Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sports Update for May 31

Okay, so we know the contestants for both the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals now!

Time to make predictions!

Also, a bit more on the French Open, as well.

Let's go!

Stephen Curry

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NBA Finals Prediction

Yes, we know now who will meet in this year's NBA Finals, and yes, it is time to make predictions.

So, we have the Cleveland Cavaliers out of the east, and the Golden State Warriors out of the west. The Warriors will have home court advantage, and unlike with the Atlanta series, this should prove very advantageous to Golden State, since they are so tough to beat at home.

The Warriors have been the best team all season, and despite some tough battles in the playoffs, they have pretty much looked like an unstoppable force.

Then again, the Cavs, to their credit, have the best player in the league, and the rest of the team, his supporting cast, has really been stepping up to the plate.

Nobody said it as going to be easy either way. These two teams truly look like the best two teams in the league, and it is indeed fitting to see them together in the NBA Finals.

The Warriors have the league's best rated offense behind Stephen Curry, and they look unstoppable - especially at home. However way you slice, Cleveland is going to have a hard time with them. The Cavs themselves can be explosive, especially with James at the helm. This has been particularly true during this playoff run. But they just do not have the firepower to keep up with the Warriors in a shootout, and I am not sure they have the defense that can slow Golden State down enough.

In the meantime, Golden State's defense is tough, and will present some tough challenges for Cleveland. The Cavaliers will answer some of these, but again, Golden State is built to win at this level.

Frankly, I just do not see the Cavaliers coming out of this series with enough significant advantages to keep up with the powerful Warriors. I think the Cavs will be a strong contender. They should be able to win at least a couple of games at home - by no means do I believe this will be a quick or easy series for Golden State. But if they are healthy and at their best, the Warriors should do what they have done all season long now - get past tough challenges to emerge as the best team in the NBA, even if it takes six or seven games to prove it.

Stanley Cup Playoffs

Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Banner Ceremony

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So, the Blackhawks did it, winning Game 7 by seizing control early, and then essentially wearing down Anaheim the rest of the way. Chicago played a nearly perfect first period, and then used their vastly superior experiences at this level to apply the killer instinct on the Ducks and choke the life out of them.

In the meantime, the Rangers missed too many opportunities, and all of the talk (frankly, it sounded more like bragging) about how the Rangers never, ever lose a Game 7 at home came to nil.

The Lightning are in the Cup Finals now.

But can they keep up with the Blackhawks?

I am betting that they cannot.

Yes, they got past the Rangers in New York, a very impressive achievement.

Chicago is a different ball of wax. They have more experience than the Rangers, as well as more talent. They also already displayed the killer instinct, which means Tampa has to prevent getting into a hole. Chicago is sporting a 10-1 record so far in these playoffs when scoring first.

My prediction is that Chicago may struggle at first, and the two teams may very well split the first two or more games.

Ultimately, however, the Blackhawks are a very experienced team on this level, and they should be able to choke the life out of the Lightning, and force them to tap out as the series gets deeper.

Bottom line, I do not see the Lightning being able to prevent the Blackhawks from securing a third Stanley Cup Championship banner in six years from being lifted at the United Center. They just do not have enough to stop this dynasty.

Rolland Garros/ The French Open

Rafael Nadal

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Gael Monfils

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No major upsets at the French Open yesterday, either.

However, Nadal and Djokovic keep on rolling, while Serene struggled mightily, ultimately winning. She looks far more vulnerable than most people anticipated to this point.

Still, she is a champion, and you certainly can never rule her out.

Today, the biggest match will be very intriguing: Roger Federer versus Frenchman Gael Monfils.

Should prove entertaining! Let's enjoy!

Novak Djokovic

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Some Notable Things From My Monday

I wrote this a few weeks ago, on a particularly eventful and memorable Monday. I worked a job close to the shore, and decided not just simply to go home after my shift ended, but to spend some time at the Jersey Shore, just because I could at that point. 

It took me a bit too long to publish this, admittedly.

But here it is now:

It was not a bad Monday at all yesterday.

In fact, it was the kind of day that you want to remember for a long time, and just be appreciative of, even if it was quite unconventional.

You see, I worked my part-time overnight job, which in and of itself was not particularly thrilling, admittedly.

However, when I got off, instead of heading home, I went the other direction, against traffic, for roughly ten minutes, and got to the big destination in that area: the Jersey Shore. At least, the beginning of it.

Yes, Sandy Hook. A nice beach with some pleasant memories for me, personally. There was the high school trip (for science class) back in 1992, and the college trip in 1993. A few trips there since, including with my girlfriend and the dog (bringing the dog was a big mistake) a couple of years ago. More recently, with my son and my brother.

This trip was unique for a couple of reasons, as it was the first time that I went to the shore by myself (which was a bit strange, admittedly), and it was the first time that I literally had the beach to myself. I mean, literally no one else on the beach and, at least close to the ocean waves - no footprints, even. It looked pretty amazing!

I was going to test the waters, but it was chilly out, and the thought of taking a dip, especially when I forgot a towel and would have had to air dry. That did not sound particularly appealing, so I sat for a while, and read, looking up every now and again to look out onto the waves. Even the ocean seemed unusually empty of ships and such, which are usually very present the other times I have been by the Jersey Shore.

Finally, I did take a nap, but in the parking lot of the shore, just to avid traffic. Also, I kind of wanted to wake up to the sounds of the ocean, which I thought would be pleasant.

It was.

But it was time to get going, and so I went to the apartment first at Hillsborough, got a bit more sleep and did some writing, and then soon began to head up north, where I would pick up my son. Mondays, after all, are my day to enjoy his company, and I did.

We went hiking in the woods, enjoying a good hike in the wooded foothills, taking in views, even though one such view was of a burnt out piece of land (see pictures).

All in all, a pretty cool Monday!

A nest of caterpillars, or maybe this is some kind of a group coccoon, where they begin the process of turning into butterflies? I do not know, but it gave me the idea that perhaps I should get a few caterpillars into cages, so that we could watch the process of them converting into butterflies. Good idea, or bad?

Hitler's Rise to Power

Hitler and Rohm, leader of the Nazi SA

Phot courtesy of Rupert Colley's Flickr Page - Hitler and Rohm, leader of the Nazi SA:

Not sure why it took me so many weeks, and really even months, to add these to the collection of World War II anniversary blog entries.

But here they are.

These are of a different sort. They are anniversaries of an event that actually predates World War II, but which were nonetheless huge in leading up to the outbreak of World War II.

I was reminded of them earlier today, when I heard on NPR a piece about some controversial art in Germany from the Nazi era. The debate was whether to destroy the art or not, but apparently, Germans have come to terms with the notion that they come from a dark chapter in their history, but destroying everything from then is not the answer.

It was mentioned during this debate that Hitler had a significant, and fairly reputable, group of followers prior to 1940. In fact, I heard an argument on the radio this morning that I had heard before: namely, that had Hitler died in 1939 or 1940, he might very well have gone down in history in a very different manner, regarded as one of the great European statesmen in history.

Remember, Germany was on it's knees in 1933, when he ascended to power. The country was a defeated and deflated nation, forced to accepting sole. It was still reeling from the record economic disaster of the 1920's, when even a barrel full of cash might buy you a loaf of bread. Many people had lost everything -their life savings, their jobs, their hopes and dreams.

In comes Hitler, and soon, people were saying that he made the trains run on time. Germany rose from it's defeated status, and he tore up the Treaty of Versailles, and restored German power and pride. The balance of power in Europe once again shifted more favorably for Germany. Within years, while the rest of the world was dealing with it's own economic problems during the days of the Great Depression, Hitler's Germany marched ever more confidently. Sure, he was viewed as a growing threat by some, but many believed that this threat was an exaggeration, that he probably was not all that bad.

And remember, he kept acquiring land for Germany, with no loss of life (often, without even a shot being fired), or with minimal loss of life. First, German troops occupied and rearmed the Saar, which had been a demilitarized zone. Next, came the Anschluss with Austria, a bloodless takeover through plebescite. Then, came the Munich Pact, and Hitler was given the Sudetenland part of Czechoslovakia by the Western powers. He took all of Czechoslovakia, and nothing happened. Then, he took Poland after a few weeks of fighting, and Germany suddenly occupied a lot of territory. After the so-called "Sitzkrieg (Sitting war) part of World War II during the winter of 1939-40, Germany went on the offensive in the spring of 1940, and quickly took over a lot more countries - Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, and France.

At that point, standing as the victor, having been congratulated by Stalin, Hitler appealed to Britain for peace, essentially saying the war was over, Germany had won. Britain resisted, and the war continued. Remember, nobody knew that Hitler would go on to make the disastrous mistake of invading the USSR the next year. No, in 1940, it indeed looked like Hitler had won the war.

You see the images nowadays, and it is easy to put those next to Germany's ultimate fate of being blasted to rubble a few years later, of Soviet tanks and troops storming in and forcing Germany, once again, on it's knees. It is easy to remember the Nazis as monsters, responsible for the Holocaust, which still ranks as the most extreme crime against humanity that people have ever been responsible for.

If you can divorce all of that, which still la in the future when we revisit 1940, then indeed, that genius part of Hitler, the big gambled who always won and never seemed to lose, the man with a plan that most of the world would have doubted, but which had made these tremendous reversals in Germany's favor possible, then you can imagine what Hitler looked like to Germans, who remembered only too clearly the desolation the nation was under just a few short years before.

Indeed, Hitler looked almost like a miracle worker.

Only later, when he began to lose his gambles, gambles where he had put Germany itself on the line, did Germans begin to question his sanity. Only later, when Soviet tanks first stopped the German war machine dead in it's tracks, then began to beat the Germans back from the frozen tundra of Stalingrad and the rest of the Eastern Front, back westward, towards the borders of the Reich itself and, ultimately, back into Berlin, the capital of the Reich, where the final curtain call of the European part of World War II was played out, did Germans realize just how costly their faith in him had been. Only later, when the horrors of the Holocaust began to be uncovered by the Allied forces as the Germans retreated in haste, did Germans truly recognize that this man had been bad news all along.

Before all of that, however, Hitler seemed for a while to be Germany's savior. The man of the hour, exactly who Germany needed to restore their former status of greatness back to them. They were a powerful nation again, a nation still on the rise. In the spring of 1940, it appeared that the wrongs of the past had been righted (at least from a German perspective), and Hitler was the man of the hour.

Funnily enough, at first, Hitler was seen as a wild card, and many people assumed that corporate interests would be able to keep him in check, that they ultimately controlled him.

Obviously, that proved to hardly be the case.

But it is an interesting story, how Hitler got to power and, ultimately, seized complete control of Germany through entirely legal means.

How did Hitler rise to power in the first place? That in itself is a fascinating history that needs to be understood. Much of it remains in obscurity, including the role of a certain prominent family in American politics today. Yes, there have long been rumors that the Bush family, now a political dynasty that American voters always seem to bring back to prominence, in fact helped bring about the rise of Hitler so many decades ago. It is amazing that this unique story remains largely hidden in the background, and we Americans should come to terms with some of the roles that we played not only with Hitler's rise to power, but with subsequent dark chapters of the Holocaust that Americans influenced, which included euthanasia, the influence of the Jim Crow laws and segregation on the Nuremberg laws. Hell, the leader of the Hitler Youth even said that this movement was influenced by the Boys Scouts here in the United States.

Yet, the ties that the Bush family apparently had with Hitler's rise to power have clearly been swept under the rug here in the United States, but we need to make sure that people understand this chapter in history.

Here are some articles relating to the anniversary of Hitler's rise, as well as one that explores, from a credible website, the role of the Bush family in helping Hitler to rise in power:

Berlin marks Hitler's rise to power

Hitler came to power 80 years ago. I remember it like yesterday

How Bush's grandfather helped Hitler's rise to power

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Some Lesser Known (But Still Awesome) U.S. National Parks

In the last few weeks, I have been contemplating taking a big trip with my son. That is one of the things that we do together at least once a year, often more than one, if possible. Usually these trips are in the summer.

One thing about trips: often times, the anticipation of a coming trip, which includes the planning, is the best part. All possibilities are still open to you, whereas as soon as the trip begins, or is fully planned, those possibilities become considerably more limited.

Then, before you know it, the trip is over. Something that you had planned for weeks or maybe months is done, a part of the past, and you can only try and reminisce, remember it fondly, and perhaps start to think about the next trip.

We really should have more weeks of vacation here in the United States, but I will not digress further by getting into that particular topic.

The point is that, often times, the best parts of a trip are in the planning phase, before you have actually gotten the tickets or made any reservations, let alone actually gone on the trip. At that phase of things, you have your imagination, and with a lot of time left before the date when you are thinking of going, it allows you to dream of so many potential places to visit, experiences to enjoy.

Then, the reality of limited funds and limited time crashes into those dreams. Reality settles in.

Before you know it, you more or less know the itinerary, know where you are going to be and what you are going to visit. Part of that delicious mystery of exploring on a trip is already done, even though the trip itself still may lay well into the future.

Again, though, there is always the possibility of future trips, where the possibilities are still endless.

Well, here is an article about more possibilities: national parks that are not perhaps as well known as the more famous parks that have gobbled up most of the attention. But these national parks nonetheless have a lot to offer themselves, and are worthy of consideration for people interested in taking trips to less touristy destinations. To go off the beaten path, so to speak.

So, take a look, and enjoy!


Friday, May 29, 2015

Sports Update for May 29, 2015

We have the two finalists in the NBA now, and we have two decisive Game 7's to look forward to in the Stanley Cup playoffs!

Also, French Open action continues in Paris.

However, the biggest sports news this week by far, so big that it transcends sports, would be the arrest on corruption charges of numerous officials associated with FIFA. It is a still developing story, yet the implications and debate are already huge.

So, let's take a look at the world in sports right now:

Stephen Curry

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison's Flickr page - Stephen Curry:

NBA Finals

We know now who will meet in this year's NBA Finals!

The Golden State Warriors managed to eliminate the Houston Rockets a couple of nights ago, to secure their first Finals appearance in four decades.

They did so after eliminating the Rockets in five games.

Now, normally, a five game series suggests a decisive, clear, even easy victory of one team over another. But that was not the case this time around. Even though Houston only managed to win one game in the series, they gave the Warriors a tough time in all but one game in the series.

Still, ultimately, Golden State was simply too much for the Rockets in the end, and they move on to the NBA Finals. They were the best team in the NBA all season long, so it makes a lot of sense, frankly.

That means that the Golden State Warriors will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in this year's NBA Finals, and we will have a brand new champion, a team that at the very least, has not won the title in many decades. That alone makes this particular series intriguing.

I will likely give a preview and make a prediction of the series in the near future. But for now, congratulations are in order for both teams, as well as their long-suffering fans.

Should be a great series!


FIFA World Cup Trophy

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Thierry Weil Head of Marketing for FIFA and Bill Egbe CEO for Coca-Cola SA

Photo courtesy of Coca Cola South Africa's Flickr page - Thierry Weil Head of Marketing for FIFA
and Bill Egbe CEO for Coca-Cola SA:
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The biggest sports news around the world this week was the arrest of numerous FIFA officials in Switzerland on May 27th, working in cooperation with American authorities.

Now, 18 officials with ties to FIFA face very serious charges. There are all sorts of stories now coming to light, such as one volunteer for FIFA having been bribed to the tune of $10 million, and another former coach of children rising through the ranks to become a prominent FIFA official and acquiring over $100 million, while managing to avoid paying taxes on that money.

These charges are coming from the upper echelons of the United States government. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, only one month into her job, essentially is taking a huge gamble in a case that will very likely either make or break her career. But she apparently feels that there is a solid case here, feeling that these charges carried weight and proof could be furbished. Numerous counts of corruption involved American banks, which is against American law even when this takes place overseas. That is why the United States, specifically, is taking this action, although some have suggested that it was a blatant attempt by the nation to try and gain greater influence within FIFA.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter issued a statement in which he expressed shock that officials under him had apparently been guilty of corruption. Blatter is trying to win re-election later today in Zurich for what would be another five-year term, although Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan is contesting him, trying to unseed him and gain the top spot himself.

Blatter remains the heavy favorite to win the election. But some have suggested that Blatter was the main target, but officials just had not been able to acquire enough dirt to charge Blatter personally - yet.

Still, Blatter may not remain unaffected by this huge bombshell for too long. IOC President Thomas Bach publicly said that it is time for FIFA to clean up its act, and called for more transparency. Blatter responded that FIFA felt ashamed with these recent revelations.

Also, a number of prominent people have asked Blatter to step down, although he has refused to do so to this point. Most prominent among these officials was Uefa chief Michel Platini, the former French star.

It seemed that suggestions that FIFA was now tainted were coming from everywhere, and that severe action was required to restore trust in the organization.

One former presidential candidate for FIFA, Luis Figo, who resigned from the race last week, suggested that May 27th will go down as one of the worst days in the sport's history.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is incensed, and has suggested that it is a barely concealed attempt by America to take away the 2018 World Cup from Russia, which is slated to host the tournament. He is in support of Blatter, and wants him to stay on.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia is not the only one being called into question, with strong suggestions that the bidding was dirty. Qatar was awarded the World Cup for 2022, and there are a lot of questions about those games.

Officially World Cup officials suggested that they were branching out to new regions, trying to end the monopoly of World Cup tournaments hosted by Western nations. However, skeptics are suggesting that these considerations took a back seat to corruption, with big money and kickbacks truly being the determining factor.

These allegations were long suspected, and  an investigation had been ongoing for almost a quarter of a century. However, this is the first time that official action is being pursued.

The big question now, of course, is how solid this case is, and if these charges will continue to plague and stain FIFA on a long-term basis.

After Indicting 14 Soccer Officials, U.S. Vows to End Graft in FIFA By STEPHANIE CLIFFORD and MATT APUZZO, MAY 27, 2015:

Soccer-IOC president tells FIFA it's time to clean up its act Reuters  By Mike Collett, May 28, 2015:

Fifa: Blatter refuses to quit as president & vows 'to restore trust' published by BBC Sport Football, May 28, 2015:

One of worst days in FIFA history, says Figo Reuters By Mike Collett, May 28, 2015:

Stanley Cup Playoffs

Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Banner Ceremony

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So, the Blackhawks did it, winning Game 6 and avoiding elimination, thus forcing a decisive Game 7, which will be hosted by Anaheim.

Both Conference Finals series are going the distance, and we will have to wait until later this weekend to know which two teams will face one another in the Stanley Cup Finals.

That means that it should be an interesting weekend in the NHL, with two original six teams fighting two southern expansion teams for the right to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

For me personally, I am pulling for a championship series between the two old franchises, the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers.

Let's see what happens!

Rolland Garros/ The French Open

Rafael Nadal

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Gael Monfils

Photo courtesy of Yann Caradec's Flickr Page - Gael Monfils:
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No major upsets at the French Open yesterday.

Nadal easily dispatched Nicolas Almagro to move onto the third round.

However, Djokovic had a scare yesterday. It might not have showed on the scoreboard, since he won fairly easily at 6-1, 6-4, 6-4, scoring the decisive victory over Gilles Muller of Luxemburg. But he required a medical timeout in the second set for a groin pull. Let's see how this affects him in the next days and weeks, as he pursues a French Open title that would establish him as one of the truly greatest tennis players of all time, should he win.

Djokovic made news in another way, however. He praised one young player with perhaps the ultimate compliment, suggesting that this young man reminded him of himself.

He was referring to Boran Coric, an 18-year old Croatian who is rising fast in the tennis world, who became the youngest man to reach the third round in Paris since Marat Safin did it in 1998. Coric got past Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo in a tough, five-set match, winning 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

Serena Williams won in the second round, although she struggled against German Anna-Lena Friedsam. Eventually, Williams won 5-7 6-3 6-3, managing to avoid the second round upset in the process.

Perhaps more notable than the outcome, however, Williams blasted her own conduct during the match as unprofessional.

Finally, John McEnroe made some news himself, saying that the French Open was too long, specifically referring to the three days of first round play. You can read further on any of these topics mentioned here in the following links:

Tennis - Djokovic survives injury scare at French Open AFP, May 28, 2015:

Tennis - Coric reminds me of me, says Djokovic AFP, May 28, 2015:

Tennis-Serena scolds herself for unprofessional display by Julien Pretot of Reuters, May 28, 2015:

Tennis' French Open ‘Too Long’: John McEnroe By Justin Gloria on May 27 2015:

Novak Djokovic

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

As Iraq War Debate Comes Back to Life, Americans Need to Understand

Mission Accomplished?

Photo courtesy of debaird's Flickr page - Mission Accomplished?:
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You see the headlines dominating the news today, and it always seems like ISIS is among them. ISIS seems to come from out of nowhere, and suddenly is taking over huge parts of Iraq and Syria. ISIS is a criminal pseudo regime, and a potentially genocidal one.

Yes, ISIS is awful, really. No arguments from me.

But here's the thing: we have gone to war in Iraq twice already (three times if you include the air raids during the Clinton years of the nineties). And each time, the result of our actions has served to make the situation in Iraq worse.

A recent poll showed that a majority of Americans favor military action against ISIS.

It is understandable that many would feel a need to get rid of them, and I am sure that, in this case, the intentions would be far more honorable and truthful than they were when George W. Bush and his regime actively pined for an unjustifiable war in Iraq.

Yes, an unjustifiable war.

A war that, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, has returned to news headlines recently, as a result of Jeb Bush, brother to former President George W. Bush, as well as de facto presidential candidate for 2016, stated that knowing what we know now, he would go ahead and make the same decision to invade Iraq, like his brother did. Since, he has stumbled quite a bit in trying to explain himself, fumbling for answers and, generally, giving non-answers. Just like his brother did, essentially.

He was blasted by both Democrats and Republicans after that, although I suspect that was an example of political opportunism, rather than sincere regret for our actions in Iraq. After all, I am sure that it was not just Dick Cheney and his entourage who made a ton of profits from the war that they created. When the vote is 98 to 1 in favor, you can bet that personal ambitions of Congress members took precedence over what was truly best for the country. Political opportunism at its finest.

That was still disgusts me, even after it has been over a decade since it broke out. It was such an obvious mistake on such an obviously wrong assumption (really, a fabricated justification is more apt), and it should have been obvious to almost anyone and everyone, if they paid attention.

But that kind of political awareness is not a specialty for far too many Americans in this day and age.

The war was waged, even though the reasons that we were supposedly fighting the war for in the first place were soon thoroughly discredited. No WMD's. No links to 9/11. No real major terrorism that existed in Iraq at all during the days of Saddam Hussein. In fact, terrorism really began to be a problem in the country after the American invasion, which destabilized the country, and which brought militant Islamic fundamentalists from all over the world into the country to fight this evil western invader, this Great Satan.

Over one hundred thousand Iraqi lives lost, and they have a reason to hate Americans now. Over 4,000 American lives lost, and just a ton of people on both sides maimed and seriously injured.

But those chickenhawks who aggressively pursued the war got what they wanted. They got the war in the oil rich nation, gained a military foothold in the oil rich region. Many corporations got numerous no bid contracts, and the money kept pouring in.

They are criminals.

No, this is not an exaggeration, or some extremist point of view. They fabricated the reasons for an unjustifiable war, against the wishes of the world. They relentlessly pined for war, even when there was no solid evidence that Saddam possessed the mass arsenal of deadly weapons that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, among others, swore they were certain he possessed.

War is supposed to be an absolute last resort, but it was almost the first option that they mentioned and kept pushing for.

Eventually, they got their way by relentlessly and shamelessly repeating their lies so much, that people began to mistake it for the truth.

But that is half the story, because let's be honest: Americans love war. They love the high-priced military toys and high-grade technology. And yes, they love war, even when there really is only questionable legitimacy for the reasons behind this.

You have your doubts? Americans overwhelmingly supported military action in Vietnam in the beginning, even though there was general uncertainty as to the specifics regarding the situation in that country. Americans were overwhelmingly in favor of the invasion of Grenada, even though, again, the reasons for that invasion were generally unknown to the public prior to the actual invasion. Ask most Americans to point out Vietnam or Grenada on a map, and they likely cannot do it.

Yet, Americans approved of the military actions in those countries, at least at first. Opposition to the Vietnam War increased as things turned out badly. But approval ratings were high for Grenada in 1983, as they were once again for another overnight invasion in 1989, this time in Panama. Then, approval for military action was phenomenally high for the first Gulf War. Ditto for the war in Afghanistan. And then, for the second Gulf War, a majority of Americans approved the military action, despite already being tangled up in the war in Afghanistan, and despite the lack of proof, and most of the rest of the world being staunchly opposed to war.

Approval numbers went down in both Afghanistan and Iraq as American fortunes in those wars soured.

Still, again, a recent poll showed that a majority of Americans favor military action against ISIS. And not that long ago, a poll of young Americans showed that a narrow majority would have done the same exact thing in invading Iraq as we did back in 2003, even knowing what we know now. In other words, even without the stated justifications for the war, they were in favor of the war.

And Americans wonder why it seems that they are hated more and more around the world?

Really, it is not that hard to figure out.

So, that is why it is so absurd and outrageous when you have the brother of the president that led the country to war on false grounds saying that, knowing what he knows now, he would still go to war.

Oh, sure, he backtracked a bit. Or tried to. He claimed that he did not understand the question, that he had misspoken, and he claimed that there was no way of knowing what he would have done. Eventually, when the big media, for once, did their job and actually kept after him to get to the bottom of it, he finally said that knowing what he knows now, he would not have invaded Iraq. But he sounded bitter as he said it, like his fun was spoiled for that day.

But the reasons for war can change, of course. Especially if they are fabricated. And Bush is not the only one who seems ready for war. Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker already stated that he will pursue preemptive strikes.

Hopefully, he never gets in office to see that through.

Yet, somehow, it is all too easy to see further military action in yet another country. Maybe - and that's a big maybe - the American people grew a bit war weary after the two simultaneous wars, and the impact that these had on the reputation of the country around the world, as well as the hefty price tag of the war (the two wars were estimated to have cost $6 trillion combined).

But with some very prominent presidential hopefuls already pining for an unspecified war, and other prominent politicians arguing for war against ISIS, you can kind of tell where this is all going.

That is why it is so crucial for Americans to understand the absolute bankruptcy of the arguments used to justify the Iraq invasion.

Too many Americans refused to listen when it mattered most prior to the ill-fated war in Iraq. But now, with the war drums still faint, but growing once again, we Americans need to come to grips with the reality of just how flawed the rationale for the invasion was in 2002-03, and how costly that mistake proved to be, lest they repeat that same mistake in the near future.

Original Iraq War Skeptics Find the Rekindled Debate Maddening by Sam Stein and Michael Calderone, May 20, 2015:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sports Update for May 27, 2015

LeBron James
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NBA Finals

Okay, so, the Cleveland Cavaliers are into the NBA Finals!

The city of Cleveland has been presented with the rare opportunity to possibly win a championship, which would go a long way towards finally erasing that city's horrendous sports legacy, with so many heartbreaks over the course of recent decades. From the Cleveland Browns numerous close calls in losing to the Denver Broncos three times in a four year span in the AFC Championship Games that those two franchises engaged in during the late eighties, to the Cavs getting burned by Michael Jordan in the NBA Playoffs in the early nineties, to the Indians getting to the World Series two times in the nineties, only to lose, and then losing the Browns (temporarily), who became the Baltimore Ravens and would win a Super Bowl five years after departing Cleveland.

Then, of course, there is LeBron James, who came to Cleveland and became the most exciting and positive thing in it, seemingly, only to betray the city in a high profile announcement that he was taking his talents to South Beach.

But now, all of that might be forgotten if the Cavaliers can finally take this NBA Finals series.

Most likely, they will face the Golden State Warriors, who could not complete the sweep themselves over the Houston Rockets, but who still are in clear command of that series, up 3 games to 1. That means that it will be a very tough series, and the Cavs will be without home court advantage - not that that stopped them, or even slowed them down, against Atlanta.

This will actually be one of the more interesting NBA Finals in years, with two teams that are almost brand new to the NBA Finals. The Cavs did make it that one time in 2007, which itself was a long time ago, And I do not believe that the Golden State Warriors have not made it in my lifetime.

So, we will be gifted with something rare in the NBA - a chance to see someone new rise to the top!

I will say this, also: if the Cavaliers finally win the NBA crown, then LeBron had better stay put in Cleveland for a long while, and most likely finish out his career there. Otherwise, this time, he will likely have his legacy and image tarnished irreparably.

That said, it is extremely impressive, his feat of being in five straight NBA Finals. Four straight with Miami, and then making right back to the Finals with his original team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. If the Cavs win, then he will have anchored two separate teams to the championship, and would have secured his third NBA championship ring overall.

Very impressive credentials, and possibly still growing.

Again, though, let us see what happens next, who their opponent will be, and what happens in the NBA Finals, first.

Stanley Cup Playoffs

Henrik Lundqvist

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The Rangers managed to win in big fashion at Tampa last night, blowing out the Lightning and tying up the series. More importantly, that win sends the decisive Game 7 to Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers have home ice advantage. History is behind them, too. In the last ten Game 7's, the Rangers are a very impressive 9-1.

I will admit to having accepted what to me was the disappoitnnig prospect of the Lightning qualifying for the Cup Finals, and meeting the Ducks there. Admittedly, I have a sinking feeling that it could still happen.

But at least the Rangers and Blackhawks, two of the original six franchises in the NHL, are fighting tooth and nail for this thing!

Let's see if the Blackhawks can pull off a victory tonight to stay alive and force a decisive Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals.

Rolland Garros/ The French Open

Rafael Nadal

Photo courtesy of Yann Caradec's Flickr Page - Rafael Nadal:
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Gael Monfils

Photo courtesy of Yann Caradec's Flickr Page - Gael Monfils:
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Well, the French Open is in full swing, now. We already had one major upset (Venus getting knocked out in the first round), and some other news from there. Sharapova was jeered off the court after her first round win for shirking an interview. Federer being upset at being rushed on the court by a fan, who was harmless, but took a selfie that pissed Roger off (with justification, frankly). Wawrinka is upset about a story that delves into his personal life. And Andy Murray looked solid in winning his first match.

Nadal and Djokovic have also now both taken the court (and both passed their first tests), and already, everybody seems to be talking about their seemingly inevitable clash.

Indeed, this might be Djokovic's best real chance to actually take this title here in Paris. Like Federer some years ago, he has almost the complete tennis resume to his name, but needs this one last Grand Slam championship to fully secure his already considerable legacy. Should he win here, he would become only the eighth man in history to have won all four Grand Slams.

But again, Nadal stands in the way. And yes, Nadal has looked off this year so far, even admitting as much himself. But this is still Rolland Garros, and he is still the King of Clay, likely the best ever on this surface, with nine French Open titles to his name.

Should be a fin few weeks in Paris!

Novak Djokovic

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Long Overdue: Federal Government Admits Cannabis Helps Kill Cancer Cells

Earth from Space with Stars

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey Flickr Page:

The old button from the Environmental Club days which I just happened to find on Earth Day! It is a little beat up (particularly the ends of the ribbon), but no worse for the wear, I think. And it is one of the few items that I have left from those days, so it carries a lot of great memories for me! Nothing Changes Until You Do!

Here is a picture of a very similar logo, with the same message, that was on the t-shirt that I purchased from the BCC Environmental Club and, if memory serves me correctly, may even have helped to make. There were a few projects like that which club members, myself included, were regularly involved with. It has been so long, however, that I no longer recall specifically if I actually helped to make these or not, although I do believe so, since I remember seeing the process of the t-shirts being dyed. In any case, I loved this t-shirt, and have kept it ever since, even if I do not regularly wear it. Since it was part of my experience with the BCC Environmental Club days, as well as more generally having an environmental theme, it seemed appropriate to share it here. 

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's gred."

~Mahatma Gandhi

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
~John F. Kennedy 

I am sure that there is a book, or at least some kind of research project out there that exams the ridiculous prohibition of marijuana. If not, there should be.

There are numerous reasons and justifications that were out there for why cannabis remained illegal for so long, although the main ones that remained the big impediments to it ever being legalized was that it stood in the way of the profits of huge industries, including alcohol and tobacco, as well as paper. The alcohol and tobacco industry should be obvious, although many people are not aware that marijuana is a great source of paper. It grows four times as fast as paper made from trees, which would help save the forests!

Perhaps we should now include among it's primary opponents pharmaceuticals, since there is more and more research out there suggesting that cannabis not only helps people when they are ill or in pain, and makes their pain less pronounced, but that it in fact might help make people with certain diseases healthier.

It truly seems like cannabis has just a ton of benefits, with really little downside.

Oh, there are still naysayers. The world is what it is, and to imagine that everyone would be on board and recognize the ludicrousness of outlawing a natural plant would be overly naive.

However, there is clearly mounting evidence to suggest that there really is no justification for having outlawed marijuana in the first place. It would be good for recreational use (at least not as detrimental as other things that have long been legal are), good for the environment, it makes solid clothing and, we are finding out that on top of all else, it is also good for people's health.

It makes all the sense in the world to lift the ban and legalize cannabis. So, of course, the world being what it is, we still need to overcome all the legal red tape and strong lobbyist opposition to it. But the winds of change on this particular issue are blowing, and it is clear what direction this is heading.

Legalize it, already!

Federal Government Finally Admits Cannabis Can Help Kill Cancer Cells by PM Beers for the ANTIMEDIA, April 11, 2015:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

As West Deals With Record Drought, California Learns From Australia

Still think global warming is a hoax?

California looks Down Under for drought advice Associated Press By KRISTEN GELINEAU and ELLEN KNICKMEYER, May 25, 2015:

The Finale of "Late Night With David Letterman"

The Late Show with David Letterman @ Ed Sullivan Theatre

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Well, watching "Late Night with David Letterman," something that I did on and off during the course of the last two plus decades (mostly, I did not watch it, admittedly) is now a thing of the past.

The legendary comedian and talk show host announced his impending retirement last year and, ever since, there has been considerable speculation on the final shows, and particularly the final show.

This past Wednesday night, it finally aired, with a star-studded top ten list, a musical performance by the Foo Fighters, and a lot of revisiting of the past few decades, with tons of video clips and pictures to take away as memories from this great show.

I was blessed to actually have gone to one show in person. Julie Roberts was the main guest, and there was also an old Irish guy. Roberts was asked if she played a musical instrument, and she said that she had played the oboe. A man in the audience shouted out that he has an oboe, and Letterman, without missing a beat, answered, 'That's not an oboe, sir."

There was a roar of laughter. In fact, all night long, it seemed that the crowd was very responsive to the jokes, and that included us. I think there is a reason for that, because we were all so very excited to be there in attendance. It is one thing to see the show on television, quite another to be there in person.

The old Irish guy (trying to rake my memory for his name, but it just is not coming to me), and I just remember him responding to Letterman's comment that Dublin was a young city by agreeing and saying that he was the oldest thing in it.

Foo Fighters were the special, final musical guests for the show with David Letterman as host. He picked them for a very special reason, and they played one particular song for that same reason: it meant everything to Letterman. He shared a story that when he had open heart surgery many years ago, he had requested for them to perform the one song that he wanted them to play. They were on tour in Latin America at that point, but they cancelled the tour in order to appear on the show.

So, they they were again, performing for Letterman one last time. His introducing them was his exit, essentially, as he told the viewing world goodnight, and the Foo Fighters played their song. Everlong.

And just like that, they wrapped up over thirty years of David Letterman hosting a major talk show, after a show that largely reflected on the past decades.

I know that my own personal memories of attending that one Letterman show are probably only interesting to a very few people. There is little to nothing that made that particular episode stand out in any real meaningful way, other than I attended it, and thus remember it. Had I only viewed it on television, like most, I surely would not remember it to the present day, truth be told, unlike, say, the Madonna interview from many years ago.

After writing this, I did some research, and actually found some information on the Dsvid Letterman program that I attended. It came on the same day that another program was filmed and aired, and I remember it, because Third Eye Blind had gotten in some kind of altercation among band members during the actual program. But that was not the show that I saw. This was:

The Late Show with David Letterman: Julia Roberts, David Kelly

Season 6, Episode 70
Aired: Dec 18, 1998 - Show #1135
Plot: During Mailbag, Alan gives the audience an unusual egg nog recipe, while Dave answers the question, ""Where did Hanukkah come from?"" by stating it that was named after a nice man named Steve Hanukkah.

Episode number: 6x70 Airdate: Friday December 18th, 1998

This one was not from the night that I went, although it seems that the final clip (with Julia Roberts) was taken during her visit on the night that we saw her. Cool memories, although I hardly remembered any of it at all, surprisingly (except for the oboe thing - yes, I guess that makes me a pervert).

Did not find any video clips with David Kelly in it, although here is a link to find out more about him: