution.

He also led the country through numerous natural disasters and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unmissable New York State experiences

The King has done us all a service by being open about his diagnosis

A cancer diagnosis is a deeply personal thing, so King Charles should be lauded for the openness with which he has shared his news with the world.

The impact of that openness should not be underestimated: it is likely to encourage people to book potentially life-saving check-ups, and the increase in cancer awareness should hopefully provide a boost to the charities and care groups that advance research and support those in need.

That his announcement represents a break with tradition is also worthy of note; it is a welcome move at a difficult time.

What does the launch of Liz Truss’s PopCon tell us about the Tories?

Liz Truss has launched (yet) another Tory grouping, in her latest attempt to steer the Conservative Party to the right. It is a further blow to Rishi Sunak’s efforts to unite his party ahead of the general election.

Popular Conservatism, or PopCon for short, aims to influence the debate on what should be included in the Tory election manifesto. But it will also put down a marker for what many Tories privately expect to be an inquest into a crushing election defeat.