Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Super Bowl LI Preview

AFC Champions

New England Patriots


NFC Champions

Atlanta Falcons

Okay, so having been a bit preoccupied by the storm of news coming from the White House under the new Trump administration, just like most of the rest of us, I realized in the past couple of days that I had neglected doing my traditional Super Bowl preview. Usually, that preview comes within a day or two of the AFC and NFC Championship games, but this year, obviously, this blog with my prediction is coming quite a bit later than usual.

That said, let's get to it.

First of all, I think that these two teams make a compelling match together. It is not likely to be an absolute blowout by one or the other, like we saw when the Seahawks completely dismantled the Broncos. In some Super Bowls, you have a clear-cut favorite. Remember Super Bowls like that, particularly in the 1980's and 1990's? You kind of just knew the Bears wre going to decimate the Patriots, or the Giants were going to whip the Broncos, or that the 49ers were going to dismantle the Broncos a few years later, or that Washington and Dallas were both going to handle Buffalo, or that the 49ers were going to take the Chargers apart. 

Now, that era produced probably better, more complete championship teams than we tend to have today, as teams tend to be more lopsidedly good on one side of the ball or the other. Remember last year's Super Bowl? Carolina was very explosive on offense, while Denver was very physical and tough on defense. Or the year before, when this same New England team came in with that incredible offense, and the Seahawks had the best defense.

Well, this year, the differences are not so glaring. The Falcons come in with an unbelievable offense, although the Patriots are also known mostly for their offense as well. However, you have to be careful, because New England's defense was one of the toughest this year as well. They allowed fewer overall points in the regular season (250) than anyone else in the league! But their offense scored the third most amount of points in the league, behind Atlanta, who led the league, and the New Orleans Saints.

Now, how about that Falcons offense? Just how good were they?

Well, here are some amazing stats that illustrate just how good they were. Overall, they scored 540 points during the regular season, averaging 33.7 points per game! That is the tied for the seventh most in NFL history. They scored 71 more points than the next closest team (again, New Orleans), and scored 176 points more than the league average! In the two playoff games, they have averaged 40 points, having beaten Seattle, 36-17, and then Green Bay, 44-21. 

Matt Ryan was the leader of that offense, of course. And he had himself an MVP caliber performance this season, throwing for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns, with only 7 interceptions. All of that was good enough for an overall quarterback rating of 117.1. Most people consider him the frontrunner to win the NFL MVP award this year. Andrew Hirsh helped to put this in perspective in an article at the end of the regular season (see link below):

It made Ryan one of three NFL players (along with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers) to throw for 3,500-plus yards and 10 or fewer INTs in a season....Ryan was incredibly efficient: His 9.26 yards per attempt is the highest in NFL history for a 16-game season and any season with 350-plus attempts. 

Now, that's pretty incredible stuff!

The Falcons, however, will be facing one of the toughest defenses in the league, and you can bet that Bill Belichick, who has long been considered a defensive genius dating back to his time with the New York Giants of the 1980's and early 1990's (under the tutelage of Bill Parcells) will try some different things to slow them down. The Patriots were particularly effective against the run, and if they manage to contain Atlanta's rushing game, that might make their passing game more predictable and easier to defend, as well. 

As for the Patriots offense, we all know Tom Brady, who will be making his record 7th appearance starting in a Super Bowl. He now stands alone as the player who has been to the most Super Bowls, passing nosetackle Mike Lodish, who went to six Super Bowls in the 1990's (four straight with the Bills, then two with the Broncos, where he earned championship rings). Brady also now has considerable more Super Bowl appearances than any other quarterback in Super Bowl history and, if he wins, he will break a tie with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana to stand alone as the most successful championship quarterback in NFL history.

Obviously, there is a lot at stake!

New England's offense is obviously very good as well. Again, New England's offense scored more than all but two teams in the league, and they showed how good they can be in the postseason, beating Houston 34-16 and outscoring Pittsburgh, 36-17. They might not have put up the record kind of numbers that Atlanta did, but what they lack in numbers, they make up for in efficiency and experience.

It might be tempting to say that Atlanta's defense will be overmatched again the Pat's offense. Still, Atlanta's defense played extremely well in the playoffs themselves. They clearly grounded Seattle, and really overwhelmed Aaron Rodgers and the usually explosive Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game. 

That is what makes this particular Super Bowl so compelling. Both teams look like they are peaking at exactly the right time. That might sound obvious when a team qualifies for the Super Bowl, but this is actually not always the case. I remember the Buffalo Bills dominating the AFC throughout the 1991 season, but Denver's defense slowed them down a lot in the AFC title game, which the Bills escaped with a win, 10-7. But they clearly did not play as well as they were capable of, and did not recover on time to even be competitive against Washington in the Super Bowl. In 2001, the Rams were "The Greatest Show on Turf" and were everyone's favorites to win the Super Bowl again. But they struggled to beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, and wound up losing in a shocking upset to New England in the Super Bowl. The Patriots in 2007 looked like the best team of all time, but they were clearly slowing down by the time the playoffs rolled around, beating Jacksonville and then merely outlasting San Diego. Once they played the Giants in the Super Bowl, they appeared ripe for an upset. More recently, the Broncos had a record shattering offense in 2013, becoming the first team to score over 600 points in one season. But in the playoffs, they only scored 24 against San Diego and 26 against New England, which were relatively pedestrian numbers for such an incredible team. Once they went up against the toughest defense in the league in Seattle for the Super Bowl, they simply had no answers. The Seahawks suffered similarly the next season, as they struggled to eke out a win against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game. They infamously lost the Super Bowl against New England a couple of weeks later, although that was in large part due to the 2nd and 1 interception that iced it for the Pats. 

The good news is that neither of these teams is entering this game with that kind of a slowdown. That means that they are both playing at their peak level, which makes it difficult to tell who is going to win this game. There are no obvious, glaring mismatches. Frankly, it would not be surprising to see either team get hot enough at key points to win this game.

My guess is that it will be somewhat similar to the last Super Bowl that the Patriots were in. Not that either the Pats or the Falcons are on the level defensively as that Seattle's "Legion of Boom" defense was, but I am thinking that it will be the kind of game with several momentum swings, just like that Super Bowl had. Also like that game, it will probably wind up being close, coming down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter. And also like that game, I would not be surprised if a crucial mistake winds up making the difference, one way or the other. 

In the end, I have to make my pick. This Super Bowl is a tough one to pick, though, because both of these teams are very, very good, and coming in with a ton of momentum. Whoever maintains their composure and avoids mistakes best will likely come out on top, and with that in mind, it is difficult to go against the New England Patriots. They have been to the Super Bowl before, and they have tons of experience. True, the Pats are without their star tight end Rob Gronkowski, but they still have Brady, they have Julian Edelman, and they know what to do in these types of situations. Also, they are wearing their white jerseys, and much like the NFC enjoying that massive winning streak back in the 1980's and 1990's, right now the teams wearing white are enjoying a particularly great streak. Historically, teams wearing their white jersey hold a decisive edge, but this advantage has gotten ridiculous recently, as they have now won 11 of the last 12 Super Bowls. If you are into superstitions, that has to mean something.

And so, while it is difficult to go against either of these teams at the moment, I am having an especially difficult time seeing the Patriots screwing this up and losing this game. It took miracle plays for the Giants and the Seahawks to put themselves in position to win the last three Super Bowls that New England was involved with, and the Pats still managed to win one of those games. They are tough, they have a decisive advantage in terms of experience, and I predict that they will use that to achieve a historical Super Bowl win this coming Sunday!

Super Bowl LI Prediction: New England Patriots Win


Monday, January 30, 2017

Nazi Propaganda Minister Goebbels's Secretary Dead

Wow! I thought pretty much everyone in Hitler's inner circle was just about dead by now. Most of the prominent Nazis were gone before my time, including Hitler himself (although some believe that he escaped to Argentina and lived on for many years), Joseph Goebbels (killed himself and his family shortly after Hitler did), Goering (he killed himself before his death sentence could go through after the Nuremberg Trials, as well as the death of other prominent Nazis like Martin Bormann and Heinrich Himmler as World War II basically ended, and the capture and eventual death sentence of Adolph Eichmann. In my lifetime, some of them died while I was still a bit too young to remember them, such as Albert Speer and Rudolf Hess. I remember the death of Leni Riefenstahl back in 2003, and the death of Hitler's bodyguard just a few years ago. 

Here is one more, and by now, these might be the last few who were so close to Hitler and his inner circle. 

Brunhilde Pomsel was the former secretary for Germany's Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, has died. She died in her home in Munich this past Friday.

Pomsel lived to reach the age of 106. 

She had lived mostly in obscurity until a German newspaper discovered her and published an interview with her in 2011. This sparked considerable interest in her and her story afterwards.

Christian Kroenes, who confirmed Pomsel's death, was the director and producer of the film “A German Life .” In that movie, Pomsel discusses her years with the infamous Nazi Propaganda Minister, and Hitler's right-hand man. Kroenes said that Pomsel had suggested that her former boss, Goebbels, was extremely vain, although she also said that the degree of his hateful messages that have become so synonymous with Nazi Germany actually disguised his considerable charm behind the scenes, when he was not in the public eye.

However, the filmmaker also said that she was worried about the possibility of such things happening again, and felt that the lessons from the past should be understood, so that they might not be repeated in the future. 

“What she recounted in the film is a warning to the current and future generations,” he said.      

Former secretary of Nazi propagandist Goebbels dies at 106 Washington Post

What Do Trump Supporters See in This Man?

No, I am not trying to be funny. I am honestly curious what it is about Donald Trump that people can actually like.

I remember personally thinking of him as basically a scumbag back in the 1980's. To me, he symbolized everything that was wrong with the times, and with western, particularly American, society at the time. Basically, he seemed the same as Don King, who most Trump supporters will readily dismiss and view as a joke, which makes me wonder if they even know how blatantly racist many of them can sometimes comes across. 

Perhaps the man that Trump most reminded me of was himself fictional. Probably, you can guess who I have in mind. It is Gordon Gekko, the man who famously said, "Greed is good. Greed works."

That was how the movie Wall Street largely came to symbolize the excesses of the 1980's, which is still often referred to as the "Me" decade. 

I think Anthony Jeselnik put it best on "Comedy Central's Roast of Donald Trump" when he said to Trump's face:

"I'm not sure if you're even aware of this, but the only difference between you and Michael Douglas from the movie, Wall Street, is that no one's going to be sad when you get cancer."

Honestly, I thought that was more or less an accurate description of how most Americans felt about him.

And yet, he's now President of the United States, and will always go down in history. He will always be identified with this country, and this particular era in this country's history. He represents the very worst excesses that seem to plague the United States right now: greed, hypocrisy, dishonesty, arrogance, entitlement, bullying, and blatant corruption.

I have used this quote numerous times here before, but I think it appropriate to share it once again, because it describes Trump perfectly. This is a quote from Paul Thomas of the New Zealand Herald, and it comes from the days before he even became the official Republican nominee, let alone was elected to the White House:

“Trump personifies everything the rest of the world despises about America: casual racism, crass materialism, relentless self-aggrandizement, vulgarity on an epic scale. He is the Ugly American in excelsis.”

Yes, that about sums it up.

Now, I have actually been trying to engage in some dialect with a few Trump supporters. Most of them are either quick insults when I reveal that I do not think like they do, while others seem suddenly uncomfortable and dodge further discussion. Still others seemed to not have that great of a grasp on political matters and on current world events in general.

However, there is one guy who seems to hold a bit more promise. At first, it seemed to be almost a typical exchange of insults, which did not interest me much. We had already had a couple of minor exchanges about Trump and liberalism/conservatism in general before, but this time, it seemed a bit more engaging, and so I pursued it. Unfortunately, there were some insults hurled at each other at first, and which I was at least as guilty of initially, although I tried to move away from that in order to exchange in more intelligent discourse as the conversation went on. Thus, some aspects of the conversation remained mired in somewhat insulting, or derogatory, language. Yet, he did seem to hold some promise as being capable of expressing what it is that some people are attracted to in a figure like Donald Trump, and so I pursued it a little further than otherwise likely would have been the case.

It all started when I shared a meme with a quote from John F. Kennedy on it, where he described what he felt the term "liberal" meant to him. Here it is:

“If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal", then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal.”

This guy then claimed that this was not and never was what being a liberal is, and went on to explain a bit more. Let me quote the rest of his initial response the rest of the way here:

"That has not been the fruit of the liberal tree. The liberal tree is shown in the French Revolution orgy of murder, the October Revolution of social decay, the 60s sexual revolution, and the shuffling hordes of mentally disconnected people today, we the people, relying on electronic devices instead of a moral conscience."

Me: Let me guess - you got your education at Trump University, and have since graduated to FAUX News and Breitbart, right?

Him: "It's called a study of the history of liberalism from the French revolution to Bill Clinton. What a banal riposte I've read."

Me: Supporters of Trump, like you, can find any excuses that you want, and can forgive him his trespasses all you want. But this - Americans paying for a costly wall along the Mexican border - was not what he promised. He was very clear on this point, repeating it over and over, and left no doubt. He was going to build the wall and make Mexico pay for it. As an American, I want to hold him accountable every bit as much as I wanted Obama to be held accountable for his broken promises. I don't think loyalty to one man or party comes before loyalty to country. Do you, Roger? Or will you twist this truth to make it seem like he did not outright break his promise? Mexican presidents past and president were all saying, to a man, that there was absolutely no way that they were going to pay for this wall. They said it before the election, and they said it after Trump's win, and are now saying it once Trump is president. They have been consistent. Can you say that Trump has been anywhere near as consistent?

Him: "Liberalism is the address of distraction and finishing the societal structures. Primarily, family unit. Your trans debt slave retail training culture is indicative."

Me: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Use all the big words and lofty sounding concepts you want. I received a strong education as well (derisively call it a "trans debt slave retail training culture" all you want), but I am not fooled. The easiest thing in the world to do is to try and tear someone or something down, and your incessant use of certain key words is quite telling itself. Now, I asked some very direct questions, which you did not attempt to answer. What is Trump's plan to address social inequality? Has he drained the swamp, as promised? Are the Mexicans going to pay for the wall, as promised? Why is he and his administration so afraid of science, and facts in general, for that matter? Is he upholding the constitution as he swore to do, or is he showing more interest in trampling freedom of speech and of the press? You speak of "liberals" and "liberalism" as bad words, as if this were something new, as if this were unique to you. I can turn on FAUX News or read Breitbart articles anytime I want, as well. I am asking you, Stephen Walter Howard Crane, very directly: what are your thoughts on what Trump is doing now, and is it fulfilling your hopes and dreams? Is he keeping all of his promises? Please answer without falling back on the tired cliched answers that I can get from conservative pundits, and answer what you yourself believe. Let's see if you can do that without trying to add some predictable insults towards "liberals" and anyone else who does not think like you do. We're both adults, right? As you seem to be more intellectual then most Trump supporters, I am sincerely interested. Tell me what I and many others are not seeing about Trump.

Me: While I am waiting for your answer or answers to my earlier questions, let me explain why I personally never liked Donald Trump, specifically. Ever since I first heard of the guy back in the 1980's, when he was just a famous personality who owned a bunch of hotels and always seemed to be with Don King and Mike Tyson, promoting his hotels with some big name prize fights of the day, he seemed a crass and arrogant, shallow man.  He seemed generally and genuinely nasty and had a false sense of entitlement. Many years ago, my father once saw him in an NYC street getting out of a limo, and he completely ignored a homeless man lying on the street and looked towards my father, almost demanding recognition and/or respect. He always seemed like the real life version of Gordon Gekko, and that is not a compliment. Here was a man who was born to enormous wealth and had all of the right connections, yet seemed somehow unhappy, even angry, all of the time. He cheats the system as best he can, and then brags about it. Frankly, as a grown man and father myself, one thing that I just cannot stomach about him is that incessant need for attention, for getting credit for anything and everything. He holds himself in such high regard, that it is quite clear he pretty much looks down on everyone else. According to him, he knows more about everything than everyone else, and his infamous statement that he knows more about ISIS than the generals do is only the most glaring example. Trump has this rage in him, and he seems to hold some closeted views that betray his own bigotry. He labels whole groups of people with stereotypes. During his inauguration, his facial expression and body language seemed downright  angry the entire time. There was one famous clip (you probably saw it yourself) of him showing anger towards his wife, Melania. This was on the day that was supposed to be the biggest honor of his life. He has remained completely obsessed with his own popularity, going to ridiculous levels to try and prove just how beloved he is. He cannot stand the fact that he lost the popular election by nearly three million votes, and claimed that there would be a major investigation. Within hours, members of his own party in Congress said that there would not be an investigation, as not one shred of proof was offered, and thus an investigation was baseless. This man infamously tweets his outrage towards anyone who he notices does not like him, and he truly seems incapable of letting anything go. It has gotten to the point where many people, myself included, feel that he is a little too alarmingly like an overgrown, 70 year old child. That, to me, epitomizes someone who you do not want making such weighty decisions in the Oval Office. His inaugural address was seen as a disaster by most of the outside world, and received criticism from many otherwise political allies, including former Vice-President Dick Cheney, among others. The rest of the world is looking at what is happening here, and they do not understand how the US could have elected such a man into the highest office to represent them for the next four years. Paul Thomas of the New Zealand Herald probably had the best and most telling quote that I have heard overall of what many, many people outside of these United States feels about the man. Here it is: “Trump personifies everything the rest of the world despises about America: casual racism, crass materialism, relentless self-aggrandizement, vulgarity on an epic scale. He is the Ugly American in excelsis.”

Me: All of that, and much, much more, is why I just cannot stomach the man. I was not out there protesting and, frankly, am not sure that the protesters are doing much more than basically bitching at this point. However, I am strongly opposed to just about all that this man is and stands for, and am honestly at a loss as to why anyone would look at him, with all that he is and all that he has said and done, and think that this was the man that they could proudly call their president. He is a billionaire and was born wealth, given a wealthy inheritance and all of the right connections, and is not exactly what I would call a self-made man. It was truly surprising to me that so many working Americans felt that he got them, got their suffering. It was also surprising, and somewhat alarming, that he turned around and mocked his own big phrase from the campaign ("drain the swamp") in front of his own supporters, and how he now has some of the biggest billionaires in the business among his administration, including the former head of Goldman Sachs. How could his supporters not feel at least disappointed, if not outright enraged and with a burning sense of betrayal? I am guessing that you are such a person. And so I ask you again, what specifically was it about Donald Trump that attracted you? And do you still like him as much, or perhaps more, now? In all honesty, I am curious to hear what you have to say, and not so much about what your feeling on liberals are. I am not trying to be insulting, but am honestly curious, because this is the first time that someone has actually taken an interest in debating the merits of Trump. Help me to understand in general how someone who is clearly well-educated comes to view Donald Trump as fit to lead this country?

Me: Sorry to bombard you with thoughts and questions, but again, I am honestly interested in an exchange of ideas here, rather than insults, and you seem capable of holding your end of the bargain. Just interested in some political dialogue from someone who clearly disagrees. Take your time. You've got my ear.

Well, I waited a few hours, and he did respond, the next day.

This was our exchange, starting with his response:

Him: OMG it's the liberal deluge attack at all dissent. The irony is Trump is an outsider like JFK, who wants to shake up the system for patriotic ends. ____ out. (I did not reveal his name to protect his anonymity)

Me: Well, that was a letdown. No questions answered, and back to the same nonsense of namecalling, demonizing "liberals." So much for that idea, huh? 

Me: ___ - You are more than welcome to answer any and all of my questions posed to you. I'd like to hear what you would have to say. Not especially interested in listening to typical Trump-style rants about a "liberal deluge" and such. Trump is a political outsider, but he was most certainly part of the financial establishment. As for JFK, not sure that he qualified as an outsider nearly as much, having been a career politician. 

Frankly, I thought that was going to be it, the extent of our little debate there.

But that was not it, apparently. He responded to one of my other posts, this one on climate change.

You Really Think 97 percent of the Earth's Scientists
Are in on Some Dumb Conspiracy to Ruin America by Getting Us 

Him: It's been made, they're bought and paid. 

Me: Hey, ____, still waiting for answers to the questions. I'd be up to hearing what you have to say about those. Thought you might be the first Trump fan that I've met actually willing to engage in something resembling intelligent discourse. Been disappointed with your reaction so far, but you're still always welcome. Until then, if all you can do is resort to smart aleck comments and/or name calling, I'll just assume that you, like your man Trump, are all smoke and mirrors. Big words and flashy sounding arguments, but nothing of substance beyond that.

And so far, that was that. It has been a day since this last exchange, and there is no indication that he is about to explain his vantage point, or that he has any real other arguments that do not automatically resort to insulting "liberals" and using that as a bad word. You know, rather typical strategies that have been employed countless times already by FAUX News and conservative radio commentators like Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, to name just a few.

I am still waiting, but not with bated breath. Truth be told, there were doubts that he would respond at all, and still more doubts about whether he would actually seriously try to answer, or just give me a standard reply amounting to "liberals suck" and leave it at that. Got my answer on that one, and am still waiting for a reasonably intelligent Trump supporter to help me to understand what appeals to them so much about this guy, who I personally view as the poster child of narcissism, corruption, and entitlement.

The quote about Trump from Paul Thomas of the New Zealand Herald was taken from this article (click on link below):

Trump is Global Journalism’s American Junk Food August 26, 2015 by Christian Christensen

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Australian Open Men's Final Proves to be a Classic!

Rafael Nadal

Photo courtesy of Yann Caradec's Flickr Page - Rafael Nadal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/la_bretagne_a_paris/5756335239

Yes, what a match!

This one was a championship for the ages! It featured two of the greatest tennis legends of all time in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and both men had so much at stake, that this might indeed have been just about the biggest and most important Grand Slam final ever!

Think about it: neither man had won a Grand Slam title in years, but this appearance together not only renewed one of the greatest rivalries in the sport's history, but it also assured that one of them finally would win another. I also seriously believe that it  was crucial in determining who would best be remembered as the greatest men's tennis player of at least this generation, if not outright of all-time. Now, that might sound quite dramatic, but think about it: most assume that Federer is the greatest of all time. But with a loss, Nadal would only trail him by two Grand Slam titles, and would absolutely own the head-to-head rivalry, with Federer only having won huge showdowns between the two early on, arguably before Nadal reached full strength. Plus, with a win, Nadal would become the only man in almost half a century to have won each Grand Slam title multiple times. Finally, Nadal managed to win the Olympic gold medal, which Federer tried to do in each Olympics dating back to the Sydney Olympics in the year 2000! Nadal and Andre Agassi are the only two men to have won what is called the career "Golden Slam" (winning each of the four Grand Slams, as well as an Olympic gold medal), but a win here in Melbourne would make Nadal the only man to have won the gold medal and to have won each Grand Slam multiple times.

So, yes, a lot was at stake in this match!

Federer came in holding the record of 17 career Grand Slam titles, the most of any man in tennis history. However, Nadal was tied with the second most career Grand Slam titles, with 14. Federer may have won more than anyone else, but entering this particular match, the one man that he had not enjoyed much success against was Nadal. They had met in 11 Grand Slam matches prior to this one, and Nadal had won all but two, and those two came quite early in his career, before he reached his peak strength.

With a victory, Nadal would have pulled ahead of the tie with Sampras, and would moved three ahead of Djokovic, the only other active men's player who has compiled comparable levels of Grand Slam success. He would have pulled to within two of Federer, and would have become the first man in half a century to have claimed each of the Grand Slam championships multiple times.

For Federer, a victory over Nadal would have exorcised one of the few remaining demons to haunt his career. This was the one man who had a major advantage over him throughout his career, and made Federer look very human on numerous occasions. Also, it would be a fifth Australian Open championship, which would make him the first man in history to have captured three of the individual Grand Slams at least five times each (he won seven Wimbledon titles, and has won five US Open and Australian Open titles).

And so, here was this unbelievable match, the one that we could hardly dare to dream about!

Federer came out looking almost perfect in taking the first set fairly easily, but Nadal's physicality took the second set for him.

The third set went once again to Federer, but again, Nadal bounced back with a punishing physical game that earned him the fourth set, and even saw him get the early break in the fifth and final, deciding set.

At that point, it was all too easy to see Nadal basically smothering Federer the rest of the way.
Somehow, though, the Fed battled back, making Nadal work hard for each service game, before he finally broke through to tie the set at 3-3. Federer then held service, and shockingly, broke Nadal again, to go up 5-3.

That elusive record 18th Grand Slam title was in sight, and Federer got a little nervous. It showed, as he made some mental errors that could easily have proven far more costly. Ultimately, though, he settled down, and in a contentious final game, he served up another win, one that will be remembered!

What a classic rivalry, and what an unbelievable, memorable match that we tennis fans were treated to today! A great effort and show was put on by both men, and both illustrated their high degree of class after the match, as well.

One could not help but think afterwards that this is what tennis is supposed to be about!

Federer and Nadal took the court in another Grand Slam final, and perhaps the two best tennis players of all time produced true greatness together once again!

Carl Sagan Quote on Future Proved Eerily on the Mark

Last week, during the first full week of the Trump presidency, there was a quote by Carl Sagan that suddenly grew quite popular and was floating all over the place on the internet.

This quote basically tells of a future that he saw for America. Not a good, promising one, but rather a grim future during an information age of, in his words, "awesome technological powers" that remain "in the hands of a very few" and where leaders cannot even begin to understand the issues of the day, let alone be trusted to fix them.

In this alarmingly accurate vision, he saw his country slipping "almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness..."

Well, that is indeed a fascinating quote, and it seems very understandable why it was floating around so prominently around the internet, given how accurate it appears to be in this age of a Donald Trump presidency, where facts and the plain truth no longer seem to hold currency in the opinions of most, and where our "leaders" offer dumbed down "solutions" which are actually themselves at least part of the problem, if not outright the problem themselves. This dark world was one of very short soundbites and television programming that catered exclusively to the lowest common denominator and where the entire culture seemed to be sacrificed to "a kind of celebration of ignorance."

This does indeed seem to have come to pass, as Sagan's dark vision for the future has largely come true. Here is the full quote:

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness...

"The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

 ― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The internet is freaking out over this spooky prediction by Carl Sagan about the future It's disturbingly accurate. BEC CREW 25 JAN 2017

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Caroline Kennedy, JFK's Daughter, Running for Senate in 2018

Here's some news on the Kennedy family front.

Remember when we had a political dynasty that actually inspired people?

Okay, I was too young for that, too. Was not born on time to see JFK or RFK, and grew up remembering that Ted Kennedy was a pretty cool force for resistance in Congress, although he also happened to be mocked fairly frequently on Saturday Night Live, as well.

Other than that, there might have been a member of the Kennedy family also in politics here or there, but no other major, national figures.

Well, that might be about to change.

None other than JFK's own daughter, Caroline Kennedy, will apparently be running for Congress!

Admittedly, I am not a big fan of political dynasties. Not a fan of the Clintons, and definitely not a fan of the Bushes. Not a fan of the idea of Michele Obama running in 2020. To me, they all had their time, and they each proved to be corporate sellouts. We do not need more of that kind of politics, as we have plenty of it already.

However, this seems a welcome bit of news, as the Kennedys seem to have more or less retained their dignity and integrity throughout. That does not mean that I always agree with everything that they say or do, but it does mean that I respect them in general, and can appreciate the bulk of their political arguments and decisions.

So, I took this as a bit of welcome news. Take a look, and see if you do, too:

JFK’s Daughter Caroline Kennedy Just Made A Historical Career Announcement – Get Ready By Pearson McKinney - January 22, 2017

Today is the Chinese New Year - 2017 is the Year of the Rooster

Happy Chinese New Year! The Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival in China, and it is celebrated in numerous countries in eastern Asia, as well as by people in Asian communities throughout the world. 

Yes, today is the celebration of the turning of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. I have been hearing on the radio (NPR) as well as on social media that the streets of cities throughout China are empty right now, as people return to their rural hometowns to be with their families for this special holiday season.

This new year is the Year of the Rooster. Last year was the Year of the Monkey. 

Celebrations traditionally run from the evening before the first official day of the Chinese New Year, and go to the Lantern Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the first calendar month.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Anniversary of Super Bowl XXV

Yes, today is the anniversary of this incredible game! It was played in 1991, and was a bit overshadowed by the outbreak of war in Iraq under President George Bush (that would not be the only year where we could say that  little bit of news). 

Of course, I am a bit biased, being a fan of the New York Giants. That makes my memory of this a bit shinier than what it is for others, surely.

Yet, it was a fine Super Bowl.  Both teams brought their A-game into this one, and the game was remarkable for that reason. It was the first postseason game in NFL history where neither team had a turnover. Since then, this has been achieved a few other times.

But this game was a contrast in styles. The Giants were the defensive minded team, conservative and relatively quiet. They were the heavy underdogs among the relative elites heading into the season, but they pounded away, overcame injuries and, ultimately, perservered to get their shot. The week before this game, they ended the 49ers dynasty in San Francisco, on the very last play of the game. Ironically, they did it with a field goal in the final seconds to win it.

The Bills, by contrast, were the hot, flashy, cocky team. Most people at the start of the season predicted that they would win the AFC East, but not much else. They had been known as the Bickerin Bills, after all. They were not supposed to be as good as some of the other AFC contenders, particularly the Bengals, who were supposed to be the team. But the Bills caught fire with their no huddle offense, and a talented defense. They had people standing up and taking notice by midseason, and they just kept gettingf hotter and hotter. They plowed through Miami and the Raiders in the AFC playoffs, scoring an unbelievable 95 points in those two combined games. 

Buffalo crushed the Raiders, 51-3 in the AFC Championship Game, and headed into the Super Bowl as heavy favorites, and were cocky and acted the part. Some Bills were complaining that the Giants, and not San Francisco, had won the NFC title game, because the 49ers were more famous, and beating them would perhaps look and feel more legitimate. Another Bills player announced that he was getting his finger measured for a ring.

When the two teams finally took the field, they were both ready to go. It was the Bills new, fast, and sophisticated, high-powered offense versus the traditional, physical, smash mouth brand of football of the Giants. The high-flying Bills planned to ram Thurman Thomas down the Giants throats, and then to open up their deadly passing game. The Giants, in the meantime, had a smothering secondary, and on offense, they had a punishing, physical style featuring a solid running game of their own. What they did on that day was similar to what they had done against San Francisco: namely, to hang onto the ball and not put it in the hands of the dangerous offense. In Super Bowl XXV, the Giants would hold onto the ball for a Super Bowl record 40 minutes and 27 seconds (most people say it was 40 minutes and 23 seconds, although they forget the crucial final four seconds after Scott Norwood's field goal, when Jeff Hostetler knelt down to run out the clock).

It was an incredible Super Bowl. The Giants had the momentum early, driving the ball for a field goal and an early 3-0 lead. The Bills answered with a field goal of their own, and that was the first quarter. But in the second, Buffalo came alive with a touchdown drive for a 10-3 lead, and then got a safety for a 12-3 lead. But the Giants managed an impressive drive that culminated in a touchdown in the final minute of the first half, closing to within 12-10. They opened the second half with what was then the longest drive in Super Bowl history, filled with some highlight plays, particularly by wide receiver Mark Ingram and running back Ottis Anderson, and ending with an exclamation point touchdown that gave New York the 17-12 lead. Buffalo struck back all of a sudden with a long touchdown run by Thurman Thomas to make it 19-17 going into the final quarter. The Giants notched a field goal midway through the fourth, making it 20-19, and it came down to Buffalo's final drive. They got to within field goal position, and if it was good, of course, they would win.

We all know what happened then.

Norwood missed by two feet, and the rest is history. Parcells resigned shortly thereafter, and a few years later, he became the head coach of the New England Patriots. Later, he coached the New York Jets and the Dallas Cowboys. The Bills kept getting back to the big game, but never won it. They were dismantled by Washington completely the next year, and then after a fast start in the first half of Super Bowl XXVII, they completely fell apart and made mistake after mistake, committing a shocking nine turnovers and losing, 52-17. They played a little bit better the next time around against Dallas, but lost that fourth and final Super Bowl, too. They were very good, but they never did manage to win one. Yet, in this game, they came so unbelievably close!

What a game both teams played! And what a championship season for the Giants!

Here is my tribute to them, and to a great game, and probably the greatest week in the history of the New York Giants, a week which saw them defeat the 49ers in the NFC title game on one Sunday, and then eke out a victory against the Bills the next. I thought it would be good to add the blog entry that I wrote about it last year at around this time. It was called "Super Bowl XXV Memories" and was published on January 14, 2016:

Super Bowl XXV Memories               

Super Bowl XXV  – New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19. Played on January 27, 1991 at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Scott Norwood shank. MVP Ottis Anderson. Favorite Bills by 7. National anthem Whitney Houston. Halftime show New Kids on the Block. Attendance 73,813. Network ABC. Announcers Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, and Dan Dierdorf. Nielsen ratings 41.8. est. 79.51 million viewers. Market share 63. Cost of 30-second commercial US$800,000. Ottis Anderson 102 yards 1 TD.

Personal Memories: This is it! When I think of my very favorite Super Bowls, this one tops the list! For that matter, when I think of my favorite teams, and NFL memories that made me happiest growing up, the 1990-91 New York Giants were the team that tops that list. Entering this game, they had completed a 13-3 regular season record, and had entered the playoffs as the second seed in the NFC. And even though they wound up winning the Super Bowl in a very exciting fashion, this game does not even top my own personal favorite list from that season. That would belong to the game the Giants played the week before to get to the Super Bowl, when they knocked off the two-time defending Super Bowl champion 49ers in San Francisco.

Both teams had raced out to a 10-0 undefeated start, the first time that this had happened in a long time in the NFL, if not ever (it has since happened twice, in 2009 with the Saints and the Colts, who would meet in that season's Super Bowl, and then this season, with the Panthers and the Patriots). But at the time, two teams starting off so incredibly well and continuing this so late into the season was unheard of.

Everyone thought that the 49ers were the best team,and with good reason. They had won their fourth Super Bowl of the 1980's the prior season, and had won the title two years in a row. They still had that incredible dynasty lineup, with huge names like Montana, Rice, Craig, Haley, and Lott,among others. Think about it: Steve Young, who would soon take over quarterbacking responsiblities for the 49ers and become one of the most prolific passers of his era, had been a backup behind Montana for years, and he was easily good enough to be the starter for most teams. Yeah, they were that good.

So, they entered the season as the odds on favorites to achieve the historic "three peat", something that no NFL team had ever managed to do during the Super Bowl era. The Packers had won three NFL Championships in a row, and they had won the first two Super Bowls after winning the NFL Championship the year before, but that meant that they had not won three Super Bowls in a row.  San Francisco seemed on the verge of achieving exactly that, and everyone agreed that this would separate them from everyone else in history, and raise their status to greatest team of all time.

And there were the Giants, who had the gall to think that they could contend against such a team. They were set to meet in Week 12, and after both teams had remained undefeated at 10-0, it was a hugely anticipated match between what everyone presumed would be two unbeaten teams. Some were calling it the game of the century. Then, the week before the two teams would meet on Monday Night Football, they both lost to division rivals. The Giants lost at Philadelphia, 31-13, while San Francisco was downed by the Rams, 28-17.

So, it would be a meeting not of perfect teams, but of 10-1 teams. Still, it was one of the most watched Monday Night Football games ever, with everyone expecting it to be an offensive fireworks show.

It wasn't. In fact, the game would be the lowest scoring contest of the entire 1990 season. The Giants went up in the second quarter after getting a field goal, and the 49ers responded quickly with a touchdown, when Montana hit John Taylor. That made it 7-3, and that was it for the scoring. The Giants had some opportunities late in the game, but they opted to try and keep the drive alive, rather than going for a field goal to cut the lead to 7-6, and that cost them. On the final drive, instead of only needing a field goal to win it, they needed a touchdown, and they were not able to get it.

The Giants had lost two games in a row, and desperately needed a win. They got one against Minnesota, a team that themselves were struggling. But the next weekend, the Giants hosted the red-hot Buffalo Bills, who were emerging as the clear favorites in the AFC. This was taken as a major test for Buffalo, being from the AFC, and thus constantly questioned, as the AFC had lost the last six Super Bowls, and were seen as the weaker conference. But the Bills played hardball against the Giants, and defeated New York on a soggy December day, in a physical contest that helped legitimize them among football fans as a serious contender not just to make the Super Bowl, but possibly to win it. The game was costly for both teams, since the two starting quarterbacks both went down - first Phil Simms for the Giants (who was enjoying the finest season of his career and led the league among quarterbacks in overall statistics that season, and Jim Kelly for the Bills. Still, it was a triumph for Buffalo, cause for celebration. Indeed, when these two teams would meet in the Super Bowl, the Bills would officially be favored by one touchdown.

In the meantime, however, the Giants were reeling. They took the next two games on the road against weak teams, but won by a field goal margin against the Cardinals in the desert, and then the Patriots at Foxboro. The Patriots were the worst team in the league that year (a far cry from these days, isn't it?), and the Giants barely hung onto the game to finish at 13-3.

A lot of people expected the Giants to go one and done once in the playoffs, given the injury to Simms and the seeming end of the strong momentum that they had played with early in the season. Their first opponent happened to be the Chicago Bears, the third seed, and these two teams were a mirror image of one another. Tough, conservative, physical teams that had each won the Super Bowl years before. But the Giants used the versatility of their new starting quarterback, Jeff Hostetler, who used his athleticism and mobility to add a dangerous element to the Giants normally predictable offense. In the meantime, the defense shut down the Bears, and the combination was a surprisingly easy and convincing victory, as the Giants stomped on Chicago, 31-3.

The Giants and 49ers had been the two best teams in the NFC all season, and so it was fitting that they would meet in that year's NFC Championship Game. This game would prove to be intense and physical to an extreme. That is the reason that I count it as my very favorite NFL game right to this day. New York came in as heavy underdogs, as the 49ers were 8-point favorites. Everyone expected them to at least get back to the Super Bowl, and for many, the real question was whether or not they could beat the Bills, who again looked incredible in running through the AFC playoffs, easily dispatching with the Raiders in the AFC title game by a whopping 51-3 margin. They had a 38-point lead by halftime!

The 49ers were, again, the most accomplished team in the NFL at that point. They had won four titles, including the two prior ones. They owned the best record in the league in 1990, finishing at 14-2, and of course, the result as that they had home field advantage in that NFC title game. The names on that 49ers team are immortal, and include Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, Matt Millen, John Taylor, Roger Craig, and others. They were more than a formidable opponent. They were probably the biggest obstacle that any team could hurdle. The Giants clearly would have their work cut out for them.

Unlike in their earlier meeting during the regular season, the Giants would try to put points on the board at every opportunity, even if that meant sacrificing the touchdown for the field goal. They had lost by four points in the earlier meeting, and neglecting capitalizing on a field goal opportunity early in the final quarter had come back to haunt them in the final minute of the contest. So this time, the Giants relied on field goals. As it turned out, they scored field goals exclusively in this contest, and were unable to penetrate to get a touchdown. But the defense was tough, and kept the Giants in what proved to be another low scoring contest.

It was a bunch of field goals in the first half, but the 49ers faithful smelled blood when Montana once again hit John Taylor, who sprinted into the end zone, outrunning the pursuing Giant defenders. The score was now 13-6, and it seemed that San Francisco might be able to break the game open. But the New York defense kept strong, while the Giants offense kept plugging away, getting a field goal to bring it to 13-9.

However, the Giants defense (which was the best in the league that year) were not the only solid defense on the field that day. San Francisco had the second rated defense in the NFC, and they showed why on this day. New York kept struggling, but the 49ers held firm, forcing a punt in the final quarter, as they tried to cling to their 13-9 lead. That was when what may have been the turning point of the game occurred. Bill Parcells was known as a gambler, and he took a big chance here, calling a fake punt, and giving instead to Gary Reasons, who easily picked up enough for a first down to keep the drive alive. Not much later, the G-Men got another field goal to close to within a single point of the 49ers.

Still, San Francisco had a chance to clinch the win during the final minutes, as they were driving and trying to hang onto the ball and run the clock out on the Giants. What seemed like a huge first down from Steve Young to Bret Jones. Young was in because Montana had gotten knocked out of the game. In fact, he would never fully recover from the hit that Leonard Marshall delivered. Hostetler also took some hits, particularly one by former Giant defender Jim Burt, who hit his former teammate square on the knee. It looked like a serious injury, but Hostetler would return later in the contest. There were a lot of big hits in this game, but none had more of an impact on the outcome of the game than Erik Howard hitting Roger Craig right where he was holding the ball, popping it loose. Lawrence Taylor recovered, and the Giants were back in business. Up to that point, this game was flirting with becoming the first postseason NFL game in history without a turnover, a sign of how well both teams were playing.

The Giants made that last drive count, marching down to get into field goal position, hoping to win the game on the final play. Indeed, that is what happened, as they lined up for a 40-yard field goal, which placekicker Matt Bahr hit through the uprights, sending the Giants to Tampa and Super Bowl XXV. It was his fifth field goal of the game, but the most memorable and important kick, perhaps of his career. If not, it surely would be the next week, in the final quarter of the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl XXV was a contrast in styles. The Bills had the flashy, high-powered offense, while the Giants had the smashmouth approach that focused on solid defense and a running game that wore out opponents and killed the clock. While the NFC Championship Game between the Giants and 49ers had almost been the first playoff game without a turnover, this one would achieve the feat, which was just one of many indicators of just how well played this game was by both sides.

The Giants drew first blood, scoring a field goal early, but Buffalo answered quickly with a field goal of their own. The first quarter ended in that 3-3 tie. But in the second quarter, the Bills would start taking control of the game, pounding it into the end zone for a 10-3 lead after a rare Giants defensive miscue. Not much later, Jeff Hostetler was caught in his own end zone by Bills defender Bruce Smith for a safety, giving Buffalo a commanding 12-3 lead, and all of the momentum. It seemed like a bad omen, although in fact, Hostetler might have saved the game for New York, as he tucked in the ball safely into his chest, preventing a catastrophic fumble that could have been recovered by Buffalo and given them a much bigger lead.

Still, the Giants were in trouble, and needed something quickly, before halftime. They got it in the final drive, going down the field and putting themselves in scoring position. But they really needed a touchdown, rather than settling for a field goal. This the Giants managed to achieve when Hostetler threw a perfect spiral into the hands of receiver Stephen Baker in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown with seconds left in the second quarter, cutting the Buffalo lead to 12-10 just before the two teams returned to the locker rooms for halftime. it was a huge and critical swing in momentum that Bills coach Marv Levy mentioned in the post-game interview as particularly brutal for them.

When play resumed in the second half, the Giants got the ball first, and used their trademark physicality to wear the Bills defenders down. They orchestrated what was then the longest drive in Super Bowl history, taking the better part of ten minutes off of the clock, keeping a tired Buffalo defense on the field, and a dangerous Buffalo offense off the field. The Bills offense had not taken the field in the better part of an hour, between the Giants final drive of the first half and their first drive of the second half, coupled with the halftime break. It was a way to keep them a little cold, given how hot they had been all season. And perhaps the crucial play had come when the Giants faced a 3rd down and 13, when wide receiver Stephen Ingram caught a Hostetler pass and then twisted and turned through several Bills defenders, ultimately hopping on one leg with defenders clinging to him and trying to drag him down, but not before he picked up a crucial first down. It was that play that perhaps best embodied New York's fighting spirit in that contest.

Buffalo was a championship caliber team this year, however, and they were bound to answer. They did so when Thurman Thomas, their star running back, broke free for a long touchdown run, giving the Bills a 19-17 lead in the fourth quarter.

The game went back and forth between struggling offenses after that, but the Giants once again got into scoring position late in the game. Buffalo's defense held firm and prevented a touchdown, but Matt Bahr was able to get the field goal that gave the Giants a 20-19 lead very late in the game.

Ultimately this game came down to the final Bills drive. With roughly two minutes to go and a long way to move the ball, Buffalo managed to orchestrate a solid drive themselves, finally converting on third down (they had uncharacteristically failed to convert a single third down during the entire game to that point). Bills tight end Keith McKeller made what was a brilliant catch, and the Bills were in field goal position as the clock wound down.

Of course, it came down to that famous field goal attempt by Scott Norwood, and almost everyone knows that story now. He hooked it just slightly wide right, but it was enough to secure the victory for the Giants. Buffalo had played extremely well, but had fallen just short.

The New York Giants had captured their second Super Bowl title in five seasons, albeit by the slimmest of margins. They had established a new Super Bowl record for longest time of possession, with 40:37 seconds (including those final four seconds of the game, after the fateful field goal attempt). The team would be different henceforth. Parcells would leave the team. Mark Bavaro would no longer play for the team. Hostetler would be named the starting quarterback. And the Giants would fail to be a winning team in either of the next couple of seasons. But all of that came to fruition only after the Giants had won another glorious championship, made all the better because it was relatively unexpected! They had overcome enormous odds - losing their starting quarterback, losing home field advantage to the dynasty 49ers, then beating those same heavily favored 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, and finally overcoming a very powerful, and also heavily favored Buffalo Bills team that came closer than any other losing Super Bowl team before or since, in order to win that highly memorable championship - a championship that endures and continues to define the New York Football Giants.

Personal Memories: Junior in high school, the NFC Championship Game that got the Giants to the Super Bowl was my favorite NFL game of all time, and I leaped into the air when the Bahr field goal on the last play of the game won it for the Giants, much to the amusement of my parents, who laughed. The Super Bowl was no less intense, and I again jumped and celebrated when they won. My brother and I kicked field goals on the snowy high school football field earlier in the day.

Here are some of the major events that took place in 1991, the year this Super Bowl was played. The world's population was 5.359 billion people. Economic sanctions were lifted on South Africa, as the reforms from the segregation of apartheid continued. The Gulf War was fought, and within weeks, Iraq surrendered and pulled out of Kuwait. The communist government of Albania resigned. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved. Haitian troops captured the President of Haiti, the United States suspended support of Haiti. France agrees to a 1968 agreement banning the spread of atomic weapons. China accepted the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and Gorbachev met with Bush for arms reductions. Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia declare independence from the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin became the first freely elected President of Russia. The Soviet Union dissolved at the end of the year.


International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

We should always remember what happened across Europe 70+ years ago, as the threat of similar occurrences remains. Just three years after the Nazi empire fell amid the bombed out rubble across Germany, South Africa instituted a strict policy for racial segregation, known as apartheid. It had laws that were fairly similar to the Nuremberg laws, as the legal structure of government-sanctioned racism began to be put into place. The white minority government remained in power until 1994, and many of the segregation policies had remained in place even after being officially abolished.

There have been plenty of other instances throughout history of massive crimes against humanity. There was the Biafran war in Nigeria in the 1960's, the takeover of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970's, massive famines in Africa, particularly Ethipia, in the 1980's, ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990's, ethnic cleansing in Rwanda in 1994, and ethnic cleansing in Sudan in the 2000's. There were reports within the last year or so that the Central African Republic was on the verge of their own struggles with ethnic cleansing.

The Taliban imposed a very rigid version of religious rule in Afghanistan that was more extreme than anything that had been seen before them. They destroyed the historic Bamiyan Buddhas, and forced non-Muslims to wear yellow identifying markers, which was a little too similar to the Nazis forcing Jews to wear an identifying yellow Star of David on their clothing. More recently, we have seen the Islamic State take over in Iraq and Syria, and there was some question as to the possibility that they might be a "genocidal regime," although certainty has not been achieved there. We see extremists making inroads in other countries, such as with Boko Haram in Nigeria. Certainly, religious extremism seems to be making inroads in numerous parts of the world.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, as well. Many French Jews are leaving France, and extremist, far-right political parties have made significant inroads in Europe in the last decade and a half, or so. An extremist party actually won an election and shared power with a conservative government in Austria. More recently, one outright neo-Nazi party, the Golden Dawn, actually gained seats in Greece.

In the United States, we have prominent politicians who gave speeches to white supremacist groups, and David Duke, the founder of one such group, almost won the governor's race in Louisiana in 1991. There are plenty of episodes that take place in the United States otherwise that betrays the simple truth that racism and intolerance is still alive and well.

So, yes, it is important still to remember what happened, lest we forget. Six millions Jews killed, as well as many others, including homosexuals and gypsies.

It is our responsibility to remember, and a day such as this allows us the opportunity for quiet reflection and, hopefully, increased awareness, so that we never have to see such a place as Auschwitz again.

As an aside, but related, please take a look at the article I wrote for Guardian Liberty Voice (my first in over a month and a half!) on the subject of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz:

Auschwitz Liberation 70 Year Anniversary

Some Holocaust lessons being forgotten as survivors gather at Auschwitz 70 years on by the Associated Press, January 26, 2015:

Dwindling group of survivors to mark Auschwitz 70 years on.  By VANESSA GERA, January 26, 2015:

Holocaust survivor danced for the 'Angel of Death':

Conspiracy - Movie About Wannsee Conference      

I watched this movie not long ago, and find it quite amazing that such a meeting actually took place.

I first learned of the Wannsee Conference in 1942 back in 2000 or 2001, when I studied modern German history at Rutgers University. The idea of a conference being held to discuss the most inhumane things under the illusion of normality is, I think, what made this conference such an oddity, and garnered so much attention and fascination since people first learned of it.

This movie captures the paradox of human beings in high-ranking, government positions sitting down at a conference, and being catered with fancy food in posh surroundings, and discussing as a badge of honor their hatred for Jews, and debating the best and most effective means of killing Jews.

I do not if this is the actual manner in which the conference took place, but again, we need to remember that the Nazis were human beings as well, which makes their cold and calculated "Final Solution" plans (which originated at the Wannsee Conference) all the more chilling. Hitler had requested some kind of ultimate solution to the Jewish problem, and the Nazis that participated in this conference were the architects, on many levels, of the infamous "crimes against humanity" that Germany would soon pay for after it was defeated in the war. This is where it was revealed that the Jews would be taken to death camps (Auschwitz is referred to be name, if memory serves correctly) and gassed in the showers.

Again, we need to remember that these were human beings, even though what they did was outrageously inhuman. These were people with careers, with homes, with families, with experiences and stories. According to this film, these were educated people, with accomplishments under their belt, and with ambitions. With distrust and rivalries existing within their ranks. Also, with at least attempts at good humor. It is important for us to remember that these were actual people, and not some fictitious monsters that existed once upon a time. Nor is it legitimate to suggest that these things were unique to Germans, which is an argument that I always thought was a cop out. It happened in Germany, but it could have happened in another country, as well.

These things happened and, yes, they can happen again. Most likely, it will not look exactly the same. But that a spirit of inhumanity and a desire to kill off a contending group of people could rise again in an official capacity, I have no doubt.

We often think of "the Nazis" as these monsters, because of their monsterous acts. But this film is chilling because it portrays them in very human situations, with all-too human reactions when they feel slighted, or compelled to test one another.

Indeed, it is the show of humanity among individuals that we now tend to view as heartless monsters somehow different, somehow less human, then us, that makes this movie all the creepier.

I recommend that you watch it, and judge it on your own:

Conspiracy (2001)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Australia Day

January 26 - Australia Day

It was on this day in 1788 that 11 British ships commanded by Governor Arthur Phillip, and carrying convicts, arrived on the banks of Port Jackson in New South Wales. Phillip also raised the Union Jack, and the beginnings of what is now modern-day Australia came to be.

Initially, Australia was designed as a penal colony, as an agricultural working camp for British convicts.

It was rough going early on, but the colony eventually managed to survive.

In 1818, January 26 was honored as the anniversary of the founding of Australia. Once Australia gained independence, this date was recognized as "Australia Day", a national holiday honoring the arrival of Phillip and the British.

Understandably, this holiday is recognized in different ways, particularly along the color lines. While whites in Australia generally celebrate in a similar manner as Americans celebrate Independence Day and the French Celebrate Bastille Day, Aborigines generally recognize it as a day of mourning, not all that dissimilar to native Americans regarding Thanksgiving. For them, the day marks the beginning of the end of their traditional way of life, as the British began the process of spreading out across the continent.