Monday, March 19, 2018

UMBC Retrievers Become First 16th Seed to Defeat Number 1 Seed in March Madness History

Gotta Like a Retriever
Ohoto courtesy of Alan Levine's Flickr page - Gotta Like a Retriever:

Well, you can probably tell that I have not been following the March Madness college basketball tournament as religiously as other people, because I only found out about this just last evening, as the casual online search for results from the opening weekend of March Madness revealed that history was made.

The 16th seed UMBC Retrievers (University of Maryland Baltimore County) became the first 16th seed to win against a number one seed, as they took out the Virginia Cavaliers, 74-54.

The game was a low-scoring, defensive affair through the first half, and the two teams went into the lockers for halftime tied at 21-21.

In the second half, however, UMBC got hot from with their three-pointers, and built up a double-digit lead. They never looked back, and never relinquished it, as Virginia became the first top-seeded team to lose their very first tournament game since the 64-team system was set up.

However, this was not the first time that a number one ranked team lost a shocking upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In fact, it happened to Virginia before, when they were the number one seed back in 1982-83, only to lose to Chaminade, 77-72. At the time, it was known as the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history.

Now, it has been eclipsed by this latest loss by another Virginia team, this time to the UMBC Retrievers, who wound up losing themselves in the second round to the 9th seed Kansas University in the second round.

Still, that is some unbelievable history, as prior to that game, the 16th seeds had a combined record of 0-135 against number 1 seeds. But now, what was deemed as impossibly by some has happened, and a top-seeded team has indeed lost to the lowest rated team of a bracket. It had taken Virginia 35 years to get back to the number one ranking following that shocking defeat to Chaminade, and they saw yet another disaster - one probably even bigger and likely more haunting than the loss to Chaminade - to have it taken away from them. This Virginia team was not just the number one seed in their bracket, but the overall number one ranked team, and many considered them the best team in years. They had not allowed more than 53 points in any game all season thanks to a stellar defense, yet they allowed 53 points in the second half alone, and wound up losing by 20 points!

Indeed, history was made in the NCAA tournament this weekend, and it was not just with that shocking win by UMBC over Virginia.

Yes, there were a few upsets and eyebrow raising results, but perhaps none of the other games were quite as noteworthy as what happened to Cincinnati.

Another huge and shocking outcome occurred on Sunday evening, when Cincinnati did their best impression of the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, as they blew a huge lead well into the second half, and improbably found a way to lose a game that they had in the bag.

By the end of the game, however, Cincy players were scratching their heads and wondering what went wrong, as Nevada celebrated an improbable win.

Two years ago, Northern Iowa was coming off a huge win from one of the most iconic shots in tournament history, and things were going well for them against Texas A&M, as well. They were up by 12 with just 44 seconds remaining. Usually, that means cruise control to the finish line. Just don't do anything stupid and self-destructive, and you have got yourself a win, right?

Well, not this time. Somehow, Northern Iowa had a historic collapse that most people believe ranks as the worst collapse in tournament history, Somehow, they found a way to lose that game.

All of that, and just a few weeks ago, Drexel managed to pull off the greatest comeback in NCAA history, overcoming a 34-point deficit to Delaware to ultimately win the game.

Cincinnati's collapse, or  ranks as the second Nevada's epic comeback win, was the second biggest comeback in March madness history, as Nevada overcame a 22-point deficit to ultimately win the game.

So, what was the biggest comeback?

That came in 2012 during the Final Four, when the BYU Cougars gave up 55 points in the first half and were trailing by 25 points at one point, they came all the way back to stun Iona, 78-72, to pull off a win for the ages. It still stands as the greatest comeback in the history of the NCAA tournament, often known better as March Madness.

So, there you have it. Only two rounds into the March Madness tournament, and already, there have been some epic, memorable games and history made! Let's see what the rest of the tournament has in store!

The following were the articles that I used in writing this blog entry, including numerous background stories and records and such to illustrate some of the other epic moments in March Madness history. Please take a look at these, as they provide some really interesting stuff!

The night UMBC, Virginia and the impossible all collided by ESPN by Ryan McGee, March 17, 2018:

A Little-Known University Stuns No. 1 Virginia? You Must Mean Chaminade By JOHN BRANCHMARCH 17, 2018:

Odom family tied to college basketball’s biggest upsets — UMBC and Chaminade Associated Press March 17, 2018:

What Are the Largest Comebacks in March Madness History? by Ryan Davis March 13, 2018:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Half a Century Ago, a True American Hero Ended the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam

Sometimes, heroes do not match the obvious traditional ideas of what heroes are. Some people think of artists or musicians, some think of superheroes, some think of people who provide brilliant military heroics on the battlefield, to the glory of themselves and their country. Some think of people who, at great danger to themselves, rush into dangerous situations to help save people. 

Hugh Thompson was an American helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, and he responded to what was going on in My Lai, the infamous massacre of Vietnamese citizens by American troops. It happened on March 16, 1968 - 50 years ago.

By the time that Thompson arrived, American troops had already killed more than 500 Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. That obviously is horrific, yet it could have been worse had Thompson not been there, and done what he had done.

Thompson is a real American hero. Maybe he does not fit a conventional kind of image of a hero, and many people simply were disgusted with the war, and My Lai seemed to be perhaps the most symbolic event of that war for some. Most people just did not want to hear about an event like this, where American troops were allowed to let off steam, so to speak, by killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children and the elderly. That did not fit the traditional images of American soldiers as purely heroic, as the good guys bravely fighting evil Communism in some faraway land. 

Yet, it happened, and Thompson's involvement in preventing it from being worse never really got the credit that it deserved. Again, this story does not fit the traditional sense of what is heroic, and what is not, but it ended the massacre. Thompson threatened that he and his crew would shoot any American troops who continued to shoot at Vietnamese civilians, and this ended the massacre.

In 2000, Jon Weiner of the Los Angeles Times interviewed Thompson about his involvement in ending the My Lai massacre. Here are some of his recollections from that event:

"We started noticing these large numbers of bodies everywhere, people on the road dead, wounded. And just sitting there saying, 'God, how'd this happen? What's going on?' And we started thinking what might have happened, but you didn't want to accept that thought — because if you accepted it, that means your own fellow Americans, people you were there to protect, were doing something very evil.

"They were not combatants. They were old women, old men, children, kids, babies."

Was he worried that American troops might incite violence against him and his crew, because they were threatening to fire upon them? Thompson answered:

"Well, it didn't come to that. I thank God to this day that everybody did stay cool and nobody opened up. ... It was time to stop it, and I figured, at that point, that was the only way the madness, or whatever you want to call it, could be stopped."

He met some of the people he saved on the 30th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, and recalled that memorable event:

"There were real good highs, and very low lows. One of the ladies that we had helped out that day came up to me and asked, 'Why didn't the people who committed these acts come back with you?' And I was just devastated. And then she finished her sentence: she said, 'So we could forgive them.' I'm not man enough to do that. I'm sorry. I wish I was, but I won't lie to anybody. I'm not that much of a man. 

"I always questioned, in my mind, did anybody know we all aren't like that? Did they know that somebody tried to help? And yes, they did know that. That aspect of it made me feel real good."

So, even though I missed the actual 50th anniversary of this event, it seemed like a necessity to honor Hugh Thompson, a true American hero who ended a massacre that needed to be ended. It might not seem like the conventional notions of heroism, but he was certainly a brave hero on that day, and possibly hundreds of Vietnamese people who otherwise might not be here today can thank Thompson for being there that day. 

A forgotten hero stopped the My Lai massacre 50 years ago today  By JON WIENER MAR 16, 2018

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Some Little Known Facts About St. Patrick's Day

Okay, another St. Paddy's Day is here.

I had my corned beef (which, I learned, does not even really exist on a major scale in Ireland) and cabbage, with potatoes and carrots. Wore green (at least on Friday, to the Irish pub), and wrote some blog entries with heavy Irish themes to them. Here I am, doing it yet again.

But as it turns out, the truth is that St. Patrick's Day is not really an Irish holiday. It's an American creation, with a distinctly Irish feel, but it was not a major holiday or anything in Ireland itself.

I have known that fact for a while now, but here was an article with some facts that I didn't know. I was familiar with some of these facts, but not as familiar with others.

One way or the other, though, it was interesting, and so I thought it was definitely worth sharing here on the Charbor Chronicles, and today on St. Patrick's Day, of all days:

"Everything You Know About St. Patrick's Day Is Wrong" by Christine Dalton of The Huffington Post, March 14, 2014:

St Patrick's Day History

Hey guys!

I wrote an article in 2015. This was in the tradition that I have been trying to keep with writing about the history of holidays - although I am still kicking myself for missing Valentine's Day, which had an interesting history that I would have loved to write an article for in the Guardian Liberty Voice.

Still, in any case, at least I was able to get this one done, and now, it is published. Truth be told, I liked the old picture that I had a lot better than the one that was actually accompanying this article.

So, please take a look at the finalized, now published article about the history of St. Patrick's Day, and learn some interesting facts that might dispel some popular myths and misconceptions about this particular holiday. Here's the link below:

St. Patrick’s Day History

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!'s-Day-in-Gaelic

Well, I wrote this blog entry years ago, and just figured it was as appropriate now, for St. Patrick's Day 2016.

So, I have gotten the chance to enjoy it, and here's hoping that you do, too! May the luck of the Irish be with you on this day!

I was about to post something, a bitching session for all intents and purposes, that I just finished writing. But then it occurred to me that it is St. Patrick's Day, and that I should do something with this as the theme. Having spent the time writing that other thing, however, I did not have the time, or energy, to start from scratch. So, I went back, and decided to go ahead and copy and paste what I wrote last year for this day, in recognition of this holiday, and the enchanted Emerald Isle in general! Enjoy, and may the luck of the Irish be with you on this Sain' Paddy's Day!

So, another St. Patrick's Day has passed. A day to celebrate Irish heritage, something that the author of this piece does not actually have, but still nonetheless honors in his own small way each year.
Usually, my mom will make her once a year Irish dish of corned beef and cabbage, potatoes, carrots. We try to remember to wear green. I got myself a green bagel, and maybe would have gotten myself a green beer, if I had not been working. I have had one or two in my day, but not excessively or anything like that.
Mostly, it is in recognition of a country that is often viewed in almost magical terms. It really has a fascinating culture and history, and there is a certain lore about the place that is hard to dismiss.
I have never been there, but would love to go someday. A land of evidently numerous shades of green that you can really appreciate best as you are flying over it, from what I have heard, thus justifying it's nickname as "The Emerald Island". It is also a land of country fields spotted with the occasional cottage, some charming villages, old castles and ruins of castles, often covered in moss. It is a country of rich traditions and folklore, of music. Ireland is a land of ancient traditions dating back to the druids, to the Celts. It did more than any of the other nations in the British Isles of preserving their past culture and language, although it has not been easy. Gaelic is an official language, but it pales in comparison with English, spoken only by a tiny minority of the population. Still, efforts have been made, and are still being made, to keep it active, and these have been met with some measure of success, at that.
The history of Ireland has always been fascinating as well, if steeped in tragedy. It seems that it is dominated by stories of wars of conquest, of periodic famines, sometimes of epic proportions (a large part of the reason why there are so many people of Irish heritage in countries like the United States and Canada), and of crushing poverty (just read some of Frank McCourt's works, for example).
St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, himself famously drove out all of the snakes from the Emerald Isle, and used the shamrock as a symbol that has now largely come to represent Ireland itself. These are not the only legends surrounding him, of course, but they are among the most famous, to be sure. They are the ones that people seem most familiar with.
Ireland has changed a great deal over the years. Dublin is a growing city, and very diverse. Like almost every western European nation, it has been greatly changed by immigration. Many Eastern Europeans have found a comfortable abode upon Irish shores, and the capital city is a huge reflection of that. It is supposed to be a very young city, where everything is new, in a land of ancient traditions and cultures. It is rather ironic.
What is also ironic is that this tiny island remains a symbol of division. Northern Ireland remains predominately Protestant, although it is hardly a wide majority. Yet, the society there remains often strictly divided, and thus, filled with tensions. A lot of people forget, but in the days just before September 11th, when the terrorist attacks would obviously dominate international headlines for a good long while, the international news that was gaining the most attention prior to that came from northern Ireland, when attempts to integrate Catholics and Protestants into the same schools resulted in extreme violence and further division, and were compared with the violence and ugly scenes in the days of legalized segregation in the Jim Crow South, back in the fifties and early sixties. Nor is the controversy restricted to Ireland or Northern Ireland, for that matter. Every now and then, you will still see a 26+6= 1 bumper sticker, and there still exists many anti-British sentiments regarding this issue in particular. Proof that the charm that marks Ireland and it's traditional cultures does not make it immune from modern day political realities, ugly as they may be.
Ireland has punched harder than it's weight in terms of the impact on the world that this relatively tiny island nation has had. A huge portion of Americans, for one, can trace their heritage to the Irish, almost all of whom made their escape from the crushing poverty found in the place at the time. The United States had it's Irish Catholic President in John F. Kennedy, one of the most admired and famous of the Presidents. Irish musicians have enjoyed considerable success the world over, including Sinead O'Connor and, most obviously, U2. It is a land that produced some prominent literary figures, including the giant figure of James Joyce, especially.
So, St. Patrick's Day is over, at least for another year. Many are those who look forward to this traditional drinking holiday, whether they are, in fact, Irish or not. A few years ago, I saw in an Irish pub in WarwickNew York, a countdown clock. This was not for a New Year, in anticipation of some other momentous occasion. It was for the next St. Patrick's Day. I guess it's time to set the clock and begin the countdown all over again, right?

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time: Movie Review

Okay, so, I remember this book from when I was a kid, and have read it a couple of times now as an adult. Once on my own, just for old time's sake, and recently, I just finished reading it with my son as a book project. We finished it just in time to go and see it in the movies.

The book is great, and gets better each time that I read it. It really is an imaginative book, at times reminding me of Greek mythology (I still remember getting that impression from the cover of the softcover edition by Laurel-Leaf Fantasy), while at other times, it reminded me a bit of George Orwell's 1984, particularly the idea of Camazotz. At one point, when they are speaking to the seated man, it almost reminded me of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, particularly the scene when Luke and the Emperor are going back and forth about the merits, or rather lack thereof, of the Dark Side of the Force. 

Now, there were some good things in this movie. Storm Reid was very good as Meg, the main hero of the movie, if you will. She allows the emotional scenes to pack a punch, and makes you feel something. Also, there were some very cool parts that underscored the wisdom to be found in L'Engle's original work. Generally speaking, it is a positive, upbeat movie, and many kids can hopefully take inspiration in it. 

However, even with some of these positives, it feels like there are negatives. I think that Christ Stuckman, the reviewer of movies that I have used before here (for Star Wars movies), got it right in one respect, that there was no surprise when some strange things happen. I do not want to get into details here, because I do not want to act as spoiler for anyone who wants to see the movie but has not yet done so. However, this obviously is a movie with some startling special effects for a reason, and there seems to be a general almost indifference of these magical things unfolding before the children's eyes, which frankly does detract from the movie. Also, while there are some pearls of wisdom within the movie, it comes out jumbled and almost incoherent, not sticking to the original work, and that was a disappointment. So, there are some gems, but it feels like they are scattered a bit, and that they are not as much what the movie is about, as the special effects. There, too, I think that Stuckman makes a point in suggesting that these special effects are not as good as the producers of this movie seem to think that they are.

That said, therein lay some of the problem, because the movie was a little too upbeat. The book version of Camazotz was a very dark and foreboding place, while in the movie version, it really did not feel all that dark or scary. Also, the creature that carries the children on it's back, and which reminds Meg in the book a little of a centaur, only prettier, is just a little too pretty in this movie. It is clearly CGI and very unrealistic, and resembles more a floating lead or salad than anything that might remind Meg, or anyone else, really, of a prettier version of a centaur. That seemed like a very Disney kind of interpretation of the creatures, and not an improvement, at that.  It was just a little too cute, and the emphasis on trying to make the creature a wonder and a beauty to me took away from the seriousness of the message of the original book. 

I heard one person on the radio, a movie critic, claiming that this was fine with her, because it was a kid's movie. But I disagree. L'Engle's book was not actually meant just for children, but somewhere in between kids, young adults, and even, to some degree, adults themselves. Again, it is not simply a happy children's book, but has dark themes within it, and this movie changed too much, to make it almost unrecognizable at times. 

Frankly, it felt so jumbled, that the coherence of the novel, strange and unique as it was (and admittedly, many of the first reviewers of the book seemed to feel somewhat the same about the book), is lost here in the film. Some of the acting was decent, and there were some cool scenes, and positive messages. But overall, I have to say that while hoping the movie worked, as much for my son as for anything else, it just never seemed to fully take off. I never was lost or completely absorbed in the film, and there were just too many twists and turns that seemed like obvious opportunities to add in some CGI special effects, to make this movie as enjoyable and moving as it could have been. That makes this movie a missed opportunity, in my book.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Students Across the Country Walk Out in Protest of Inaction on Gun Laws

Yesterday, there was a nationwide protest involving high school students. They were protesting the lack of action on gun access, and the argument generally is that guns are far too easy to access for people who really should never be anywhere near a gun.

The protest came on the one month anniversary of the Parkland school shooting in Florida. 

Ever since that shooting, the students from Parkland have been very active, and very much in the public eye. It has been inspiring and a hopeful sign to see so many young kids actually caring enough to be very active, and to organize, although it has been equally as appalling to see supposed grown ups trash these kids, and make ugly suggestions. Some are suggesting that they are paid actors, and earlier this week, a Republican Maine lawmaker referred to 18-year-old Emma Gonzales as a "skinhead lesbian" and insulted another Parkland student. Mind you, these are supposed to be the adults, and they are supposed to set the example. Yet, they are engaging in character assassinating behavior to survivors of one of the worst school shootings in American history. 

It really makes you wonder what in the hell has happened to this country. 

One thing, though: these students have surprised me a bit. But it's been a pleasant surprise, not a nasty one (those kinds of surprises politically have become so common in this country that they hardly are worth getting surprised about anymore). 

These kids are really bright, and they really care. They seem sure of their ultimate success, that sensible gun legislation will be passed. That is such a refreshing bit of optimism on this issue for people like me, who have seen inaction and complete stalling on this issue for not merely years, but decades now. This was an issue in the 1990's, as school shootings and other mass shootings started to be on the radar. It was a huge issue in the 2000's, and now, it jumped several degrees in the 2010's, with some of the most horrific mass shootings that we have seen yet in places like Aurora, Sandy Hook Elementary, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and most recently, of course, in Parkland.

Yes, these kids are sure of their ultimate success. I was watching the NJ News yesterday, and one of the participating kids who was interviewed seemed to express disbelief that a whole month had passed since Parkland without any major gun legislation. One month! Again, for many of us, we have seen years turn to decades without meaningful changes in our gun laws, while other countries, during that same time period, have also dealt with mass shootings, placed sensible gun laws in the books, and never had to deal with mass shootings again. 

I mean, seriously! Other countries have the same kinds of issues and problems that the United States does, including problems with people who are mentally unstable or, to be more specific and label the culprits more fairly, with violent people. Yet, there is no other country in the industrialized world with anywhere near the level of gun violence in this country, and the senselessness of mass shootings are probably the most shocking and horrifying of them.

We here in the United States are the only one who seem to take these kinds of tragedies as the "new normal," even though we all really understand that there is absolutely nothing normal about this. In other countries, these kinds of incidents are not allowed to stand. Here in this country, many feel that this is just the price to pay for freedom. I was debating a gun advocate not long after the Parkland shooting, and he made the claim that I did not know what I was talking about, because I did not have specific knowledge on the various kinds of guns. He then went on with his checkmate point, if you will, agreeing that there were indeed thousands of deaths by guns each year, but that only about 300 deaths were because of assault weapons.

Only 300 deaths. That is about 1,000 deaths every three years and change. Over the course of a decades, if those numbers remain more or less steady, then that would be 3,000 deaths. Preventable deaths, frankly.

Indeed, that seemed to me to be the point to end the discussion. When we have grown so desensitized to this kind of violence that we just shrug that assault weapons only cause around 300 deaths each year, then we have lost some of our decency, and even some of our humanity. When these kinds of events fail to shock us anymore, unless they are especially big in terms of casualties, then we indeed have lost a valuable, essential part of our humanity, and it seems to me that people who automatically fear more the possibility of losing their precious guns than in horror at the casualties after such horrors play out are indeed a huge part of the problem.

That is why I am encouraged by these kids. They saw something that impacted them, and are not blase about it. They act truly shocked and horrified by a senseless act of violence to easily committed, and right in one of their high schools. And they expect us - adults, that is - to actually do something about it. And when we collectively don't, then they are going ahead and taking matters into their own hands!

What a refreshing change when it comes to gun violence in the United States! What a bit of humanity restored! Indeed, the message is clearly echoes in one of the headlines of an article that I posted a link to below, that this young generation was raised with gun violence, but they have a simple message to us supposed adults:


National School Walkout: Thousands Protest Against Gun Violence Across the U.S. By VIVIAN YEE and ALAN BLINDERUPDATED, March 14, 2018:

A generation raised on gun violence sends a loud message to adults: Enough by Emanuella Grinberg and Holly Yan of CNN, March 14, 2018:

'If we keep coming together like this we will be unstoppable': Thousands of Chicago-area students walk out of schools to demand gun reform, Staff report Chicago Tribune, March 14, 2018: