Want to Change the Gun Debate? Body Bags…

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Once again, something that there is “no way to prevent” in a country that could prevent it in a heartbeat has been devastated by tragedy. Mass shootings have become almost commonplace nowadays in our existence, so much so that the recent mass shooting in Parkland, FL (a suburban community north of Miami) that killed 17 teenagers and teachers and injured a similar number has barely registered in our consciousness. Something else that hasn’t registered in our consciousness? That this is the 18th (EIGHTEENTH, for those of you potentially with vision problems) such attack at a school IN 2018 alone.

Now of course the usual diatribe has begun. The conservatives and guns-rights fanatics have rolled out their gems of “mental illness” or that “there’s no way to stop this” or the “what good would new laws do” argument. Liberals, on their side, have opened their discussion of what they believe to be rational gun controls and funding of mental health treatment, but they can’t seem to coalesce around whether they should just try to work on certain weapons or rewrite the Constitution and just how much money it would take to eradicate mental health issues. And once again, those old chestnuts of “thoughts and prayers” and “now’s not the time to talk about these things” (if not now, then when the fuck is the time to talk about it?) comes to the fore.

Myself? I’ve grown tired of the constant stream of “thoughts and prayers” and the hand wringing and the “what will we do” cries that go unanswered. When you get ready to do something about the issue, give me a call. Until then, let’s not pretend to give a fuck about the issue. We didn’t care when 26 6-year olds were gunned down, why the fuck would we care over 17 teenagers?

But I digress. There’s one thing that we can do that would have a tremendous effect on changing the gun debate in this country. Whether we have the balls to do it or not is another thing.

During the Vietnam War, those on the home front of the United States were brought daily reminders of what the casualties of war were. In grainy black and white on their televisions (or, for those families that had a bit more money, color TV), U. S. soldiers were seen getting blown to shit by Soviet-made munitions, their fellow soldiers carrying their body parts back to the corpsmen to try to save so that they could defend a small Asian country against the “expansion of communism.” Some of those men came back with their minds permanently separated from their bodies. Some came back with the body parts either reconnected or gone, but even further disturbed by the horrors of war. Some, alas, didn’t come back.

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These daily images had a monumental effect on the psyche of the country. Seeing hundreds of blood-soaked bodies cross their screens nightly – and, for some, potentially becoming that next body to be broadcast back to the U. S. – changed the viewpoint of the Vietnam War from one of patriotic resolve to that of an imperialistic invading force trying to force our way of life on another country. It begat the protests that started during the early 1960s, but it was one event that was seen on television that changed the course of the war.

In 1968, CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite went to the war-torn country following the Tet Offensive to give viewers his viewpoint on the course of the war. On February 27 of that year, Cronkite offered this opinion to the country:

To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.”

This, along with the rest of his commentary and the non-stop images of war coming from the front night after night had a seismic effect on the Vietnam War. After it was aired, then-President Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” It would force Johnson not to run for President in 1968, although it would take another five years before the war would be ended.

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The views of those body bags – filled with the remains of once vibrant and alive men who were defending this great country – was immeasurable. This effect of seeing the ramifications of war has an impact on the people – why do you believe that, since Vietnam, there hasn’t been any scenes of U. S. troops in the midst of battle that haven’t been completely scrubbed by the U. S. government? Why do you think that there haven’t been the scenes of caskets or body bags with the remains of soldiers, Marines, sailors and others that have been killed as a part of the “war”?” Why hasn’t there been the “live from the front” reporting, unless it is someone embedded (AKA “cleared” by the government) with a platoon?

Control what the people see and you control the discussion. That is true in virtually every armed combat situation that the U. S. military has been in since Vietnam and it holds true in the case of these mass shootings.

The National Rifle Association and the Republican Party learned this fact a long time ago. After what was arguably Ground Zero for these mass shootings, the attack by two shooters on their high school in Columbine, CO, in 1999, many saw the images of the two shooters strolling the hallways and gunning down their fellow classmates. People saw, through news reports, the blood-soaked hallways where people tried to drag themselves to safety. They SAW what happened, they saw the bodies, they saw the after effects. (And here’s a bit of sadness for you…Wednesday’s shooting in Parkland knocked Columbine out of the Top Ten largest mass shootings in U. S. history.)

There was a great deal of outrage after that attack and the gun lobby and the politicos noticed. The NRA and the GOP were able to stanch a massive change to gun laws and they learned from the Vietnam War. Thus, in virtually every situation since Columbine, there has been no video or photographic evidence that has been made public.

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Sandy Hook…no. Las Vegas…none. And to this point, we’ve seen nothing of Parkland. It’s time we change that situation.

The only way to have an effect on the Ignorati in this country – those gun-totin’, knuckle-dragging Cro-Magnon fuckheads who spout, “You’ll get my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands” – is to either have someone that they love get mowed down by a hail of bullets from an semi-automatic weapon or, saving that, continually show the blood soaked hallways of the last shooting. Show the area where a group of people, cornered and unable to escape, were massacred by a gunman who made quick work with his assortment of weaponry. Bring the bodies out AND FILM THE GODDAMN THING. Broadcast the march of the dead and show people that yes, there were people who DIED in this attack (it would also shut the hell up these tinfoil hat fucks who scream “false flag operation” after every mass shooting).

The only thing that this country can understand is being beaten over the head with a sledgehammer. This country cannot change without seeing what the effects are of the actions they condone. Civil rights in this country didn’t move forward until blacks being treated like dog toys or being driven to the ground by a fire hose blast was seen by a massive number of people. The same applies to this situation – let’s start seeing the bloodied bodies being brought out of what was once considered a sanctuary – a school, a church, even a place of employment – and then there might be some honest discussion on the issue.

Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” Outstanding, Creative and Unnerving; “Mythbusters: The Search” An Unwatchable Rip-off

Every once in a while, I come across entertainment options – be they movies, television shows, miniseries, music or books – that are good (or bad) enough that they merit mention. For the most part, I try to concentrate on those things that are good because there’s enough crap that is out there (you hear me, Taylor Swift?) that people can normally pick out and ignore. The last time we looked at entertainment, we chose the NBC television series Timeless and, so far, that looks good. All the brass at NBC seem to be leaning towards giving the show a second season (but the jury is still out).

So what looks good right now? And what is total crap? Follow along and see if you agree, disagree or have some suggestion for something to check out. I’m always looking for something enjoyable (WRITER’S NOTE:  I am not saying I am “first” on these things; I’m merely saying they’re well worth (or, in those certain cases, not worth) your time to check out).

Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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My first experience with Whitehead was with a book called The Noble Hustle. The book in principle was about the world of poker but, as I read it, I wasn’t entranced with what Whitehead was doing. He wrote the book as a semi-autobiography, a tome to excoriate the demons in his own soul, and as such never really reached me in trying to write a “poker book.” In fact, when you use such lines as “I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside” and pretend to be from a country called “The Republic of Anhedonia” (anhedonia – the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, such as hobbies, music, social interactions), you get the idea.

Thus, the idea of reading another Whitehead book was roughly akin to having a manicure done with bamboo shoots.

Recently, my lovely wife and I wanted to experience some “adult time” by getting involved with a local book club. The book of their choice for the month was Whitehead’s latest effort, The Underground Railroad, which made many Book of the Year lists for 2016 and was on the New York Times bestseller list for several months. I reluctantly picked up the book and, after reading the premise, decided to give Whitehead another chance.

Whitehead’s book is, as you might figure, about the Underground Railroad of Civil War history. In Whitehead’s vision, however, the Underground Railroad isn’t a metaphor for the hundreds of miles that runaway slaves had to traverse; in his writings, the Underground Railroad is an actual railroad line, complete with trains, engineers, conductors, stops and rails to convey those runaway slaves to a supposed “better place.” With this creative starting point, Whitehead has gone on to write an outstanding book, albeit one that is also quite unnerving.

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The Underground Railroad is the story of a slave named Cora who, even for someone of her race in that era, had a very difficult life. Her mother was a successful runaway (or was she?) who left her an orphan when she was but 8, immediately banishing her to a life as a second tier being even in the slave community. The resulting banishment to a place for the “unwanted” called “The Hob” on her plantation – as well as other brutal moments – helps to formulate the person she becomes.

Cora meets a slave named Caesar who, in a spirited discussion, invites her – and I guess that would be the term – to run away with him. She initially spurns his offer but Cora, after a particularly vicious beating by the slave master while she protected one of the children from being assaulted over an accident, decides to follow in her mother’s footsteps and flee the plantation.

The twosome head off on the trek on the literal Underground Railroad and the book traces their travels on the rails as they attempt to journey to freedom – or what is supposed to be freedom. The book winds its way through the south (North Carolina is treated particularly harshly and, knowing Whitehead’s research abilities, deservedly so) to Indiana (also the recipient of harsh review), with Cora the central part of the action. There are several chapters that focus on other characters in the book (of particular interest is the slave hunter looking to bring Cora back to the plantation), but those are used by Whitehead in a Tarantino-esque manner, jumping about in time, to provide backstory to what Cora is going through.

Be forewarned…this is not a pleasant read (and part of the reason why my lovely wife decided she couldn’t work her way through it). There are brutal examples of the harsh life on the plantation, including the inhuman treatment of runaways when they were returned to their masters. It is a part of the story, however, and if Whitehead were to gloss over such issues or treat them with “kid gloves,” then he wouldn’t be doing his job as a writer or a storyteller.

Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is deserving of all the accolades that he and the book have received. It is critical to be able to see what our past was to ensure that in no way or manner should it happen to another segment of the population in the future. While it used a little trick to get me in the door – the Underground Railroad being an actual railroad – the overall story gave me a more extensive knowledge of 1860s America and gave me a better appreciation of Whitehead and his talents. The next book I see from him, I will not be as dismissive as I was in the past.

Mythbusters: The Search, Saturdays (check local listings)

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They’ve been saying that the reality television genre is dying, but for me at least it died when the Discovery Channel program Mythbusters went off the air in 2016 (repeats can still be seen on the Science Channel). The show, featuring special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, spent 15 seasons investigating through scientific methods urban myths, scenes from television and movies, and particularly interesting news stories they came across. Along with their “Build Team” – Kari Byron, Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara (and, prior to that, Scottie Chapman and Jessie Combs), who were let go from the show in 2015 – the Mythbusters investigated 282 episodes of information, coming to the conclusions of “Confirmed,” “Busted” or “Plausible” for 2,950 experiments.

As with most things when special effects, robotics and artistic people take hold of it, there were some things that stood out on the show. In the final episode when asked what they would be remembered for, Hyneman said bluntly, “Blowing shit up,” and that they did. But they presented a show that used excellent scientific methods, creativity, was fun and educational and kept your interest. With the Mythbusters crew gone – hell, even “folklorist” Heather Joseph-Witham, with her historical background information on the myths being tested, is remembered fondly for her one season on the program – there was a gap to fill and, problematically, they decided to tarnish the name of this program to fill it.

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Airing on the Science Channel on Saturdays, Mythbusters: The Search is an attempt to make the original program a reality/competition show much like Survivor or The Amazing Race. Ten competitors gleaned from a batch of video applications compete in front of host Kyle Hill (the editor of Nerdist and a Mythbusters fan), RETESTING old myths that the Mythbusters tackled (giving them the excuse to run video of Savage, Hyneman and the old crew). At the end of each episode, one person is eliminated with no apparent scoring or reason for their departure other than a talk between Hill and one of the peripheral participants in the original Mythbusters (a Mythbusters favorite, the Alameda County Sheriff’s officer Sgt. J. D. Nelson of the Alameda County Bomb Range, was the latest to serve in that position).

Catching lightning is tough enough – as Discovery did with the original show and Mythbusters – and it is virtually impossible to do it twice. Mythbusters: The Search is a pale imitation of the original in that literally NONE of the people competing for the prize (and what is the prize? Are a few people being chosen? Is there going to be a woman (tough now that they’ve already sent one home and have two left) on the team? Is there going to be a show in the future? WHAT ARE THE RULES?) have even a sliver of the “it” factor that the original cast had. There isn’t that “TEAM” concept that made the original group so special and, thus, this product suffers.

The fact that there aren’t new “myths” being investigated is also relying on the past team to try to carry this worthless heap. After two episodes, the four myths tested were all previously done by the original Mythbusters (including “Painting with Explosives”) and there was no new information gleaned from redoing the experiments with the 10 pretenders. All that was done was…well, nothing was done, save for the elimination of two contestants that were about as important as the wallpaper.

While it is commonplace in Hollywood (and other entertainment locales) to recycle anything to make another buck, you’ve got to make it good if you want people to watch. There is nothing remotely redeeming about Mythbusters: The Search that makes it worth watching now or in the future. If you yearn for the days of the original gang, check out Byron, Bellaci and Imahara’s work on the Netflix series White Rabbit Project. If you go to the Science Channel for your Mythbusters dose, make sure it is a repeat of the original and not the dreck of Mythbusters: The Search.

“Timeless” A New Television Show That Will Work Your Mind

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If it’s fall, then it is time for the new programs to hit the television screen from not only the traditional networks but also cable and streaming services. Most of the time the programs presented – especially by the traditional network outlets – are simply retreads of past programs that do little to engage the audience or test their thinking capabilities. But there are some programs that have come out that might be worth checking out. We’ll take a look at a few of them over the next couple of weeks, but let’s start with the best of the lot.

NBC has been the purveyor of some excellent programs over the past few years. It’s been three years since The Blacklist premiered on the Peacock Channel and, just last year, NBC put on another fine action-drama with Blindspot. They may have topped themselves, however, with their most recent entry, Timeless.

Timeless is the story of Lucy Preston (actor Abigail Spencer), a college professor with an ailing, bedridden mother and her stay at home sister, Amy, who takes care of her while Lucy attempts to gain tenure and follow in her mother’s footsteps. Things take a turn, however, when the college she teaches at (and where her mother was quite famous) refuses to grant her tenure, leaving her in a difficult spot. That changes when Homeland Security calls Lucy in for a project.

Coming into a warehouse, Lucy is dumbfounded to meet Connor Mason (Paterson Joseph), a brilliant scientist who has been working on undisclosed “experiments” for the government. According to Homeland Security agent Denise Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey), one of Mason’s projects was a time machine that, after a raid by terrorists led by Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic, who has been making an excellent living playing bad guys of late…or is he…well, not yet), has been stolen. Flynn and his cohorts have taken the time machine back to May 6, 1937.

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As a historian, Lucy knows the significance of the date. It is the day the Hindenburg exploded upon landing in Lakehurst, NJ, but she still doesn’t understand why she’s there to help Mason and the government. Mason explains that, with her knowledge and background in history, she is the best person to send to make sure that history doesn’t change, lest something happens and the “future” from 1937 is altered. Mason explains that there is a creaky prototype of the “Mothership” (the time capsule stolen by Flynn), but it only holds three riders; going along with Lucy on the trip are Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter), a military man (probably Navy Seal from his apparent expertise) who has recently lost his wife and will provide the muscle for the team, and Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett), a computer wizard and engineer on the creation of the “Mothership” who can handle the prototype and get it to and from whatever period of time they have to enter and return.

Upon reaching the flight line where the Hindenburg is landing, the threesome notice that the ground crew (the men catching the lines dropped by the dirigible to anchor the ship) are keeping the ropes off the ground, long thought to have been a theory as the cause for the grounding of the ship and the subsequent spark that set off the hydrogen gas in the blimp. The trio also see Flynn among the ground crew (having told them to keep the lines off the ground) and make chase, but are unable to catch him. Thus they have failed in their mission – keeping history the way it is known – and now must figure out why Flynn wanted to change it.

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Doing some research, Lucy learns that many noteworthy people – bankers, politicians, royalty and the elite – will be on the return flight of the Hindenburg to attend the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in England (which actually was supposed to happen in “our” history) and that Flynn is potentially looking to destroy the ship at that time to have the maximum impact on the future. Meanwhile, Wyatt hooks up with a reporter who reminds him of his deceased wife (and who was supposed to be one of the people killed on the ground in the original history of the crash), who doesn’t quite believe their story but does help them on their trek.

Our set of adventurers eventually end up in jail after killing one of Flynn’s associates (and finding a detonator in his pocket) and, in an attempt to escape to stop Flynn from destroying the Hindenburg, Rufus – who had previously stated to Mason that he didn’t want to go on the mission because as a black man “there isn’t a time in history that was good for me” – causes enough of a ruckus that the police come in, billy clubs brandished, ready to beat him senseless. This gives Wyatt enough time to pick the lock and, with Rufus’ help, immobilize the guards to stop Flynn.

The threesome board the Hindenburg and find the bomb, but are unable to stop it from exploding. They do, however, save everyone on board after forcibly taking over the ship and making it land, thus giving the passengers the quickest way off. During the resulting hubbub, Lucy comes face-to-face with Flynn and, to be honest, this is where it gets a bit interesting.

Flynn tells Lucy that he is looking to preserve history for the better, not destroy it, and tells her to ask Christopher about a certain group known only as “Rittenhouse.” He also shows her a diary that, to Lucy’s horror, is in her handwriting and apparently talks about the trips that are in the future. Wyatt comes upon them and tries to shoot Flynn, but he returns fire and misses Wyatt but hits the female reporter behind Wyatt after he jumps out of the way and kills her. With the Hindenburg now destroyed, the adventurers return to present time not knowing what they’ll find when they get there.

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much wrong other than some altering affected by the crew’s forcible crash landing of the blimp. The team has learned that Flynn is there to alter U. S. history but, even though the history of the Hindenburg has been slightly altered and the passengers who were killed in the original history survived (while none perished in the new historical trek), there doesn’t appear to be much out of line. Christopher sends the team home, at which point the show takes another stunning turn for one of the characters.

Lucy returns home and calls out for her sister but, to her utter amazement, her mother calls for her and comes out of the kitchen. A flabbergasted Lucy breaks down in tears at the sight of her mother in vigorous health (remember, she departed with her mother bedridden), but she still wants to know where Amy is. Her mother doesn’t know what or who she’s talking about and, to Lucy’s horror, she picks up a photo that used to feature the three Preston women that now just features Lucy and her mother. As the pilot ends, Lucy is called back by Christopher as Flynn has taken off to another point in history in the “Mothership.”

The second episode – which dealt with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln – is pretty much along the same lines, but a couple more twists are tossed in. Rufus and Mason now seem to be in cahoots as Mason has Rufus recording all the interactions between him, Wyatt and Lucy while they are on their missions, with those recordings going to the shadowy group that Flynn talked about with Lucy after the Hindenburg crash. Second, upon returning from the Lincoln mission, Lucy learns that her father in her original history met and married one of the survivors of the Hindenburg disaster and that is the reason why Amy doesn’t exist. This also leads Lucy to wonder about her OWN background (logically) and, lacking an answer on that front and returning home, finds another change in her history as her mother is throwing a party for her wedding engagement (imagine if you walked in and your mother was doing THAT for you!).

Personally, I’ve always held a fascination with alternative history (if you’ll remember, I was also big on The Man in the High Castle last year) and this show definitely taps into that vein. It goes back to the conundrum about a variation of the Grandfather Paradox known as the Hitler Paradox – if you could go back in history and kill Hitler before he begins World War II, would you do it? The problem with these types of questions – and something that is done well in Timeless (albeit only to Lucy right now – it is supposed to also affect Wyatt and Rufus at some point) – is that changing any point in past history would have an effect on what occurs in the future.

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Without Hitler and let’s just add in World War II also, would the United States have achieved all it did as a world superpower? Would there have been the Korean War, the attempts to stop the Russians and the Domino Theory? Maybe someone who died in WWII would go on to commit worse atrocities than Hitler? Would nuclear weapons have been developed? There’s plenty to think about there (and it does apply to everyone’s life – change one thing in your past and it would alter who you are today).

Timeless taps into this uncertainty and, while Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus are attempting to keep history as they know it correct, there are just enough things that they don’t or can’t prevent that it still has an impact on the present day world (Lucy’s sister disappearing, her mother healthy, etc.). What happens, for example, if they come back from a mission and Wyatt’s wife is suddenly alive? Does he quit? And what about Rufus? What is his purpose and why is he recording the crew?

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The possibilities are endless with this show. Future episodes are looking (and this is from my own knowledge of history and the titles of each episode) at the Manhattan Project, the siege of the Alamo and the Watergate burglary, but there is a wealth of situations that could be investigated. The characters are what keep you interested, critical for any drama, as you try to figure out if Lucy goes mad at some point from all the changes in her personal history, which in some way causes Flynn to start his criminal (hey, we’ve yet to figure out if it is criminal or not, remember) actions, can Wyatt overcome the loss of his wife and the mystery of Rufus (not to mention Morgan, Christopher and this mysterious organization).

Airing at 10PM on Mondays after The Voice, Timeless is a way to test your mind and expand your thinking while being entertained at the same time, making it a fresh show amidst the mindless banter out there (really, do we have to see Kevin James doing a new version of King of Queens? He really isn’t that funny to begin with!).

Why Do Women Put Up with Us?

I’ve thought about it before but, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve really begun to wonder in depth how the female part of the species homo sapiens puts up with the male gender. Let’s get beyond the usual stuff – leaving the toilet seat up, “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” generalities – and get down to the brass tacks. In a couple of instances of late from the news, things would be much different if there was a female mind in charge.

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Earlier this week, Fox Sports sportscaster Erin Andrews was awarded by a Tennessee jury $55 million in damages stemming from a 2008 incident with a “fan.” In that situation, the pervert reversed the peephole in Andrews’ hotel room door in Nashville, TN, and videotaped (with his cellphone) Andrews in the nude as she prepared for her broadcasting duties with her then employer ESPN. The only way the videos were ever found out about was because the asshole decided to try to sell them to TMZ, that great bastion of journalism.

Of course the perv was found and convicted, spending 27 months in jail (far too short if you ask me), but the damage was done. Andrews spent a great deal of time and money in trying to remove them from the internet – something that is virtually impossible – and eventually filed a civil lawsuit against the criminal and the hotel for their negligence (it was alleged that the hotel gave the man extensive information as to Andrews’ whereabouts in the hotel, even putting him in a nearby room to hers). After two weeks of testimony – which included a tearful Andrews recounting, over two days of testimony, how the situation still affects her today in taunts when she is on college campuses and one of the executives of the hotel actually WATCHING THE VIDEO DURING A DINNER MEETING during the trial (for which the executive vehemently apologized – afterwards) – Andrews was awarded $55 million, although she’ll probably never see a nickel of the money (and it probably wasn’t about that, at least for Andrews).

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While there is a bit of “good” (hey, there’s still a nude video of Andrews out there if you really want to find it) news in that case, another case that has come up isn’t as pleasant. The pop star Kesha’s battle against record producer Dr. Luke was resolved (temporarily) of late, with the courts barring Kesha from doing any recording without it coming from work between her and the producer, whom she claims signed her to a contract at an extremely young age under the influence of drugs. Kesha has also alleged that Dr. Luke raped her and, throughout their working relationship, continually berated her verbally, emotionally and continued the sexual abuse.

The music industry has divided itself along the natural lines, the industry bigwigs on the side of Luke and the performers on the side of Kesha. Taylor Swift (whom I normally wouldn’t give the time of day) stepped up with $250,000 to help support Kesha during a “trying time,” and other artists such as multi-Grammy Award winner Adele, Demi Lovato, Snoop Dogg, Kelly Clarkson (who stated her former management “blackmailed” her into working with Luke) and actor Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order:  SVU), herself a longtime anti-rape and domestic violence advocate, have voiced support. Lady Gaga has firmly announced her support, recounting her story of her early days in the recording industry and how she, like Kesha, was attacked by a male who was supposed to be helping her career rather than relieving one of his “tensions.”

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These are but two of the more visible cases of where men continue to subject women to degrading situations. I am positive that it happens literally millions of times per day across the United States and around the world, whether it is something as seemingly innocent as a “darlin’” when a subordinate performs a task to literally and physically raping a woman while they work with or for a male superior. It shouldn’t happen and it has to be asked why women allow it to continue?

There are, for lack of a better term, the “fantasies” of women taking over in culture and changing it through the utilization of their own powers. There is a classic Greek play called Lysistrata by the Greek playwright Aristophanes in which women, upset with the ongoing fighting in the Peloponnesian War, withhold carnal pleasures from their husbands until the fighting is stopped. It is arguable, however, that the Church put a quick kibosh on that and, over the next 2000-3000 years, women went into the shadows.

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In 1975, however, women finally took a stand, at least in one nation. In Iceland, women went on strike – that’s right, every woman, whether a traffic cop, housewife, bank clerk or mother – walking off their jobs and out of their homes. The resulting 25,000-plus women (astonishing considering the island nation’s population was only about 200,000 at that time) shut down the country and were able to win concessions from the government. The next year, equal pay laws were passed in Iceland and, in 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir was the world’s first elected female president and won reelection in 1988.

Here in the United States, women either do not understand the power they wield or do not want to “rock the boat” on the situation. If the female of our species were to achieve something along the lines of what the Icelandic women did, the impact on the United States – not only economically but politically, culturally and socially – would be seismic.

Instead of only a handful of women being in elected seats of power in Washington, D. C., it is extremely possible that MORE women would be elected to those positions, maybe even a majority of the positions. Businesses would be led by strong, smart ladies who would be led by doing the right thing rather than JUST what the bottom line says. And perhaps we would show more consideration for our fellow persons, as it really does seem that the males of this species don’t really give a fuck beyond their own skin casing as to what others do.

But is it impossible for U. S. women to pull off what the Icelandic ladies did? U. S. women are a diverse lot – more so than the homogenous nation of Iceland – and perhaps they would have the same troubles that men have in this country of deciding a course of action. I would have hope, though, that they would have a better nature than the male gender does and would be able to work through situations rather than compare dick sizes.

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Trust me, I’m not advocating for a Diana Prince/Wonder Woman-like home of Themicyra here. We all have to work together on this traveling roadshow called Planet Earth. But a little more equality between the two genders – achieved through a Ladies’ Strike – would be able to bring us a bit closer to refining the country into the best version it can be – and isn’t that what we’re looking for the United States to be?

So here’s my challenge…Ladies! Time to stop what you’re doing! Moms, put the kids down! Make Dad take care of them for a day. Teachers, cops, mayors, professors, physicians, psychiatrists, astronomers to zoologists…plan one day for the “U. S. Women’s March and Strike,” bring the country to a standstill, march on your state’s capitals and bring about the change that is necessary for the country. Women have and have always had the power…it is time that power is demonstrated, much like your sisters did in Iceland more than 40 years ago. It’s time for women to truly step to the fore!

2016 Grammys: Who Will Win? Who Should Win?

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By now, most of you might have learned something about my background. If not, for 20-odd years of my life I worked in the radio industry as a music director and DJ. I worked in pretty much every format that you could imagine and reached what was, at that time, one of the Top 75 markets in the United States in North Carolina, a pretty nice achievement. I was also reaching that age that, if you weren’t working as the program director, in other areas of station management or on the morning or afternoon drive teams, you weren’t going to be sticking around the industry for much longer. Thus came one day when I woke up and decided to move on rather than have the door hit me in the ass somewhere down the road.

The love affair that I’ve had with the Grammys dates back prior to my days in radio, back to my love for music overall (something else that I’ve written about here) in my youth. As I grew up, the artists that I saw on television or heard on the radio became the things that I looked for in the record stores and tried to learn about through other media. In doing this, I also learned to find out about new music and artists and try to figure out what would be the “next big thing” in music. When it became a career in radio, that love of music made it seem more fun than actually having a job could ever be.

Time has gone on and, even though I don’t have a radio job that requires that I know every intimate detail about an artist as I used to have to know, I still love the music industry. I’d go back on the radio – even satellite radio (a gig on Radio Margaritaville or some of the other channels on SiriusXM Radio would be nirvana) – in a heartbeat if someone offered me a gig. Thus, when Grammys Weekend rolls around, you know where I will be come Monday evening and the awards show.

The artists that are nominated this year aren’t necessarily my favorites – and one, Taylor Swift, I would rather listen to two cats fighting in a box made of chalkboards and filled with aluminum foil than listen to – but even now I am still knowledgeable about their work. Therefore, I’ve scanned the Crystal Ball to see who will win the Grammys for the biggest prizes of the night and I will also offer up who I believe should have won the Grammy. To be honest, sometimes the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) is completely off base, either going too artistic or not really honoring the best work from the year…more often, it’s not honoring the best work of the year!

Lamar

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
1989, Taylor Swift
Traveller, Chris Stapleton
Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd

Who Should Win:  While I am partial to Alabama Shakes and Brittany Howard’s bluesy guitar and howling-wolf vocals, Lamar would be the best artistic choice out of this mix. Lamar’s album dominated the R&B charts for the year and “Alright” was an excellent tune. I could also go for Stapleton or The Weeknd…anyone but who will probably get it.

Who Will Win:  Swift was basically shut out of the Grammys last year as “Shake it Off” won her exactly ZERO awards. The problem here is that Alabama Shakes and Singleton are basically going to cut up one side of the vote – the “rocker” vote – and Lamar and The Weeknd are going to divvy up the R&B side of the equation. That leaves the lane wide open for Swift to slip through the cracks (and she can do that easy – I’ve seen more curves on a 2X4) and steal this award. It would also shut up her fan base that says the Grammys don’t “respect” her as an artist (there’s a reason for that…Swift ISN’T one!).

RECORD OF THE YEAR

“Really Love,” D’Angelo and the Vanguard
“Uptown Funk!” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars
“Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran
“Blank Space,” Taylor Swift
“Can’t Feel My Face,” The Weeknd

Who Should Win:  I said it when it came out that “Uptown Funk!” was one of the catchiest pieces of music that I’ve ever heard; for the Grammy voters not to recognize Ronson and Mars for their work here would be unforgiveable.

Who Will Win:  I think the Grammy voters will agree with me here. The only problem is that the song may have been too far back in memory for some to recall how good it was. I could see The Weeknd possibly taking this or, in a real surprise, Sheeran for his ballad (the Grammy voters do like themselves a ballad to vote for).

SONG OF THE YEAR

“See You Again,” Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth
“Alright,” Kendrick Lamar
“Girl Crush,” Little Big Town
“Blank Space,” Taylor Swift
“Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran

Who Should Win:  The song that got me this year was the Khalifa/Puth duet from the movie Furious 7. The song’s usage, coupled with the death of actor Paul Walker, made it a tremendously poignant song and one that had an impact on many people. It was such a heart-wrencher that, during the People’s Choice Awards, actor Vin Diesel broke into song – and tears – singing this song to honor Walker as he accepted the award for Best Film.

Who Will Win:  If he is overlooked on the Album of the Year race, this is where Grammy voters will try to make it up to Lamar. It is also possible that this could be said to Sheeran, too, should he not win Record of the Year.

BEST NEW ARTIST

Courtney Barnett
James Bay
Sam Hunt
Tori Kelly
Meghan Trainor

Who Should Win:  Tori Kelly has perhaps the richest voice that I’ve heard in quite some time. She’s probably going to be the artist that has the best career out of this bunch, but that doesn’t mean anything right now. This is a category that once honored A Taste of Honey over Elvis Costello and The Cars, remember that.

Who Will Win:  It’s Trainor’s award to lose. She’s by far had the most commercial success with “All About That Bass” and her debut album and she does bring that “doo wop meets hip hop” sound that Grammy voters think is so unique (sorry, my sarcasm monster escaped). There’s sometimes you shouldn’t combine musical genres and this is one of them.

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM

Piece by Piece, Kelly Clarkson
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Florence + The Machine
Uptown Special, Mark Ronson
1989, Taylor Swift
Before This World, James Taylor

Who Should Win:  Readers will know that I have a tremendous admiration for Florence +The Machine and they should win this award hands down. How Big…, from start to finish, was the most complete work that the band has ever done and should be recognized (also wonder why it isn’t nominated in the Alternative category, but I digress). I’ve also enjoyed Clarkson for years, but this last album wasn’t her best work.

Who Will Win: Once again, if Swift doesn’t get any of the “big” awards, this would fall to her as a consolation prize. I could also see the Grammy voters pulling a fast one here, though.

James Taylor getting nominated in this category would be prime for one of those idiotic moments in Grammy history when someone is honored WAY past their prime (don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say Taylor’s latest album isn’t any good, it just isn’t his best work) for their career. Other examples of this would be Steely Dan’s 2001 Grammy win for Album of the Year for Two Against One (over more deserving subjects as Eminem, Paul Simon, Radiohead and Beck) and the inaugural Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental Grammy in 1989, which went to Jethro Tull over Metallica (still one of the greatest tragedies in Grammy voting).

BEST ROCK ALBUM

Chaos and the Calm, James Bay
Kintsugi, Death Cab for Cutie
Mister Asylum, Highly Suspect
Drones, Muse
.5:  The Gray Chapter, Slipknot

Who Should Win:  One of the breakout bands of 2016, Highly Suspect should be the ones who walk on the stage on Monday night to pick up this award. Other than Best New Artist, however, Grammy voters are wont to giving out accolades to newcomers (unless said newcomer just blows everyone out of the water); they are more apt to vote for those that have paid their dues in the business. Hence…

Who Will Win:  This is an easy one for Muse to take home. Although Drones is quite a distance from their best work (I’ve always been partial to The Resistance myself), Muse has put the required time in and it is their time to be rewarded. With only one Grammy win, Slipknot (2006 for Best Metal Performance for “Before I Forget”) might also be in the mix.

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM

Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
Vulnicura, Bjork
The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket
Currents, Tame Impala
Star Wars, Wilco

Who Should Win:  I have to admit, I haven’t given this band much of a listen, but many in the industry say that Tame Impala is one of the big up and comers in the Alternative scene. Perhaps when I see them come up on Sirius XM I’ll give them a stronger listen because, at this point, they really have failed to grasp my attention – but, then again, I might not be the audience that they are targeting!

Who Will Win:  Once again, we come back to one of those “if you don’t…/then you will…” situations. If Alabama Shakes doesn’t garner Album of the Year, this is going to be their consolation prize.

KaseyMusgraves

BEST COUNTRY ALBUM

Montevallo, Sam Hunt
Pain Killer, Little Big Town
The Blade, Ashley Monroe
Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves
Traveller, Chris Stapleton

Who Should Win:  In her sophomore effort, Musgraves has shown she is going to be a force to be reckoned with on the country music scene (and one of the few country artists that I like). She could have stuck close to what won her the Best Country Album Grammy in 2013 (for Same Trailer Different Park) but Musgraves instead chose to challenge herself by moving in a more artistic direction both lyrically and musically. In a genre that likes its artists to stay in their lanes, Musgraves is pretty refreshing.

Who Will Win:  Unfortunately for Musgraves, Stapleton is kind of unseating her in the “individuality” streak. A longtime bluegrass and country musician and writer who backed up such diverse artists as Adele and Brad Paisley and written songs with Peter Frampton, Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill, Stapleton finally decided to step out from the shadows and show himself. The resulting effort was Traveller which, if it doesn’t garner any big awards, should see the country side of the aisle recognize his efforts at the minimum.

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So what do you see as the big awards for the Grammys come Monday night? Or will you even be watching? Who knows, we may see Lady Gaga, during her tribute to late, legendary David Bowie, actually come out dressed as the Thin White Duke himself!

Wondering Whatever Happened to…For January 14

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Sitting around wondering whatever happened to Suzi Quatro while pondering…

So I Guess ANYONE Can Be a Hero Now – When someone is injured in the course of defending the country in a time of warfare, they are granted the right to wear the Purple Heart due to their injuries (if you’re my silly little brother, you refuse the reward after nearly losing an eye in the First Gulf War, but that’s another story for another time). If you perform feats of heroism above and beyond what are expected of mere mortals (or perhaps because you’re scared shitless), you earn more prestigious medals such as the Bronze or Silver Star or the ultimate expression of heroism, the Medal of Valor. Whenever you normally see these awards, you can be assured that the person wearing the award has performed a very special feat…or can you?

A federal court in California ruled earlier this week that a former Marine can wear certain service medals he did not earn, somehow determining that this was a “form of free speech.” Apparently Elven Joe Swisher, who served in the USMC after the Korean War and was discharged honorably in 1957, has taken to wearing the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. The problem? He was never awarded either military honor.

In 2001, Swisher filed paperwork for disability payments for post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the military, in particular “secret combat missions in North Korea.” He was granted the payments and, in 2004, wore the Purple Heart when testifying at the trial of a man being tried for solicitation of murder in an attempt to make him look more reliable as a witness. When this came out – after the passage of the Stolen Valor Act – Swisher was charged under the Act and his payments stopped.

In 2012, however, the Stolen Valor Act was challenged in the Supreme Court, where the Justices ruled that it was “free speech” to just WEAR the medals, as long as you didn’t CLAIM you earned them. In 2013, the Congress changed the Stolen Valor Act to remove the illegality of wearing a medal from its verbiage. The decision by the federal court on Monday set aside Swisher’s 2007 conviction for violating the Stolen Valor Act but did not overturn his conviction.

We constantly hear about “respecting the military” from those who have never served. Add this to the list of the continued disrespect that the military receives.

It Was a Tragedy, But You’re Pushing It Here – Once again out of California – who seems to want to challenge Florida for the title of “stupidest state in the U. S.” – the widow of one of the victims of December’s mass shooting in San Bernardino has decided to file a lawsuit against the county. In her claim, Renee Wetzel, the widow of Michael Wetzel, says that the county and 25 unidentified individuals and the respondents to the shooting were “negligent and careless” in their actions and that her husband’s death was preventable. If this weren’t outrageous enough – no other family member of a victim from the shooting, which was an act of terrorism by two radicalized Muslims (one an American citizen), has filed any court actions – the price tag on the lawsuit will make you choke.

Wetzel is asking for a grand total of $58 MILLION in damages in the case:  $3 million for lost wages from her husband’s death, $25 million in general damages and $10 million in general damages for each of the couple’s three children. The county attorneys haven’t responded as of yet out of respect to those who were victims of what was a horrific crime; even one of the woman’s attorney, Andrew J. Nissen, wouldn’t indicate where the alleged negligence came from that the county supposedly committed.

Look, it is tragic what occurred in San Bernardino, but this doesn’t give you the right to make a mint off the situation. It just goes to demonstrate that there is serious need for tort reform – and a method to punish frivolous lawsuits – in the United States.

And On the Other End of the Spectrum – The family of a 12-year old girl in Pennsylvania who was shot to death by an elected constable isn’t blaming the man for the death of their family member but rather her father, who escalated the situation.

According to reports, Constable Clark Steele (in Pennsylvania, a constable is an elected position that can serve warrants, transport prisoners and perform what would be administrative law enforcement powers) went to a home in Duncannon, PA, on Monday to serve eviction papers on the residents, Donald and Sherry Meyer. When he knocked on the door of the address, Steele was met by the business end of a shotgun being aimed at him by Donald Meyer and Steele fired one shot in self-defense. That shot traversed the length of Meyer’s arm, shattering the bone, and exited at the elbow. It then hit Meyer’s daughter, Ciara, in the chest as she stood behind him, killing her on the scene.

Family members, in a refreshing change of pace, didn’t immediately castigate the officer, however. “None of us in our family have any hard feelings toward him,” one family member commented. The family knew about the history of the male Meyer and asked a reporter, “Did anyone let him (the constable) know that he was going to be walking into a rat’s hole?” Meyer, who was due in court later this month for a case on a DUI and resisting arrest (the eviction was a separate case) now is in jail for aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and other counts.

The family may very well receive some settlement from the police over the unfortunate death of their family member, but at least they realize there wasn’t any malicious intent in the constable’s actions.

Sometimes, There Are No Other Words That Can Be Said – In Virginia, Delegate Mark Cole decided that 2016 was the year that the state government had to make sure that restrooms in public schools were being used properly. On Tuesday, the representative for the 88th District in the Virginia House of Delegates filed a bill that would require students that use the restroom at school to use the “designated restroom for a specific gender” or be fined.

The law defines gender as “anatomical sex, mean[ing] the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person’s anatomy.” To most, that would mean that a physical examination of the person – in this case, a child – would be necessary to determine if the person was going to the right potty house instead of trying to “sneak a peek.” For his part, Cole has said that it is simply a bill that will only be used if there is a “complaint.” He also says that it wouldn’t require a “genital check,” but a simple look at someone’s student registration or birth certificate.

You would think there were other things in Virginia to be concerned with…

Now the answer to the question…whatever happened to Suzi Quatro?

Many might remember Quatro for her quick – and I do mean quick, as in fleeting – appearances on the television series Happy Days in the late 1970s as Leather Tuscadero, the little sister to Fonzie’s girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero (herself a fleeting memory), who fronted a powerful rock and roll band that “broke the norms” in the 1950s. As it turns out, to those who thought that Quatro was “just an actress,” there was a whole lot more in the package than they expected!

Happy Days wasn’t Quatro’s debut in show business. In fact, Quatro had actually been around much longer than that, especially making a huge impact in the music business. In the 1960s at the tender age of 14, she joined with her sister Patti in a band called The Pleasure Seekers, finding some success in the Detroit music community. After turning 18, Quatro then would move to England and became successful in West Germany as a hard rock act. From 1973 to 1980, Quatro would win some form of the West German magazine Bravo’s Bravo Award (73-74 the Gold, 1975, 1978 and 1979 the Bronze and 1980 the Silver) for Best Female Singer. The U. S., however, preferred their Suzi to be a little softer, with her only success in the States a tune called “Stumblin’ In” that peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979.

Quatro has served as the inspiration for many of the women who have gone on to have success in the world of hard rock/metal in the music business. It is arguable that, without Suzi Quatro, there wouldn’t have been The Runaways and, as a result of that, no Joan Jett, who is now enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Others who have given Quatro credit for inspiring them to get into music include the Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth (who was encouraged by her then boyfriend and now husband, fellow Heads’ member Chris Frantz, to listen to Quatro albums to learn how to play the bass) and singer/songwriter KT Tunstall.

Quatro calls England home nowadays and it appears that she’s beginning to slow down a bit. She last appeared in the United States in 2013, when she was given the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Detroit Music Awards (her birthplace) and, in 2014, Quatro performed what has been called her “final” Australian tour. At 65, Quatro has a handful of shows scheduled in Europe for 2016, where she will continue to rock the fans who come to see her. But don’t expect her to just quit; on her website, Quatro states, “I will retire when I go onstage, shake my ass and there is silence.”

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2015 NFL Postseason Picks: During The “One and Done,” Always Look for Home Edge

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The 2015 National Football League playoffs began with a bang yesterday. Despite the fact that there was one snooze fest of a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans (and, if I had made a choice, would have gone for the favored Chiefs team), the nightcap between the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers was just what everyone loves about playoff football. A hard-hitting and aggressive contest between two teams that just didn’t like each other (and, for the sake of honesty, I have to say I’d have taken the home-dog Bengals there, with the Steelers without RB DeAngelo Williams), the final two minutes of the contest will go down in the annals of NFL history as to what NOT to do when it comes to playoff time. So how can Sunday’s action top what occurred on Saturday?

When it comes to these “one and done” playoff games – where one team wins and moves on and the other is “done” for the playoffs – you’ve always got to look at the home team and their edges for the game. Normally in the playoffs, the squad with the better record host these games to give them the perceived “home field advantage” and, as such, an extra two or three points when the line is set on the game (you know, if you can actually bet on something like that where you are). In the case of both of today’s home teams, that perceived advantage isn’t helping them much.

As an added bonus for those that have been following my prognostications for the season, we’ve come to the final game of the college football season. On Monday night, the College Football Playoff National Championship Game (couldn’t come up with something with a little more pizazz, NCAA?) will take place between the #1 Clemson Tigers and the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide. We’ll take a quick look at that (for entertainment pleasure, of course) as the college guys we’ll be watching next year on Sundays decide their ultimate champion.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Seattle Seahawks vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (+4); UNDER 39.5

This sounded like it was going to be a great matchup when it was set under the playoff format, then Old Man Winter raised his ugly head. The Vikings no longer play in the Metrodome (they are playing at the University of Minnesota’s stadium until a new, publicly-funded domed stadium can be built in downtown Minneapolis for them), but they have acclimated themselves well to playing outdoors football in the North. The question will be can either team play in the conditions that are expected on Sunday.

The HIGH temperature on Sunday is expected to be -1 degree, with winds gusting up to 20 MPH making the wind chill dip even deeper on the dial (I’m no meteorologist, but those conditions produce around a -22-degree wind chill, if my calculations are correct). It doesn’t lend itself well for any type of passing game, which has developed into a strength for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, but sets up for a “ground and pound” game from both sides. The Vikings hold the edge there with the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, and the Seahawks cannot counter him as Marshawn Lynch is out for the game.

Taking the Vikings here may sound crazy – especially considering that the Seahawks thumped the Horned Norsemen 38-7 only a month ago – but these are now two totally different teams. Back then, it was the Vikings who were bitten by the injury bug; now it is the Seahawks. They may not win outright, but I see the Vikings keeping this closer than the spread. With the running games being prominently featured, don’t expect a massive amount of scoring, either.

Green Bay Packers (PICK ‘EM) vs. Washington Redskins; UNDER 46

After leading their division for much of the season, the loss in the final game of the year to the Vikings by the Packers has sent them on the road for essentially the entirety of their playoff run (the only way the Pack can have a home game is if Seattle makes it to the NFC Championship Game with the Packers). They did get a bit of a reprieve for that loss, however, as they get to face Washington on the road rather than face the Seahawks at home. If there’s a better choice in the playoffs, it hasn’t made itself apparent yet.

In contrast with the conditions the fans in Minnesota will be subjected to, the Washington area will be positively balmy at 55 degrees. This doesn’t serve well for the ‘Skins, who will have to watch as Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, whose offense has slowly gotten healthier around him, wields his magic. This isn’t to say that QB Kirk Cousins, who has done an admirable job leading a team that wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in another division, doesn’t have his weapons, he just doesn’t have as many as Rodgers does. Add into the fact that the Packers defense is looking to feast (ranked 15th, compared to the 28th ranked Redskins) and I’ve got to go with the Pack and the UNDER in the game (there’s a reason we are going under here; 9 of the top 10 rushing attacks are in these playoffs and rushing games make for lower scoring contests).

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. CLEMSON TIGERS (+7); UNDER 50.5

After playing since the halls of higher education opened up this fall, these two teams – Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide and Dabo Swinney’s Tigers – have emerged from a complicated computer program, a meeting between the supposed brightest minds in the collegiate football world and a four team playoff system to enter the field tomorrow with the chance to take home college football’s second-ever National Championship game. From the time that the two teams were determined – with Alabama rolling the Michigan State Spartans 38-0 and Clemson popping Oklahoma in the mouth 37-17 – Alabama has been the favorite of the books, with the line not budging an inch off that mark. Only the O/U has come down (three points) in the last week.

The way that the Tide decimated Sparty, that line isn’t out of line (no pun intended), but this is something that Swinney and the Tigers have thrived on all season. They have gotten little to no respect from anyone on their march towards the championship. First they were supposed to lose to such football powerhouses as Notre Dame and Florida State; they defeated them. Oklahoma was actually favored over the Tigers in the Orange Bowl, but the Tigers silenced the critics. The final step would be a defeat of Saban and his Tide and it isn’t out of the question. At the least, Clemson will cover the spread and the score will go UNDER.

Last Week:  2-4
Overall:  44-33-5

Not a great way to wrap up the regular season. But that is a foregone situation now, it is time to go about getting some great scores in the postseason!

Welcome Back, My Friends: What to Expect from Tuesday’s GOP Debate

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Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends!
We’re so glad you could attend,
Come inside! Come inside!

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, “Karn Evil 9

If it seems like we are in a Bill Murray-esque “Groundhog Day” scenario, it is about to come to a close. On Tuesday night, 13 of the 14 remaining candidates from the Republican Party will meet at the Venetian in Las Vegas, representing the final time in 2015 that the GOP will parade their talent across the stage for the U. S. voter. It is expected that, by the time of the next debate two days after the State of the Union address in January, this field will be whittled down again (since the start of the campaign, three candidates – former Texas Governor Rick Perry, current Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – have already tossed in the towel…and thus completes our moment of silence for them).

It is appropriate that Las Vegas is the host of the final GOP debate for 2015 because, for many of the candidates, it is a full-out gamble that they’re taking by staying in the race. The four men who will make up the undercard (or “kiddie table”) debate – current South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, former New York Governor George Pataki, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee – were unable to make the criteria for the main CNN debate (to be eligible, a candidate had to poll at least at 3.5% nationally or at 4% in either Iowa or New Hampshire) and probably should have left this contest months ago (another candidate, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, was left off this stage because he doesn’t poll at all in the GOP race, he just hasn’t gotten around to ending his campaign). They do little for the process other than to confuse voters, offer nothing as to “fresh” ideas and simply aren’t viable (on the Democrats side, Martin O’Malley serves this purpose all by himself). There would have to be a tremendous “change of fortune” if any of these longest of “long shots” were to pay off with a residency in the White House.

The nine person GOP All-Star team that will be in the “Main Event” – billionaire businessman  Donald Trump, brain surgeon Ben Carson, current Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Ohio’s Governor John Kasich and current Kentucky Senator Rand Paul – could have probably been cut as well, but we don’t want to have three debates that would provide emergency rooms with more alcohol poisonings than they could handle. With just the top four alone – Trump, Carson, Cruz and Rubio – nearly three-quarters (73.5%) of the GOP has decided who they will back. The other five candidates divvy up 15% of the vote, not enough for any of them to mount a serious charge at the top and probably not enough to swing the top four in any particular direction (the rest are basically undecided, either supporting one of the bottom four or have truly not made a choice). As such, this debate (and maybe they’ll do it by the January debate, but I’m not holding my breath) might be the last time we’ll see this many GOP hopefuls on the center stage.

The run-up to this debate has been intriguing if not necessarily pretty. Paul was a last-minute addition (due to a late Sunday Fox News poll that showed him doing well in Iowa) to get him to the main stage. There was talk that he would be shuttled to the undercard debate, which brought the threat from Paul of either a lawsuit or a resignation from the campaign. Trump has been wavering atop the ladder, with a surprising Cruz passing him in some polling while Trump has extended his lead in others. Finally, there has been the grandstanding that many in the GOP have done as a result of situations in the world and in the United States over the past few weeks.

This debate is being billed by CNN – who will put commentator Wolf Blitzer in as the moderator, with assistance from CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and Salem Radio (co-host of the debate) talk show host Hugh Hewitt – as a comprehensive look at the threat of terrorism and foreign policy. With the attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino over the past few weeks, the actions of ISIS and terrorism in general has come to the forefront as an important issue. This doesn’t bode well for a few of the candidates – Carson, Fiorina, Kasich and Paul in particular – because it isn’t their forte. Some of the other candidates on the stage – Cruz, Rubio, Bush and Christie – have been very consistent with their proposals to counter terrorists’ threats. It is Trump who is the wild card simply because he presents “solutions” that will not even be seriously considered (registering a religion for government surveillance or forcing them into “training camps”, bombing the “shit” out of ISIS regardless of where they are, etc.); the real question is when will Trump grow up and figure out simple civics and government protocol and offer viable ideas.

The tone of the debate on Tuesday night is going to be two-sided. For those at the bottom of the totem pole – Paul, Kasich, Christie (making his return to the main stage after being “sent to the minors” for the last debate) and Fiorina – they are going to have to put out a big bet (in keeping with our Las Vegas theme here) and hope that it hits in their favor. This could be some sort of proposal to combat terrorism, an attack on another candidate showing how their position is wrong, or a particular stance that makes them potentially look like “the adult” in the room rather than a pandering child. Expect the “slings and arrows” for this debate to come out of this bunch because, let’s be honest, they haven’t got anything else to fall back on if they are to be viable in the campaign.

The top five in the GOP – Trump, Cruz, Carson, Rubio and Bush (and he barely gets into this class) – will probably be on their best behavior, especially Trump. After months of acting like your crazy, drunken uncle at the Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering, Trump is now being tracked down by the one candidate who is actively looking to pull away his supporters, Cruz. He has to try to look somewhat “sane” as he tries to parlay the attack of Cruz (who was called by none other than Arizona Senator John McCain a “wacko bird”). Cruz, who has basically burned every bridge he might have been able to use in the GOP to push his candidacy forward, HAD been the “lunatic fringe” of the GOP before Trump came along and now is potentially viewed by some as more “Presidential” than before. Instead of staying this course, Trump is strangely resorting to trying to portray himself as having a better “temperament” for the Presidency (as the rest of the political world does massive spit-takes); whether that strategy pays off has yet to be seen.

These five guys will, for the most part, spar lightly with each other but mostly will look out for the heavy ammunition from the back of the pack. Despite his bombast, Trump isn’t well-versed in foreign policy matters, so he’ll probably sit back and look for someone else to make a mistake (instead of the one Trump did in the last debate when Paul pointed out China – one of Trump’s favorite targets for beating – wasn’t a part of the Asian trade pact recently negotiated). This plan doesn’t bode well for him, however, as it could result in a drop in the polls if he doesn’t display “strength.”

I expect good showings from both Cruz and Rubio on this issue. The two are well-versed from their Senatorial work in potential foreign policy options and could present a viable course of action. Bush might surprise here, if he can separate himself from the Albatross that were his brother’s actions in the Middle East, while Carson suffers from a worse case of the same condition that afflicts Trump – no knowledge of foreign policy (although this would be a good time to demonstrate that he’s been listening to his advisors and show some deep thought on the subject).

What has held true for all the previous debates – and will continue to hold true for this one – is that it won’t have much effect on the current campaign at all and I don’t say that cynically. Trump has been the leader since he stepped into the race this summer and, despite every verbal bombast, insult and slur that he’s thrown, he’s either maintained the lead or expanded it. It isn’t going to be until that late-January debate that there might be a change in the numbers on the board, more so true if there are some candidates who come to their senses and realize they have no shot at the big prize and withdraw from the race. While Las Vegas may be the city where “dreams come true,” it more often than not crushes those dreams into dust; it will be that way for some of these GOP candidates as we head towards the end of 2015.

The Insanity of the College Football Bowl Season

CollegeFootball

If we’re stuck in the middle between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it must be time for the college football bowl season to begin. Every college football conference has completed their championship games and, for those that are at the upper echelons of the college football world, they can prepare to play for the National Championship. Beyond those three games – this year consisting of the Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl (both on December 31) and the National Championship Game (January 11) – there is an overabundance of games to be played.

In 2014, the college bowl season consisted of 35 games, meaning that 70 teams went to a bowl game from the 128 schools that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision (or FBS, which is different from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), the playoff system that the remainder of the collegiate football world plays under). There was plenty of fear in 2014 that there wouldn’t be enough qualified teams to play in the bowl games – to be “bowl eligible,” a team had to win six games from their 12-game schedule – but the final week of the season provided enough teams with a qualifying victory to fill out the schedule. Having faced the potential of not getting qualifying teams, you might have thought that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body of collegiate athletics, would want to keep down the number of bowl games moving into the future. If you had that thought, you would be wrong.

For 2015, a grand total of 41 bowl games (including the National Championship Game) will fill the television screens of virtually every channel on the cable dial, more than double what existed only 20 years ago. Instead of barely finding 70 qualified teams to play in these games, now there was the necessity to add 10 more to the list. With new regulations instituted in the offseason – including the fact that FBS teams could not count victories against FCS teams towards their six-win qualification level – the NCAA did come up short in having enough teams qualify for bowl eligibility. Rather than admit that there were too many bowls, you know what the NCAA did? Granted “waivers” to teams to allow them to count wins against FCS teams to reach the six win mark or use “academic performance criteria” to allow for five win teams to play in a bowl. This is why you’ll see a 6-5 California team in the Armed Forces Bowl (despite one of their wins coming against Grambling) and a 5-7 Nebraska team in the Foster Farms Bowl against UCLA.

So if there aren’t enough teams to qualify to play in these bowl games, why are there more being created as we speak (it is reported that a new bowl game in Austin, TX, will join the ranks in 2016)? While the schools don’t make any money out of the trips to a bowl game, the bowls themselves and the NCAA are stripping every dollar they can out of the system.

SongGirls

Although you might be surprised by this, the colleges and universities that go to these bowl games many times do not even turn a profit for playing in their respective bowl. It may be an honor to be invited to the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (yes, that actually exists), but the schools have to get their personnel to the game. It costs major moolah for a university to load up planes with the team, cheerleaders, band, coaching staffs, athletic department personnel and college leadership – and this doesn’t even count in the appropriate equipment for the team – and get them to the stadium. In many cases there are media requirements, meaning the teams have to get there days before the game starts. This adds in hotel expenditures for everyone you just flew out to the Big Game.

If that wasn’t bad enough, here’s where we get into perhaps the biggest crime that the bowl games perpetrate on the colleges and universities. Besides having to round up the troops and get them to the game, the schools are then handed a block of tickets and told to sell every single stub to their fans. These ticket blocks sometimes are as large as 20,000 tickets and, if a school fails to sell every ticket, then the school has to buy whatever remaining tickets are left. This can total, in some cases, up to $500,000 per school by itself.

CollegeBand

If the schools aren’t making any money out of these bowl games, then who is?

The answer is virtually everyone else that isn’t involved with playing the game. The businesses that are the “sponsors” of the particular bowls can receive a market value (in advertising) several times larger than what the sponsorship fee cost. Even Bitcoin sponsored a bowl game last year (the Bitcoin Bowl used to be the St. Petersburg Bowl in 2014; Bitcoin didn’t come back in 2015 for a sponsorship of any bowl game), reaping some benefit from the deal because they are associated with the teams involved and the pageantry of the college bowl season.

Then there are the bowls themselves. Considered “non-profit organizations” because they are supposedly set up for a charitable cause, the bowls are a virtual gold mine of revenues. According to Yahoo! Sports, the Sugar Bowl in 2014 held $12.5 million in cash reserves, $20.8 million in publicly traded securities and actually doled out to their Chief Executive Officer a $600,000 a year salary. That’s a pretty big chunk of change to have sitting around for simply throwing a football game on New Year’s Day.

The conferences themselves are raking in the money. The major conferences – the Big 10, the Big 12, the PAC-12, the ACC and the SEC – reap $50 million; smaller conferences who are a part of the college bowl parade get upwards of $15 million (depending of the number of teams they have in the mix). The College Football Playoff adds in another $40 million for the conferences, meaning that #1 Clemson, #2 Alabama, #3 Michigan State and #4 Oklahoma earned another block of cash for the ACC, the SEC, the Big 10 and the Big 12.

Finally, there are the television networks. For broadcasting the College Football Playoff, the monolithic sports channel ESPN paid $7.3 BILLION in 2013 for the broadcasting rights until 2025. Before you feel too bad for ESPN (they have been laying off people of late to trim spending to be able to pay sports licensing fees), they are expected to have revenues of $10 BILLION over that timeframe. This isn’t even counting the other 38 games that make up the college bowl schedule nor the networks (Fox Sports, CBS Sports and NBC Sports and their affiliated cable outlets), which could run into the billions in their own right.

This is the insanity of the college bowl season. Despite the claims that a playoff system like the one that is operated in FCS would “impact the academic pursuits of the athletes” (a bullshit statement because it seems to work fine for the FCS schools), the NCAA is looking to maintain as much control over the schools – and control over the money – as possible. The bowl system is not there to reward the schools and the players for having a successful season, it is a blatant money grab by a system that maximizes every dollar by not having to share it with those who are the product on display.

It isn’t like these games are actually any good, either. In some cases, the teams are playing as much as a month following the last serious game speed contact they participated in and the rust shows in the teams’ performance on the field. The players – some with potential dreams of NFL glory, some just looking to finish their collegiate careers and move on into normal life – play with little to no passion for the game. Thus, you see final scores in the neighborhood of 52-49 or 56-53…there is absolutely ZERO defense played because no one, whether a blue-chip NFL prospect or a grinder on the line looking to complete their degree, wants to be injured in a game that means little to their own personal bottom line.

Much like years past, I will probably watch the College Football Playoff games, but I won’t be watching the Lysol Tidy Bowl live from Savannah, GA. There will be plenty of college basketball to watch (and there’s another money grab by the NCAA, but I digress) that will be much more entertaining than a 70-66 college football game. It just a further example of the insanity that has become college athletics as a whole and, in particular, college football.

Which Side Are You On? “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek”

WarsVersusTrek

There are many great conundrums in life. “Less Filling” versus “Tastes Great”; Ginger versus Mary Ann; and, since we just completed Thanksgiving, white meat versus dark meat. But there is potentially no greater debate than that of two of the greatest followings of the late 20th/early 21st century:  are you Star Wars or Star Trek?

Ever since the time of Jules Verne – hell, if we are serious, we’ve wondered since we drew images on the caves 35,000 years ago – man has tried to figure out what was beyond our earthly bounds. Leonardo da Vinci is alleged to have created blueprints for rockets and their flight; H. G. Wells used his imagination towards the subject to pen some of the great science fiction of the early 20th century and Albert Einstein actually did the math that would lead to our voyages to the stars. It wasn’t until other German scientists, led by Werner von Braun, actually harnessed the power of rocketry that those dreams became reality.

Since that time, mankind has achieved tremendous feats in the weightlessness beyond our Earth. There were the Apollo landings by NASA in the 1960s/70s, but the then-U. S. S. R. achieved longevity records for time in space and actually built the first long-term space station, Mir, in the 1980s (Skylab, for all of its exploits in the 1970s, only had three missions total with the longest lasting 84 days). Today, the International Space Station stands as perhaps the closest thing to mankind, regardless of nationality, joining together in our best efforts in space and its exploration.

The reach beyond the moon, however, has been limited to unmanned probes and satellites chocked full of cameras and data recorders that can capture the base information of the bodies it passes. These devices, however, lack the human capability of viewing the universe surrounding us and its wonder, of transmitting this astonishment back to a ravenous audience who wants to know what is out in the heavens beyond. Thus, we have to depend on the visionaries who have crafted a universe that soothes our curiosity somewhat but lights the fire of that same curiosity on another hand.

StarTrek

The visionary Gene Roddenberry was the first to take a crack at this difficult task. Star Trek, created by Roddenberry in 1966, showed a Planet Earth that didn’t recognize national boundaries anymore but organized under the “United Federation of Planets.” The flagship of the Federation was the starship Enterprise, captained by James Kirk (and later Jean-Luc Picard) and replete with all nationalities from Planet Earth on board.  There was even an alien, Mr. Spock, who hailed from the planet Vulcan. Their “five year mission” was to explore the galaxies and discover new situations, something that has been a human trait since crawling out of the primordial ooze.

The show wasn’t initially popular as people had a difficult time wrapping their minds around Roddenberry’s concept. Roddenberry was trying to detail the difficulties of society at that time in an arena where such discussion could be possible. While it may seem that Kirk’s machismo and swashbuckling style was the rule, examinations of race relations, destruction of the environment and the devastating effects of war were the overarching storylines that appeared. These themes (as well as many others) were the true staple of Roddenberry’s work on the program and over the wealth of Star Trek-related spinoffs over the past 50 years.

StarWars

In 1977, another entry came into the view of what the galaxy looked like. Envisioned by George Lucas and nearly as dear to him as Star Trek had been to Roddenberry, the movie Star Wars premiered on May 25, 1977. Initially not thought to be much by the studios (Star Wars was a toss-in with American Graffiti by Universal Studios to sign Lucas to a contract), the film would turn out to be one of the biggest movies of 1977, earning over $775 million ($1.3 billion today) worldwide in box office receipts (all totaled, the Star Wars franchise has earned over $4.4 billion in its existence). The film would go on to have five sequels/prequels, with the sixth – Star Wars:  The Force Awakens – set for release on December 18.

Since Star Wars joined into the “vision of space race” with Star Trek, however, there has been a battle between the franchises for the minds of fans. Many involved in this battle believe that a person may accept one of the franchises but cannot accept the other, forcing many to choose sides in this epic battle. My question would be…why? The two shows come at the subject of the universe from two completely different angles and, through combination, offer an excellent approach.

When he first conceived Star Trek, Roddenberry envisioned the “perfect” state of humanity – perhaps most importantly peace among the Planet Earth’s nations – that continued to thirst for adventure, knowledge and exploration of the interplanetary universe that surrounded their ship. They would achieve those goals in a state-of-the-art vessel that included the scientific devices that might be found in any assortment of satellites along with the eyes that could relate the wonder of what was being seen.

Star Trek came at the questions regarding the universe from a purely scientific standpoint. There was the philosophical contemplation about man’s (or any species’) place in the galaxies, the dilemma over how to handle a race or species that wasn’t as scientifically advanced and many other conundrums that we face even today. The devices used during the run of the Star Trek franchise have also become scientific items that are commonly used such as cellphones, medical scanners and the like. The Star Trek universe is continuing to expand despite turning 50 next year… a new television/web series is set to premiere on CBS in 2017.

Instead of an array of devices (although some of them were quite impressive…who doesn’t want a lightsaber?), Star Wars chose to tell the story of space as an opera, a Shakespearean play, rather than as a scientific endeavor. The clash of good versus evil, father versus son and even the collision of worlds and their destruction formed the basis for what essentially was a soap opera for geeks (and we can say that proudly, by the way). Each new incarnation of the film extended the story and it isn’t over yet; over the next few years, there are two more Star Wars-specific films in the works and several movie projects on characters – providing “background” to the stories being told – that make up the Star Wars universe.

Being able to accept both Star Trek and Star Wars as a future existence would be perhaps the way it was meant to be. While we have the technological amazement and advancements that would make such a journey a true adventure, there is also the potential for the dramatic and even perhaps violent turns that such journeys can take. In a perfect world, an interdependency between the two franchises and their theories would also prove to be the best approach to the potential problems of intergalactic travel, with each side providing the answer to the questions that are presented.

Thus, as both franchises continue on their individual courses, perhaps they are more alike than they realize. Perhaps they look to achieve the best that the human being – and aliens – can achieve in the myriad of parts that make us whole. Perhaps, just perhaps, Star Wars and Star Trek are the epitome of what we can be rather than the “one side or another” proposition that is offered.