Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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My wife and I had the pleasure of taking in a preview showing last night of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi“, which officially opens in theatres on Friday, December 15, 2017.

There are going to be many spoilers in this review, but they don’t start just yet. Consider this opening sort of like the seemingly endless commercials and previews that accompany every motion picture these days. If you don’t want to know the actual film storyline, I’ll let you know when those spoilers are coming.

Before getting into the film, a little personal background on the two people doing the viewing. You see, we come at the entire Star Wars series and phenomenon from completely different places. Those differences result in my wife and I viewing from completely different perspectives.

When the original film “Star Wars” was released in 1977, I was a highly impressionable 15-year old boy. I was just beginning to explore the broader world around me outside of the little South Philly neighborhood where I was growing up.

My wife, on the other hand, was a 22-year old young woman that summer. She had already started in the working world, and her interests had become much more focused on adult pursuits.

That 15-year old me related strongly to the young Luke Skywalker, who was supposed to be just an older teen himself at that point. Luke was portrayed by Mark Hammill, and the character dreamt of a bigger reality beyond the confines of the comforting yet bland existence in which he was raised.

I went along happily with Luke and his new friends, Princess Leia Organa (who we would later find out was Luke’s twin sister) and smuggler Han Solo on a series of adventures. Luke was on a quest to find his purpose, and to engage in the battles taking place out there in the larger universe, not unlike my teenage self.

The first film, and the two sequels that followed in that original trilogy, drew tens of millions of us into a world of empire and rebellion. In fact, the original 1977 “Star Wars” film, now known as “The New Hope” within the context of the series, remains the only movie that I ever paid to see more than once at the box office.

It was all highlighted by the ultimate battle between the good and light of The Force, and the lure of The Dark Side. It is a familiar struggle, one that has visited each of our real lives as we continually find ourselves in a tug-of-war with good and evil forces, both external and internal.

I did not see those original films with my wife, we had not yet met, so we never got to share that experience. Her exposure to the “Star Wars” franchise was far less intense than my own. While mine was more personal, hers was based more on what was seeping into the broader culture. So her reaction to these films is never as visceral as my own.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and we would get to share my love of the franchise by seeing all three of the prequel films together between 1999 and 2005. That trilogy revealed the story of how Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, Luke and Leia’s parents, got together.

The prequels also told how the friendship and mentor-student relationship between Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker deteriorated, leading to the latter ultimately turning to the Dark Side and becoming Darth Vader.

The prequels set the stage in a timeline for the action in the original film series, which ended with “Return of the Jedi” in 1983.

This new series of films picks up the story decades later. The evil Galactic Empire, defeated thanks to the intervention of Luke and his allies in the original films, is re-emerging as the First Order and threatening the benevolent New Republic.

To set the stage for the latest film, the new series began with “The Force Awakens” in 2015. In it we get caught up with our old heroes, Han and Leia. They had gotten married, had a son, fought together to maintain peace in the galaxy, and but then later separated as a couple.

Now aging, Leia had turned in her previous royal title of Princess to become a General, leader of the New Republic’s armed forces. Han had returned to his more familiar and comfortable role of working with co-pilot and sidekick Chewbacca in transporting and smuggling various shipments across the galaxy.

The First Order, an extreme Nazi-like power, was emerging as a genuine threat to galactic peace. Their goal was nothing less than to destroy the New Republic and replace it with tyrannic rule of their own. Leia attempts to locate Luke, who has mysteriously become a hidden recluse, in order to bring the Jedi back into the conflict on the side of her Resistance forces in battling the First Order.

“The Force Awakens” also introduces us to a new generation of characters. Poe Dameron is the greatest fighter pilot in the Resistance forces. With the aid of his orange and white droid, BB-8, Poe is sent to locate the final segment of a map that will lead to Luke.

A stormtrooper known as FN-2187 becomes a defector from the First Order. He joins up with Poe, who dislikes the impersonal number and bestows the name ‘Finn’ on him.

Rey is a loner on Jakku, a seemingly inconsequential lost girl on a middle-of-nowhere planet. She was abandoned by her parents as a small child, and his now scavenging just to get by from day to day.

Finally, the new trilogy introduces a new villain who goes by the name of Kylo Ren. We learn fairly quickly that he was originally Ben Solo, son of Han and Leia. Ben was strong in The Force and was sent to train with his uncle Luke to become a Jedi.

But the Dark Side, which lured away his grandfather (Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader), would turn Ben as well. He would take the name “Kylo Ren” from a mysterious ‘Knights of Ren’ group that he would join. He was then further lured towards the Dark Side under Supreme Leader Snoke, the leader of the First Order.

Now, real spoilers begin here for anyone who has not seen either of “The Force Awakens” or “The Last Jedi” films. Read no further, or prepare to have the key plot lines revealed.

As we saw in “Awakens”, Kylo ultimately kills his father, Han Solo. Meanwhile, it is revealed that The Force is extremely strong with Rey, hinting at some background that is still to be revealed for her character. She meets Finn, who becomes immediately and almost instinctively protective of her.

Leia’s Resistance fighters begin to defend the New Republic against the attacks of the First Order, led by Kylo and General Hux, who commands the First Order’s more conventional forces.

It is revealed that there is a strong pull within The Force that draws Rey and Kylo to one another, and they will ultimately engage in an epic light-saber duel. She wins, but before she can finish him off, fate allows him to escape.

As the map to Luke is finally fully recovered, Rey is sent by Leia to find him and convince him to return from his self-imposed exile. That is basically where “Awakens” leaves us off.

“The Last Jedi” is written and directed by Rian Johnson, produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman. It begins with Poe leading the Resistance in a somewhat successful but also foolhardy military mission that gets a number of Resistance fighters killed. Poe is demoted for his recklessness by Leia, who is then herself blasted into unconsciousness by the military might of the First Order.

Meanwhile, we flash to Rey back on the island at the exact moment where “Awakens” had left off. Unfortunately, she finds that Luke is almost violently disinterested in any type of return to battle. This becomes a main focus of “Last Jedi”: Rey trying to convince him to return, Luke resisting.

With Leia incapacitated, leadership of the Resistance passes down their chain of command to Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, played by Laura Dern. It’s been quite the year for Dern, who joines this iconic franchise after her featured role in the “Twin Peaks” revival this past summer.

Finn, who was seriously injured at the end of “Awakens” by Kylo, regains consciousness, and rejoins the fight against the First Order. Finn, Poe, BB-8, and a new character named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) then team up to more aggressively challenge the First Order after Admiral Holdo takes a path of apparently passive resistance.

With Finn’s knowledge of the inner workings of First Order tactics and equipment, they devise a plan to destroy the lead First Order ship which is laying siege to the Resistance vessels.

Their plan is for Finn, Rose, and BB-8 to secretly board the ship and take out its tracking system. Poe would convince Holdo that the last of the Resistance fleet’s fuel could be then used to escape.

The group is instructed by Maz Kanata, a diminutive and large-goggled cantina owner who was introduced in “Awakens”, to seek out a computer expert “slicer” who could help them to sneak on board the First Order vessel. They are directed to a casino on a nearby planet to find this person.

Finn and Rose are taken into custody at the casino and tossed in a jail cell where they meet ‘DJ’ (Benicio Del Toro), who does indeed help them infiltrate the ship. Unfortunately, he also turns on them, delivering Finn and Rose into the hands of the ruthless Captain Phasma.

While all that is going on, Poe leads a mutiny back at the Resistance. Holdo has given an “abandon ship” order which Poe sees as leading the group to sure destruction. As usual, he is jumping the gun, and is put in his place by a revived Leia.

In the Rey-Luke storyline, she yields herself to the Dark Side, only to find that it holds no answers for her. Luke is visited by the spirit of his own teacher, Yoda, and is inspired to give some basic Jedi training to Rey.

Luke also confides in Rey with the story of Kylo Ren. The Force was strong in young Ben Solo, and so Luke had taken his nephew along with a small group of others to train as Jedi knights. But Luke sensed the growing and inevitable pull of the Dark Side in Ben. This led to a confrontation between the two, and with Ben destroying the old Jedi temple, killing some of his fellow trainees before fleeing with others to join the First Order.

Rey was told a completely different version of this confrontation by Kylo. She was becoming more and more conflicted between Luke’s resigned hesitancy and Kylo’s charismatic but dark leanings. She believed firmly that if she could only meet with him face to face, that she could turn Kylo back to the light.

That meeting would take place, and would lead to Kylo delivering Rey to Snoke. When Snoke is unable to convert Rey, he orders Kylo to kill her, thus surpassing his grandfather Darth Vader by completing Kylo’s own full turn to the Dark Side.

Instead, Kylo strikes down Snoke, and together he and Rey fight and overcome Snoke’s eilite force of personal guards. Just when we thought this might be the beginning of Kylo’s return to Ben, just when it looked as if Rey might successfully rehabilitate him, it all turns again.

With Snoke and his guards out of the way, and with his own power growing, Kylo saw this as his chance to rule the galaxy. He proposed an alliance with Rey in which they would overcome both the First Order and the Resistance, and rule alongside one another.

This was not her vision, and so Rey was having none of it. Unable to convince him to join the Resistance, Rey and Kylo put their powers to the test in a battle of wills through use of The Force.

Neither is able to overcome the other, and Rey escapes to help the Resistance. Kylo overpowers General Hux and declares himself as the Supreme Leader, replacing Snoke, and leaves to destroy the Resistance once and for all.

Those Resistance forces appear to run out of time. Holdo and Leia’s escape plan has been discovered, and their ships are being picked off one by one.

It dawns on Holdo that there is but one way out of the situation. In a suicide mission, Holdo flies the main Resistance ship directly into the lead First Order vessel at light speed, slicing it in two as she sacrifices herself.

This was the very same ship that Finn, Rose, and BB-8 were on board and trying to sabotage. As the ship begins to disintegrate around them, Finn is confronted by Phasma, and the two engage in a showdown of their own which ends in her demise. Finn, Rose, and BB-8 are able to then flee the doomed vessel and re-join the Resistance.

In the final battle, the Resistance has taken refuge on a secluded planet. But the First Order finds them and quickly over-matches them with superior military might. Leia and the survivors find themselves cornered inside a reinforced cave with the First Order about to deliver a final blow.

Suddenly, in walks Luke Skywalker. After a brief reunion with Leia, he marches out like some wild west gunslinger to take on the full might of Kylo and the First Order all by himself. Unable to defeat Luke with conventional weapons, Kylo realizes that he will have to fight this battle himself.

This sets up a mano a mano between Luke and Kylo in which Luke delivers a warning that echoes one given decades earlier by Obi-Wan to Vader: “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Luke succeeds in buying time for the Resistance to escape from the cave. They do so with the help of Rey and her growing abilities to draw upon the power of The Force. We leave Leia, Rey, Finn and the others as they flee aboard the Millenium Falcon.

Kylo suddenly realizes that he has been fighting with a Force-projected image of Luke, not the real person. We are left with him frustrated the he was unable to kill the real Luke, and that the Resistance has escaped.

Luke has fulfilled his destiny. He passed along the fundamental secrets of The Force to a new generation in Rey, and thus Luke will not end up as the last of the Jedi after all. We watch as he finally dissolves as a physical being, dying in peace and becoming one with The Force.

The film has wrapped up all of the story lines at this point, but still has one final scene with which to tantalize us. It shows a small group of children back on Canto Bight, the planet where Finn and his group had visited the casino earlier. These young stable hands had aided in Finn and Rose’s escape.

A small boy in the group is shown using rudimentary powers of The Force to retrieve a broom. He then uses the broom to make motions of a light saber as he looks up at the stars.

We are thus left with the vision of a younger generation that has been inspired to one day join the Resistance, and with the hope that The Force will once again be a force for good in helping lead their cause.

That is where we will pick up with Episode IX, slated for a December 2019 release. That film was originally intended to feature a larger role for Carrie Fisher as Leia. Of course, we know that Fisher died almost exactly one year ago. She had finished filming all of her scenes for “Last Jedi” by that point, so “Last Jedi” will be her last appearance.

When we return to the series, we will certainly find Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, and Chewie as key figures in trying to restor the Republic, battling against Kylo and his New Order. I’m sure there will be some appropriate resolution for Leia’s character as well.

Will Luke return as a Yoda-like figure to guide Rey? Will there be a satisfying resolution to the Rey-Kylo relationship? Will there be a heartfelt romance between any of the characters? Will there be new characters? We’ll have to wait two years to find out.

Now, that takes care of a recap of the story. So how would I rate it, and what criticisms, if any, would I have?

I prefaced this piece with my own history in following the “Star Wars” saga. That history takes me back four decades to my youth. I need to say this: I am not an unbiased source. I am a big fan. I don’t wear costumes, don’t read the books or comics, don’t play the video games. I don’t watch the animated series. But the films and their story will always be a part of me.

I loved the original trilogy. I enjoyed the prequels, which gained a measure of criticism from many Star Wars fans. And I can also say the same now regarding “The Last Jedi” and its “The Force Awakens” predecessor.

The prequels and the new trilogy do not hold the same romanticism for me as the original trilogy. That is no fault of the films. It is simply a reflection of my having grown older. The characters of Luke, Leia, and Han, even Darth Vader, are iconic because they came first. They started what has grown into a generational phenomenon.

As ground-breaking as the visual effects were from that original trilogy in their time, the newer films offer so much more in the way of special effects. Modern technological advances make any type of creature, world, and weapon a reality confined only by the imaginations of the creative team working on each film.

If I have any criticisms, there would be two. First, I found myself wishing that there was greater reliance on the actors and their skill in developing relationships and dialogue. The films try to balance that element with the special effects of the battles. For me, I would prefer fewer special effects-enhanced fights and more dramatic acting scenes.

Second, in this particular film it felt like too much story was being scattered around too many characters. I would much rather have seen more of a relationship develop, more teaching take place, with Luke and Rey than was actually shown in the film.

Daisy Ridley as Rey is clearly the breakout star of this new trilogy. She is captivating in the role whenever she hits the screen. I felt that she was under-utilized in this latest film. I would, for instance, have been interested in seeing a more interesting background story developed for her, something that reveals a reason for the strength of The Force in her.

Same goes for Oscar Isaac’s character of Poe. This has been a character with a great deal of potential, but one who has been reduced to a stereotype of the insanely gifted but undisciplined maverick fly boy. Picture Tom Cruise from “Top Gun”, only in outer space. Poe could have been a modern Han Solo, but that ship may have sailed.

I was never really sold on John Boyega in the Finn role. A supporting role, sure. But he is cast as a major character, and I just don’t find him to be leading man material.

We are also through two films now, and I don’t see a legitimate romance. The sexual tension, first as a triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han, and ultimately in the Han-Leia relationship, helped cement the “heart” felt in the original trilogy by the audience.

Who is that supposed to be here? Rey and Finn? Finn and Rose? It seems as if those have been tried and found lacking. Rey-Finn feels more like the brother-sister relationship of Luke-Leia than a romance. Finn-Rose might happen, but I simply don’t find it all that interesting.

The relationship between Rey and Kylo seems almost dirty, and not in a sexual way. While it appeared as if each might have briefly thought of the other in that way during a fleeting moment in “Last Jedi”, it seemed as if they immediately realized what went through all of our minds: “No.”

The most interesting hope for a romance to develop might end up being Rey-Poe. The two characters finally meet towards the end of this one, and there seems to be a quick spark. But it was indeed quick. There was no real conversation between the two, and nothing is made of a relationship.

Kennedy was hand-picked by the creator of this world and these characters, George Lucas, to carry the torch forward. She needs to try something to recapture the magic. Perhaps with the return of J.J. Abrams to direct Episode IX, we will find Star Wars getting back to those roots.

For old school Star Wars fans, there are definitely some great retro nuggets in this one. The aforementioned Luke nod to Obi-Wan. Our old buddy R2D2 cues up a video of one of the original trilogy’s greatest hits for Luke. There is an actual appearance from Yoda, and we hear the ethereal voice of Obi-Wan. Luke takes the bridge of the Millenium Falcon, finds the gold dice that Han had hung there, and reminisces over his old friend.

Looking back on the nostalgic aspects that were heavy in “Last Jedi”, they also served as a reminder that we missed out on something that I would love to have seen. Due to the choices made in the “Awakens” storyline, there would never be a reunion of Luke, Leia, and Han all together.

I recommend that everyone who has ever called themselves a Star Wars fan should go see “The Last Jedi” as soon as possible. It continues the story, opening with the now iconic musical strains of John Williams and the introductory word scroll. You get to watch Leia and Han reunite. You will see R2D2, C3PO, Yoda, Chewbacca, the Millenium Falcon. It pushes forward the newer generation story of Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo, and BB-8.

What do I want to see in a finale in 2019? I want a Rey-heavy film, one that sees her fully learn the powers of The Force. I want to see the return of the Jedi – not a repeat of that film, but a rebirth of the Jedi knights. I want to see Kylo as clearly and unambiguously on the Dark Side. I want to see a realistic Rey interpersonal relationship developed, perhaps with Poe.

I would love to see a Luke cameo as Rey’s spiritual Yoda-like teacher. I want to see good defeat evil. I want to see the First Order defeated and the Republic restored. I want to see Rey defeat Kylo, though not necessarily kill him.

Finally, I would actually like to see the ending have something that leaves the door open, that allows the folks at Disney to perhaps revisit the series a few years down the road. I mean, what is life without the hope of a Star Wars fix coming at some point?

I wouldn’t know. For me, the events which took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away have always been there. I’d love a new hope, one where I might continue to enjoy this series for years to come.

Dems keep throwing curves, Trump keeps taking them deep

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Democrats have tried nearly everything within their power during 2017 to discredit President Donald J. Trump. Still obviously butt-hurt after Hillary Clinton’s stunning (to them) defeat last November, they have refused to simply play the role of gallant opposition party.

The Dems could have decided to put forth their own agenda, their own vision for the future, pushing those programs into the public consciousness through their media cohorts.

They could have chosen to work with the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress to gain something, no matter how small, for their own constituents until the next opportunity to win control for themselves at the ballot box.

Instead, they chose a MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) scorched Earth policy of no-holds barred, relentless attacks against the Trump administration.

They did so in some cases knowing full well that it would mean some of their own stars would fall, such as U.S. Senator Al Franken. It has been a year of nothing else but “take down Trump, at all costs” for the liberal progressive Democratic Party.

They have pulled one trick pitch after another out of their arsenal. Trump collusion with the Russians helped enable the November 2016 election upset. Trump’s anti-immigration goals would prove reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s.

His reversal of Barack Obama regulations, as well as ill-conceived tax reform, would benefit the wealthy while hurting the “little guy” and prove devastating to both the economy and the environment.

Relentless attacks on Trump on these and many other issues, all aided by their liberal media sycophants, were sure to eventually wear down the President. There would be a major slip-up, some irreversible damage would occur. This would lead to a Democratic Party takeover of the U.S. Senate and Congress in 2018, and then the White House in 2020.

Heck, perhaps the inevitable Trump gaffe would be so major that it would lead to impeachment, and a Nixonian resignation. Then a weakened Pence administration would be dominated by the new Dem-controlled congress over the next couple of years.

That was the plan as inning after inning, the Dems took turns on the mound making their pitch, tossing curve balls and spit balls at the President and his team.

Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Jimmy Kimmel. CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post. Much of their pitch financed by deep-pocketed ownership in the person of George Soros, along with other wealthy liberals.

And yet here we are, more than a year after that election, and Donald J. Trump is still standing, perhaps stronger than ever. Nearly every exaggerated curve tossed by the Dems to date, every fabricated spitter that has slipped from their grip, has been taken deep by POTUS.

Russian collusion on the election? About as big a nothing burger as has been offered up on the liberal menu in decades. When the liberal progressives couldn’t nail Trump with that one, they went after his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Then his son, Donald Trump Jr. The result? Two more wild pitches in the dirt.

Immigration? There is still no wall, even though the President continues to tout it’s inevitability. Big city liberal mayors such as Philly’s Jim Kenney continue to thumb their noses at federal immigration law by establishing their municipalities as “sanctuary cities” while taunting the President with vitriolic rhetoric. But there have also been huge wins.

An empowered and emboldened ICE made more than 143,000 arrests, with a 92% “win” rate. The proportion of removals resulting from ICE arrests rose from just 27% in FY2016 under Obama to 36% in FY2017 under Trump.

ICE has taken down hundreds of members of the notorious MS-13 gang. The CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol) has stated that due to President Trump, we have seen a “historic shift” in attempted illegal border crossings. Also, SCOTUS just upheld President Trump’s travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries. All of these moves are helping make America more secure.

The economy? Come on now. The DOW and NASDAQ break records almost daily. Unemployment and jobs figures consistently reveal the success of this President. He has returned the U.S. economy to basic capitalist principles from Obama-era socialist policies. Both the Keystone and Dakota XL pipelines have been fast-tracked by President Trump.

Unburden private industry from the yoke of government over-regulation and taxation, and business will blossom, expand, and hire. Real business owners in their actual hiring practices and stock market speculators betting on the future of the American economy under Trump continue to react favorably.

Justice Neil Gorsuch has been seated on the U.S. Supreme Court, and 10 more judges have been appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Still another half-dozen judges have been appointed to the U.S. district courts. And there is more to come, as 42 more Trump court nominees are awaiting Senate action. Over 150 more judicial slots are up for appointment during President Trump’s first term.

It hasn’t been all home runs for POTUS. His Twitter feed continues to be a frustrating mix, even for his most ardent supporters. There are clever retorts and tough responses to political and media challenges, as we saw play successfully in the campaign.

However, he also chooses to engage for too frequently on social media with negative commentary and insults that are unnecessary, and which occasionally take focus away from more important issues.

Still, as 2017 draws to a close, this has clearly been a strong season for the rookie politician. And it could get even better if tax reform is actually finalized before Christmas, as the President has stated he hopes.

Even if those tax reform negotiations flip over into early 2018, Trump continues to swing from the heels, connecting with the liberal flutter-balls for a rising number of policy and appointment home runs.

My 2018 IBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

This past year marked a major change in direction as far as my baseball writing was concerned. For the previous three years, I wrote almost exclusively on the national pastime.

As the Fall of 2017 arrived, I decided to return to writing across the broader spectrum of politics, religion, entertainment, and social issues.

Baseball is always going to hold a special place in my heart and life, especially in regards to my hometown Philadelphia Phillies.

For anyone who has enjoyed my baseball writing in the past, rest easy. I am going to continue writing on the sport here at my website from time to time. You can enjoy those pieces, including all from the past, by clicking on the “Baseball” category from the website toolbar.

As a lifetime member of the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association), I have the honor of being involved in the organization’s annual Hall of Fame voting process. This was my fourth year with a ballot, and my selections were returned just this past week.
The IBWAA voting process does not earn a player a plaque at Cooperstown. It does, however, allow another block of informed voters to express their opinion as to which players are deserving of that ultimate career honor. You can consider it a formal endorsement from the Internet baseball writers and bloggers.
A year ago for the 2017 IBWAA Hall of Fame voting, I broke down my ballot into three categories: Hall of Famers, Under Future Consideration, and Not Hall of Famer. I am doing the same for this piece on the 2018 ballot, and will continue that process into the future.
There were 31 eligible players on last year’s 2017 ballot. Eight of those players received my vote as a Hall of Famer: Barry BondsRoger ClemensTrevor HoffmanMike MussinaManny RamirezIvan RodriguezCurt Schilling, and Larry Walker.
 
Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero, who was on my “Future Consideration” list a year ago, were each voted in by the IBWAA in 2017. Both players received 175 votes (84.54%) to gain the honor of our HOF endorsement. Mussina, Hoffman, Bonds, and Clemens all received more than 70% of the vote, falling just short of the 75% requirement for endorsement.
 
This year, I was more frugal with my own vote, casting a ballot for just five players. In doing so, I left off three players who received my vote a year ago: Walker, Ramirez, and Hoffman. 
 
 
 
Frankly, I don’t really enjoy taking a vote away from these players. It’s not that I no longer feel they are worthy. I made a personal decision this year to “tier” my deserving choices. The five players who did receive my vote are, for me, clearly ahead of those three.
 
A year ago there were 31 players on the ballot. After voting for eight, I listed another seven under consideration, and rated 16 as not deserving. You can see here that the number of players who I will be considering in the future has grown considerably.
 
There are three videos accompanying this piece. I would recommend that you view each of them for more information on the HOF 2018 nominees and process. The middle video on Schilling’s worthiness is particularly revealing. 
 
Here is my breakdown of the 2018 IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. You will also absolutely have your own opinions, and I would love to hear them. Among the below nominees who were on the 2018 IBWAA ballot, which would receive your vote to the Baseball Hall of Fame?
 
 
 

2018 HALL OF FAME PLAYERS (5)

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome

FUTURE CONSIDERATION (16)

Trevor Hoffman, Mike Mussina, Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Johnny Damon, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Lee Smith, Andruw Jones, Jamie Moyer, Johan Santana, Omar Vizquel
 

NOT HALL OF FAMER (11)

Chris Carpenter, Livan Hernandez, Orlando Hudson, Aubrey Huff, Jason Isringhausen, Carlos Lee, Brad Lidge, Hideki Matsui, Kevin Millwood, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano
 

Why remembering Pearl Harbor remains important today

On December 7, 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service delivered a devastating blow to the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.

This was a preemptive surprise attack by the Japanese, with the hope that they could decimate the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The Japanese believed that the United States was the greatest potential threat to their planned expansion of power in the Pacific region.

The early morning attack would launch in two waves from a half-dozen Japanese air craft carriers. Some 350 aircraft fighters and bombers would sink four American battleships and damage four more, sink eight other vessels, destroy 188 aircraft, and damage 159 more.

Over 2,400 Americans were killed with more than 1,100 injured. Japanese losses of life and equipment were minimal in comparison.

In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered one of the most famous and impassioned speeches in U.S. history to a joint session of the U.S. Congress the following day. It began as follows:

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. 

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.”

To that point, the United States had been able to stay out of active involvement in World War II. Meanwhile, the Japanese had become involved in an “Axis” powers agreement with Germany under Adolf Hitler and Italy under Benito Mussolini. Their aim was nothing less than global domination.

Roosevelt’s speech called on the Congress to declare war against Japan, which it did within the hour. Germany and Italy would then declare war on the United States. Thus began U.S. involvement in World War II, the deadliest war in human history.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese Marshall Admiral of the Navy and leader of their combined fleet during the war, did not believe that Japan could win a lengthy war with America. 

Following the attack, Yamamoto is alleged to have written in his diary “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.

American had been trying to stay out of World War II to that point. Formally declaring neutrality in the opening years of conflict, the U.S. gradually began to provide aid to Great Britain and others, and imposed economic sanctions on Japan.

The Japanese attack did indeed awaken America from its slumber. It forced us to realize that we could no longer ignore the expansionist aims of Hitler, Mussolini, and Japanese Emperor Hirohito. 

We were now forced to either allow these ideologies to overrun Europe and Asia, eventually becoming a major threat to our own security, or go to war to try and defeat them.

In the end, American military might and civilian industry proved the difference in winning the war. However, it would not be the last time that our nation was attacked on our own shores, or threatened by an ideology bent on world domination.

Flash forward nearly 60 years to September 11, 2001. Most Americans reading this require no reminder of what happened on that equally beautiful morning. Another sneak attack from the skies, this time from radical extremists bent on spreading the dominance of an Islamic worldwide caliphate.

That extremist ideology did not begin on 9/11, and it has not gone away today. The Islamists continue to spread their hope for a renewed global caliphate ruling under Sharia law in both aggressive and passive ways. 


Attacks and bombings by ISIL, ISIS, the Taliban, al Qaeda and others gain headlines in Europe and elsewhere. But the ultimate growth of the caliphate is also furthered by overrunning traditional populations of western nations through waves of unfettered immigration, followed by non-assimilation with that traditional culture. 

So-called “No-Go Zones” have formed in nations around the world. In recent years, they have begun to form right here in the United States of America. These areas have been largely closed off to legitimate authorities, and are being governed by principles of Sharia law rather than the U.S. Constitution. Ultimately, the goal is to build more of these zones, and to grow and expand them.



The lessons of Pearl Harbor need to be remembered by Americans today, because there remain very real parallels. The ultimate goals of the Axis powers in World War II are similar to those of the radical Islamists today. 

The lesson of history is that you must be smart enough to recognize a threat when one emerges, and you must be prepared to face down that threat. To repeat an old but always relevant phrase, if we fail to remember the lessons of history we are destined to repeat them.

In Masterpiece, gay couple wants to have their cake, and have you eat it

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The Masterpiece Cakeshop is a small bakery located in a shopping center in Lakewood, Colorado, just west of Denver. The proprietor is Jack Phillips, and he is not simply a baker. Phillips is an artist.

The business website proclaims that for your wedding, birthday, or special occasion, Phillips creates a masterpiece. Custom designs are his specialty: If you can think it up, Jack can make it into a cake!”

For more than two decades, Phillips grew his business into an award winner, one of the most popular of its kind in the Denver area. But now, despite it being one of their most popular services, the shop is no longer accepting custom wedding cake requests.

Masterpiece and Phillips are embroiled in a highly controversial and public battle that has wound its way to the United States Supreme Court. There will be no wedding cakes, at least until the court makes their ruling.

It all began more than five years ago. In the summer of 2012, a gay couple was planning to get married. Charlie Craig and David Mullins, that couple, wanted their cake designed by Masterpiece. 

However, Phillips wouldn’t do it, claiming that his religious beliefs kept him from creating designer cakes for same-sex celebrations. He would, however, sell the couple other baked goods. Craig and Mullins, with the ACLU of Colorado in their corner, decided to literally make a court case out of the refusal. 

According to a timeline of the events provided by Kaitlyn Schallhorn for Fox News, in May 2014: The Colorado Civil Rights Commission decided at a public hearing that Masterpiece had violated Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, or CADA. Phillips was ordered to change its company policies as well as offer “comprehensive staff training” to employees. The cake shop was also required to provide quarterly reports about how it handled prospective customers.”

That ruling was just one in a series of court decisions in the five years since the original complaint. The current SCOTUS case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission will finally settle that legal battle once and for all.



At issue is a clear attack on individual freedoms. Does the government have the right and ability to force a business owner to create a product that is against their legitimately held personal and/or professional beliefs?

The clear answer for anyone who cares about freedom would be: no, the government has no such right.

The couple wants you to believe that this is a case about gay rights. That is a farce. Phillips was not denying sales to Craig and Mullins. They were free to choose from any number of items available at the shop.

This is about freedom of expression for the artist. Do the research and take a look at Phillips’ specialty work. That is exactly what he is, an artist. To force him to make a gay wedding cake against his legitimately held Christian religious beliefs would actually violate his own rights.

Michael Farriss leads the Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization representing Phillips and Masterpiece in this case. He recently stated the following in a Fox News piece:

“Since the dawn of the republic, our constitutional order has honored individual freedom of mind and accorded citizens the corresponding liberty to speak and refrain from speaking as their conscience directs. Yet this formerly prized feature of our legal system devoted to individual freedom now faces growing opposition.”

That growing opposition largely comes from liberal progressives such as Craig and Mullins. There was a much more appropriate course for the couple. Simply take your business elsewhere. Then ensure that the gay community learned of the Phillips position at the Masterpiece Bakeshop. 




One would assume that such an action would cost Phillips some amount of business. If so, that would have to be his price to pay for standing up for his personal beliefs. The market would have spoken.

But as usual, that is not enough for some people. Folks like Craig and Mullins and their ACLU supporters not only want their cake, but they want you to eat it too. They want to force Phillips and you and I to support their beliefs, their lifestyle. If that runs completely counter to our own beliefs, oh well, tough.

As SCOTUS heard the arguments and testimony over the last couple of days, Justice Anthony Kennedy had some common sense comments per Audrey Taylor at ABC News when she reported that Kennedy “acknowledged that civility and “tolerance” is key to any free society but made clear “tolerance must be mutual” and suggested alternative accommodations were “quite possible” since there were other cake shops in the area.”

This is clearly a case that should be, and should have been all along, decided by the marketplace, and not by the courts. But here we are. I hope and pray that the United States Supreme Court stands up for freedom and returns a ruling in favor of Phillips and Masterpiece.