Jon Cazares

Jon Cazares

Thursday, 07 December 2017 21:35

The wild ride of Bitcoin

So, what’s going on with Bitcoin?

 

First of all, for those that do not know -- Bitcoin is what is known as a “cryptocurrency”, a virtual "coin" that is "mined" by and stored on computers. Wikipedia lists 1324 types of cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin is, by far the most popular.

 

Lovers of cryptocurrencies are huge fans of the anonymity of using them. Bitcoin is not one hundred percent  untraceable as there is a log of all transactions and information does leak but coin owners are not identified by any immediately identifiable ID. Which makes it easy to use Bitcoins (and other cryptocurrencies) to buy -- well, you know -- illegal shit (and legal shit). Basically it’s virtual money used to purchase goods. Virtual money that is really hard to trace back to the buyer.

 

I first heard the term “Bitcoin” about four years ago at a job interview. The interviewer proudly told me that his website accepts Bitcoin and is the first MPLS based retail store of its kind to do so. Despite my zero understanding of what a Bitcoin was I nodded sagely and pretended to know what he was talking about, hoping that he would like me more and give me the job.I did, after all, need the job.

 

I did not get the job. But whatever. That was then and now my job is writing to tell you about the wild ride that is Bitcoin.

 

Where does Bitcoin come from?

 

Well, like a good spy novel the origins of Bitcoin are shrouded in a bit of mystery. In that, no one really knows who invented Bitcoin. I mean, we have a name -- Satoshi Nakamoto and either no one actually knows who he is or no one is talking about his identity.

 

In 2008 the domain name “bitcoin.org” was registered and late that year a link to a paper called, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” penned by Mr. Nakamoto himself was posted to a cryptography mailing list.

 

In 2009 the bitcoin software was released as open source code. Open source code, as you may or may not know,  is software (usually) published and made available to the public, enabling anyone to use or alter the code without paying fees. But the identity of Mr. Nakamoto (Miss Nakamoto?) remains unclear.

 

In 2010 Mr. Nakamoto handed control of the Bitcoin core code to Gavin Andersen, and then subsequently disappeared from all involvement in bitcoin. If Mr. Andersen knows who Mr. Nakamoto is, he certainly never told anyone.

 

Andersen took over and immediately decentralized control of the Bitcoin core code so that, in his own words, if he ever got, “...hit by a bus … the project would go on.”

 

The value of the first bitcoin transactions was negotiated between parties. And so folks decided themselves how much an individual bitcoin was worth including a famous early Bitcoin transaction for a Papa John’s pizza delivery.

 

Which brings me to this -- on Thursday December 7th the market decided that the value of Bitcoin was -- sixteen thousand dollars. Each.

 

Oh. Wow.

 

I remember hearing about this crazy little thing called Bitcoin and thinking that only a sucker would buy virtual money for three hundred and eighty five dollars per coin (at the time). That was a few years ago.

 

Today they’re worth sixteen thousand. I guess the joke is on me.

 

There are huge retail chains that accept Bitcoin. Some folks think Bitcoin is in a bubble and will pop -- to disastrous results. Some folks think regulation is a coming. Luke Kawa over at MSN Money writes:

 

“Given bitcoin’s checkered history as the means to purchase illicit materials, a vehicle for capital flight, and a victim of theft, it’s no surprise that regulators around the world have cast a watchful eye over the asset class. As such, the specter of a complete crackdown on cryptocurrencies remains an ever-present tail risk. The SEC has been keeping an eye on crypto and has given guidance saying some tokens may be securities, making them subject to their oversight.”

 

And later, Kawa writes, “Federal Reserve Chair nominee Jerome Powell said bitcoin isn’t big enough to matter right now, but alluded to the possibility that it could impede the central bank’s transmission mechanism "in the long, long run."

 

Maybe. Nothing is, after all, perfect. Maybe some regulation will be in order. After all, in 2010 someone spotted a vulnerability in the Bitcoin protocol and exploited it, creating 184 billion Bitcoins; but within hours the transaction was spotted and erased by the Bitcoin gods. The vulnerability was repaired and now Bitcoin remains pretty safe.  

 

But still hackers and theft remains a huge issue, obviously. Regulation might lead to more protection. Or not. I think it’s too early to tell. The Bitcoin ride has been wild. Perhaps the Bitcoin bubble will burst. It took years for many folks, including me, to take it seriously. But there are many that love, love, love Bitcoin and anonymity of cryptocurrencies so I don’t see it going anywhere any time soon.

 

Anyway. Sixteen thousand dollars per Bitcoin. That’s a lot of Papa John’s pizza.

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Bud Light (owned by Anheuser-Busch) follows up their bloody hilarious Game of Throne’s esq- “Dilly Dilly” commercial with the most delightful cease and desist I’ve ever heard about. If you have no idea what it is I write about please take one minute of your time to check out Bud Light’s original ad -- here.  

 

The “Dilly Dilly” commercials have been extremely popular for Bud Light. I even heard Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger yell it out during Pittsburgh's Nov. 16th shellacking of the Tennessee Titans (40-17) -- proving Mr. Roethlisberger is indeed, “a friend of the crown.”  

 

The exact origin of the “dilly dilly” phrase is a bit unclear. A nursery rhyme titled “Lavender’s Blue”uses and “dilly dilly” phrase and dates back to the 17th century uses “dilly dilly” but it’s specifically clear exactly what “dilly dilly” means.

 

From Online Etymology:

 

“... perhaps coming from dillydally, 1741, probably itself a reduplication of dally (verb) meaning “to talk, converse,” possibly from Anglo-French dalier “to amuse oneself,” which is of uncertain origin.”

 

According to dictionary.com, the origins of “dilly” are in a shortening of the word “delightful” or “delicious,” probably from the 1930s. On its own, it has come to mean “something or someone regarded as remarkable or unusual.”

All that being said, due to the Bud Light commercial the phrase has come to light in modern day parlance. And so it is that Minneapolis based Modist Brewing Company, capitalized on the popular phrase and brewed a Mosaic Double IPA naming it, “Dilly Dilly.”

Which is cute but -- um -- problematic. Anheuser-Busch, it seems, believe they have own the phrase “Dilly Dilly” having copyright protected it for use with their Bud Light Ad. Normally, this would result in a corporate lawsuit which Anheuser-Busch, with their clear and strong claim to the phrase and, of course their endless bank account -- would win.

And that all starts with a legal piece of paper (or email) called the “Cease and Desist.” This the first way to tell someone, “Hey! We own that! Please don’t use it again!”

And then you have a choice. You can cease and desist from using said phrase. Or you can fight. And if you fight it can get nasty. And expensive.

So when Modist Brewing Company released “Dilly Dilly” it could have gone very poorly for them. But release it they did!

And that’s exactly when Bud Light sent their Cease and Desist (and a pair of Super Bowl tickets) -- in the form of  medieval tower cryer complete with a parchment scroll “cease and desist” that he read to the MPLS based brewery -- and it was all in good fun. The full text of the scroll:

“Dear friend of the Crown, Modist Brewing Company. Congratulations on the launch of your new beer, Dilly Dilly Mosaic Double IPA! Let it be known that we believe any beer shared between friends is a fine beer indeed. And we are duly flattered by your loyal tribute. However, “Dilly Dilly” is the motto of our realm, so we humbly ask that you keep this to a limited-edition, one-time-only run. This is by order of the king. Disobedience shall be met with additional scrolls, then a formal warning, and finally, a private tour of the Pit of Misery. Please send a raven, letter or electronic mail to let us know that you agree to this request. Also, we will be in your fair citadel of Minneapolis for the Super Bowl, and would love to offer two thrones to said game for two of your finest employees to watch the festivities and enjoy a few Bud Lights. On us. Yours truthfully, Bud Light.”

Modist Brewing responded on their FB page with:

“That moment when Bud Light sends you a cease and desist for your #dillydilly release... via a scroll... written in olde english... read by an actual medieval person.. and then sends you to the Minnesota Super Bowl 2018.” and posted a video of the town crier performance.

Well played, Bud Light.

 

Dilly Dilly!

 

Friday, 24 November 2017 18:31

NFL playoff picture emerging

This year there were three Thanksgiving NFL games (up from the traditional two) and the playoff picture is starting to clearly emerge. This late in the season two of the games were a bit inconsequential but there was a good battle in the NFC Central - the MN Vikings vs. the Detroit Lions.  

 

It was no surprise to many that the MN Vikings outpowered the Lions, despite a really strong 4th quarter comeback by Detroit’s QB Matthew Stafford. The Vikings look unstoppable in the NFC except for perhaps, the other dominant team in the division (more on that in a minute).  The NFL is really starting to see that the Vikings have a super star receiver in Adam Thielen who already has 1000 yards receiving with another five games to play. Despite losing rookie sensation Dalvin Cook in game 4 the Vikings remain strong in the running game and have a top five defense. The 9-2 Vikings remain dominant on top of the Black and Blue division (NFC Central) and are legitimate contenders this year.

 

That being said, the 9-1 Philadelphia Eagles remain the team to beat in the NFC. Skeptics say the Eagles (who were 7-9 last season) had an easy schedule this year but beating winless teams (like they did vs. the 49ers) and beating teams that you should beat is all part of the NFL. There is a reason “any given Sunday” is a known colloquialism. Winning is hard in the NFL and you just never know if this is the game that winless opponent you are going up against has an amazing game and puts up 45 points. So if you make mistakes and lose to teams you should not lose to -- you won’t make the playoffs. And the Eagles are just not making mistakes like that. Much of the credit needs to go to greatly improved Eagles QB Carson Wentz. He’s spreading the ball around, avoiding pressure and is blindsiding defenses with pinpoint accurate throws.

 

The wild card here is the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees is on fire and just won't stop throwing TD's. But -- much like the Packers, the Saints only have Brees. If Brees has a single bad or mediocre game the Saints lose big time. They don't have a deep bench (as folks say in basketball) which is why I expect them to easily make the playoffs and then not make it past the divisional round. This is a bit pessimistic of me as many are picking the Saints to be a true contender. Fair enough. I just don't buy it. 

 

The 7-3 Rams are good but -- well, not good enough to beat the Vikings or the Eagles. The Vikings have already crushed the Rams once this season 28-7 and the Eagles will beat them in the upcoming match up in December. So, I fully expect the Rams to make the playoffs and lose in the divisional round. 

 

The Cowboys and the Packers were expected to be in the playoff running this year but Dallas has had a string of lackluster offensive games and I think will miss the playoffs with an 8-8 record and the Packers season ended the moment Aaron Rodgers was injured. Sorry Green Bay fans. Even as a MN Vikings fan I actually really like Aaron Rodgers and am happy to see him succeed but if he goes down, your team loses. A lot.

 

As for the Carolina Panthers, as long as Cam Newton remains healthy the Panthers (7-3) should make the playoffs but nothing about their team screams "true Super Bowl contenders." I know they went 15-1 two seasons ago, made it to the super bowl and lost but even that team was generally acknowledged to be the worst team to ever start at 11-0. I kind of feel the same way about the Panthers this season. Their decent record will take them to the playoffs but they’ll have an early exit.

 

Finally, rounding out the NFC contenders - the Seahawks, the Atlanta Falcons both at 6-4 and the Detroit Lions at 6-5 but all of them have been playing too inconsistent to be a deep playoff threat. Similar to the Panthers, I can see any or maybe all three teams making it to the wild card match ups if things suddenly turn sour for the Rams and the Saints but don’t believe any of them will make it to the championship game.

 

NFC Championship game:  MN Vikings vs. The Philadelphia Eagles

 

Who wins: Even chances. I suspect this will come down to who has the healthiest team. The Eagles have a much better offense. The Vikings have a slightly better defense. As the saying go, “Defense wins Championships.”

 

That may be true. But offense wins Super Bowls.

 

As for the AFC, that’s even easier. The Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) and the Tennessee Titans (6-4) have all shown moments of extremely exciting, smart football. But similar to the Seahawks and the Falcons - consistency is the problem. Really good but inconsistent teams usually make it to the playoffs and rarely advance to the championship game.  

 

The Chargers, Ravens and Buffalo Bills are all begging for scraps at the table and I could see any one of those teams pulling out three or four more wins and making it to the postseason. But - again - consistency.

 

And it all comes down to the fact I don’t see any of the AFC teams beating the two big boys on the block - The New England Patriots (8-2) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2).

 

I feel like the Steelers are good this year, but not as good as their 8-2 record implies. And I feel the opposite about the Patriots. New England should probably be 9-1 or maybe even 10-0. A few lucky breaks for opposing teams and NE ended up with two loses. I just don’t see anyone in the AFC beating Tom Brady’s Patriots.

 

AFC Championship game: New England Patriots vs. The Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

Who will win: The Patriots in a blowout win over the Steelers.

 

Which brings us to:

 

Unless something goes spectacularly wrong, which can always happen in the NFL, I expect Super Bowl 52 to be the NE Patriots vs. either the Vikings or the Eagles.

 

The Super Bowl is actually in Minneapolis, MN this year. As a Vikings fan I would love to see them play the Super Bowl in their home town.  But - alas - I suspect it will be the Patriots and the Eagles with Tom Brady and winning his sixth ring.

 

But I hope not.  

 

I hope it’s the Vikings! Unless, of course, they get waylaid by that silly Vikings curse that always waylays them!  

 

Skol!  

 

Greetings interstellar traveller / hyperbolic asteroid 1I/2017 U1, welcome to our solar system!

 

Technically you’ve been here for quite a while  just passing through, drifting about, minding your own asteroid business but we’ve only just found you! You have no way of knowing this but, you’ve been named -- ‘Oumuamua from the Hawaiian word meaning “scout” and generally translates as “scout from the past.” You have a very lovely name. Also, for clarification, that first character in your name is a Hawaiian ‘okina, not an apostrophe.

 

Our Earth scientists have long suspected that tens of thousands of space rocks, such as yourself, have visited our fine solar system but until recently we were unable to detect you all.

 

That all changed, of course, when very smart folks at Haleakala Observatory (in Hawaii) brought the first Pan-STARRS telescope (PS1) online. ‘Oumuamua -- just to be clear, this PS1 is totally different than what you probably believe a traditional PS1 to be (currently upgraded to a PS4).  The PS4 stands for “PlayStation” 4 and is a kick ass console blu ray / game player.  The PS4 according to wikipedia:

 

“...is a line of eighth generation home video game consoles developed by Sony Interactive Entertainment.”

 

The PS1, the one we used to find you, stands for “Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System” (Pan-STARRS). The PS1 according to wikipedia:

 

“… consists of astronomical cameras, telescopes and a computing facility that is surveying the sky for moving or variable objects on a continual basis, and also producing accurate astrometry and photometry of already detected objects.”

 

As you can see,  ‘Oumuamua, not quite the same thing.

 

Anyway. We don’t know exactly where you came from as that would be extremely difficult to figure out, but for now, our best guess is star Vega, about twenty five light years away. That being said, we are certain you are indeed from another solar system as, according to this astrophysical survey your orbit would be virtually impossible to achieve within our solar system. Our solar system that we have cleverly named, “Solar System” -- because that’s how we roll.  

 

You; however, roll quite a bit different. You are red (the color of organic carbon-based molecules), extremely elongated (thirteen hundred feet which is ten times long as you are wide -- you look like a giant space cigar) and you travel at approx.85,000 mph.

 

For comparison, ‘Oumuamua, I once lived in NYC and dated a woman in Washington DC. It order to visit her on weekends, it would take me about 3.7 hours to drive the distance between us. It would take you .0026 seconds to make the same trip!

 

That’s fast!

 

Well, it looks like you’re just kind of passing through, so I was just sayin hi.  It appears as if you’ll lap Jupiter sometime around May, then pass Saturn in January 2019 and eventually exit stage left en route to the Pegasus constellation sometime after that.

 

By all accounts it appears as if you’re just a really long mineral rock asteroid and you don’t carry any sort of super cool alien species. You know, cool little guys like that adorable Invader Zim or those E.T. phone home cuties. And I certainly hope you are not rudely carrying those evil little alien pricks from Alien and Aliens and all those not worth mentioning by name subpar sequels.

 

Actually, with that in mind, ‘Oumuamua, just in case you ever watch James Cameron’s Aliens, when characters refer to the alien species as a “xenomorph” they are not suggesting “xenomorph” is the name of the alien species on LV-426. They are using the word from the Greek construct - xeno, meaning “foreign” or “strange” and morph, meaning “a shape or form” which means in the context of the film the characters are suggesting the aliens in the movie are “strange foreign forms” -- an alien life form.

 

Again -- xenomorph is a generic term for an alien life form.

 

Xenomorph is not the name of this species.

 

Just wanted to clear that up for you, ‘Oumuamua. You know, in case it ever comes up in conversation with your asteroid buddies.

 

That’s all I got. Nice to meet you.

 

Be well!

 

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Saturday, 11 November 2017 18:27

4 movies about veterans for Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, annually recognized on November 11th -- in honor of the signing of the armistice which ended WWI hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in 1918.

 

The United States previously celebrated “Armistice Day” and it was more a day of recognition to honor veterans that died during WWI. In 1945 a WWII veteran named Raymond Weeks led a delegation to President Eisenhower and proposed the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans and not just those who died in WWI.

 

Eisenhower supported the idea of a national veterans day but it wasn’t until 1954 that he signed a bill into law and shortly there after, Congress amended the bill to replace, “Armistice” day with a national “Veterans” day celebrating all veterans. It has been celebrated as Veterans Day ever since. 

 

Hollywood has long been enamored with war movies and there are far too many movies that do little more than exploit the deaths of soldiers in the name of movie excitement “fun.” Thankfully, there are also movies that attempt to recreate a soldier’s authentic experience and the toll such service, and war in general, has on soldier families and humanity.

 

Two feature films and two documentaries about war, exploring themes of loneliness, trauma, loss and hope.

 

Presented alphabetically:

 

Born on the 4th of July (1989): U.S. Marine veteran Ron Kovic (played by Tom Cruise) returns from Vietnam paralyzed from the mid chest down and is wheelchair bound for the rest of his life. The movie is based on Kovic’s autobiography and directed by Vietnam vet Oliver Stone. The first third of the film follows Kovic from childhood to enlistment to boot camp and into the vietnam war where, during a firefight with the enemy, he accidentally kills one of the men in his platoon. He is shortly there after wounded and paralyzed but comes home seemingly optimistic. The remainder of the film focuses on his PTSD and war trauma as Kovic becomes increasingly disillusioned with traditional patriotism until eventually becoming an anti-war activist 9much to the hatred of his fellow soldiers). Olive Stone read Kovic’s autobiography and was shocked to learn what Kovic had gone through and immediately purchased the rights to the book. Stone and Kovic met many times to discuss their experiences in Vietnam and eventually collaborated together to write the screenplay. The film was wildly successful and earned several Academy Award nominations.

 

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (1994): This Academy Award winning documentary profiles the career of US artist & Chinese immigrant Maya Lin, when, at the age of 21 she beat out more than a 1000 artists in a competition to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The documentary is short (a little over an hour) and chronicles her childhood and about ten years of her work before receiving the memorial contract. Lin was under extraordinary pressure to deliver and because she was a woman, and Asian, she was often overly critiqued and vilified. Lin herself comes off as soft spoken, a woman who chooses her words carefully but also, a bit distant -- like many an artist I know. As a production note -- the film is a product of its time and is therefore a bit slow paced even with its short run but is still well worth viewing. Despite the hardship Lin faced during the creation of the monument, today it is widely recognized as a magnificent and powerful piece of art.

 

The Men (1950):  Perhaps one of the first Hollywood films to focus on the life of a wounded soldier in a completely unsensational way. Very little screen time is given to war instead offering enormous time to focus on Ken (Marlon Brando) and his struggle as he is consumed with anger and self-pity. While this movie was not a commercial success, its themes will always remain relevant. As a production note -- This is Marlon Brando’s feature film debut.

 

Restrepo (2010): A documentary film that chronicles the lives of the men of Second Platoon, Battle Company in a valley in eastern Afghanistan. The Restrepo post -- named so after a fallen comrade (PFC Juan Sebastian Restrepo), was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. Military. The goal of the post was to clear the Korengal Valley of insurgency and gain the trust of the local populace. Nothing went according to plan. Two journalists, British photographer Tim Hetherington, and journalist Sebastian Junger spent one year with the platoon in the Korengal Valley. This film is truly one of the greatest depictions of the soldier bond and camaraderie between them while at times offering gut wrenching footage of tense combat. The late Roger Ebert wrote in his four star review of the film, “The location footage is intercut with debriefings of the survivors conducted soon after they've been flown out to Italy. They use understatement to express strong emotions. The deaths of men they fought with are almost impossible for them to speak of … The film is nonpolitical. It was filmed at great personal risk by the war photographer Tim Hetherington and the author Sebastian Junger. It raises for me an obvious question: How can this war possibly be won?” Tragically, a few years after completion of the documentary, photographer Tim Hetherington, while covering the 2011 Libyan civil war, is killed by mortar shrapnel.

 

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Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 American biographical war drama film directed by Oliver Stone based on the best-selling autobiography Born on the Fourth of July by Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. Nominated for numerous critical awards and several Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor (Tom Cruise) and winner of two Oscars for Best Director (Oliver Stone) and Best Film Editing (David Brenner and Joe Hutshing).  

The Men is a 1950 American drama film directed by Fred Zinnemann, written by Carl Foreman, and starring Marlon Brando, Teresa Wright and Everett Sloane. Despite the film's commercial failure, it marked Brando’s film debut.

*  Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision is a 1994 documentary film made by Freida Lee Mock about the life of American artist Maya Lin, whose best-known work is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The film won the 1994 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

*  Restrepo is a 2010 American documentary film about the Afghanistan war, directed by American journalist Sebastian Junger and British photojournalist Tim Hetherington. The film won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

 

On Wednesday the MN Vikings activated Teddy Bridgewater and placed Sam Bradford on injured reserve (IR).

 

Bridgewater has not played in almost two full seasons after suffering a noncontact injury in practice early into the 2016 season. The Vikings then acquired Sam Bradford via trade who took over as QB1 and brought the Vikings to a mediocre 8-8 season.

 

While it’s true that Sam Bradford has his best pro season in 2016 -- passing for 3877  yards and a NFL record 71.6% completion rate but a struggling offensive line led to too many hurries, knockdowns, sacks and a dismal running game.

 

But still Bradford was the go to guy at the beginning of the 2017 season and had a career high day in the Vikings opening game vs. the Saints. But it was just not to be. A knee injury, or perhaps The Curse of the MN Vikings, forced him out and backup Case Keenum took over and quietly led the Vikings to the top of the NFC North going 4-2 as a starter.

 

BUT THEN -- a miracle recovery from Teddy Bridgewater has brought him back to the Vikings roster and he is suiting up for the first time in more than a season. What’s a head coach to do? Force Teddy in and hope he can bring back his magic or stay with the dependable backup Keenum? The Vikings are currently 6-2 and lead the division.

 

After all, if it ain’t broke …

 

It really was a no brainer for Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Teddy needs to slowly warm up back into football. Keenum starts. Bridgewater backs up.  

 

It’s a wise decision. As for Bradford. Well, I’m almost one hundred percent positive that Bradford is done as a Viking, maybe done in the NFL. His two year contract is up at the end of the season and he is currently on his third knee injury. If Bridgewater remains healthy I suspect the Vikings will offer Teddy a monster contract to remain with the Vikings and start again in 2018.

 

Which is great news for Vikings fans. By all accounts Teddy Bridgewater is the real deal -- young, handsome, talented, intelligent and an extremely warm and friendly person. When asked by reporters about being back on the field after such a long injury absence, Bridgewater had this to say,

 

“It’s always hard when the guys are going to work, and you have to go in the opposite direction. It’s like when all the kids are going to P.E. and you have to go to detention or something like that. I’m not saying what I was doing was detention, but it was hard, especially being a competitor and knowing how much these guys mean to me and knowing that I couldn’t be out there with those guys … (when asked about the possibility he might not return to the NFL) I never had any doubt, and that’s a credit to the people around me. They never once let me get down. They never counted me out. So getting back out there, this is not only about me. This is about the people who counted me in. There are a bunch of people who counted me out, outside this building and things like that, but at the end of the day it’s about going out there and competing for these guys in this locker room and all of the people that counted me in. So once I get out there, there’s no regrets, no holding back. Whatever’s meant to happen, happens. I trust God’s plan for me, and I’m going to go with that.”

 

I’m glad to hear The Curse (of the Vikings) didn’t strike Bridgewater low.

 

Then again, maybe -- just maybe -- there isn’t a curse, after all.  

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On Sunday, October 29th, the Miss Peru pageant was televised live to millions of homes in its native country. Beauty pageants are traditionally sexist and patriarchal and Peruvian audiences expected a typical affair. Let's face it, you pretty much know what you are going to get when you tune into a televised beauty pageant. But pageant organizer, Jessica Newton, herself a former beauty queen, didn't want anything to do with a  traditional affair, instead she wanted to use the enormously popular platform to highlight Peru's alarming record of gender violence.

 

And so Newton approached all 23 contestants, each of which agreed to abandon the traditional:

 

 

The women come onto stage wearing sequined shimmering mini-dresses and, one by one, step forward and reveal to the camera their full name, the location they represent and their bust, waist & hip size.

 

Instead they all overwhelmingly agreed to replace it with:

 

The women come onto stage wearing their mini-dresses but instead of listing off their measurements, each contestant offers vital statistics stating figures of violence against women in Peru.

 

And that's what they did. A sample:

 

“My name is Camila Canicoba and I represent the Department of Lima. My measurements are: 2,202 cases of reported femicide in the past year in my country.”

 

“My name is Karen Cueto and I represent Lima and my measurements are: 82 femicides and 156 attempted femicides so far this year.”

 

Eventual pageant winner Romina Lozano, said her “measurements” were “3,114 female victims of trafficking have been registered since 2014.”

 

And so on as each of the competitors came forward.

 

 

 

 

The entire pageant was designed to highlight gender violence up to and including the final round of the competition where, during the Q&A, the women were asked what sort of policy or laws could be changed that would combat gender violence and / or help the victims.

 

After the pageant, Susána Chavez, director of Promsex, a gender rights organization in Peru, told reporters:

 

"Unfortunately there are many women who (don't report abuse or assault because they)....  think they are isolated cases ... Now nobody can be indifferent to the level of violence ... These competitions focus on many stereotypes about women and judge them by their physical characteristics, but they (the pageants) impact a broad group of women and men that we do not reach. We've never seen a time when there is more awareness about the problem."

 

Here is a two minute clip of the pageant's highlights.



 

Wednesday, 01 November 2017 17:35

New York terror attack, suspect apprehended

At least eight people have been killed in a terrorist attack in New York City. Alleged terrorist, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipovd, a 29 year old Uzbek-American, drove a rented Home Depot van onto a pedestrian sidewalk and drove for several blocks hitting dozens. Sayfullo then T-boned  the van into a school bus. After the collision, Sayfullo exited the van with a pellet gun in one hand and a paintball gun in the other. He was shortly thereafter shot and captured by NYC police. He remains in custody.

 

Multiple sources report Sayfullo left a handwritten note at the scene of the crime, written in Arabic, detailing his support of ISIS.

 

Terrorists attacks by vehicle are becoming more common. In 2010, Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch published an article called, “The Ultimate Mowing Machine” and told readers to use trucks to "mow down" the enemies of Allah.

 

In 2014 ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al Adnani said:

 

“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be … If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchmen are any of their allies. Smash his head with rock, or slaughter him with a knife or run over him with your car (emphasis mine) or throw him down from a high place or poison him.”

 

Up to and including the October 31st NYC attack, there have been almost a dozen instances of radicalized Islamic extremists using trucks or vehicles to commit terror attacks. Most of these instances involve a Lone Wolf attack and while it's true that Lone Wolf attacks are extremely difficult to predict and prevent, they can be diminished.

 

In Daniel Byman's “Can Lone Wolves Be Stopped?” for Lawfare (online), he writes:

 

“One of the most important measures involves keeping Lone Wolves lonely: the less they can interact with potential co-conspirators, and in particular with dangerous groups that give them direction and training, the less dangerous they will be. Intelligence gathering and arrests of suspected cell leaders and targeting terrorist command and control via drone strikes is thus vital.

 

The Islamic State’s heavy reliance on social media to publicize its message and share information with recruits is a vulnerability as well as a benefit for the group. U.S. intelligence should continue to exploit social media to identify potential group members and to disrupt their activities. Such monitoring is particularly important when seeking to identify potential Lone Wolves or those with no direct international connection, as they may be encouraged by online operatives or post their intentions online as a form of bragging and belonging.”

 

Byman is a foreign policy editor and professor at Georgetown U. School of Foreign Service.



Note: This is a continually developing story and will be updated as further information arises.

 

 

Friday, 27 October 2017 22:18

Underappreciated horror films for Halloween

Halloween is upon us and brings the holy trilogy of: trick or treaters, costumes and candy. And, of course, inevitable lists of horror films you should watch for your Halloween scares.   

 

Now, I love said lists but the problem with them is that you tend to see the usual suspects. Take your pick of a franchise film - Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, Paranormal Activity, Scream, Friday the 13th, Saw, Halloween, Hellraiser, [Insert Random Name] of the Dead, etc., etc. Throw in obligatory mention of The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Shining, add another Stephen King adaption for good measure, class it up with a vintage black and white or three like: Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Frankenstein and toss in whatever is currently hip and popular with the cool kids, such as -- It Follows and Babadook.

 

Viola! Instant “Best Halloween Movies to Watch This Year” list!

 

Fair enough. But -- also -- Oh. So. Boring.

 

Let’s use some imagination here. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of movies in the aforementioned list that I adore. But there are a lot of great horror movies that have slipped under the radar. If you are a true horror film aficionado there probably won't be anything here you've not heard of. But for most movie folk this should be a nice list of under appreciated horror films you may dig. Also, I'm not really a fan of horror comedy so none of them made my list.

 

The trailers were meticulously screened to avoid spoilers. No, seriously. I watched multiple trailers for all of these movies and selected ones that were cool but vague and non spoilerific!

 

Some of my favorite underappreciated or forgotten horror films -- presented alphabetically:  

 

Coherence (2013): More of a dark psychological sci-fi thriller than traditional horror film. Coherence naturally evolves from a dinner party set piece into a mind twisting nightmare. Director James Ward Byrkit shot the extremely low budget movie without a script. Instead he worked from a detailed 12 page plot synopsis and each day passed notecards to the eight actors, outlining goals they had to accomplish with all improvised dialog. It’s one known star, Nicholas Brendon (Xander of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) had this to say, “...every day we had five different things we had to convey … since there was no script, I had no idea how it ended … to be quite honest, I never really knew what was going on fully until I saw the movie done.  When I saw the movie, I’m like, ‘Oh, Shit, this is awesome!’”  Coherence official trailer.

 

A Horrible Way to Die (2010): An indie darling the toured the festival circuit but never really got a wide release.  A Horrible Way to Die follows lead Sarah, played to perfection in a truly mesmerizing performance by Amy Seimetz. Sarah is in full recovery mode from … something. Something recent and very traumatic. The story shifts back and forth from her past to her present as we slowly begin to understand her horrific history. And then a friend of Sarah’s goes missing, in the present, and she realizes her past may have caught up with her.   A Horrible Way to Die official trailer.



House of the Devil (2009): Writer / Director Ti West’s loving recreation of 80’s horror films. Shot on 16mm film to preserve the retro look of 80’s horror and even co-starring horror film legend Dee Wallace and eighties great "go to" character actor, Tom Noonan. The story follows college student Samantha Hughes as she desperately searches for a way to make some extra dough to pay the deposit on a brand new kick ass apartment. Sam decides to answer a babysitting ad. A very strange, babysitting ad. House of the Devil official trailer.

 

The Loved Ones (2009): Robin McLeavy plays Princess Lola -- the greatest psycho woman to grace the silver screen since Angela Bettis was May Dove Canady in Lucky McKee’s May (later on the list). The Loved Ones finds surprising laughs and disturbing shocks in equal measure. Traditional “torture porn” movies offer visceral but generally artless visuals of cold blooded torture, usually in the form of misogynistic violence against women. Writer / Director Sean Byrne knows the worn tropes well, avoids the usual pratfalls and delivers a gender reversed twisted masterpiece. The Loved Ones official trailer.

 

Kill List (2011): Another movie on the list that is more dark psychological thriller than traditional horror. Two former British soldiers become hitmen. Gal is laid back and uncynical, Jay is still traumatized from an unspecified mission disaster during his soldiering days. Their newest contract spins their lives wildly out of control and leads to some very unexpected, very disturbing places. Kill List is a slow burn of a film and requires viewing patience, not least because the thick accents are, for a time, difficult to understand. Kill List official trailer.

 

Martyrs (2008): Oh, dear God. This movie is not for the faint of heart. You have been warned. Martyrs is the story of Lucie Jurin. As a young girl Lucie escapes from a slaughterhouse where she has been imprisoned and tortured for years. The perpetrators go uncaught and their motives remain a mystery. Lucie spends more than a decade in an orphanage and, while she has recovered physically, she is still plagued by nightmares and suffers debilitating visions of a ghoulish emaciated woman hunting her. Lucie leaves the orphanage and tracks down the family that captured & tortured her and begins to extract unbelievably violent, bloody revenge. But -- she might be in the wrong house. The family Lucie is brutalizing might be completely innocent. Martyrs, along with High Tension, Frontiers and Inside are widely regarded as the godfathers of the New French Extremity film movement.  A movement that refers thematically and stylistically to a wide range of French filmmakers that tackle taboo subjects and was once described by film writer Matt Smith as, “[a] crossover between sexual decadence, bestial violence and troubling psychosis." As you can imagine, most of the films within the New French Extremity movement are -- well, not worth viewing.  But Martyrs is. It is the only great “torture porn” movie I would ever recommend -- with reservations that it will still not be for most folks.  I believe I’ve given you enough information to know if this film is for your particular taste, or not. (Make sure to watch the original 2008 French w/ English Subtitles version and NOT the American Remake). Martyrs official trailer.



May (2002): Delightfully awkward, devilishly lonely May Dove Canady suffered from a rough childhood due to endless bullying because of her lazy eye. Her only friend -- a glass-encased doll named Suzie. But then May meets a boy. A real boy. Angela Bettis knocks it out of the park with her quirky awkward performance. May is Lucky McKee’s only good film. Seriously. If you see the name Lucky McKee attached to any other film not called May, immediately throw it in the garbage. May official trailer.

 

Pontypool (2008): The greatest zombie apocalypse film (that might not actually be a zombie apocalypse film) you have never seen. Shock jock Grant Mazzy and his producer Sydney Briar are front and center in their small town radio room when the world outside goes --- crazy. Both Stephen McHattie (Grant) and Lisa Houle (Sydney) are superb in the lead roles. Based on the Tony Burgess novel Pontypool Changes Everything  and inspired by Orson Welles' infamous radio broadcast of The War of the World's. Pontypool official trailer.

 

[REC] (2007): Probably the best known film on the list. [REC] is a found footage-esq masterpiece about a TV reporter and her cameraman following emergency workers into an apartment building and are quickly locked inside with -- something. Cleverly hiring real life TV personality Manuela Velasco to portray a fictional version of herself and using only cameras that would be available to a TV news show to shoot the movie create a uniquely realistic atmosphere. [REC] spawns a few unsatisfying sequels and there is even a decent American remake called Quarantine but the original version in Spanish is really the big boy on the block.  [REC] official trailer.



Triangle (2009): What begins as a very seemingly well acted but mundane ghost ship story quickly evolves into a mind bending, bloody journey of loss, regret and choices. Triangle is a movie that gets better and better with repeat viewings. This film, The Loved Ones and Pontypool are my three go to films when I am asked for a horror film recommendation. I was unable to find a trailer that didn’t spoil some of the film’s surprises so I didn’t attach one. Look it up if you want but Triangle is best viewed with a clean slate.



Who Can Kill a Child? (1976): Tom and Evelyn, two English tourists, arrive on a city island during the last leg of their vacation before Evelyn gives birth to their third child. But -- they can’t seem to find any adults. And the silent grim faced children that run in packs all over the town cast suspicious glances their direction but refuse to speak with them. A Children of the Corn esq narrative that actually came out years before King’s story (which first appeared in print form in Penthouse in the late 70’s).  Based on the Juan Jose Plans novel The children’s game, who adapted the screenplay under a pen name. This movie was widely unavailable for decades but finally came out on DVD in 2007. There is no Blu Ray edition. Who Can Kill a Child? official trailer.



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Coherence is a 2013 American science fiction thriller film directed by James Ward Byrkit.

 

A Horrible Way to Die is a 2010 American horror film written by Simon Barrett, directed by Adam Wingard.

 

The House of the Devil is a 2009 American horror film written, directed, and edited by Ti West.

 

The Loved Ones is a 2009 Australian horror film written and directed by Sean Byrne.

 

Kill List is a 2011 British crime drama psychological horror film directed by Ben Wheatley, co-written and co-edited with Amy Jump.

 

Martyrs is a 2008 French-Canadian drama horror film written and directed by Pascal Laugier.

 

May is a 2002 American psychological horror film written and directed by Lucky McKee.

 

Pontypool is a 2008 Canadian horror film directed by Bruce McDonald and written by Tony Burgess, based on his novel Pontypool Changes Everything.

 

REC (stylized as [•REC]) is a 2007 Spanish zombie horror film, co-written and directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza.

 

Triangle is a 2009 British-Australian psychological horror thriller film written and directed by Christopher Smith.


Who Can Kill a Child? (Spanish: ¿Quién puede matar a un niño?; also released as Island of the Damned) is a 1976 Spanish horror film directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador.

 

Last week the Boy Scouts of America announced it will allow girls to join the organization with the following statement released on their official website:

 

“Today, the Boy Scouts of America Board of Directors unanimously approved to welcome girls into its iconic Cub Scout program and to deliver a Scouting program for older girls that will enable them to advance and earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout. The historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls, the organization evaluated the results of numerous research efforts, gaining input from current members and leaders, as well as parents and girls who’ve never been involved in Scouting – to understand how to offer families an important additional choice in meeting the character development needs of all their children.”

 

Skeptics claim it’s not really a decision about actually being inclusive, it’s just a publicity stunt to increase Boy Scout membership which has steadily decreased in the last decade. The Girl Scouts of America are not terribly happy about the announcement, either. In fact, the day after the Boy Scouts posted the above statement, the Girl Scouts released their official position on their website:  

 

“Girl Scouts is the best girl leadership organization in the world, created with and for girls. We believe strongly in the importance of the all-girl, girl-led, and girl-friendly environment that Girl Scouts provides, which creates a free space for girls to learn and thrive.

 

The benefit of the single-gender environment has been well-documented by educators, scholars, other girl- and youth-serving organizations, and Girl Scouts and their families. Girl Scouts offers a one-of-a-kind experience for girls with a program tailored specifically to their unique developmental needs.”

 

The two organizations have never really seen eye to eye. The Boy Scouts were founded a little more than 100 years ago and the Girl Scouts (then called Girl Scouting) approx. five years later. By the mid 1920’s the Boy Scouts of America sued the Girl Scouts for use of the word, “Scouts.”  The traditionalist “manly-men” of the time objected to the term “Scout” being used for girls. That’s right, the lawsuit was all about the manliness of the word Scout and how, if used to describe a girl, the word would be emasculated.

 

Obviously, the Girl Scouts won the lawsuit. 

 

Several decades later and the two organizations still don’t really get along. That being said, the Girl Scouts have been far more progressive for much, much longer. The Girls Scouts have long since championed civil rights, inclusion and acceptance. And to them it wasn’t a big deal. It just seemed like the right thing to do. (It is).

 

The Boy Scouts have been firmly anti-gay membership, anti-LGBT inclusion and 100% -- no girls allowed, until very recently.  It wasn’t until 2013 that the Boy Scouts lifted the open ban on gay scouts. It wasn’t until 2015 that the Boy Scouts ended the prohibition on adult gay Scout leaders. Finally, in Jan of 2017, the Boy Scouts said it will allow members that self-identify as male to join. 

 

So, the Girl Scouts have been way ahead of the Boy Scouts on pretty much all progressive social issues so I can understand the  G.S. leadership annoyance. The Girl Scouts have been all inclusive for decades -- no press. The Boy Scouts finally, finally, finally catch up with the rest of progressive America -- all the press.

 

And maybe Boy Scouts are changing for the wrong reasons. But that doesn’t matter much to me. As long as progress is being made forward I’m all for it.

 

Conservatives around the internet shrugged a collective “meh” at the Boy Scout inclusion news. I honestly thought there would be more faux outrage and I’m glad to report that there wasn’t.

 

And, let’s be honest, the Boy Scouts will still be overwhelmingly male. But now, a troop can form and all boy, all girl, or mixed gender Cub Scout group.

 

Seems fair to me. 

 

And for anyone who thinks this is another liberal, feminist platform “ruining” things for real Americans I offer two things:

 

First: the overwhelmingly conservative Boy Scout board of directors unanimously voted in favor of the more inclusive policies.

 

Second: Samantha Bee and Full Frontal's: Fem Agenda: What to Ruin Next.



 

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