Monthly Archives: March 2018

Good News Friday: Finally, pork that us Jews can eat! A Sister Jean tribute video to get you ready for the Final Four. And finally, Adnan from “Serial” gets a new trial

And a Happy Friday to all of you out there in Internet-land. It’s a “Good” Good News Friday for many of you; Happy Easter to my Christian readers, Happy Pesach to my fellow Hebrews, and you know, for the rest of you, have a nice weekend.

I spent Thursday night/Friday morning prepping for a colonoscopy, so I feel very certain you’ve all had a more pleasant morning than what I’m having now. But the show must go on!

First up today, seeing as it is Passover it seems like a good time to celebrate this story. Finally, after so many years wandering the desert and fearing we’re going to be in real trouble if we eat bacon, scientists have done it: They’ve invented a pork that Jews can actually eat!

No seriously, this is a thing: An Israeli rabbi named Yuval Cherlew has said that lab-grown pork would be kosher for consumption by Jews — even when eaten with dairy products.

From this story in the Times of Israel: The good rabbi told the Ynet news site in an interview published Wednesday that “cloned” meat is not subject to the rules that apply to the consumption of regular meat.

In the interview, Cherlow of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization appeared to be talking about meat that is grown artificially in a laboratory from the cells of a pig, rather than meat produced from a live pig whose genetic material comes from a cell from which the pig was cloned.

When the “cell of a pig is used and its genetic material is utilized in the production of food, the cell in fact loses its original identity and therefore cannot be defined as forbidden for consumption,” Cherlow said. “It wouldn’t even be meat, so you can consume it with dairy.”

WHOO-HOOO! Bacon cheeseburgers for everybody in the synagogue, holler!

Seriously, this is great news. I’m not sure exactly why someone would want to eat cloned meat, but hey, if it makes a difference to you, real pork tastes amazing when done right.

**Next up, it’s Final Four weekend, and of course the big story of the whole tournament has been Loyola-Chicago and its amazing 98-year-old team chaplain, a nun named Sister Jean-Delores Schmidt.

Sister Jean is amazing, she’s got her own bobblehead doll now, and thanks to brilliant people at TheRinger.com, she has a wonderful mash-up tribute video, set to the Michael Jackson classic “Billie Jean.”

This is totally brilliant. Rock on, Sister Jean.

**And finally today, I’m sure many of  you remember the incredible sensation the podcast “Serial” was a few years ago, as the “This American Life” radio show spinoff captivated the nation (175 million downloads) with the case of convicted murderer Adnan Syed, a Baltimore high school kid who allegedly murdered his girlfriend.

“Serial” completely uncovered holes and problems with the case, from ineffective performance by Syed’s lawyer, to witnesses ignored, to police intimidation/coercion of the prosecution’s star.

After so much malfeasance and questions were brought to light, I was certain of this: I didn’t know if Syed had killed Hae Min Lee or not, but I knew for damn sure he deserved a new trial, because there was a whole lot of reasonable doubt there.

And now, finally, he’s getting one. Thursday the Maryland Court of Special Appeals vacated Syed’s murder conviction, ordering a new trial to be held.

Fantastic news. I really hope “Serial” makes its next season the re-trial of Adnan Syed. Would be gripping stuff.

 

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“Billions” is back and I am thrilled. Andy Murray sings Spice Girls songs in bed and it’s great. A little girl is bored at her sister’s soccer game and makes an amazing fossil discovery.

It’s peak TV season in my house, which is good because the NCAA Tournament is almost over and I always get sad this time of year when it ends.

My wife and I don’t agree on/watch that much TV together, but two shows we are both equally excited about and love to death are “Billions” and “The Americans.”

“The Americans” is starting its final season tonight and I don’t think I’m prepared to talk about it; I’m going to be SO damn bummed when that amazing, all-time classic, criminally under-watched program comes to an end.

But “Billions?” “Billions” is in its prime, baby. It’s rare that a show is good in Season 1, and then makes a gigantic leap forward in Season 2. “Breaking Bad” did it, and I feel like “The West Wing” and “Cheers” did it too, but it’s unusual. Most great shows have fabulous opening seasons, then dip down a little.

But “Billions”, on Showtime, was amazing in Season two, and now it’s back for Season 3. If you’re not a fan of the show, you’re missing out big-time.

Starring Damien (“Homeland”) Lewis and the always-amazing Paul Giamatti as, respectively, a venture-capitalist smug billionaire and a crusading district attorney hellbent on putting him in prison, “Billions” is fascinating, hilarious, incredibly fast-paced, and just awesome.

It’s got Maggie Siff as Giamatti’s BDSM-loving wife who works at Axe Capital (Lewis’ character, Bobby Axelrod’s, firm), Malin Akerman as Axe’s wife, and a ton of great supporting players like Ben Shenkman and David Costabile (the “Breaking Bad” scientist Gale).

I cannot praise this show enough, even if sometimes it moves too fast even for me. Watch it, Sundays at 10 on Showtime, or anywhere else you can find it.

**Next up, there are very few advantages to so many top male tennis stars being injured right now, but one of them is they get to do crazy, fun stuff like this.

There’s an annual charity fund-raiser show in Britain every year called Sport Relief, which raises money for “vulnerable people around the world.”

They get celebrities to do crazy stuff, so that’s why we got the hilarious video above, when former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell (though really, is anyone truly a “former” Spice Girl? You’re Spicy for life, I think) and UK host Michael McIntyre “burst” into his bedroom and make him recite Spice Girls lyrics.

My favorite part comes at :35 when Geri checks to see if Murray is wearing pants or not.

**And finally, this story makes me smile. A 7-year-old girl in Bend, Ore. named Naomi Vaughan was at her older sister’s soccer game recently and was totally bored. So she starts poking around near the soccer fields and finds an ammonite fossil, which just happens to be 65 million years old.

And to think: All I used to find at my sister’s soccer games were Dr. Pepper cans and maybe a cigarette butt.

 

A pretty amazing March, in so many cities, gives me hope. A crushing loss for Duke made me sad, but how ’bout Loyola? And a Brazilian basketball shot I’ve never seen.

Well that was quite a weekend. On many, many fronts.

Before I get to the Stormy Daniels interview, and my agonizing three hours watching Duke come oh-so-close to another Final Four appearance before losing, I have to talk about the hundreds of thousands of people who marched on Washington, D.C., and in cities (and countries) all across the world on Saturday.

(My mother was one of those people, and I probably would’ve been too if not for months-ago purchased tickets to “Paw Patrol Live!” for me and the 3-year-old. Hey, you don’t mess around when Chase is on the case.)

It was called the March for Our Lives, but really, it was a March for the Future. For new leaders, for victims of so many school shootings in the past finally finding their voice, for the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High who have galvanized so many of us.

It was truly a stunning event, and I think I agree with Esquire writer Andrew Cohen when he says “there’s no turning back now, our national debate about guns is over. The only question is how far and how fast change will go.”

I have lots of thoughts about the march and what it might accomplish, but it’s late and I’ve got lots to say about March Madness and neither one of us has time to read a 3,000 word post.

So let me just say these four things:

1.Signs like the one above just devastate me. That children like those the age of the one’s murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, could be thinking about these things and having to deal with them is just… an incredible failing as a society. For a great gallery of photos from Marches across the globe, click here.

2. The speeches were fantastic; I highly recommend watching Emma Gonzalez’s moving tribute to her classmates who died, stay with it for all six minutes. But this speech, by 11-year-old Naomi Wadler, of Virginia, just knocked my socks off. The poise, the intelligence, the ability to be so forceful at her age… just amazing.

3. The absolute most important thing to come out of Saturday’s marches in the U.S.? Thousands of new voters. All of the speeches and all of the outrage does no good if it doesn’t lead to people showing up on the first Tuesday of November to vote, this year and every year. Too many times enthusiasm has petered out, I pray it doesn’t happen this time. Because this is a tsunami of political change just waiting to happen, if the momentum is kept up until Election Day.

4. The New England Patriots lending their team plane to transport the Parkland community families to fly to Washington, D.C. was an incredibly classy gesture. And you people know how hard it is for me to say anything nice about the Patriots. But this was a fantastic good deed.

**And now, to the NCAA Tournament. Another tremendous weekend of games. I gotta start with my Duke team, first. What a brutal loss Sunday night’s OT defeat to Kansas was.

Not just because of the shot by Grayson Allen, above, that rolled around the rim TWICE before bouncing out, a shot that would’ve won the game for Duke in the final seconds of regulation.(I’m going to be seeing that one in my head for weeks.)

But because it was an excruciating performance. The Blue Devils didn’t get the ball to their star, and the best player in America, Marvin Bagley III, nearly enough. Duke couldn’t hit a 3-pointer to save its life, saw Wendell Carter Jr. get into terrible foul trouble (and foul out on a hideous call by the refs.)

Even still, Duke was up 3, with 1 minute to go in regulation, and couldn’t close. All credit to Kansas and Malik Newman, especially. It was a sensational battle, and the Jayhawks deserved to win.

Duke fans are spoiled, 100 percent. But to be that close to a Final Four and not get there… ooof.

— Then there’s the amazing story of Loyola-Chicago, winning yet another game Saturday and sending 98-year-old nun Sister Jean Schmidt into an even greater stratosphere of celebrity. This Ramblers team, an 11 seed, winning like it has and getting to a Final Four, is just such a beautiful story.

— I thought the line of the weekend was from Yahoo! sports columnist Pat Forde: “Two women have dominated the headlines this weekend: Sister Jean and Stormy Daniels. They don’t have a lot in common.”

— I got zero Final Four teams right in my bracket. Somehow, 550 people out of 17.3 million on the ESPN bracket challenge picked all four Final Four teams. I think we’ll get two excellent games next Saturday, but this is Villanova’s title to lose right now. I think they are certainly the best team left.

But are YOU gonna bet against a 98-year-old nun?

**And finally, I guess I should say something about the Stormy Daniels “60 Minutes” interview, and how I completely believe she’s telling the truth, and how I’ll never look at a Forbes magazine in my doctor’s office the same way again, and how I can’t wait to see how all the evangelicals who talk about what a great moral, Christian man Trump is twist themselves into knots defending this man, and how all the outraged folks who are still pissed about Bill Clinton and Monica and Gennifer Flowers feel about President Orange Man having oh so many extramarital affairs.

But mainly, I look at that interview and see a star-struck woman who had her life threatened because she was in awe of the celebrity and power of Donald Trump and blames herself for all that happened because she agreed to go up to his hotel room one day.

And that makes me sad, and nauseous.

But instead of dwelling on that interview, I want to show you something amazing. In the Brazilian basketball league, playing for a team called Cearense, a man named Paulinho Boracini went to the free throw line with his team down three points, in the final seconds. He made the first foul shot. And then he did this (above), which I’ve never, ever seen before in four decades of basketball watching:

I mean…. that’s incredible. He could try that 1,000 times and not do it again. The 3-pointer is crazy enough, but how about the little bank of the glass, too?

Insane.

Good News Friday: Disney donates $1 million to Boys and Girls Clubs, thanks to “Black Panther.” Ruth Bader Ginsberg works out with Colbert and it’s hilarious. And the Harlem Globetrotters throw an awesome surprise party for a 10-year-old.

And a Happy Friday to you all out there, hope there’s no snow wherever you are, and that any of you are 1/10th as excited about Saturday as our 3-year-old, since I’m taking him to Paw Patrol Live at Madison Square Garden tomorrow (“No case too big, no pup too small!”). It will be a thrilling life event for both of us, I’m certain.

As we all wish we were as cool as 98-year-old Loyola-Chicago basketball nun Sister Jean today (how ’bout those Ramblers! Into the Elite 8), we start this week’s Good News Friday with a cool story about “Black Panther.”

You know all about “Black Panther,” the incredibly successful movie that everyone loves and that may be a game-changer for movies, for African-American movies, and the world in general (I’m exaggerating, but only by a little).

It truly has become a cultural phenomenon, with stars Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman getting intimately involved in promoting and explaining why this movie is so big and has touched so many.

I learned about yet another ripple of the movie reading this great story about the Disney Corp. giving $1 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, specifically, to assist students in youth STEM technology programs.

The money will be used by Boys and Girls Clubs to develop its STEM curriculum and build new STEM Centers of Innovation in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Harlem, Hartford, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, Orlando, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Watts, California.

The Disney chairman, Bob Iger, specifically pointed to “Black Panther” incorporating science and technology concepts in the movie as a reason to donate money.

One more example of the cultural phenomenon of “Black Panther.”

**Next up today, the Harlem Globetrotters do wonderful things all over the world, and they’re still going strong, entertaining young and old alike.

I loved this: Ethan is a 10-year-old boy from Prescott, Wisc. and has undergone more than 30 surgeries due to a rare disease called  ectrodactyly-ectodermal dysplasia, which affects his limbs and eyesight.

The Globies heard about Ethan and decided to pay him a visit on his birthday. So great.

**And finally today, Stephen Colbert went to work out with Supreme Court Justice and proud octogenarian Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

It’s as hilarious as it sounds, especially when the workout starts. Notorious RBG in the house!

A terrorist is mailing bombs to African-Americans in Austin, anyone hear about it? One of my all-time favorite Florida crime stories. And the longest badminton rally you’ll ever see.

I always reject the premise when people over the years have told me the news media is biased. That they only cover certain stories that highlight certain people or groups, while ignoring others.

I have always said that wasn’t true; that we journalists will cover anything that’s interesting, or with TV news, visually compelling.

Still, I am starting to wonder exactly why these Austin, Texas bombings aren’t getting more attention from the press. If you haven’t been following the story, there have four bomb explosions over the past few weeks, as a suspect has mailed explosive devices that killed or wounded four people.

I mean, I know why the bombings are getting zero attention from the White House; it’s because the suspect isn’t known to be a Muslim and that’s the only kind of terrorism that this President and his government actually acknowledge.

The fact that the bombs have all been mailed, and injured, African-Americans and Latinos so far make it far less serious in the minds of this racist President than if, God forbid, actual white people were hurt by a person with a foreign-sounding name.
But this is a very serious crime, most likely racial in nature, and you’re hearing very little about it, unless you go search for it.

It’s very frightening that this is happening, no one really knows why, and when it will end.

Would be nice if we heard about it a little bit more.

(Update: Since I finished writing this but before I published, it appears the bomber has been caught and cornered by law enforcement, then blew himself up with a bomb in his car)

**And now, an interlude of badminton. A 102-shot rally occurred at the All England Open in Birmingham, England over the weekend starring doubles teams from Japan (Yuki Fukushima and Syaka Hirota, in the gray shirts), and Denmark’s​ Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl (in blue).

So many amazing saves here, my favorite shots were at 38 and 95. What incredible concentration.

I don’t mean the players, I mean me staying focused on the birdie for this whole point.

** And finally today, it’s been a while since I’ve featured a truly bizarre news story from the state I used to call home. Florida, oh Florida, how I miss you so when I read a headline like this:
Golf Cart-Driving Florida Man Tries to Blow Up Neighbor’s Chickens With Home-Made Whiskey Bomb During Dispute Over BB Gun.”

Yeah, like you’re NOT going to click on that story with a headline like that.
It seems a 55-year-old man named Scott Frederick Wegener, of Fort Pierce, crafted a bomb inside a whiskey bottle, then blew it up in his neighbor’s yard after a dispute over the theft of a BB gun.

Wegener, nicknamed “Spider” (well sure) actually offered to pay a friend to crawl under the man’s home to plant an IED.

According to a witness, “Wegener pulled up to (the) house on the golf cart. They began to hang out. Wegener said he was going to kill the chickens in (the) yard. Wegener went to his golf cart and retrieved a Canadian Mist bottle filled with black powder, sand and a green fuse,” according to the affidavit.

Investigators said Wegener lit the fuse and threw the IED into the backyard, where it exploded.

So, so many questions here. Number 1: What did the chickens ever do to Wegener? They couldn’t have stolen his BB gun, chickens certainly prefer more complicated weapons, in my experience.
Question 2: Why use Whiskey bottles, when we all know using Jim Beam rum bottles to blow up your neighbor’s backyard is much more effective.
Question 3: Do you think a golf cart is really a good getaway car? I mean those things only go like 15 miles per hour, right? Maybe ole’ Mr. Wegener should’ve gotten a real car if he wanted to, you know, escape.

Ah, Florida. I love you so.

A No. 16 seed beats a No.1, and four incredible days of NCAA Tournament action have me exhausted but happy. And Fox News, perfectly explained, in one video

There are times as a writer where you don’t know where to start a story because there’s just nothing interesting in your material, and you’re reaching, clawing through your notebook hoping to find something that doesn’t stink.

Then there are times, like when you’ve watched four days of sensational, amazing, exhausting but oh so much fun NCAA Tournament, and you’ve got so much in your brain you could start with, you really don’t know where to start.

A warning: If you don’t care about college basketball or the NCAA Tournament, this blog will be a whole lot of words that won’t interest you. I’ve got a non-NCAA Tournament item at the end if you want to hang in there.

OK, of course I know where we have to start. We have to start with the University of Maryland Baltimore-County, a small school in Catonsville, Md., that scored for my money the biggest non-Olympics upset in sports history Friday night. UMBC, a No. 16 seed, did something no other 16 seed had ever done: It beat a No. 1 seed.

And not just any 1 seed, a dominant 1 seed like Virginia. I have to say, watching the game from my couch Friday night with a new friend, we were sitting there in shock, not just because a 16 was beating a 1 (I always knew it would happen someday, the difference between 16’s and 1’s isn’t as big as it used to be), but HOW it happened. I always figured the titanic upset over a 1 seed would happen with a 40-foot crazy buzzer-beater or something like that.

But this, this was a blowout. The Retrievers destroyed the Cavs, and it wasn’t even close the final five minutes. My buddy Scott turned to me with a minute to go and said “This is crazy! It’s anti-climactic, there’s no drama because UMBC has been so far ahead the last 10 minutes!”

It’s true, the score never got into single digits the last 10 minutes of the game. What a moment, what a wonderful, crazy moment for some scrappy, overlooked players who no one thought could win.

Sure, UMBC wasn’t able to keep it going, losing a close one Sunday night. But man, they have given all of us a memory that will last a lifetime.

— Laughed out loud at this Tweet by @netw3rk after the Retrievers lost Sunday night: “UMBC didn’t get eliminated, they just live at a farm upstate now.”

— So many other great stories in the Tournament so far, but after UMBC’s stunning upset my next favorite thing has been Loyola-Chicago, and their remarkable pair of wins over Miami in the first round and then Tennessee in Round 2.

They’re a veteran team who hasn’t been anywhere near this far in more than 30 years, and suddenly they’ve slayed two Goliaths and they’ve got a 98-year-old team chaplain named Sister Jean Delores Schmidt (above) who is just the most adorable thing ever. When a reporter asked Sister Jean Sunday how it felt to be a national celebrity, she replied “Not to correct you, dear, but international.”

Loyola, a team whose players used to hand out free hot dogs coupons to students to get them to come to games,  is in the Sweet 16 with a great shot to win, and I’m just pissed that next game they’re playing my other favorite story of this tournament…

— Nevada! Two phenomenal comebacks by a No. 7 seed, including coming back from 22 points down to win Sunday over No. 2 seed Cincinnati. Their coach, Eric Musselman, was a tad excited after the game, and I’m so proud that I know a grad, my excellent friend Kristen, and I’m rambling now but it really was a hell of a comeback by them Sunday.

— Oh yeah, Duke, the team I root for. Honestly there was so much other great stuff this weekend that I’m glad my Blue Devils didn’t cause me much stress. Two outstanding wins, pretty easily attained over Iona and Rhode Island, and Trevon Duval played outstanding. He really is the key to Duke going further. Marvin Bagley III was phenomenal, the bench contributed well, but the freshman point guard Duval is the whole key. If he’s playing great, Duke can win the title.

— So Saturday night, last game of the evening, Houston-Michigan. Cougars up by 2, and Devin Davis Jr. of Houston steps up to the foul line with just four seconds left. Davis misses both.

And then this happened…Jordan Poole for the win.

**And then, in a moment of pure class, watch as Michigan star Moritz Wagner notices a despondent Davis standing on the court, in shock at how his team just lost. And Wagner stops and does this. Absolutely, that kid has been raised right.

— A couple of words about the two biggest disappointments this weekend. Virginia, obviously, was humiliated, losing to a 16 seed and getting embarrassed along the way. I have to give much credit to their coach Tony Bennett, who handled everything with class after the game, but wow, this is going to be hard to recover from. He’s built an amazing program in Charlottesville but this is three of the last four years they’ve gone out early in March after having a tremendous regular season.

— And then there was Michigan State, who laid a big egg Sunday against Syracuse. Absolutely no excuse for a team as talented as the Spartans are to lose to the Orange, and miss so many open shots. Lot of things have to go wrong for Michigan State to lose that game, and lots of things did.

–Finally Two absolute trends in this year’s Tournament: 1, Teams shoot way, way, way too many 3-pointers. I mean, I know it’s been getting worse and worse every year, but oh my goodness the number of horrible 3-pointers I saw in the first two rounds. Guys, it’s OK if you take a short jumper or try to drive! I promise, even in Trump’s America, it’s legal to take a 10-footer!

The other big trend seems to be these replay reviews taking longer, and longer, and longer. I swear to God the other night in the, I think it was Gonzaga-Ohio State game (I may be wrong they’re all blending together), there were a couple of five-minute delays while the officials watched 11 replays.

Hey guys, just make a call! I know it’s important to get it right, but I’ve had relationships that lasted less time than these reviews!

Just had to get that off my chest. Thank you. What a fantastic four days of game. Man, I do love this sport.

**And finally today, I promised you something non-NCAA Tournament related at the end. An organization called Now This put together the absolutely perfect explanation, in one short video, of why Fox News is so phony and fraudulent.

Watch as the exact same decision is reached by Presidents Obama and Trump, and how they react. Just genius.

Good News Friday: Roger Federer looks at kids’ paintings of him and it’s adorable. A science teacher in Houston becomes a comedy superstar. And a waitress shows a little compassion, and gets hugely rewarded

 

And a Happy Friday to you all, a glorious day indeed. Fabulous opening day of the NCAA Tournament, with Loyola-Chicago providing the biggest stunner (love their Harry Potter scarves) and a couple other games (Houston-San Diego State, Rhode Island-Oklahoma) giving us lots of thrills. And today? more of the same. My favorite two days of the sports year.

OK, on with Good News Friday. So Roger Federer, who I worship as you know, always seems to do a fun, cool thing with kids at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. This week at the annual tournament he apparently was asked to “judge” a painting contest where all the tykes were supposed to paint portraits of Federer. Really, really sweet stuff, you can tell how much RF loves kids.

**Next up today, meet Eddie Brown, a science teacher from Houston who used to simply be a 6th-grade teacher. However now, he’s a comedy superstar (in the education circles, at least)

After cracking up his fellow teachers at the Varnet School, he posted a video last year called “What Public School Teachers Really Say” and it went viral.

Now, after making dozens of more videos, he tours the country on a “Teachers Only Comedy Tour” and draws thousands. His routines are hilarious to anyone who’s ever been any kind of teacher, and they give me hope that our criminally underpaid, underappreciated teachers can at least get some laughs from someone who knows what they’re going through.

**Finally today, a very small gesture that went a long way. A waitress named Evoni Williams works at a Waffle House in Texas, and one morning recently she saw a customer named Adrien Charpentier having trouble cutting his breakfast. Charpentier is 78, on oxygen and appeared to be in a lot of pain.

So Williams walked over and began helping him with his knife and fork, cutting his meat for him. Such a simple, kind gesture. A fellow customer named Laura Wolf saw Williams doing this and took a picture, then posting it on social media saying that she was “thankful to have seen this act of kindness and caring at the start of my day while everything in this world seems so negative.”

And that’s where this story could’ve stopped, a nice person doing something nice.

But after the Facebook photo went viral, the local mayor of her town, Lamar, Tex. dedicated March 8, 2018, in her honor.

“This is probably more of a lifestyle of Evoni,” Mayor Bobby Hocking said. “Because she does this from her heart. It just so happens somebody got a picture of this one time of many.”

And then something even more incredible happened: Texas Southern University offered her a $16,000 scholarship along with the aid of a counselor to help her enroll at the university. (She had been saving up for college).

Just a small gesture being rewarded by a larger one. So many good people in the world.

 

A N.Y. Times story on addiction and suicide in a tiny Indiana town. A guy in L.A. has people look at the moon through his telescope, and it’s awesome. And my always-correct Final 4 picks for March Madness

The genre of story that I’m starting off today’s blog with has, sadly, become almost a cliche: Small-town American city, otherwise unremarkable, has survived for decades on tight-knit community, strong sense of family, and businesses hanging in there through all different kinds of economic conditions, laid completely low by the scourge of drug addiction.

Sometimes it’s painkillers, sometimes it’s heroin (which certainly is a “painkiller” in every sense of the word), sometimes it’s other drugs. But there have been SO many stories written over the past decade of towns filled with good people and good values go completely down the tubes, that I thought there was nothing that could surprise, or impress me, about yet another tale.

Happily, I was wrong. Juliet Macur, a remarkably gifted writer for the New York Times, visited Madison, Ind. last summer while reporting another story.

On a reporting trip in July, I learned this in the unlikeliest of places: at Horst’s Little Bakery Haus, a doughnut shop with just a few tables, not far from the river.

A waitress had overheard me interviewing someone at the bakery earlier, and asked if I was a journalist.

She checked over her shoulder to see if anyone was listening. There was an urgency in her whisper as she said: “I lost my son last month. He hung himself from a tree in our yard and shot himself in the head. I cut him down myself, with my own hands. So many suicides.”

She wiped away tears.

“We need your help,” she said.

From that wonderfully-written beginning, Macur weaves a devastating tale of a football team, the town’s struggles with drugs and suicides, and a coach who’s desperately trying to make a difference. This is a phenomenal, important story that I urge you all to read.

I don’t know what will ever stem the tide of the scourge of drug addiction, and mental health, in this country. I do know we need more school counselors, more trained and better-funded mental health clinics, and a whole lot more compassion and help for those trapped in addiction’s maw.

**Next up today, OK here’s a palette-cleanser from that last story. A Los Angeles filmmaker and astronomy enthusiast named Wylie Overstreet decided to bring his fancy telescope out on the streets of Southern California, and film random strangers’ reactions to looking at the moon.

A really simple idea, but wonderful expressions and thoughts from people. The world really is a freaking beautiful place if we stop to take a look around every once in a while.

**And finally today, as promised, I’ve spent a couple days now breaking down the NCAA Tournament bracket, and my lock-solid, guaranteed to be correct or your money back Final Four picks.

I’ve got Virginia coming out of the South (although De’Andre Hunter’s injury scares me), Gonzaga out of the West (I don’t love top two seeds Xavier or UNC, and there’s something about the Zags having finally broken through last year that takes the pressure off them), Purdue out of the East (I really wanted to be different and not take Villanova, but also I saw Purdue live a few times in the Big Ten Tournament and they’re really, really good) and oh yeah, Duke out of the Midwest (the draw is brutal but if Duke can get past Michigan State, I like their chances.)

So Virginia, Gonzaga, Purdue and Duke. I don’t feel great about those picks but I never do.

Other trends/upsets/teams on a run that I like:

— Nevada is really good, they got some NCAA Tournament experience last year, and their draw is decent. I like them going all the way to the Elite Eight, beating Cincinnati along the way, before losing to Virginia.

— My other big sleepers I like: No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago, a veteran team with terrific guards, going to the Sweet 16, beating Miami and Tennessee to get there. I like Houston, seeded sixth, also to get to the Elite 8, beating Michigan and Providence (the Friars will upset North Carolina), and I like College of Charleston, a 13 seed, to get to the Sweet 16 by beating Auburn and then New Mexico State, who’ll have beaten Clemson.

Got all that? Good. Now go fill out your brackets. And if any of this wrong, no worries, this blog post will disintegrate five minutes after the national title game.

 

 

Everybody into the (NCAA Tournament) pool! I give you some quick-hit first thoughts on the bracket. And a new low even for Trump

It’s the most wonderful time … of the year…

And a happy Monday to you all, it’s NCAA Tournament time, and once again I am gripped with excitement at another March Madness. Never gets old for me, no matter how much off-court nonsense and illegality is going on (in case you haven’t heard, the FBI is investigating at least 20-25 major college basketball programs for all kinds of chicanery) and no matter how much the selection committee butchered things (more on that in a minute, they were bad this year but not as bad as it could’ve been)

As always here at Wide World of Stuff, I’ll give you two different posts this week about the Tournament. Today, some initial thoughts about good first-round upsets to pick in your pool, a couple dark-horse Sweet 16 and Final Four teams, and a few hundred words where I vent about mistakes the committee made.

Now, a caveat at the start: Thanks to having a second kid and other life business, I’ve probably paid less attention to college basketball overall than I have in a while. Doesn’t mean my picks will be wrong, but when I do pay a lot of attention I rarely win bracket pools, so maybe this will be the opposite.

OK, first let me rant a bit about who’s in and who’s not. I love Bobby Hurley, he’ll always hold a special place in my heart as a member of the 1990s Duke dynasty. But his Arizona State team lost TEN games in league play, finished 8th in the PAC-12, and got in. USC, second in the PAC-12, and who reached the title game of the conference tournament, left out.

Syracuse, 11th (ELEVENTH!) in the ACC, with no good road wins at all, gets in. Oklahoma, losers of eight of their last 10, in. Middle Tennessee and St. Mary’s, two very strong mid-majors, left out. And Notre Dame, a Top 20 team when healthy (which they are now), also out. Just ridiculous.

I really do understand this is difficult, getting the 68 teams right. But goodness gracious some years the snubs are inexplicable. Like now.

OK, moving on, here are some thoughts on the bracket, and upset picks I like:

I think Kansas and Virginia got the toughest region, but Xavier, also a No. 1 seed, has no cakewalk either. Virginia could have to go through Kentucky or Arizona, and Cincinnati, to get to the Final Four. And Kansas has Duke, Michigan State (how in the hell did they win the Big Ten and get a 3 seed?) and a decent Auburn team in its region. Overall, the strengths of the brackets are pretty even this year.

— Potential awesome matchups ahead: Kentucky vs. Arizona is a second-round game, as is Michigan-Houston (two very very good teams), Wichita State-West Virginia is a terrific one, and Duke-Rhode Island or Duke-Oklahoma (Sooners have no business being in but Trae Young is the real deal).

— OK, upsets that you might want to pick: No. 11 Loyola-Chicago is better than your typical mid-major, they’re in the tournament for the first time in three decades, and they’re playing No. 6 Miami, who is missing their best player Bruce Brown due to injury.

— South Dakota State is a perfect 12-5 upset pick, because Ohio State is playing poorly and the Jackrabbits (love the nickname!) have tournament experience.

— Keep an eye out, too from Providence, a 10 seed winning not one but two games; Stephen F. Austin (veteran team who’s been there playing a slumping No. 3 seed Texas Tech) and Charleston, a 13 seed playing Auburn.

— I have no idea who’ll be in the Final Four yet, I need some to study. But my Dukies don’t have the hardest path, except for Michigan State. Can’t complain too much.

Now go start those brackets, Delores in accounting doesn’t have all day.

 

**Finally today, I know it’s pretty hard to sink even lower when you’re Donald Trump, but this… encouraging booing of the American media, but discouraging boos of a North Korean dictator.

I mean…

Good News Friday: The entire lunch debt of a school is wiped out. A basketball player gets an awesome surprise from the Mom he hasn’t seen in five years. A baseball player builds an entire hospital in Haiti.

And a Happy Friday to you! It’s mid-March and I’m still in college hoops heaven, out at Barclays Center in Brooklyn covering the ACC Tournament this week (it’s Hanukkah in March for me, basically).

Lots of good news all over the place this week, but let’s start Good News Friday with another wonderful tale of a “lunch-shaming” coming to an end in one particular corner of the world.

I’ve written about this disgusting practice of “lunch-shaming,” before, where students whose parents have unpaid debt to the school are refused lunch in the school cafeteria or have their food thrown away when given to them.

Slowly, more and more schools are stopping this practice, and here’s a unique one: A charity run in the name of the late Philando Castile has erased the debt of every student in 56 Minneapolis-area schools, including the school Castile had worked at.

Castile, you may remember, was killed by police in 2016 at a traffic  stop, and as has been the case in so many of these police killings, the officer was acquitted.

But Castile, who worked as a cafeteria supervisor for J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in Saint Paul, often reached into his own pocket to help kids pay for school lunch, so the charity felt this would be a wonderful way to pay tribute to him.

The charity, called Philando Feeds The Children, gave a check for a little more than $35,000 to the St. Paul School District, making sure every child can eat lunch without a stigma.

“Philando is STILL reaching into his pocket, and helping a kid out. One by one,” the charity announced on the YouCaring.com fund-raising site this week.

Very, very well done.

**Next up today, these kind of stories never fail to touch my heart. At the end of college basketball season schools always hold “Senior Night,” ceremonies,  to honor the departing players and giving them a chance to be celebrated one last time.

Sometimes, these ceremonies are a little more emotional. Check out this one from Florida State, where Braian Angola got an amazing surprise on Senior Night. His mother flew in from Villanueva, Colombia to watch him play his final home game.

Angola had left his native country to go to high school in the U.S., and having his mom at his final game understandably got him very emotional.

**Finally today, a great story of a baseball player doing good. Adam Wainwright, star pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, visited Haiti on a trip a few years ago and like so many who have been there, was shocked and moved by the poverty.

Unlike many others, though, Wainwright decided to do something about it: He helped build a new wing of an orphanage and then, a hospital.

One with 50 doctors, and state-of-the-art medical care and machines, that have made a huge, huge difference.

Just one man, moved to do good, who moved others to help do good. That can often be all it takes.