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The X-Files Returns with New Episodes, Here Are the Top Five to Watch on Netflix to Prepare

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Liz Sheld

The buzz is out there over the six-episode return of the hit TV series The X-Files. In honor of the forthcoming tenth season of the show, it’s time for me to revisit my favorite five episodes of the series.  The reboot will be captained by series creator Chris Carter so any worries the show might get hijacked by a disloyal opportunist should be assuaged.  (ProTip: Chris Carter also created Millennium, staring Lance Henricksen. Go watch that.)

I have limited these episodes to the “freak of the week” episodes– those episodes that aren’t part of the grand arc of the show.  They are stand alone episodes for the most part and are easy to watch if you want to get into the series.

Here they are in nor particular order:

1. “Soft Light” episode twenty-three, season two

Most notable: Tony Shalhoub is the star of this episode and what’s better than Monk in an episode of The X-Files? Almost nothing.

The plot is great, Shalhoub plays physicist Chester Ray Banton. Due to an unfortunate accident his lab, Banton’s shadow acts as a black hole and vaporizes any one who it touches.  The episode ends with Banton locked up in a government facility where scientists are running tests on him.

2. “Home” episode two, season five

Most notable: The creepiest, most disturbing X-Files episode ever. Possibly the most disturbing thing that has ever been on TV.

We follow Mulder and Scully to Home, Pennsylvania where they are investigating the corpse of deformed baby found in a sandlot. We meet the three Peacock brothers (irony!) who are deformed siblings that never leave their house and breed with their quadruple amputee mother who lives under the bed.  Seriously.

3. “Duane Barry” episode five, season two

Most notable: The discovery of microscopic implants with bar codes in Duane Barry’s body.  Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy forced a two-part episode where Scully is abducted by aliens or not if you don’t believe.

Escaped mental patient and alien abductee Duane Barry takes hostages, his psychiatrist among them, and Mulder is brought in as a hostage negotiator. Barry is tricked into being shot and Mulder finds that Barry was telling the truth about his alien implants. The actor who plays Duane Barry, Steve Railsback, is terrific. Duane Barry talks about himself in the third person.

4. “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” episode four, season three

Most notable: Clyde Bruckman tells Scully how she is going to die. This episode won several Emmy Awards.

Clyde Bruckman is a psychic that can see the details surrounding the deaths of people and because of his talent, he becomes a suspect in a murder as he knows information surrounding the murder only the killer would know.  Although Scully is skeptical of his psychic abilities, the two become close and he tells Scully how she will die. I won’t spoil the ending, but I teared up.

5. “Millennium” fourth episode, seventh season

Most notable: Crossover with Millennium series, a sort of closure to the show since Millennium was cancelled. (Really, go watch Millennium)

Mulder and Scully are called into examine one of four FBI agent’s graves that have been exhumed. All four FBI agents had committed suicide and their graves were surrounded by goat’s blood after exhumation. If there’s weird occultism mixed with biblical prophecy, it obviously involves the FBI spin-off Millennium Group.   Assistant Director suggests Mulder and Scully talk to Frank Black (Henriksen) who was part of the now-defunct Millennium Group. Black is, where else, but in a mental hospital.

Those are five of my favorite The X-Files episodes, tell me what episodes are your favorites or why you disagree with me in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

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Want to Win Big Money Tonight? Read These Tips!

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Max Steinberg

Wednesdays in the NBA are usually big days for daily fantasy, and today is no exception. Tonight, FanDuel is running a rare $1,000,000 Slam. Entry is only $25, the prize pool is a cool million, and 1st place will receive $100,000. There are also 13 NBA games, which means there is a ridiculous amount of viable plays to choose from tonight.

It’s important to find only those very compelling plays that will shoot us to the top of the tournament leaderboard.

Before I get into my picks tonight, I want to talk about a stat called Usage Percentage (USG%). USG is an equation (you can find that exact equation here) that evaluates how often an individual player controls the ball for his team on offense. More simply, it shows how small or large his offensive role is on the team.

Most daily fantasy players look at matchup factors like ‘DvP’ (Team Fantasy Defense vs a specific position) to evaluate whether a player is a good play, but DvP is really only useful when the matchup is exceptional. The rest of the time, we’re lost. That’s why using other stats like USG can be so important.

In an article written just a few days ago, my brother Danny — a former bond trader and a statistical genius (objectively, of course) — analyzed some data from this NBA season in an effort to evaluate how much USG correlates to fantasy production. You can read the article here. Danny found that USG has a correlation of .867 to offensive fantasy points (points and assists), a ridiculously high correlation.

To put this into context, the correlation between how hot it is outside and how much you sweat is about the same. If we can guess decreases and increases in USG from game to game, we can safely predict increases or decreases in offensive production. And for guards especially, who score fantasy points with almost all offensive stats, we can predict their fantasy output very accurately.

So the question becomes: how do we predict USG increases?

Sometimes a coach decides he wants to run his offense through a player more often. Or a key injury to an offensive player turns a player who once had a secondary role in the offense into the #1 option.

There are many factors. But one easy way to do it is to look at the USG of individual players in their past few games and to compare it to their USG over a longer period. If a player has a higher USG in his past few games than he’s averaged this season, we can safely assume he’ll continue that trend and outperform his salary.

Over at my daily fantasy strategy site, DailyFantasyWinners.com, we have a tool that does this evaluation for you, and it updates every day. Just look for the USG Trends page under the tools tab.

With all this said, making a great lineup is all about weighing all the relevant data, so along with USG, we will also factor in player price, matchup, and minutes.

The picks below are for both DraftKings and FanDuel.

Under the Radar Picks

Trey Burke should be the #1 option for the Jazz tonight

Trey Burke ($5,100 on FanDuel, $4,900 on DraftKings) –

With Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood doubtful to play against the Blazers, the Jazz have very few offensive options on their team aside from Derrick Favors. Even though he doesn’t start, Trey Burke’s USG has been a sky high 31.5% over his past 3 games, and it should increase even more playing without Gordon Hayward. Hayward was out for the Jazz’s last game vs the Minnesota Timberwolves, and despite only shooting 18.2% from the field, Burke had 16 points and 6 assists in 38 minutes — plenty of production for his low salary.

He also has the benefit of playing at home against a Portland team that is the 6th worst team against PGs this season. Burke has a lot going for him tonight, and at the same price-point as Zach LaVine, he should be significantly underused.

FanDuel Value

C.J. Miles ($4,300) — Rodney Stuckey has been ruled out, which means the Pacers don’t really have a backup SG. Miles’ minutes should increase significantly and he should have a small bump in USG with such a prolific scorer in Stuckey on the bench. His price is also $300 lower on Fanduel than it is on DraftKings, making him already a great value at SF.

A couple of others to watch are C.J. Watson and Luis Scola, who will be the #1 options in the 2nd unit. If Roy Hibbert gets into foul trouble, Scola could see big minutes, and C.J. Watson could see some time about SG toward the end of the game.

Must Play

Enes Kanter has been an exceptional scorer for the Thunder

Enes Kanter ($6,900 on FanDuel, $7,200 on DraftKings) – Kanter is getting comfortable in Oklahoma City’s offense, and he’s starting to thrive. His USG is up to 30.2% in his last 3 games from 22.7% in his past 15, and his rebounding numbers have been fantastic.

The Thunder are thin at PF and C with Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka out, which means Kanter will have to play big minutes in a big game, jockeying for playoff seeding against the Spurs. His price simply hasn’t caught up to his production, either — his price certainly should be in the low $8,000s.

And don’t fear the Spurs’ defense, they have actually been in the bottom half in Fantasy points allowed to centers.

Safe Play

Demar DeRozan ($7,600 on Fanduel, $7,700 on DraftKings) – With Kyle Lowry now out indefinitely, the Raptors need DeRozan’s offense more than ever. Grevis Vasquez is a solid backup, but DeRozan’s role and USG should increase in Toronto’s first unit that lacks offensive firepower. But what I like most about DeRozan is his consistency — he’s averaged 37 minutes a game over the last five games and rarely has a bad performance, and he has the upside to score 30+ points on any given night.

DraftKings Sleeper

Chris Andersen ($3,000) – Chris Andersen should assume the starting role with Hassan Whiteside doubtful, and he draws a great matchup against the Celtics who struggle against Centers and are 5th worst in Defensive Fantasy Points allowed per game. At the minimum salary, he can free up salary to play a big name like Anthony Davis.

But watch for Andersen’s injury status, he’s questionable with a calf contusion.

If you have any questions or comments, shoot me a tweet @maxjsteinberg. Good luck tonight!

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VIDEO: Would You Enroll in Preschool for Adults?

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

The Wall Street Journal is covering the latest trend in rejuveniling among the Millennial set: preschool for adults, where “play is serious business.” Six adults pay anywhere from $300 to $1000 to crowd into a Brooklyn duplex on Tuesday nights from 7 – 10 p.m. and participate in everything from nap time to envisioning themselves as superheroes.

Student Amanda Devereux detailed her reasons for enrolling in the Pre-K at Cosmo:

The self-help and goal-setting aspects were new, but welcome. I can use all the help I can get in making it to the gym, even if it means creating a superhero to get me there. I’m looking forward to seeing whether the preschool experience changes me over the next month, and I’m excited to see where Miss Joni and Miss CanCan take us on our class field trip. Mostly though, I’m excited about the snacks.

Is this latest trend in seeking eternal youth another glorified self-help program, or a sign that our traditional cultural institutions aren’t filled with hope and change? Is there a solution to be found in regressive creativity, or is this just another attempt at blissful ignorance? If you enrolled in preschool today, what would you learn?

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Ballplayer’s Harrowing Escape From Cuba

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Rick Moran

Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox has to pinch himself almost every day just to make sure he isn’t dreaming. Less than two years ago, his home was Cuba where life was much different. He rode to the games in a horse drawn buggy because even with his elevated status as a player for the national team, he couldn’t afford a car.

He grew up in a small wooden house — three generations of Abreus crowded together. There was never enough to eat. His father worked 12 hour days as a construction worker. But it was not a miserable existence, as young Jose thrived within the bosom of his family.

His love for baseball was matched only by his eye-popping talent. And by the time he reached adulthood, he was tearing up the Cuban professional league and performing wondrous feats in international competitions.

It was his belief that he could make it in the Major Leagues that eventually drove him to gather most of his family together and set off in a small boat for freedom.

He doesn’t talk about the journey much. But he opened up a little to Chicago Magazine in an excellent profile:

They left in the middle of the night, entrusting their fate to a tiny boat, its two motors, and the ink-black sea. For 12 hours, they pressed on. Through darkness, then dawn, then scorching daylight. Through 15-foot waves. And through the paths of trawlers and other ships that could cut their own 20-foot vessel in two.

Six of them huddled close atop a roiling ocean under an angry sky. But it was the hulking man in the middle who held them all together. Jose Abreu led his family—his fiancée, Yusmary; his parents; his sister and her husband—in prayers as the boat bucked and kicked beneath them. “It was dangerous,” he says. “The waves were high, but the Lord was at our side. God gave us the chance to reach our destination.”

It was the most important night of Abreu’s life, but one he has never talked about publicly before. That journey in August 2013 took him from his native Cuba to Haiti and, ultimately, to Chicago and big-league baseball. After signing with the White Sox, Abreu took the majors by storm in 2014, slamming 36 home runs, hitting .317, and posting a major-league-leading .581 slugging percentage—one of the best inaugural seasons ever. He was the runaway winner of the American League Rookie of the Year Award and a contender for Most Valuable Player. Even the men who bought the defecting player’s services for a team-record $68 million were surprised. “We thought he’d do well,” says White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams. “But I’d be lying to you if I said I thought he’d end up having the year he had.”

And what a year it was. He defied the expectations of critics, while endearing himself to White Sox fans. They said his bat was too slow, that he had a bad swing, that he wasn’t good enough to play in the field. His gaudy numbers proved them wrong.

But according to Adrian Nieto, Abreu’s closest friend and teammate, all of that was in doubt during the trip across the Atlantic  to Haiti. There were several moments where Abreu feared for his life:

“Jose was scared for his life in that little boat,” says Sox backup catcher Adrian Nieto, a fellow Cuban immigrant and Abreu’s best buddy on the team. “Everybody was freaking out. At times, he was doubting himself. He had to pump himself up, saying, ‘Let’s go. You got to be the one to take charge here and be mentally strong to get everyone through this.’ He told me many times: ‘If it’s everybody’s life or mine, I’m going to make sure my parents and my sister live before I do.’ Which is crazy for someone to tell you, that they’d put someone else in front of themselves. But that’s how he is.”

Now that the rest of his family has joined him in America, Abreu is setting expectations for his on field performance even higher. But that’s what the great ones do. They expect a lot from themselves and demand it from others. Abreu is a winner, and the White Sox are hoping that attitude rubs off on the rest of the team.

He certainly proved himself in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when the elements threatened tragedy. After that, hitting a curve ball must seem pretty easy.

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March Madness: The Rich Get Richer

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Rick Moran

Almost all of the Sweet Sixteen teams that will square off for the chance to make the Final Four in the NCAA basketball tourney later this week are programs from major conferences — many of them legendary teams with legendary coaches.

But there are a couple of surprises. Eight seed North Carolina State bumped off top seed Villanova in the East Region. The Wildcats were the only number one seed to fall last weekend. Seventh seeded Wichita State handled #2 Kansas, #6 Xavier ended #14 Georgia State’s dreams and #7 Michigan State shocked #2 Virginia. The Spartans, coached by Tom Izzo, have made the Sweet Sixteen 13 times in the last 20 years.

The lowest seeded team left in the tournament is #11 UCLA. Given the excellence of their program over the years, this isn’t as surprising as it should be. The Bruins had several bad losses this season — including an embarrassing 83-44 shellacking by #1 Kentucky. But UCLA got lucky when #14 UAB upset #3 Iowa State in the opening round and the Bruins eked out a one point win over #6 SMU. The UAB-UCLA game was no contest and the Bruins find themselves in the top 16.

Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference and Wichita State from the Missouri Valley Conference are the only Mid-Major teams to make it through. Atlantic Coast Conference teams went 11-1 with 5 of their 6 entries remaining. The Pac-12 has three teams left, and no other conference has more than two.

What this points to is that the programs that spend the most, have the best facilities, and possess the history that attracts blue chip recruits will continue to thrive at the highest level while the rest fight over scraps.

ESPN:

The names involved read like a who’s who of the past decade — or the past several — in college basketball. Kentucky. Duke. North Carolina. Michigan State. Louisville. Arizona. Wisconsin. Gonzaga. UCLA.

The coaches are a pack of Hall of Famers: Mike Krzyzewski, he of the 1,000-plus wins. Roy Williams, now tied with Dean Smith for all-time tournament wins. Rick Pitino, unparallelled defensive genius. Bo Ryan, synonymous with death and taxes.

Mark Few, who never misses a tournament. Lon Kruger, the only man to take four different programs this deep in the tournament. Sean Miller, the best coach yet to reach the Final Four. Bob Huggins, avatar for windbreaker-clad realism.

Izzo, who is Izzo.

And then there is John Calipari. Kentucky’s coach is not only a messaging savant whose unprecedented salesmanship has netted him an unfathomable wealth of talent, but also a deft molder of parts into wholes. In five full seasons at Kentucky, Calipari has not only sent several full NBA rosters worth of talent to the next level; he has also netted three Final Fours, two national title appearances and one national title. His current team is 36-0 and chasing history. And everyone else is chasing them.

The oddsmakers are still picking Kentucky as the overwhelming favorite to come out of the East Region, and Gonzaga is a heavy favorite to come out of the South Region. Otherwise, it’s even money between Oklahoma and Louisville in the East and Arizona and Wisconsin in the West.

If there’s one game you won’t want to miss, it’s #1 Wisconsin vs. #4 North Carolina on Thursday. Wisconsin, the power team while UNC is long and tall with excellent athletes. The contrasting styles should make for a hugely entertaining game.

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Why Israel Is Ground Zero In the War Between Good and Evil

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

We Jews squabble enough when it comes to religion, but when it comes to Israel the gloves are off. Nothing is a greater testament to this than the vehement rhetoric coming from the Jewish Left in the wake of Netanyahu and the Right’s landslide victory in this past week’s elections in Israel. Whether it was Peter Beinart calling on the Obama Administration to “punish – yes, punish – the Israeli government” the virulent musings of Max Blumenthal, the anti-Israel Jewish Left came out in full condemnation, not just of Netanyahu, but of Israel at large.

The Forward jumped on the “Bibi is racist” bandwagon, reprinting Jeffrey Goldberg’s Tweet-condemnation of the slanderous tale embraced by Obama and his minions. If you are Jewish and have friends on the Left, I guarantee it didn’t take you longer than 10 minutes after Bibi claimed victory to get at least one Facebook post or Tweet claiming “he stole the election like Bush.” My PJ colleague Ron Radosh wisely diagnosed both the Obama Administration and the mainstream media as having Bibi Derangement Syndrome (BDS). And unfortunately, we Jews are not immune.

This BDS, with all its sound and fury, has not brought the diaspora one ounce closer to understanding or relating to their Israeli counterparts. In fact, with the Obama Administration trumpeting the effort to turn Israel into another Ferguson, the dual loyalty accusations will be held over Jewish American heads, both Left and Right, now more than ever. But we Jews don’t see that. All we see is Obama versus Bibi, Left versus Right, “hope and change” versus “despair” and whatever other hot air blown into an otherwise lifeless, meaningless campaign. From the comforts of a “two legs good, four legs better” America we don’t have to force ourselves to look behind V15′s green curtain, let alone consider that Israeli Jews may have very good reasons for having opinions that differ from our own.

When I had the wonderful opportunity to march in New York City’s Israel Day Parade a few years back, I did so under the banner of an openly progressive Labor Zionist summer camp. My husband, a third generation member, had worked his way up from camper, to counselor, to business manager. Now as an alum he was excited to show me, his then-girlfriend, what he loved about his summers and give me the chance to revel in my Zionist pride. He’d worked the camp too long not to see past the politics, but had too many fond memories to be jaded by a lack of logic. In the end we were there to celebrate Israel, celebrate our freedom, and have fun with friends.

Or so I thought, until more than one angry parade-goer spat at me. “You are evil! You anti-Zionist pig! You’re killing us! You Leftists are killing Israel!” How were a group of teens and twenty-somethings, most of whom had been to Israel, many of whom were either pursuing or had obtained citizenship, and some of whom had or were serving in the IDF possibly killing Israel? These kids weren’t doing anything more than holding a contrary political opinion, yet that was enough to accuse them of being murderers. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “isn’t that what the Left is always accusing us of doing?”

I smiled at the crowd and wished them love through their gritted teeth and rage. Only two days earlier I’d been called a “conservative pig” by another camp alum who would later growl at me repeatedly, “You need to change your politics.” I came wanting to celebrate Israel. I wound up embroiled in a hot, angry mess.

Israel awakens our passions as Jews because Israel is a reminder of our responsibilities to God and to one another. If Israel fails, Holocaust awaits. No one but a Jew could understand the weight of that burden. Yet, instead of recognizing that we, Left and Right, are motivated by these same concerns and fears we allow the real haters of Israel to craft our opinions about one another. Suddenly everyone is an Obama, a Beinart, a Blumenthal. Anger morphs into rage and crafts summer camp teens into the next generation of hardened, bigoted, miserable adults, some of whom will then be motivated to become the next Beinart or Blumenthal in our midst.

King David writes in the Psalms, “be angry, but do not sin. Meditate in your heart upon your bed and be still.”

We’ve never lost Israel to an outside force before first disparaging each other to the point of destruction. I walked away from that parade choosing to shed my ideas of Left and Right and see the political battle for what it truly is: A fight between good and evil. My job, then, is to focus on what God commands me to do: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him without fear. I’m here to help sustain a great nation, not destroy it. It is time my fellow Zionists, Left and Right, see past the propaganda and agree to do the same.

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How the Catholic Core Defends the Church’s Positions on the Family

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

Following troubling signals from the Vatican as well as remarks from Pope Francis himself over the months since his accession to office, a growing chorus of voices has risen registering concern regarding the Catholic Church’s position on social issues including the structure of the family, divorce, and sexuality.

Bringing things to a head was a midterm report released from last year’s Synod on the family in which more conciliatory language was used in relation to homosexuality, cohabiting couples, and allowing divorced and remarried couples to receive communion.

Language in the report was received in different ways according to the values of those doing the listening. In liberal circles, it was hailed as a sign that the Catholic Church was finally breaking down and accepting the new normal of the sexual revolution, while among the Catholic base, it was received with considerable dismay.

In fact, many received the language in the report as a potentially suicidal surrender to the forces of political correctness that have swept the world, infiltrating every institution, and thus beginning to wear away at the foundations of Western Civilization itself. It was read with considerable alarm by many who had comforted themselves with the idea that the Church, with its settled dogma and teachings of Jesus, would be immune to the movement’s secularist ideology. The wording of the report, however, seemed to indicate otherwise.

“The very disturbing midterm relatio, which I have openly said was not a relatio or report but a manifesto, served to wake up the Synod Fathers to an agenda that was at work which touches upon the truth about marriage,” warned Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, in an interview for the Wanderer.

Wasting little time following the release of the midterm report, Burke talked of pushback from more traditional elements in the Synod.

“In the period between the midterm report and the final relatio, (sub-committees) worked very diligently to try to repair the serious damage done by the midterm relatio,” said Burke, “and much progress was made.”

“We’re not giving in to the secular agenda,” Cardinal George Pell  said in an interview for the Catholic News Service. “We’re not collapsing in a heap. We’ve got no intention of following those radical elements in all the Christian churches, according to the Catholic churches in one or two countries, and going out of business.”

Even with such assurances, the concerns of the faithful were hardly mollified with the news from Synod organizer Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri that Pope Francis had indeed read the midterm report before it was released to the public. That Pope Francis had read it indicated, at least, the pope’s agreement with its conciliatory message.

As a result, a resistance movement of sorts has arisen with individual groups and organizations mobilizing over the months since last October’s Synod to present a united front against the foot in the door — or the camel’s nose in the tent (pick your cliché) — that could end up some day resulting in wholesale acceptance of the new status quo.

Among such outfits is the Italian based organization Filiale Supplica, an umbrella group composed of pro-family groups and lay Catholic leaders that has gathered tens of thousands of signatures (including that of former U.S. presidential candidate Rick Santorum) for a petition addressed to the pope urging him to reaffirm “categorically the Catholic teaching that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics cannot receive holy Communion and that homosexual unions are contrary to divine and natural laws.”

Other groups that have voiced similar concerns include the Voice of the Family and the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.

In addition to such grassroots efforts to influence the direction of the conversation, there have also been a number of insiders including Burke, such as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Muller; prefect for Divine Worship, Cardinal Robert Sarah; and Cardinal George Pell, who have openly criticized any watering down of the Church’s teachings fearing a “domino effect” that would eventually lead to the often unrecognizably Christian doctrines of many mainline Protestant churches.

“The secret for all Catholic vitality is fidelity to the teachings of Christ and to the tradition of the church,” said Pell, a member of the Council of Cardinals that advises Pope Francis on church governance.

“The Church cannot change her teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the grave sinfulness of sexual relations outside the matrimonial union and the grave sinfulness of homosexual acts,” said Burke. “The laity needs to nourish themselves with the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium on marriage, with the teaching that is contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They must also give witness to it in their everyday dealings, not only with other Catholics but with people who are not of the Catholic Faith, to make it clear that the Church is not changing her teaching; indeed, that she cannot.”

On the other hand, Cardinal Walter Kasper, emeritus president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, dismissed the concerns of conservatives as tantamount to believing that the foundation of the Church was built on sand and could collapse like a house of cards if any of its tenets were challenged.

“I think they fear a domino effect, if you change one point all would collapse,” surmised Kasper in an interview for America magazine. “That’s their fear. This is all linked to ideology, an ideological understanding of the Gospel that the Gospel is like a penal code.”

Fueling the fears of many, Kasper himself had been asked by the pope to speak before the College of Cardinals early in 2014 and to raise these very topics.

That speech exposed a clear divide among Church leaders on hot-button social issues: those who sought to make peace with the new moral relativism and those who believed any deviation from the teachings of Christ would inevitably lead down the road to error and irrelevance.

One doesn’t have to look far for examples of such a fate. Just look to the many Protestant churches, even those of fundamentalist or evangelical persuasions. Denial of the Eucharist, female ordination, same-sex marriages, divorce and remarriage — to name a few of the deviations from the original Catholic brand of Christianity — have forced many conscientious Christians to spend less and less time as members with any single congregation and instead to “church hop,” hoping to find that church that still adheres uncategorically to Jesus’ teachings.

Such churches are getting harder and harder to find. And as some believe, impossible to find, especially should the Catholic Church loosen its faithfulness to the depository of tradition and the teachings of Christ. If that happens, human beings would be cast upon a sea of uncertainty without assurance that what they believe is not only in fact true, but the manner in which God wants them to live their lives — lives that should be lived in preparation for spending eternity with Him.

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The Secret Reason Over 40 Million Americans Guess the March Madness

Saturday, March 21st, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

Forty million Americans will fill out brackets predicting the winners and losers in the annual NCAA basketball tournament. What’s that tell you about the USA? Hint: It has surprisingly little to do with how we feel about shooting hoops.

Of course, whenever 40 million Americans do anything, that really says something.

Forty million of us use online dating services. No surprise. When was the last time you ran into a married couple who met in a bar? Americans hook up online.

Over 40 million Americans have unpaid medical bills. Well, we kind of suspected the White House was overhyping. Obamacare is just not cutting it.

Forty million Americans still smoke. Guess a lot of us still have a death wish.

And 40 million of us fill out the brackets all the way from the NCAA qualifiers through the Final Four. But why?

We know there are not 40 million die-hard fans of the hardwood. After, only 20 million watched the championship game last year. So what do they have in common with the other half? Answer: the love of competition.

Americans are instinctively competitive. That’s a good survival skill for any nation. Competition is the essence of understanding and prevailing in war.

General George “Blood and Guts” Patton understood Americans. “All real Americans love the sting of battle,” he growled in a motivational speech to the troops during World War II. “When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers. … Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser,” he concluded. “Americans play to win all the time.”

Patton used sports analogies a good deal because they provided an apt metaphor for the essential characteristic of war. Like sport, war is a competition between two determined foes, a contest of action and counteraction that delivers winners and losers—not just points for participating.

Competition is about making choices and applying resources. Because of that, the side with the most resources doesn’t always win.

Americans get that. When pondering the brackets, they realize that just picking the team with the better record or the better statistics doesn’t guarantee a win in any particular match-up, much less a string of victories throughout the tournament. In any game, on any given day, it’s how the players compete that matters. That’s why seasoned bracket pickers typically predict a few upsets in the early David vs Goliath rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Of course when Patton talked about the American warrior, he liked to boast that the play-to-win mentality was why “Americans have not and never will lose a war.” Well, we have lost wars since then. Remember Vietnam? But was that conflict lost because Americans became poor warriors or because American warriors were poorly led?

Americans don’t love war, but they understand you have to compete—and compete well—to win.

When leaders fight wars badly, they start losing the confidence of the American people and they start arguing Americans are sick of war. That’s a lot easier than recognizing and admitting that they are simply bad war leaders.

Americans know the difference between a competitor and someone just going through the motions. That’s the real lesson of March Madness.

 

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The Best Time of Year to be a Sports Fan

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

The last two weeks in March and the first week of April is. without a doubt. the best time of the year if you’re a sports fan. The next 3 1/2 weeks will feature the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships, the final drive for the playoffs in pro hockey and basketball, Opening Day of the Major League baseball season, and to top it all off, The Masters golf tournament played in the most spectacular venue in sport during the absolute best time of year to see it.

The NCAA’s Big Dance got underway this week and you can expect the usual number of pulse pounding finishes, buzzer beaters, indescribable joy and heartbreak. “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” as ABC’s Wide World of Sports said every week in their opening. “The human drama of athletic competition” — the NCAA tourney has that in spades.

Kentucky comes into the tournament undefeated and basically unchallenged. Trying to dethrone the Wildcats are 5 or 6 excellent teams who have gotten hot at the right time of the year. The real drama will begin next weekend as the regional semi-finals and finals determine who goes to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

In the NHL, the race for the final two Wild Card playoff spots is really heating up. In the Eastern Conference, Boston has a precarious 4 point lead for the 8th seed over Ottawa and 7 points over Florida. In the West, Winnipeg has a slim one point lead over Calgary.

In addition to the drive to make the playoffs, teams are jostling for position, trying to get home ice advantage by finishing in the top 4 in the conference. In a way, the intensity in these late season games matches that found in the playoffs.

Similarly, NBA teams are gearing up for their playoff drive with less than a month to go in the regular season. After the long grind of the season, both the NHL and NBA are finally playing games that really mean something. It’s a time for the stars to shine and where reputations are made.

In the Eastern Conference, Indiana and Boston are tied for the 8th and final playoff spot, with Charlotte and Brooklyn well within striking distance. The real logjam in the East is the fight for the second spot. Atlanta has wrapped up the best record in the conference but 4 teams are within three games of second place Cleveland.

In the West, Phoenix and New Orleans are chasing Oklahoma City for the 8th seed. The injury-riddled OKC Thunder is finally starting to get healthy, which means every other team above them hopes they don’t get them in an early round. With superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook injured at various times during the year, if they get healthy for the playoffs, the dynamic duo will give the rest of the conference fits.

Then, there’s Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. The openers don’t mean much in the course of a 162 game season. But the very fact that baseball — the quintessential American game of summer — is back gets one’s blood going in anticipation of warmer weather and the explosion of color that comes with Spring.

And if it’s an explosion of color you want, tune in to The Masters golf tournament April 9-12. There is no more beautiful place to be — much less play golf — than Augusta National Golf Course. A few photos to prove my point:

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Even though it doesn’t look like Tiger Woods will be playing, there’s always plenty of thrills as unknowns vault to prominence (only to wilt under the pressure of Saturday and Sunday championship golf), and the best of the world slug it out coming for home on late Sunday afternoon.

Yes, the next three weeks will be a sports fanatic dream come true. My Zsu-Zsu has already resigned herself to watching sports with me for the next fortnight. She’s a good sport about it, and has actually come to like athletics a lot more since we got together a decade ago. For those wives and sweethearts who can’t stand sports, my sympathies. I feel your pain. But there are times — and these next few weeks are one of them — when a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

And just think…only 4 months till the first NFL preseason game.

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Severe Solar Storm Creates Unbelievable Light Show in the Skies

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

A series of solar flares that left the Sun on Monday collided with the Earth’s upper atmosphere on Tuesday night, giving residents from the Arctic to Australia a spectacular light show.

The aurora is common in extreme northern and southern latitudes. But this particular solar storm was so energetic that people as far south as Detroit witnessed its shimmering brilliance.

The Southern Lights were visible to residents of Queensland in Australia — a rarity that brought out some spectacular photos on twitter.

 

 

Green is the most common color for the aurora, as particles moving down the axis of the planet’s electromagnetic field excite the atoms in oxygen in the lower atmosphere. The purple aurora happens when the particles come in contact with nitrogen. And the reds occur when oxygen in the upper altitudes is hit.

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Why I Am Jewish

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

The essay is the second in a series of inter-faith dialogues, see the first from Jon Bishop on March 8, “Why I Am Catholic.”

Despite the multiple accusations I have received from my own brothers and sisters any time I’ve dared to make a critical observation about our people, I very proudly declare myself to be a Jew. This is not because I feel an obligation to my ancestors, my community, or my tradition although I respect them and their roles in the formation of my identity.

Rather, I choose to be a Jew just as Abraham did, because I choose to be free.

I missed out on the social conformity gene. Never have I managed to fit into any particular social group. At times I was hated for it, but contrary to popular opinion of what being a Jew means, it was thanks to being Jewish that I learned to love being a stand-out in the crowd. At 15 I told my teachers I was legally changing my name to Shoshana, and because of that brash declaration I became one of the coolest kids in school. Why Shoshana? Because that’s what Susans in Israel are called and Israel is the culmination and fulfillment of being a Jew. We don’t just get our own houses of worship, we get an entire nation to call our own. Land is freedom.

And when you are so different and so unique, that spatial freedom is essential to your survival. Whether prophets, cowboys, American patriots, or Zionists, the experiences that speak to me echo the Word of God:

Trust the Lord with all your heart, do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will level your path.

It felt good to stand apart from the crowd precisely because human thinking never made very much sense to me. God makes sense. And what I still do not understand remains the most intriguing mystery in all the universe to comprehend. “I want to know God’s thoughts,” Einstein said, “the rest are just details.” Ben Carson told me to “think big.” You can’t get any bigger than God. “I have broken the bars of your yoke so that you can walk upright,” God reveals to the wandering Jews. God is freedom.

God’s freedom is eternal.

Torah is a guidebook, a covenant that when undertaken agrees that we “choose life so that we may live.” Ezekiel’s dry bones rose from their graves and breathed new life in 1948. While the rest of the world amuses itself with the walking dead, we trust in the words of Isaiah:

Your dead will live, my corpses will rise: awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust; for your dew like the morning dew, and the earth will bring the ghosts to life.

I do not need to wage war or rage in desperation, wear black spikes or combat gear, raise my fist in defiance, align myself with a cause, or fence myself into the opinions of others in order to be free. I simply need to live as God intended in covenant with Him. God spoke creation into being and the word of the Lord breathed life into the dead. Tanakh is freedom.

“How did you find it in you to survive?” I asked my cantor who lived through the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz death march.

He replied, “I saw the skull and crossbones on the Nazi soldier’s belt along with the words ‘soldier of God’. They were lying. ‘This is not God,’ I thought. And that gave me the will to survive.”

I am a Jew, and I choose to be a Jew, because despite what the world may lead you to believe, being a Jew means dwelling in eternal freedom.

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Speaker at White Privilege Conference Goes Off on ‘Racist’ Tea Party

Friday, March 13th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

A speaker at a conference on white privilege, partially funded by taxpayers, let loose a torrent of mind-boggling vitriol against Tea Party members — in front of a mostly white audience.

Here are some quotes from Leonard Zeskind, who hosted a session titled “The Denial of White Privilege, the Tea Party Movement and the Building of Our Response,” via the Daily Caller:

“All this business about government and ‘constitutional’ is a smokescreen that’s really all about, ‘I want this country back for me.’ And ‘me’ meaning ‘white people,’” Zeskind told an overflow conference room crowd.

“We consider the tea party a post-Cold War nationalist group,” he went on to explain. Tea party aficionados “have an internal life around gun rallies” and “around constitutional study groups.”

“I don’t think I have to convince you that they have sort of a generic racism,” Zeskind informed the audience, to many approving nods. He also used the term “bald-faced racists” to describe the tea party. (And the term “screw-loosers.”)

After noting that tea party supporters do not like to be called racists, the leftist activist suggested that tea party advocates mostly don’t like President Barack Obama because Obama “broke the white monopoly on the presidency.”

“Tea partiers are not overly concerned about the economy,” he confidently asserted.

[...]

Zeskind said he doesn’t know “how people could do it” but compared black people who support limited government and gun rights to “Jewish kluxers.”

Zeskind repeatedly referred to black people as “black folks.” He bizarrely suggested that “black folks” didn’t know about the tea party movement when it began because it wasn’t a topic of discussion “at the barber shop.”

Zeskind also adamantly suggested that there are “no gay people in the tea party,” and that constitutional government and a free-market economy cannot coexist.

It’s useless to list everything that Zeskind got wrong. It’s far easier to list what he got right: nothing.

But a couple of rebuts to his shockingly ignorant rant should be given. There are many black Americans in the Tea Party — in fact, there are many black conservatives. Just as Rep. Mia Love or Senator Tim Scott. Or Ben Carson. Or Colonel Allen West. And the idea that the Tea Party doesn’t care about the economy is about as ludicrous as it gets.

You would think that if you’re going to take the stage at a public forum you might read a little bit about the target of your hate.  Zeskind’s opinionated, fact-free hyperventilating against the Tea Party is an example of the “scholarship” associated with this relatively new academic discipline. And to think that tax dollars went to support this lunacy.

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Happy Pi Day!

Friday, March 13th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

This may be the ultimate geek holiday.

Tomorrow will be 3/14/15 — which just happen to be the first 5 digits of the transcendental number Pi  (3.1415).  Pi, as we all know from high school geometry class (hope you weren’t snoozing that day) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It’s an extremely useful mathematical constant for many scientific disciplines.

As one might expect, any excuse for a party. My hometown newspaper, the Pantagraph, explains:

It’s 3-14-15 — as any good geek KNOWS, a date that corresponds with 3.1415, the first five digits of the infinite number pi. That calendar coincidence has math fans practically wriggling with glee, not to mention those who just appreciate the whimsy of celebrating a number that sounds like pastry.

You might say that’s irrational. Mathematicians would agree.

And therein lies the delight of Pi Day.

You probably remember pi from grade school, but here’s a quick refresher: Pi is the number that approximates the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. In other words, if you divide the circumference of any circle by its diameter, you always get pi, an irrational number that starts with 3.1415 and goes on forever. It shares its name with the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet.

The idea of celebrating Pi Day on March 14 — coincidentally, Albert Einstein’s birthday — started in the 1980s. The first large-scale celebration was organized in 1988 at the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco, and Pi Day got a boost two decades later when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution supporting its celebration in 2009.

“It’s mind-blowing to think about a number that’s infinite and non-repeating,” said Dante Centuori, director of creative productions at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Science Center. Add to that the fact that pi sounds like pie, and you have a sweet connection the ancient Greeks couldn’t possibly have dreamed up, Centuori said.

Some just couldn’t wait for the big day. The members of the Undergraduate Mathematics Club at Kent State University celebrated at its biweekly meeting earlier this week with activities that included a talk on the history of pi, a debate on the merits of pi vs. tau (that’s 2 times pi, for you English majors) and a beauty contest comparing the complexity of the various fractions and formulas used to approximate pi.

Club secretary Courtney Augustine said before the meeting that the members would also be guessing the circumference of the pizzas being served.

Who said math can’t be fun?

Math is torture for some of us, but that’s beside the point. Pi is one of those things in science where you feel you are actually glimpsing a small part of creation. Carl Sagan, the late great astronomer, figured that as well and his book Contact (not the silly film adaptation) ends with a surprising revelation about Pi. I won’t give any spoilers but if you want to know what I’m referring to, you can find the answer here.

Pi Day is for everyone, not just geeks. Why not celebrate by ordering pizza for dinner tonight, or pancakes, or break out that round of cheddar cheese. The circle is trending today so get in on the fun.

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Bride Leaves Groom at the Altar and You Won’t Believe the Reason Why

Friday, March 13th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

An illustration of the value of an education.

In northern Uttar Pradesh state last week, Lovely Singh was all set to marry groom Ram Baran. Everything was perfect — except for one tiny detail: the groom had apparently misrepresented himself to the bride’s family.

The Independent picks up the story:

During the ceremony in Rasoolabad village in northern Uttar Pradesh state last Wednesday, the woman named Lovely Singh, asked groom Ram Baran to solve “15+6″.

When he replied “17″, she promptly left and accused him of being illiterate.

Despite pleas from the groom’s family, Ms Singh refused to return to the ceremony and said she had been misled about his education.

Mohar Singh, the bride’s father, defended his daughter and accused the groom’s family of concealing his level of education.

“Just before the marriage ceremony Lovely came to know that Ram Baran is illiterate and she refused to marry,” he told BBC Hindi.

“The groom’s family kept us in the dark about his poor education,” he said “Even a first grader can answer this.”

Local police in Rasoolabad, near the industrial town of Kanpur, mediated between the families, and both sides returned all the gifts and jewellery that had been exchanged before the wedding, local police officer Rakesh Kumar said on Friday.

India is a country on the make and education is absolutely vital for the poor — especially the rural poor — to raise their station in life. Since most women don’t work in the business world in India, the level of education of her husband meant the difference between poverty and a middle class life.

Arranged marriages are common in India and the dowry is still an important part of the wedding. If the groom had, indeed, misrepresented his educational level — and I’m guessing by that answer to the math question he did — it would certainly be grounds for the bride to call off the wedding and demand a return of the dowry.

It’s an ancient system and it seems to work well enough for Indians. But I would suggest that groom find a remedial education class or two before his next walk down the aisle and be a little better prepared next time.

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‘I Shot Off His Gun Hand. He Fell To The Ground Screaming, Clutching His Stump, and Holding Back the Flow of Orange Blood’

Friday, March 13th, 2015 - by Liberty Island

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I plugged the microgenerator into the wall, and the power surge instantly blew out all the lights. The dark was ruined by two blaster shots, and two thuds confirmed I had correctly remembered where Naus’s guards were standing. A backup generator soon kicked in, and when the lights returned, Naus could see that I was now standing beside him.

I shot off his gun hand. He fell to the ground screaming, clutching his stump, and holding back the flow of orange blood. “Now, I wouldn’t say we demanded anything.” I stood over him but didn’t bother pointing the gun at him. “But as a representative of the Nystrom syndicate, which you’ve done business with for so long, I would expect a little hospitality. At no point did anyone offer me so much as a beverage; I felt very unwelcome. And why? What personally had I ever done to you? We have an expression on my home world about not shooting the messenger. Do you know what it is?”

He stared at me in shock.

“It’s ‘Don’t shoot the messenger.’” I thought about that for a moment. “That’s really only half an expression, isn’t it? ‘Don’t shoot the messenger…’ or what? I guess ‘Don’t shoot the messenger, or he’ll flip out and start killing everybody.’ Anyhoo, can I read you my message now?”

“Don’t kill me! The Veethood–”

“Your talking right now is not required or appreciated… and considering the trouble you put me through, you should try and pay attention. Please.” I reached into my inside jacket pocket and pulled out a paper note. I unfolded it and read it to him. “Chal Naus, we’ve heard about your new business arrangements. This is upsetting, as you’ve been a valuable partner, and we hope you’ll reconsider. Whatever you decide, though, we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.” I folded the note back up and placed it on the table. “You don’t need to sign for it. I’ll show myself out. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

I headed to the nearest exit, leaving Naus moaning in pain on the floor behind me. Things had turned out pretty well. My biggest fear on this job was that he would have politely agreed to see me, since that would have made the whole message delivery thing rather anticlimactic. It’s kind of pointless for me to do a job somewhere and not shoot people.

As I left the bar I heard sirens coming my way. It’s kinda funny, because I’m really not someone you want to loudly announce your presence to. “Dip, exit plan alpha.”

“I’ve noticed a correlation between increased traffic on police communications channels and your wanting to be picked up. In the future, should I just assume that–”

“Exit plan alpha, Dip.”

The police vehicles were almost on me, and I figured there would be some ground resistance between me and my exit. The natural human instinct in a situation like this would be to run, but I don’t like the tradeoffs faster movement brings. It makes aiming harder, it makes observing your surroundings harder, and it makes you look scared. I’m not the one who is supposed to be scared.

I shot two more purple guys I saw running toward me instead of away. I also took out of my jacket a pocket-rocket — also illegal on any planet that’s heard of them — and tossed it into the air. It immediately took flight and targeted the nearest large heat signature. I heard a siren nearly overhead, then an explosion, then no more siren. Fiery debris landed around me, which was nice, since it was a bit chilly out.

The other vehicles backed off a little as their drivers tried to understand this new threat. This gave Dip a window to land my ship in an open plaza just in front of me. Again, I like to make a calm exit in full view of everyone. Nystrom is untouchable, and everyone needs to know that.

I came in through the side door of my ship just as I heard the sirens coming my way again.

“There are a number of options. We can–”

“Up, Dip! Up!”

Artificial intelligence is annoying, but it’s better than working with an actual person.

I got into the pilot seat, and the ship quickly but smoothly lifted upward. It then moved forward and soon cleared the edge of the city. Chal Naus’s resort was on top of a mile-high plateau with steep cliffs on all sides. It was the only substantial development on the planet, so beyond the plateau I only saw unspoiled, rocky landscape dotted with a few green plants. People like having views of that sort of thing. They like modern conveniences, but they don’t like looking at them. I can sympathize; I feel a certain peacefulness when I’m far away from the annoyance of sentient species.

A blast rocked the ship. “Are they shooting at me?”

“That they are,” Dip answered.

“That’s stupid of them.” They hadn’t determined exactly how serious a threat I was and were still coming right at me. “Take us into orbit, Dip.”

*****

Join us again next week for another excerpt from SuperEgo and more provocative essays from Frank J. Fleming and the Liberty Island team.

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Disney Chairman Reveals How They Will Destroy the Star Wars Franchise in 4 Years

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

Disney Chairman Bob Iger isn’t wasting any time in exploiting the Star Wars goldmine he purchased in 2012 from George Lucas. The next episode of the epic story is set to be released in December of this year.

Iger announced at the annual shareholders meeting that Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens will be followed up with Star Wars VIII, set for release in May 2017. In between those dates, Iger says there will be a “stand alone” release of a Star Wars film set in the same universe, Rogue One in December 2016.

Disney is already thinking ahead to further spinoffs from the original Star Wars episodes. Imagine two or more Star Wars film threads at one time with sequels, prequels, and a new Star Wars film coming out twice a year.

People reports:

Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger announced at a shareholders meeting that the stand-alone film, starring The Theory of Everything actress Felicity Jones, will be titled Rogue One, according to a statement on the official Star Wars website.

The movie, which will follow new characters and adventures in the Star Wars universe, will begin shooting this summer with a release date of Dec. 16, 2016.

The first film in the rebooted series, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, comes out Dec. 18. Directed by J.J. Abrams, it features Lupita Nyong’o, Adam Driver and Gwendoline Christie alongside the franchise’s original stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

And Star Wars diehards will not have to wait too long to get their next fix after that: Disney also announced that the sequel to The Force Awakens will be released May 26, 2017.

Though the full title of Episode VIII has yet to be revealed, Iger said Looper’s Rian Johnson will write and direct the film.

There’s nothing wrong with the talent hired on to make these projects a success. Lawrence Kasdan, who helped write the original trilogy and has signed on for Star Wars VII, will bring a much-needed restraint back to the writing of the series and Abrams has the knack of storytelling that made the first three releases of the franchise so compelling.

But how much Star Wars can audiences take? Can the fanatics carry the box office? Even the Star Trek franchise eventually collapsed as a result of overexposure and tired story lines. I see something similar happening with Star Wars, as audiences get tired of light saber duels and weird-looking aliens.

But Iger and Disney have to justify the $4 billion price tag for Lucasfilm to stockholders, and recouping that money — quickly — is of paramount importance to Iger’s personal survival. He’s not concerned about driving the franchise into the ground. It’s all about the Benjamins and how quickly he can fill Disney’s coffers with Star Wars gold.

PJ Lifestyle Flashback:

5 Reasons Star Wars Actually Sucks

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Newest Spy Gadget: Barbie

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

From our “What will they think of next” Department comes the story of a new fangled Barbie doll that will hit the market next fall. Not only can little girls (and little boys in those households where such things are tolerated) dress up the doll and talk to it; Barbie will now be able to talk back.

Branded “Hello Barbie” by Mattel, the doll uses Wi-Fi and voice recognition technology to make responding in context possible:

Here’s how it works: Your child pushes a button to chat, and Barbie will “listen” through an embedded microphone. She then sends the audio to a cloud-based server, operated by Mattel’s technology partner ToyTalk, which then records the speech and processes it. Then Barbie responds to the question or comment.

But all is not well in Barbieland. Privacy advocates are raising alarms at the potential of the toy to record and store your child’s conversations with the doll:

Privacy advocates and parents have dubbed the doll “Eavesdropping Barbie” and are concerned about their children’s conversations being recorded and stored.

Faculty adviser Angela Campbell from Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology said in a statement, “If I had a young child, I would be very concerned that my child’s intimate conversations with her doll were being recorded and analyzed. In Mattel’s demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests, and her family. This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children.”

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood launched an online petition on Wednesday to stop Mattel from releasing the doll. The petition already has more than 3,000 signatures.

“Kids using ‘Hello Barbie’ aren’t only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial,” Susan Linn, CCFC’s director, said in a statement. “It’s creepy — and creates a host of dangers for children and families.”

Will the evil toy conglomerate painstakingly go through several hundred thousand conversations between “Hello Barbie” dolls and little girls to get marketing info and maybe some fodder to blackmail the family?

I wouldn’t necessarily put it past them, except that’s a hugely expensive means of getting information on customers. A survey at point of sale would be much cheaper. As your child is whispering her deepest and most private girly desires to Barbie it just doesn’t make sense that Mattel would be very interested in the content.

But what if Mattel decided to sell the conversations to someone who would find going through all those recordings profitable? It can’t be ruled out, which is why the privacy advocates’ concerns are not entirely misplaced.

Next up for Barbie: “NSA Barbie” who listens in on other people’s phone conversations to save America from terrorists. She doesn’t speak, but will gladly listen to and record your little girl’s most intimate thoughts for transmission later to headquarters.

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The Future of Civilized Society: One World

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Mark Ellis

See Frank J. Fleming opening the discussion: “

In more dystopian moods, it is easy to agree with David Gelernter and other esteemed analysts that the future of civilized society moves away from nationalism and toward globalism.

Even when in a hopeful frame of mind, it is hard to see a future where borders demark true nations, cultures differentiate, and international relationships of enmity, accord, and alliance in constant flux survive the One World homogenization of humankind.

H.G. Wells’ prescient novel The Time Machine can be interpreted instructively when envisioning a globalist world.

In Wells’ classic, grotesque Morlocks exchanged for their captive Eloi masses relative safety and equalitarian comfort, as prelude to a final solution (Elois as Morlock food).

With Morlocks at the top of a denationalized globe, everything will be on the One World table, and precious little will be on anyone else’s table.

On planet Earth in 2070, the nationalistic lifeblood of our species may well have been drained away by centralized, authoritarian governance.

With no meaningful borders, no nationalistic instincts surviving, the globe will be comprised of regionalized clumps of loosely aggregated peoples, who call a family home, and call a house home, but have no nation.  A planet of exiles, rootless but for the whims of procreation and geography.

Eskimos still populate the Arctic Circle, but they are less Native Americans than contemporary Cro-Magnons, with electric heat and Sno-cats, under the yoke of something so far distant as to be mythical—until you make the wrong move.

Frenchmen still revere the Eiffel Tower, Frenchmen-in-name-only.

As unchecked in-migration globalizes Europe from within, encircled Israel invites Jews to make pilgrimage to the seat of Judeo-Christianity, and the Third World overwhelms the United States, the last voices for nationalistic life on Earth will not simply become marginalized. They become Morlock food.

What is now the European Union becomes the Hemispheric Union, answerable to a World Union ruled by progressive, anti-nationalistic “states-people,” subversive Machiavellians, and grand planners like Jonathan Gruber. Three heroes of the history of the march to globalism: President Barack Obama, Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and the aforementioned Gruber, to name a few.

For nationalist die-hards, “Going, Galt” will be an option-in-extremis.

Godless oligarchs, bolstered by globe-spanning enforcement arms, (let’s just call them Morlocks), will control markets, infrastructures, institutions, and the modes of inescapable surveillance. Pockets of resistance will come under the jurisdiction of entities with the power to bleed-out “neo-patriots” who opt to go down fighting for whatever flag they fly, on whatever hill they are willing to die on.

The panoply of national flags themselves becomes quaint memorabilia, emblematic of a time when humans organized themselves territorially under variant symbolic imagery. The stars and bars, as viewed by the enlightened group-think of the globalists, may well be presented in the history books (assuming Old Glory survives them) sans irony beside the Nazi swastika and the Soviet hammer and sickle.

All will be congregated under one image, brainstormed by the mid-millennial heirs of Gruber, vetted by committees for whom nationalistic identification has become a Neanderthal vestige, and unveiled by whatever alarming potentate or de facto death panel first mounts the throne of globalist dominance.

George Orwell’s 1984 triumvirate of Big Brother truths–war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength–will break down like: There is only one real seat of power; regional conflicts are treated as tribal warfare, and allowed to play out or be snuffed out as befits the grand design. The only real wars, which won’t last long, will be when the World government moves to suppress forces that would restore a nationalistic society.

The truly free will be hunted, and the masses propagandized by the everlastingly repeated deconstruction of the old countries, as ancient now as cave paintings, and the everlastingly repeated atheist prayer that the New Order is the new illumination of life on Earth.

Ignorance is valued when religion falls and nation states die off. It will be deemed counterproductive to remember a time when a nation was something to pledge allegiance to, to fight for, and to love.

It is countercultural conservatism’s job, and the job of all patriots looking to preserve their countries, to keep an eagle-eye on the twin heralds of One World: multiculturalism and diversity.

There’s a difference between when global culture is being celebrated, and being foisted.

There is a place for the acknowledgement and even celebration of myriad world cultures, but there is no place for slick, subliminal messaging aimed at convincing us that the world is one big happy family, and that the best way to live life on Earth is to abandon the thought that there is anything special about our homelands.

End Times believers worry that the black hole of Revelations is nigh, and that the Return is imminent. (So, repent.) But even if unthinkable weapons are let loose by ancient enemies, God forbid, some globalists, like the underground Morlocks, will survive.

When they emerge from the rubble of the nation states, there will form a new consensus. That consensus will criminalize nationalism, abolish identification with all but one flag, and use Armageddon to justify the propagation of One World: “Imagine” devoid of John Lennon, without the national pride that the hungry Morlocks wiped off the face of the earth.

*****

Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the seventeenth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
  16. Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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Large Hadron Collider Gearing Up for Re-Start at End of the Month

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

After nearly 3 years of repairs and upgrades, the Large Hadron Collider located on the border of France and Switzerland is ready to continue to unlock some of the biggest mysteries of the universe. The machine — the largest and most powerful in the world — will resume operations at the end of March.

The LHC is an oval 17 miles in diameter. Packs containing about 11,000 protons are fired in opposite directions. The packs are accelerated to near relativistic speeds and their collision causes the protons to break into subatomic particles — some of them not found in nature except at the time of the Big Bang. The Higgs bosun — the misnamed “God particle” — was one of those particles and its discovery in 2013 by the LHC team rocked the world of physics.

Run by a consortium of hundreds of scientists, labs, and governments, the LHC is set to tackle the question of dark matter — a phenomena that can’t be seen but can be measured. Most of the universe is made up of dark matter and understanding it will give us hints about the origin and destiny of the universe.

It may also overturn our understanding of the Standard Model of particle physics by revealing previously unknown subatomic particles, helping scientists prove the theory of supersymmetry — a theory that many theoretical physicists consider an elegant means to explain some of the most complex aspects of particle physics. The upgraded LHC will be able to accelerate protons to such stupendous speeds that so-called “partner particles” to already known particles could make an appearance. The right collision may reveal that every type of elementary particle that we know of in nature would have to have partners.

How much power are we talking about? Scientific American breaks down the improvements in the LHC:

Its protons used to collide at energies of 8 trillion electron volts (TeV), but the machine’s electromagnetic fields will now inject them with more energy, causing them to crash together at 13 TeV. Particles will begin traveling around the loop at the end of March and if all goes well, the first collisions will start in May. To accommodate the energy uptick engineers made extensive improvements to the facility during the downtime. In particular, they enhanced the interconnections between the ring’s thousands of powerful magnets. The magnets keep the protons moving in a circle; when the protons become more energetic, they require stronger magnetic fields to keep them on track. The magnets that used to produce fields with a strength of 5.9 teslas will now create 7.7-tesla fields.

“We opened all the interconnections, we checked them and we completely redid one third of them,” says Frédérick Bordry, head the accelerator division at LHC’s home laboratory, CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). “It was an interesting adventure.” Workers also did maintenance on thousands of other components of the machine and tested them thoroughly to make sure the collider is healthy. Bordry says he is confident the LHC will not see a repeat of the electrical glitch that caused major magnet damage just after the accelerator first opened seven years ago, delaying operations by 14 months.

In cuckoo land, there is much anticipation of the restart of LHC also, although not quite the same kind of excitement shown by scientists:

Does CERN headquarter’s symbol of Shiva, dancing the cosmic dance of death and destruction, signal the TRUE purpose of CERN’s existence? A look at the ‘Shiva’ (the Hindu God of Destruction) symbology surrounding CERN’s headquarters gives us the beginning of what we need to know. “The men who would play God, in searching for the God particle, are truly going to find more than they bargained for as they open the gates of hell” we are warned by Stephen Quayle, “they will find inter-dimensional beings who have a taste for human flesh and humanities destruction. Most scientists, in lacking an understanding of the ‘supernatural entities’ that are going to confront them, are way beyond their ability to comprehend, let alone control, the forces of Pandora’s box that will be released.”

Um, yeah. Right. I wouldn’t worry about it, though. No doubt the scientists have developed an anti-interdimensional being weapon of some sort. Besides, they can always zap the creatures with 13 trillion electron volts of energy. That would ruin the day of most interdimensional beings with a taste for human flesh, I’m sure.

Of course, there’s always a chance that spectacular new discoveries will elude the scientists. Even with the vastly increased energy output and other improvements, the kind of breakthrough physics the LHC was designed to do might prove to be beyond the machine’s current capabilities. Further upgrades are scheduled for 2023-25, doubling again the power of the collisions. The promise of the Large Hadron Collider will eventually be realized as, in the words of Einstein, “I want to know God’s thoughts. The rest are details.”

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Mayweather vs. Pacquiao: Another Fight that Will ‘Save Boxing’?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

The May 2 bout between the unbeaten Floyd Mayweather (47-0, 26 KO’s) and Manny Pacquiao ( 57-5-2, 38 KO’s) is shaping up to be the largest grossing boxing match — live gate and pay per view — in history. If there are such things as “superstars” in boxing these days, these guys are it.

Both have outsized personalities and are skilled, deadly fighters. But boxing aficionados, of which there are fewer and fewer over the years, are pinning their hopes on the idea that this fight will be “the one” — the fight that puts boxing back in its proper place as a major spectacle in America.

It is a forlorn hope, based on the fantasy that televised sports hasn’t reached the saturation point yet, and that there is room for a sport where two men stand in a ring trying to beat each other’s brains out.

Boxing can still put on a show. There have been several memorable fights over the last couple of decades, including the epic Oscar De La Hoya vs. Pernell Whitaker bout in 1997 and Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto in 2009.

But boxing has largely fallen off the radar in America, banished, for the most part, to secondary sports channels. Whether it’s been a fall off in talent, the rise of Mixed Martial Arts as a bloodier, more action-packed alternative, or simply the fact that there are so many other sports to watch when boxing is on, ratings for boxing on TV has fallen precipitously.

NBC is trying an experiment with a weekly bout broadcast live on Saturday night. The premiere didn’t do too badly:

Premier Boxing Champions pulled in 3.4 million viewers on the night, making it the most watched boxing broadcast since 1998. They also did a 1.08 rating in the coveted 18-49 demographic, making NBC #1 amongst the big 4 networks in this group.

The show was headlined by Keith Thurman vs. Robert Guerrero in a dramatic fight, and also featured Adrien Broner vs. John Molina, Jr. in a snoozer.

One other statistic worth noting: the show saw a steady rise throughout the broadcast, with an increase every half hour, culminating in a 4.2 peak for the last half of the main event.

How did those numbers compare to MMA on Fox?

The most recent UFC on Fox show, UFC on Fox 14 headlined by Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Johnson, pulled in 2.82 million viewers, a definite notch below the PBC show. That was the high mark for the UFC in some time. UFC on Fox 13: Dos Santos vs. Miocic saw a significantly lower 2.27 million viewers, which was consistent with their most recent shows.

The highest rated UFC on Fox show remains the first ever event (Velasquez vs. Dos Santos I) which drew 5.7 million viewers back in 2011. Overall, only 4 of the 14 UFC on Fox events have beaten this PBC show in terms of viewers – none more recent than UFC on Fox 6: Johnson vs. Dodson in January 2013 (3.77 million).

For Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, tickets for the MGM Grand will start at $1700 and may go as high as $7500 face value. Pricing for PPV hasn’t been worked out yet, but many observers predict a record $100 for the privilege of viewing the fight and the undercard. The total take from the bout — gate, PPV, closed circuit on the Vegas strip — will shatter the record gross of $150 million for the Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul Alvarez in 2013.

It says something rather pathetic about the state of boxing in America, that two 38 year old fighters with their best bouts behind them, are being touted as the saviors of the sport.

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Blind Canine Becomes Amazing Therapy Dog

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

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For many people with physical disabilities, making oneself useful and needed is the very best therapy.

The same holds true for dogs, apparently. Smiley, a golden retriever born without eyes, has found his place in life: he works as a therapy dog, visiting nursing homes and schools, bringing joy and laughter wherever he goes.

ABC News:

The dog’s owner, Joanne George, rescued the dog from a puppy mill, when he was about 1 or 2 years old.

“He was very scared, [the dogs] had never been out of that barn,” George recalled, adding that Smiley quickly bonded with another one of his dogs, a deaf Great Dane named Tyler.

“Tyler was so bouncy and crazy and happy go lucky and [Smiley] turned into the same dog,” George said. “He came out from underneath the tables where he was always hiding.”

George said seeing Smiley interact with crowds made her realize he would be a perfect therapy dog. She now brings the dogs to hospitals and schools in the area and says the dog almost always brightens people’s days.

She said at one nursing home, she realized how even a small visit with Smiley could make people happy.

“There was this man Teddy, [he had] no speech, no communication at all,” George said of one memorable nursing home resident. “[The staff] had never seen Teddy smile before.”

But once Smiley came up to Teddy, George said the staff was amazed. “[Teddy] smiled when Smiley got into his vision,” George said

George said after caring for Smiley for 10 years, she has learned a lot about how to care for blind dogs.

“Somebody through St. John’s Ambulance is wanting to adopt a dog that’s blind,” George said. “I told her all those things don’ t be his eyes, don’t run his life, don’t’ keep him in a bubble.”

She said it’s key for Smiley to figure out how to get around on his own. George said Smiley is mostly able to get around on his own without too much difficulty.

“Does he bump into things? Of course, he does. But he does it very carefully,” George said, noting the dog’s “high” steps when he walks. “He’s feeling with his feet.”

A great big shout-out to Mrs. George, who not only adopted blind Smiley but also deaf Tyler. She gives Tyler much of the credit for Smiley’s personality, but I think someone who likes dogs as much as she obviously does deserves the lion’s share of the credit.

Domesticated cats and dogs have a natural ability to bewitch total strangers they come in contact with. Of course, it takes a certain kind of disposition — a real love for humans and a keen sense of when to approach and when to back off. Not all dogs and cats have that innate ability and empathy, but those that do perform magic with Alzheimers patients, the sick, the depressed, sick children — anyone institutionalized and in distress.

I’ve seen this magic first hand as my friend’s cat made the rounds at a hospital once a week. Talk about possessing a good disposition. Before hospital staff would allow the cat to interact with patients, she had to have a bath and a check up. But the cat sat patiently while the staff readied her for her rounds.

She was a sensation the moment she hit the ward. She was on a leash and would approach patients in the hallway, rubbing against some she knew and sitting while newcomers would stroke her luxurious fur.

But it was in the hospital rooms where the cat showed her unreal ability. The sicker a patient was, the more tender she appeared to get: nuzzling, purring loudly and insistently head-butting the hand of the patient looking for affection.

I never saw anything but smiles on the faces of patients of all ages after meeting up with her.

Smiley seems to have the same ability. The thoughts of dogs are unknowable, but you like to think Smiley is proud of himself for bringing joy and laughter to so many who need it so desperately.

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Game of Thrones Season 5 Will Veer From Novels

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

The fifth season of HBO’s much anticipated drama Game of Thrones will premier one month from now, on April 12. Fans who have been speculating about the storyline got another tease from the showrunner, David Benioff, who made some surprising reveals in this interview with Entertainment Weekly:

“Worlds are colliding,” says David Benioff, who is showrunner along with Dan Weiss. “One of the things we’ve been most excited about from the beginning of the series is we’ve had all these far-flung story lines across Westeros and Essos which almost never cross. Now some of these characters start to head on a collision course for each other.”

And that new trajectory will have an unexpected body count. Characters that are still alive in the books will die this season (don’t worry, our coverage is spoiler-free). Key storylines will deviate from Martin’s narrative in controversial ways. There’s even another wedding. Or two. Actually three (gulp!). “With each season, the stakes get higher and higher and the war gets bloodier and bloodier,” says producer Bryan Cogman. “We’re in season 5 and there’s an expectation for big events and consequences.”

Indeed, the trailer appears to promise a lot more action with plenty of opportunities to kill off a favorite character or two:

How about this “new look” for Arya Stark. No more tomboy!

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As they have been saying for 4 seasons, “Winter is coming.” OK, already…bring it on! And who better to usher it in than the ice queen Daenerys Targaryen. The dragons are back and they’re kicking butt and taking names.

And with House Lannister in chaos, we can only hope that the fall will be as emotionally satisfying as their rule of the Iron Throne has been insufferably arrogant.

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First Responders Report Hearing ‘Voices’ in Rescue of Toddler

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

You’ve probably already heard of the inspiring story of 18-month-old Lily Groesbeck, who was in a car driven by her mother that veered off the road and ended up overturned and in a creek. It was 14 hours before rescuers reached the partially submerged car.

The mother, 25-year-old Lynn Groesbeck, died soon after the crash. But baby Lily hung on grimly. She is now recovering in a local hospital, as her tale of survival has swept the world.

But there’s another aspect to this story that hasn’t received a lot of press. Four of the first responders to the accident swear that they heard cries for help from a woman in the car as they were working frantically to turn the car over and rescue the occupant.

Fox News:

Ainsley Earhardt reported on “Fox and Friends” that as rescuers rushed down to the car, four police officers all say they heard the same thing: a woman calling out, begging for help.

But they can’t explain who that voice was, because the baby’s mother, 25-year-old Lynn Groesbeck, was killed in the crash hours before, and the voice they heard was too mature to be the toddler.

“When we all talked together, I said, ‘Was I the only one that was hearing this?’ thinking that I was hearing things,” Tyler Beddoes, one of the officers who rescued the toddler, explained. “And when I talked to the other officers, we all had heard the same thing, a voice saying, ‘Help us. Help me.’”

Another officer described the same thing to Deseret News.

“We’ve gotten together and just talk about it and all four of us can swear that we heard somebody inside the car saying, ‘Help,’” said Officer Jared Warner.

The officers say that the calls for help pushed them to work even harder to flip the car over.

When they righted the partially submerged vehicle, they were shocked to find the mother dead and the toddler alive

“We were just able to push the car onto its side. How, I don’t know, whether it’s adrenaline or what. But it was incredible,” officer Bryan Dewitt said. “As I grabbed the little baby out of the car seat, as I pulled her head up, I could tell that there was some life in her. I could see her eyes open.”

It’s easy for most of us to scoff at the officer’s story — except among first responders to accidents and other life and death situations, this is hardly unusual:

Both Meehan and Rudnicki regularly come into contact with people moments away from death or scenes where traumatic accidents have occurred as part of their regular full-time jobs. Meehan said, although they keep it separate, the duo started doing paranormal investigations as an extension of what they do through their fire departments: help people.

“When a person is killed before their time or in a violent manner you can sometimes come in contact with that energy,” Rudnicki said.

“You’re that beacon at night in the fog,” Meehan added.

There are many anecdotal stories of two or more first responders having a paranormal experience at an accident site. A mysterious stranger who talks with them and appears to know details of the accident, or strange lights and voices at the scene. Doctors and nurses also report unexplained phenomena at the time of death.

There are no easy answers based on science. About all you can say is:

For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.

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This Story Is Sure to Warm Your Heart — Even if You’re not a Sports Fan

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

As a sport, cricket isn’t even on the radar in the United States. But for many nations, it’s more popular than soccer.

Teams from India, New Zealand, Australia, and Pakistan have dominated the World Cup for several decades. Held every four years, a complicated rating system determines who is eligible for play. There is opportunity for some of the minnows in the cricket world, but it is usually a gradual process that moves a nation from Division 5 play — the lowest ranking — to the top tier of teams that get to compete in the World Cup.

But the route to the World Cup by Afghanistan is the stuff of legend. They didn’t even have a team 13 years ago. Then, one man, Taj Malik, who grew up in a refugee camp in Pakistan, made the rounds of embassies pleading for help in establishing the sport in Afghanistan. A British army cricket enthusiast ended up writing home to cricket teams in England asking for donated equipment — and bats, balls, gloves, and pads poured in.

From there, Malik organized a league of 14 teams and started to develop a national team for international matches. Beginning in 2008, the Afghan national team began a meteoric rise in the cricket world that stunned observers and delighted their growing fan base at home.

A few wins against other lowly teams in Division 5 that year meant a promotion to Division 4. What happened next belies belief:

The team returned to Kabul to a hero’s welcome, but the triumph meant that cricket was now being taken seriously in Afghanistan, and the starry-eyed Malik was brushed aside in favor of a new, pedigreed coach: former Pakistani test cricketer Kabir Khan. Yet Malik had laid the foundation: Six members of that winning team from seven years ago in Jersey are among Afghanistan’s current World Cup-playing 11. Malik would make brief returns to Afghan cricket as an assistant coach to Khan and as coach of Afghanistan’s second-tier team, but today he has left the game, devoting his efforts to the Tabligh religious movement within Islam.

In the Division 4 competition later in 2008 in Tanzania, Khan picked up where Malik left off, while adding a needed aspect of cold professionalism. Wins over fellow cricketing minnows Italy and Fiji drew little international attention but helped ensure a tournament victory and promotion to Division 3. A narrow, weather-aided triumph in Buenos Aires in January 2009 meant that Afghanistan had earned a chance to participate in qualification matches for the 2011 World Cup.

Those World Cup qualifiers proved a mixed bag. Although the team failed to qualify, a last-day win over Namibia on April 17, 2009, meant the team secured a coveted and critical consolation prize: four years of Associate status (the second-highest grouping in world cricket) and a place in the 2011-2013 World Cricket League Championship, the top competition for teams outside the 10 elite sides holding test status. The top two finishers would earn a place in the 2015 World Cup. The meteoric rise from Division 5 to Associate status had happened in less than one year.

After a surprisingly strong World Cup qualifying campaign, it came down to the 14th and final match: a “home” game in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, (for reasons hardly requiring explanation, Afghanistan cannot host matches within its own borders) against Kenya, a participant in the three previous World Cups and a surprise semifinalist in 2003. As happened five years earlier in Jersey, a devastating performance by the Afghan bowling attack pulverized the opposition, holding Kenya to a mere 93 runs (roughly one-third of a good total), which was then easily surpassed by the Afghan batsmen. With a second-place finish, Afghanistan had come from nowhere to cricket’s biggest stage. Malik’s dream had become reality.

In the 2011 World Cup, the Afghan side, as expected, did not fare well. Then, against the third-ranked team in the world — Sri Lanka — the inspired Afghans scratched and clawed their way to a narrow lead. But Sri Lanka’s final batsman came through in the clutch and Sri Lanka narrowly edged out the upstarts for the victory.

Their next game against Scotland was equally dramatic. Trailing by 19 runs, it fell to Shapoor Zadran, one of Malik’s original players back in 2002, to pull off the dramatic comeback and give Afghanistan its first World Cup victory ever.

His reaction was priceless:

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Because of their associate status, Afghanistan qualified for this year’s World Cup, now underway jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand. They are playing in Pool A — the so called “Pool of death” because there are 3 of the previous 4 champion sides playing in that group. But the Afghans notched their second World Cup victory — once again, against Scotland.

Playing no home matches because of the dangerous conditions, Afghanistan has defied the odds to field a world class cricket team. There may be religious and political divisions in the country, but the uniting expedient of sports has brought the country together to cheer on their 11.

It may be the one ray of hope in a nation where war, poverty, and ignorance have hung on for so long that the people know no other way of living.

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