Category Archives: Uncategorized

Good News Friday: “Hidden Figures” an outstanding, almost-perfect film. My favorite speech of the year, revisited. And a college student makes cakes out of famous paintings

hidden-figures-taraji-p-henson-3

And a Happy Friday and Happy almost New Year to all; like most of you I’m sure, I can’t wait for 2016 to end, it’s been a miserable year in many ways (except for Cubs and Cavaliers fans, of course).

But we ring out 2016 with one more dollop of good news. As usually happens, the last week of the year doubles as “new movie time” for the wife and I, and one we have been looking forward to seeing for a while was “Hidden Figures,” which is playing in only a few theaters so far.

The flick, based on an incredible true story, is about three African-American NASA employees in the 1960s, who each in their own way had a significant role in helping America win the space race.

Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine, the most important historically of the trio, who has a fantastic brain for math and gets put on the Freedom 7 space shuttle project under crotchety boss Mr. Harrison (Kevin Costner, who was great here) while Octavia Spencer and Janelle Morae are also crucial to the NASA effort.

The movie shows us their rise, the obstacles they had to overcome as women and minorities in that time period, and how ultimately their contributions were vital.

It was an outstanding movie. I can’t believe, first of all, that this story hadn’t been told before. The performances, especially from Henson and Spencer, are fantastic. The script is funny and warm, even if a lot of the mathematical discussions went way, way over my head. I thought so much of this story was inspiring, and hopefully makes millions of kids in the U.S. realize math and science are worthwhile pursuits, even if our space program and NASA aren’t doing much exploration at the moment.

My only quibble with the film, and it’s why I’d give it 3.5 stars out of four, is that they go a bit overboard on ramping up the drama. We get hit over the head quite a few times with the themes of prejudice and injustice, so much so that I was basically saying to the screen “OK, OK, we get it, they’ve overcome a lot.”

By the end, the filmmakers almost ruined it for me by making Katherine’s character seem so incredibly important that we’re supposed to believe John Glenn never would’ve made it safely back from space if not for her, that she was the one and only person who could solve a final hurdle. It was a little too much to take.

Still, that’s a nitpick. “Hidden Figures” is a tremendous movie, one that I hope gets quite a few Oscar nominations. It comes out nationwide next week, I highly recommend it.

**Next up, seeing “Hidden Figures,” filled with brilliant, inspirational African-American women, made me think of one in particular who stole the show in 2016.

I will miss our current President’s intelligence, grace and calm immensely, but I’ll also miss his amazing wife. In a year full of nastiness and vitriolic speeches, there was one speech I thought about long after it was delivered, one I’ll remember for years to come.

One more time, Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention. This was one of the most powerful oratories I’ve ever heard. What a bright, compassionate trailblazer she is. Listen to this one more time, and realize what we’ll be losing in three weeks.

She’ll never run for office, I’m pretty sure. But man, if she did, I’d be the first person on line to help her get elected.

emily-zauzmer

**Finally today, I thought this was pretty cool. A 20-year-old college student named Emily Zauzmer has a pretty cool hobby: Re-creating famous paintings in sheet cakes.

She goes to Harvard, so she’s clearly pretty bright, but look at the level of detail and intricacy on the “American Gothic” cake above. That’s just fantastic.

You go, Emily Zauzmer. I just want to know how you can eat those cakes after making them look so beautiful. I’d want to frame them and hang ’em on a wall or something.

2016 out.

The pictures of the year are pretty amazing. Can we go a week without a major celebrity death already? Remembering Carrie Fisher. And an Australian punches a kangaroo in the face to save his dog

ghostplayer-footballpic

One of my favorite things to look at the end of December every year are the pictures of the year. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a photography nerd, but I’m always fascinated by how photojournalists get these amazing, iconic shots all the time, and how the power of photographs can change the world (think of the 1960s civil rights photos, for example. The pictures of ferocious dogs attacking African-American peaceful protesters in the South absolutely had a role in changing public opinions about segregation.)

As always there was a motherlode of great photos taken around the world this year; the one above is my favorite, taken by Jae S. Lee of the Dallas Morning News in September. It literally looks like there’s a ghost player on the field, but it’s just No. 62’s helmet popping off at the exact right moment for the photographer.

Here’s another one I love, at protests in Baton Rouge, La. after another killing of an African-American by police:

 

photosofyear-2016

If you want to see more amazing shots, check out the BBC’s collection here (the Usain Bolt one is pretty spectacular), the Washington Post’s choices are here , and the New York Times’ photos of the year are here

**Next up today, 2016 just continues to pummel us with celebrities dying way too young, not even giving us the last few days of the year without some tragic news.

Carrie Fisher will always be known first and foremost as the beautiful Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” movies; that was such an iconic role in movies that have been seen by millions and millions of people.

But to me, her real acting triumph came in one of my all-time favorite flicks, the incomparable “When Harry Met Sally.” As Marie, Sally’s best friend, she brings humor and wisdom in the package of a forever-single, constantly-scheming woman of the 1980s. She ends up with Bruno Kirby’s character Jess, giving us even more humor together.

Carrie Fisher didn’t have an easy life; she was the daughter of two huge celebrities (Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds), struggled with bipolar disorder, and never quite reached the heights of “Star Wars,” again.

But she was a terrific actress and should be remembered for openly confronting her mental illness with humor and grace.

**Finally today, this video went viral a few weeks ago but yours truly just heard about it the other day. It’s pretty incredible and strange: An Australian man saw his dog in trouble, with a kangaroo having a headlock around the pooch.

So the man did what any of us would do: He punched the kangaroo in the face.  The expression on the kangaroo’s mug after the punch (around the :30 mark) is pretty amazing.

I do not condone violence against animals, but this is such a bizarre video, it was mesmerizing. When do you ever go toe-to-toe with a kangaroo?

Experiencing Christmas light displays through a 2-year-old’s eyes was awesome. 2016 takes another pop cultural star before his time. And the Steelers and Packers look damn good

xmaslights-nate

There are certain things I expected I would love getting to experience through my child’s eyes one day. His first sporting event; his first steps, his first time realizing the traffic in New York City never, ever gets better. You know, the fun stuff.

But watching my boy’s first time experiencing Christmas lights was never something I thought of as being a “life moment.” For one thing, we’re, you know, Jewish. For another, we live in the city, where you get beautiful Christmas trees and some holiday lights on buildings, but not the full effect of a family putting up 43,000 lights on their property and paying off their electric bill for the next 11 months.

But Saturday night during a wonderful Hanukkah/Christmas Eve convergence, we went out to Long Island to my in-laws, and during the day we looked up where some of the best Christmas lights houses were in our area, and then drove over there.

And I have to say, Nate absolutely loved it. For most of the neighborhood he watched from his rear-facing car seat, and as we’d drive past there’d be a three-second delay and then he’d exclaim “Whoa!” after a really beautiful display.

A few times we got out and walked around, and his wide-eyed wonder and big smile as we got up-close to giant inflatable Santa, glowing reindeer, and even one light-up Elmo,  made me realize just how new the world still is to him.

It was really a pretty special sight.

**Next up today, 2016 has been a shitty year on so many fronts, but I gotta believe it’s the worst year for celebrities dying way too young that I can remember. With just five days left till we mercifully turn the page, Sunday brought news of George Michael’s death.

Only 53, he was a pretty fabulous musical talent, first with Wham! and then on his own. I about wore out my cassette copy of his huge album “Faith,” and for a while he was the biggest sex symbol in music.

Then his star faded, and we all heard about his drug use and his odd behavior in bathrooms, including an arrest at an airport in Los Angeles, and his sexuality was always kind of ambiguous.

George Michael’s music was big in millions of lives for a long time, and at only 53 it’s a tragedy he’s gone so soon.

clevelandbrownswin

**Finally today, some thoughts on the penultimate week of the NFL regular season, as I contemplate the brilliant performance by those gutty New York Jets, who only lost to New England by 38 on Saturday. Way to go, Gang Green! Can’t wait till next week!

— This is around the time of year where a few teams who’ve kind of muddled through the season get hot and go on a run to the Super Bowl. I’m awful at predicting who will play in the big ole’ Roman Numeral-fest, but right now the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers would scare me if I faced them.

The boys from Pa. scored a rip-roaring comeback win over the Ravens Sunday night (somewhere, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis wept at that last game-winning Steelers drive), and the Packers dismantled the rival Minnesota Vikings (hey how’s that Sam Bradford trade working out, Vikes?) on Saturday.

The Patriots look unbeatable and the NFC has excellent teams in the Lions, Cowboys and Falcons. But I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see Pittsburgh-Green Bay (and monster ratings) on the first Sunday in February.

— One team who won’t be in the Super Bowl but celebrated like they’d just won it Sunday is the Cleveland Browns. They won! No, really, the won an actual NFL football game, that counted! I was in a bar Saturday and watched the fourth quarter, and man was it painful rooting for Cleveland. The Browns tried every way possible to blow that game to the Chargers, but somehow San Diego wouldn’t take it.

Hey, I’m glad the Browns won, nobody deserves to go a whole season without a win. I just feel bad we missed the awesome juxtaposition that would’ve been the city of Cleveland winning an NBA title, getting within one run of winning a World Series, and then having an 0-16 NFL team.

— I still have no idea how the Arizona Cardinals could be this bad. Seriously, what the hell happened to that team? And how did kicker Chandler Catanzaro keep his job all season?

— Finally, gotta feel bad for Oakland Raiders fans. Finally reaching the playoffs after 14 years, then with one game left they lose MVP quarterback Derek Carr, and their season is probably toast. What an awful, awful break.

But hey Raiders fans, it could be worse: You could be Jets fans like me.

Happy Christmakah! The origin story of the most awesome “Secret Santa” is revealed. A Notre Dame basketball player gets an awesome soldier/brother reunion. And what you do if letters to Santa come to your house: Answer every one

santa-letter-5-1333x2000

And a happy Christmakah to all of you out there on the Interwebs. Hope wherever you are this weekend, you are celebrating the rare intertwining of Christmas, Hanukkah and Festivus (“now for the tests of strength! And then the airing of grievances!”) with loved ones and that you’re safe and warm. I’m going to be at the in-laws and my little guy’s mind will be blown at some of the presents he’s getting, which I guess is the whole point.

First up on a holiday-themed Good News Friday, I love this paying it forward story. A New York City couple kept getting letters addressed to Santa Claus every December, but only a few would arrive. Then in 2010 they got approximately 450, and decided something had to be done.

So Jim Glaub and Dylan Parker enlisted friends and family and social media to try to help answer and fulfill the wishes of the children, who all lived in New York City. The first year, they answered 150 of them, sending toys along the way.

After that, Parker and Glaub and friends answered every letter, every year. Fulfilling so many wishes and making so many dreams come true. A beautiful idea.

One things for sure – as long as letters keep coming, Glaub and Parker will work to get them answered. “Now it’s gotten to the point where we can’t not do it,” Glaub says. “We have to do it. It’s just part of our lives.”

So great.

**Next up, Matt Ferrell is a college basketball player for the University of Notre Dame. His brother Bo is a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Bo sent Matt a message before a recent game, from what Matt thought was Afghanistan. Not so much…

I love these videos. I haven’t seen or posted a great one in awhile, but this one definitely gave me all the feels, as the kids say.

That hug says so much…

**And finally today, every year I think I post the annual story that Steve Hartman of “CBS Sunday Morning” does on a Secret Santa in Kansas, who travels around the country each December handing out $100 bills to random strangers, who of course go nuts with gratitude and excitement.

But how did this beautiful human being start doing this? This year Hartman brought us that story. So great what some people are willing to do for their friends…

And here’s video of this year’s Secret Santa trip, with Hartman aboard. Getting the police involved is a stroke of genius.

Happy holidays, everyone!

 

 

Richard Marx and Daisy Fuentes foil crimes on a plane to Seoul! A pretty moving and touching SNL sketch from Kate McKinnon as Hillary. And “Rent-A-Jew” is a thing in Germany and it’s not as creepy as it sounds.

richardmarx-koreaflight

My friends, there are some days where I swear news happens in the world just so I can blog about it, because it is so far up my alley it’s already a strike. I mean, let me put it this way, if I didn’t blog about this next story, my loyal readers would wonder why I didn’t.

Richard Marx is a famous ballad crooner from the 1980s and ’90s. You know his hits: “Now and Forever,” “Hold on to the Nights,” “Don’t Mean Nothin.'” His wife is Daisy Fuentes, who my fellow Gen X’ers will remember as a gorgeous MTV VJ and model.

They were on a Korean Air Flight 480 from Hanoi to Seoul on Monday night, and all kinds of shit went down. A passenger sitting near them started attacking other people on-board, with a knife. According to Marx’s Twitter feed, the flight crew was “completely ill-trained.”

So Marx and other passengers, over the course of what he says was four hours, helped subdue the man and st0pped him from hurting others, after his knife wounded two passengers and a member of the flight crew.

Eventually the attacker was subdued and arrested when the plane landed.

I’m positively brimming with thoughts: First, shouldn’t the attacked have recognized that Richard Marx would be “Right Here Waiting” for him if he started to get crazy?” I mean, “Should’ve Known Better” is one of his best songs, of course Richard Marx is going to jump in and be a hero!

Fuentes says she has video of the event, which also begs the question: Is that really the best thing to be doing in that situation? Maybe you could’ve helped out a little?

Good for you, Richard Marx. I’ve gotten a lot of crap over the years for digging his music, but answer me this: You think Dan Hill gets in there and stops this guy? You ever see Michael Bolton take down a guy with a knife? Show me where Christopher Cross did a heroic act like this!

God bless Richard Marx. And now, enjoy some of his music…

**Next up, I was a little late catching up on “SNL” this week, and honestly other than the “cold open” I rarely watch the show or search for clips anymore. But my wife is a huge “Love Actually” fan and thought I’d like this sketch with Kate McKinnon playing Hillary for maybe the last time. It was buried late in the show but I thought it was adorable and funny. A spoof of the movie “Love Actually.”

**And finally today, bear with me on this one, this story isn’t as offensive as it first sounds. But just to hook you, this is what some headlines about this read: “German program allows citizens to rent a Jew.”

OK, now hang on… here’s the details. There are 81 million people in Germany, and only about 230,000 Jews (yes, we all know why that is).

So most Germans alive today never met a Jewish person, never seen one, interacted with one. And as we all know, knowing and interacting with people of different faiths and races almost always leads to greater understanding and empathy for them.

So a new company called ‘Rent-A-Jew” in Germany has begun a sort of seminar service; a German organization hires Rent-a-Jew to put together a presentation about Judaism, its history and beliefs, etc. Then the Jewish person goes to talk to students, workers, or any other group to explain to them what Judaism is like and what its feelings and beliefs are.

“A lot of people want to be more than just the regular Jewish stereotypes in Germany, reduced to victims,” Alexander Rasumny, one of the organizers behind Rent-a-Jew, told Vox.com “A lot of people want to be seen in their own right.”

I know, I know, at first it sounds a little creepy and weird. But I actually think this is a good idea and service; one of the only ways to stop hatred and anti-Semitism is to educate people, to enlighten them about why a certain group deserves their respect and honor, not scorn.

I realize “Rent-A-Jew” will rub many people the wrong way. But I actually think it’s a terrific idea.

“The most important thing is that people get used to the idea of discussing things with Jews instead of only talking about Jews,” Rasumny added. “In the seminars, it’s great: Once you accept the idea, you’re ready for hearing what we have to say.”

 

An incredible obit about the man who stopped the My Lai massacre. Madonna is awesome on Carpool Karaoke. And a bunch of crazy finishes highlight a wacky NFL Sunday

colburn-obit-1-master768

The real heroes of history aren’t always the people we know about. I’m not saying famous heroes like George Washington, Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. aren’t worthy, of course they are.

I’m just saying that I had never heard of Larry Colburn until he died last Tuesday. Didn’t know anything about his heroism and bravery, and his important role in American history.

Maybe you didn’t either, so let me direct you to his wonderful obituary. Larry Colburn was an 18-year-old American soldier in Vietnam in 1968 when he was thrust into an impossible situation. He and two comrades were witness to the massacre of completely unarmed Vietnamese civilians by the U.S., and he and two other soldiers, including helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., swooped down to land the aircraft and confront the U.S. soldiers committing this atrocity.

From Sam Roberts’ NYT obit: “Mr. Thompson was just beside himself,” Mr. Colburn recalled in an interview in 2010 for the PBS program “The American Experience.” “He got on the radio and just said, ‘This isn’t right, these are civilians, there’s people killing civilians down here.’ And that’s when he decided to intervene. He said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this, are you with me?’ And we said, ‘Yes.’ ”

Mr. Thompson confronted the officer in command of the rampaging platoon, Lt. William L. Calley, but was rebuffed. He then positioned the helicopter between the troops and the surviving villagers and faced off against another lieutenant. Mr. Thompson ordered Mr. Colburn to fire his M-60 machine gun at any soldiers who tried to inflict further harm.

“Y’all cover me!” Mr. Thompson was quoted as saying. “If these bastards open up on me or these people, you open up on them. Promise me!”

“You got it boss,” Mr. Colburn replied. “Consider it done.”

Mr. Thompson, Mr. Colburn and Glenn Andreotta, the copter’s crew chief, found about 10 villagers cowering in a makeshift bomb shelter and coaxed them out, then had them flown to safety by two Huey gunships. They found an 8-year-old boy clinging to his mother’s corpse in an irrigation ditch and plucked him by the back of his shirt and delivered him to a nun in a nearby hospital.

Crucially, they reported what they had witnessed to headquarters, which ordered a cease-fire. By then, as many as 500 villagers had been killed.

Just… wow. Think about an 18-year-old kid, in a foreign land, being ordered by his superior to fire on fellow American soldiers, and what kind of mental anguish that must’ve put him in. Even knowing he was stopping evil, Colburn must’ve been overwhelmed, then and in the years that followed, by what he did, pointing guns at his fellow Americans.

How many of us could’ve done that, to confront fellow U.S. soldiers?

I urge you to read the whole obit. We see so much fake courage in 2016, from politicians to crooked religious leaders to TV stars who become President. This, what Larry Colburn did, was real courage.

I wish his story would be told in every high school classroom in America today.

**Next up, another great carpool Karaoke episode from James Corden, that I finally got around to watching. Madonna, bless her heart, looks amazing here. I don’t know how much work she’s had done surgically or who her doctor is, but do you realize this woman is 58 years old?? Amazing.

Enjoy.

** Finally today, we’re coming down the stretch in the NFL regular season, and the season has certainly gotten better as its gone along.

The 1 p.m. game Sundays were almost all good and close (except for the poor Cleveland Browns, who are just pathetic).

Couple quick-hits from a damn exciting Week 15…

— Ladies and gentlemen, the Tennessee Titans! What a crazy way they won Sunday. Down 17-10 to the Chiefs with three minutes left, they scored to draw within 17-16. They then, mind-bogglingly to me, tried for a 2-point conversion to take the lead, and failed.

Then, Marcus Mariota, their rapidly-improving QB, drove them into field goal range in the final seconds, where kicker Ryan Succop nailed a 53-yard field goal, in the freezing cold of Arrowhead Stadium to win the game. Wow. Titans are 8-6.

— Now, the Eagles going for two in the final seconds, down 1 to the Ravens, to try to win DID make sense to me. You’re Philly, you’re 5-8, you’ve got no shot at the playoffs, what the hell. It didn’t work, but I really like Carson Wentz’s future.

— This Giants team is starting to look like the last two Super Bowl winners, am I right? That was a dominating defense that shut down Detroit Sunday.

— So this isn’t NFL-related, but did you see this insane game-winning catch by Youngstown State’s Kevin Rader to win a FCS semifinal Saturday night? Incredible.

— Oh yeah, the Jets played this weekend. They lost 34-13. Nothing to see here…

— Finally, reports are that Rex Ryan will be fired by the Bills after just two seasons. Color me shocked (not). I loved Rex when he came to the Jets, but it became pretty clear as the years went on that the man is just not a good head coach. I was stunned when the Bills hired him, and in two years he’s shown he’s still not a good head coach.

Rex Ryan: Great for a few laughs, but not too many wins.

Good News Friday: A Secret Santa pays the school lunch debt of kids in Pennsylvania. A librarian who teaches homeless kids to love books. And Best Buy employees blow a kid’s mind by buying him a Wii

 

school-lunch

And a Happy Friday to all of you out in Internet-land. Lots of holiday cheer being spread around these days, particularly by the 8th-grade student in a class I was subbing in last Tuesday, who helpfully asked me, “What happened to the middle of your head?”

Ah, the innocence of youth, who feel all of us are entitled to a lifetime of a full head of hair.
When I explained to her that men lose their hair sometimes when they get older, she shot back “Not my Dad!”
Great, good for him.

On with the show… lots of good stories this week to choose from on Good News Friday. Let’s start with one of those “Secret Santa” stories that always pop up in mid-December.

One I really like comes from Pennsylvania, where an anonymous person showed up at H.W. Good Elementary School in Herminie (near Pittsburgh) to settle all outstanding accounts of students who’d owed money for school lunch.

Many of the students at the school come from low-income families, and the only meals they get each day are at school.

But last week a stranger showed up at the school with a check, asked what the balances were for students whose funds were lacking, and then paid for a child with a large balance’s lunch for the rest of the month, Principal Amy Larcinese said.

The school has no idea who the stranger was, he simply said that he once went to the school.

“He just wanted to give back to the district,” Larcinese said. “It’s an amazing feeling someone would want to help as many students as they have.”

Larcinese said that her school has about 300 students from kindergarten through fourth grade and that the “Secret Santa” helped 44 of those children.

So much good in the world.

**Next up today, a great story about some Best Buy employees who made a kid’s dream come true.

At a Best Buy store in Valley Stream, N.Y., on Long Island, store employees noticed that a teenager was coming in every day just to play with the Wii U video game console in the story.

Obviously the boy wanted it but didn’t have enough money to buy it for himself. So as an early Christmas present, store employees all chipped in the $300 required and bought it for the kid.

The video of them presenting it to him has been seen more than 2 million times; he looks shocked and kind of confused at this act of generosity.

“I just saw a bit of myself in him,” store manager Rahiem Storr said, “Because when I was a kid, I used to also come to a lot of the stores. My mom, she really couldn’t afford some of the stuff herself. If we’re able to give him something, why not?”

So very cool.

**Finally today, a great story about a librarian in the Bronx who desperately wants to help underprivileged children love books.

A man named Colbert Nembhard works at the Morrisania Branch Library, where he’s been the manager for the past 25 years.

Once a week, as part of a New York City literacy program, Nembhard walks to a homeless shelter near the library and reads to the children who are tragically stuck living there.

From this great New York Times story on him:

“It’s a pleasure to come in here,” Mr. Nembhard began on that Wednesday, never removing his jacket during a presentation that was just short of a Mr. Rogers routine. He began to sing, “Good morning to you,” and followed with “Wheels on the Bus.” The children joined in with a chorus of “round and round, round and round.” Toddlers, fidgeting in their chairs or in their mothers’ arms, suddenly became fixated.

They could not wait to flip open “Dear Zoo,” by Rod Campbell, a lift­a­flap book, to discover an elephant, a giraffe, a lion and other animals.

“You build relationships with the children so when you see them they feel comfortable,” Nembhard said.

He’s a wonderful man trying to give the gift education to children whose childhoods have been anything but joyful. I hope he gets to do this forever.

 

Patti Smith does an incredible Dylan cover at the Nobel Prize ceremony. A woman dying of cancer kicks ass on “Jeopardy.” And a community that has embraced Muslims, not targeted them

As a rule, I’m generally against covers of classic songs. But there are glorious, wonderful, transcendent exceptions to every rule.

Bob Dylan was officially awarded the Nobel Prize for literature last weekend in Stockholm, Sweden. He did not attend, because he’s Bob Dylan and he doesn’t do normal things.
He asked the legendary Patti Smith to go in his place, and sing his beautiful “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”

She did. She messed up a lyric at first, admitted she was nervous, then performed one of the most fantastic, moving covers I’ve ever heard.

The lyrics to this are prescient, of course, but her voice, the message, the stillness of the crowd… just so beautiful. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

**Next up, this beautiful and tragic story that unfolded on “Jeopardy” Tuesday night snuck up on me. Months ago, a woman named Cindy Stowell was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and was given just six months to live. She desperately wanted to compete on “Jeopardy, though, and once she qualified, producers of the show moved up the normal taping schedule to make sure she got to realize her dream.

cindystowelljeopardy

Her episode was taped in August, and she won $22,801, which she promised to donate to cancer research. Her boyfriend Tweeted before the show aired that Cindy “was fighting a high-grade fever (which turned out to be a blood infection) and was on painkillers while taping.”

Eight days ago, Cindy passed away. Her first episode aired Tuesday night. Her fellow contestants did not know she was sick.

It’s a tragedy, of course, but I’m glad she at least got to live out one final dream.

flaglermuslims-forblog

**And finally today, I don’t hype my freelance stuff on here that much, because, well, I don’t know why. But this story I wrote for FlaglerLive.com was a story I was proud of, because it showed that there’s still plenty of places in America, despite Donald Trump’s best efforts, where Muslims can be treated fairly and well.

In Flagler County, Fla., very near where I used to live, between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, there have been dozens of Muslim families moving into the community over the past 25 years. And despite tales of Muslims being absolutely terrified or feeling ostracized, Flagler County has completely welcomed and embraced them.

I interviewed some of the Muslim families who live there, and they were uniformly unable to come up with any negative feelings or actions they’ve felt. They are normal, productive members of the community, blending in with everyone else. Even after 9/11, even after the last two years of Muslim-bashing by Trump and so many others, Flagler County residents have treated these families like their own.

Just a reminder that there are plenty of tolerant, welcoming communities still out there, who don’t believe that hate trumps all.

 

The Jets stink less than the Niners, the amazing Lions roll on, and more NFL thoughts. Walter White invades “SNL” and it’s glorious. And why on a personal level I’m thrilled Army finally beat Navy in football again

giants-cowboys

OK, I admit it, even with my beloved New York Jets having a miserable season, I’m starting to get sucked back into the NFL.

It’s December, we’ve got crazy-weather games going on now, like in Green Bay, New Jersey and in Miami on Sunday, the division races are heating up, and best of all, we’ve got new teams who haven’t been heard from in a while looking playoff-bound.

I’m looking at you, Tampa Bay Bucs, and you, Detroit Lions (9-4! A 2-game lead in the division!) and you, Miami Dolphins (who I still loathe from my childhood but man, they have been bad for a loooong time.)

Some thoughts from Sunday’s games, when the stretch run really began…

— Hell of a win from the Giants Sunday night. Cowboys had won 11 straight, but the Giants forced star rookie Dak Prescott into some bad interceptions, got a late TD from Odell Beckham Jr., and grabbed the victory. Always twice as bad for me when the Jets are having a miserable season and the Giants are actually good.

— But hey, the Jets won on Sunday, an absolutely meaningless victory and something that hurt their upcoming NFL Draft position. I swear, we were driving home from Long Island around 4:30 and I turn on the Jets-Niners game figuring it’s maybe 3-0, or 7-0, and hear that it’s 14-0 San Fran five minutes into the game. I immediately called my Dad to find out what the hell had happened.

“They’re the worst!” he declared. But alas, they rallied behind Bryce Petty, who probably isn’t going to be a great QB but found a way in the 4th quarter and OT to lead the Jets over a miserable Niners team. The Bryce Petty era, get excited!

— Anybody out there had the Lions having a 2-game division lead with three to play? Didn’t think so.

— Being a Redskins fan must be all kinds of fun. Kirk Cousins gives you heart attacks every week, then does just enough to help you win.

— Finally, not NFL-related but the great CBS announcer Verne Lundquist called his last college football game on Saturday, and he offered this beautiful send-off at the end of the broadcast. He’s a class act and a guy who never took himself too seriously. Thank goodness he’s still going to be doing March Madness; his pipes are so perfect for that event.

**Next up today, taking a break from the Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump theme for a week, “Saturday Night Live” brought out a heavy hitter to talk about the insanity of Trump’s Cabinet picks so far.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your new Drug Enforcement Agency czar, a high school science teacher from New Mexico, Mr. Walter White.

“Breaking Bad” fans, Heisenberg is back!

armyfootball

**So Saturday was the annual Army-Navy football game, something I have recently begun to care about, which I’ll explain in a minute. The Naval Academy had won 14 consecutive games in the rivalry, which is crazy considering usually the teams are even and trade wins every year or two.

It really is an amazing scene, the Army-Navy game; I’ve never been to one but for years watching it on TV it looked awesome.
The reason I have cared more the past few years about the game is because the U.S. Military Academy has been phenomenally involved with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, the charity I’ve talked about a lot on here that my wife and I support big-time and that I do volunteer writing for.

A few years ago the Army football team adopted a young cancer patient named Sean Callahan, and in the spring of 2015 let him play in their spring game. The video below, which I think I ran here once before, always makes me smile (especially Sean’s TD dance at the :50 mark).

Talking to several of the players for a story I wrote on Sean, the love for him in their voices and the appreciation they showed for having the opportunity to serve our country, really moved me.

Army finally beat Navy on Saturday, 21-17, breaking that long losing streak. Sean Callahan died on August 22, 2015. I’d like to think that somewhere in their celebrations on Saturday, a few of the players thought about Sean with a heavy heart.

Go Army.

An NYPD officer shows great heart and compassion to a homeless man. A pretty amazing commercial from Poland will make you smile. And The Kindness Project gives hope after tragedy

socks-nypd

And a Happy Friday to you on a freezing cold day in New York. So many good holiday stories and videos out there to help me forget/not think about the un-ending series of awful choices for the next Cabinet. I mean, as my friend Dave helpfully pointed out to me in a text Thursday night, Trump has nominated an anti-justice Attorney General, an anti-education Education secretary, an anti-environment guy to lead the EPA (who literally has spent years suing the EPA!) and an anti-labor person to be Labor Secretary! Hard to do.

Anyway, lots of good news stories this week. Let’s start with this one, which seems to be kind of an annual event: An NYPD officer named Frank Rendina saw a homeless man he knew named Ron Brown digging through a garbage can at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan last Friday.

The two men have known each other for a while, and cross paths about twice a month, the 32-year-old cop said.

Rendina asked Brown what he was doing, and Brown said his diabetes was bad and he couldn’t afford to pay for the diabetic socks his doctor said he needed.

Rendina said he’d buy them for Brown and give them to him the next time he saw him, which was a few days later.

“It makes me feel great,” Brown said about Rendina’s special gift, which was handed over to him inside Grand Central Terminal. “Someone thinks of me like a person, a human. Not everyone thinks of people like that these days.”

Every little bit of kindness helps these days.

**Next up, every once in a while a foreign commercial sneaks up on me and blows me away while making me reach for the tissue box.

This holiday ad from an online auction site in Poland called Allegro starts off slowly, with a man trying to learn English, and you don’t know exactly where it’s going, but it’s compelling. And then the last 15 seconds… just so freaking beautiful.

Such a well-done ad that’ll make you smile.

kindnessproject

**Finally today, this is a story from Upworthy.com that starts with tragedy but ends with hope and happiness. A woman named Joanne Cacciatore suffered a tragedy in July, 1994 when her daughter was born stillborn. It was the worst day of Joanne’s life, she says.

Joanne grieved for months, and on what would’ve been her daughter Cheyenne’s first Christmas, Jaonne took the money she would have spent on presents and bought a bunch of toys for underprivileged kids through a local charity.

“And in that moment [Cheyenne] was very much alive, because my love for her continued, and I was able to enact that love in the world,” she told Yahoo! News.

That’s when she first became aware of the immense healing power of giving. From there, she started The Kindness Project. It asks grieving parents to do good deeds in their communities in memory of a lost child, or friend, or parent, or spouse.

They then leave behind a small note card so the recipient can channel their gratitude toward the deceased and know that person’s life and death continues to matter.

Really just a terrific idea. Losing a loved one, especially a child, is unspeakably horrible, but by at least turning such a catastrophic event around and doing something kind in their memory, you’re making the world a slightly better place.

“While these good deeds do not eradicate grief, nor should they do so,” Cacciatore wrote, “They do provide a means through which the mourner can redirect painful emotions into feelings of love and compassion and hope.”