Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney, 'One Of The Finest Men' In NFL History, Dies At 84

Steelers owner Dan Rooney lofts the Vince Lombardi Trophy after Pittsburgh beat the Seattle Seahawks to win Super Bowl XL in 2006.

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Dan Rooney, who steered the Pittsburgh Steelers for decades and helped spearhead the NFL’s efforts at diverse hiring, has died at the age of 84. The team announced his death Thursday.

“Few men have contributed as much to the National Football League as Dan Rooney,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was one of the finest men in the history of our game and it was a privilege to work alongside him for so many years.”

A look back at the life of Dan Rooney. pic.twitter.com/eEOJweoxYX

— NFL (@NFL) April 13, 2017

For decades Rooney took the team his father founded and guided it to the very heights of the NFL, winning a league-best six Super Bowls. The Steelers most recently won it all in 2009.

But, just as the Steelers were not born a powerhouse, Rooney himself didn’t begin his career with the team at the top of the franchise.

“My father [Art] would take me to the training camp — and I went to the training camp before I was 5 years old,” Rooney once recalled. “And he was not a doting father, that he was going to watch me. He would let the players take care of me.”

He would take his homework on team trips as a child, and USA Today notes that his first official job with the team was water boy.

He eventually took over day-to-day operations for the franchise in 1975, holding onto them — first with his father, then on his own — for nearly three decades until he passed them on to his own son, Art Jr., in 2003. But he remained a constant presence with the club long after that.

“When we first met in 2010 you embraced me with open arms,” Steelers’ star wide receiver Antonio Brown said in a note dedicated to Rooney on Instagram. “You made me feel welcome. You looked at me as more than just another jersey number. One of the most genuine, and humble human beings I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.”

Yet, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, Rooney left a mark not simply on the Steelers but on the league as a whole, as well.

“He fought to give more opportunities for minority coaches to ascend in the NFL,” the paper writes, “an effort that prompted the adoption of what is known as the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority coach in the process of hiring a head coach.”

And ultimately, for Rooney, it was about opening doors for people of skill — of all races — to further the game that he loved.

“We are not here today to celebrate statistics,” Rooney said on the day he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame. “We are here to celebrate excellence and the accomplishment of people reaching a level, collectively, to be the best they could be: Men of character helping each other to reach the heights of human achievement.”

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Signs Of Hospitality To Life Found On Saturn's Moon Enceladus

New NASA evidence suggests that there’s a chemical reaction taking place under the moon’s icy surface that could provide conditions for life.

NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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Could there be life under the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus?

Scientists have found a promising sign.

NASA announced on Thursday that its Cassini spacecraft mission to Saturn has gathered new evidence that there’s a chemical reaction taking place under the moon’s icy surface that could provide conditions for life. They described their findings in the journal Science.

“This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement.

However, the scientists think that because the planet is young, there may not have been time for life to emerge.

In 2015, researchers said that there was evidence of a warm ocean under the moon’s surface, as NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel reported.

This posed an exciting prospect — researchers wondered whether that warm ocean might be interacting with rock to create a form of chemical energy that could be used by some forms of life.

If true, it would be analogous to ancient organisms on Earth fueled by the energy in deep-sea ocean vents.

A model of the reactions that NASA scientists say may be happening below the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

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On Thursday, NASA scientists said they have detected evidence that this kind of chemical reaction is likely occurring under the surface of Enceladus. By flying through a plume spraying out of its icy shell, Cassini was able to detect molecular hydrogen.

NASA said in a press release that the presence of hydrogen in the sub-surface ocean “means that microbes – if any exist there – could use it to obtain energy by combining the hydrogen with carbon dioxide dissolved in water.” Called methanogenesis, it’s a reaction that it says is “at the root of the tree of life on Earth.”

As the lead author Hunter Waite put it, the reaction would basically provide a “candy store for microbes.”

So what exactly could be lurking under the surface?

“Most of us would be excited with any life, and certainly when we’re talking about the sources of energy, this is to feed the base of a food web. So we’re going to start with bacteria and if we get lucky, maybe there’s something that’s larger,” NASA astrobiology senior scientist Mary Voytek said at a news conference.

The hydrogen found “speaks to the habitability” of the moon, Voytek says. But paradoxically, the large amount detected could make finding life less likely. She explains:

“[The] fact that that we can measure such high concentrations of hydrogen and carbon dioxide mean that there might not be life there at all, and if there is life, it’s not very active. … We have this buildup of food that’s not being used. And part of that could be that we think Enceladus might be fairly young.”

The findings were announced along with observations by the Hubble Space Telescope of another, much older moon — evidence of plumes spraying out of the surface of Jupiter’s Europa.

Europa is potentially billions of years older than Enceladus, and life takes time to emerge. And there’s “no reason” why the same process wouldn’t be happening on the moon orbiting Jupiter, Voytek says.

That’s why she thinks it’s actually more likely that they’ll find life on Europa than Enceladus. “My money for the moment is still on Europa,” she says.

It’s going to take years for scientists to definitively determine whether there is life on either moon. The Europa Clipper mission is set to launch to Europa in the 2020s.

Cassini will end its mission in September and as NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce reports, it “doesn’t have the instruments needed to look for life itself” on Enceladus.

After that ends, it’s not clear when another spacecraft will head to Saturn’s moon. But NASA’s New Frontiers program is holding a competition for its next mission, and Enceladus is a potential target.

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A New Approach To Helping Men Of Color Heal After A Violent Incident

To figure out the best ways to help young black and Latino men heal, a nonprofit will train young men in New York City to conduct interviews with other young men of color.

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Young black and Latino men are more likely than any other group to be the victims of violent crime, but American society has devoted too few resources to helping these young men heal after their violent encounters, according to researchers with New York City’s Vera Institute of Justice.

The nonprofit, which works to improve justice systems around the country, is embarking on an ambitious federally-funded study to figure out the best ways to help young black and Latino men heal after violent events. To reach as many young men of color as possible, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice is using an unusual corps of researchers: the young men themselves. The Institute is currently interviewing young men of color, age 18 to 24, from neighborhoods across the city to form an eight-man research team that will spend the next year conducting 150 interviews with other young men of color, age 18 to 24. The research team will even be involved in analyzing the data so the Vera Institute can publish the findings.

Ryan Shanahan, research director at the Center on Youth Justice, welcomes the initiative. “What we understand to be true from the research is that young men of color — black men — are at heightened risk for being victims of violence, especially robbery and physical assault,” said Shanahan. “They are disproportionately exposed to violence and the negative consequences associated with victimization. But we don’t have a lot of research about how they react to that and how they get help,” he said. This information is especially important for service and healthcare providers who work with victims of violence, he said. “Without them knowing how to address the wants and needs of young men of color who have experienced harm, they are not going to be able to meet those needs for this population.”

Among 10- to 24 year-olds, homicide is the leading cause of death for African-Americans and the second leading cause of death for Hispanics, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of the 4,300 young people in the U.S. ages 10 to 24 who were victims of homicide in 2014 (an average of 12 a day), 86 percent (3,703) were male and 14 percent (597) were female. Shanahan said if the young men who are victims of violent encounters are given the help that will allow them to heal from trauma, the researchers believe those young men will become less likely to commit acts of violence themselves.

The working hypothesis is that the cycle of violence happens because hurt people hurt other people because they never heal, according to Shanahan. “And that perpetuates the cycle of violence in certain neighborhoods that are already under the weight of systematic oppression around racism, that don’t have as many recourses as other communities and that are being over-policed.”

Saadiq Bey, a research associate at the Center, said the eight-man research team, which is currently being formed, will come from all five boroughs in New York with a variety of educational backgrounds and encounters with violence themselves.

Other New York City organizations have previously undertaken similar studies.

Make It Happen, a Brooklyn-based program that is part of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, conducted its own study in 2012 to see how young men of color respond to traumatic incidents. The study grew out of the program’s mission, which is to help young men between the ages of 16 and 24 who have experienced violence develop the tools to overcome traumatic incidents. The study found that this population relied heavily on their peers to help them process trauma, according to Kenton Kirby, director of Make It Happen.

“The challenge is a lot of the young men they’re going to are also experiencing trauma themselves,” said Kirby, a licensed social worker who has run the program for three years. “So you have this disconnect of what does the help or support look like when so many of the young men are experiencing traumatic incidents.” He said that he and his staff are aware that traditional health services “have been oppressive to communities of color.” Therefore, “We approach the work we do with young men from that lens, understanding that it’s really important for us to build trust,” he said.

Kirby said when his team is working with young men, the discussions often revolve around the question of how they define masculinity, which can get in the way of the healing process.

“Think about the messages they’re getting from a young age. When you’re learning how to walk and you fall, and you look like you’re going to cry, most likely you hear from the people around you, ‘Boy, don’t cry. Get up, don’t cry,'” Kirby said.

“So that’s the first introduction to how you’re supposed to have the emotional experience. It’s either don’t cry or you lash out. When there are actually so many more layers to that. So these other emotions are viewed as weaknesses. People around us have been socialized to view us this way. Then add to it that many of them are living in communities below the poverty line. All of these layered issues get in the way of having that emotional experience they need to have.”

Kirby said society’s perceptions of black men keep them from getting the help they need.

“Historically, the narrative that’s been out there for many years has been the scary black man, the angry black man, the man in the alley. That he doesn’t have an emotional life,” Kirby said. “That needs to change.”

One study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that the stereotype of black men as threatening is so ingrained in the consciousness of white people that they react to a black male face with the same level of alarm that they react to spiders and snakes.

Growing up in New York City in the 1980’s and 90’s when the city was at the height of a crime wave, Kirby, who is 36 and African-American, said he had numerous violent encounters.

“I got jumped so many times!” he said. “I actually have a client who was jumped and it triggered in me, ‘Oh my God, that’s my experience.’ My physical reaction in that moment allowed me to connect with him. I was able to validate his experience with my own experience. As a clinician you don’t usually disclose, but in that moment to disclose benefited the client.”

Vera Institute received a $550,000 grant from the federal National Crime Institute, part of the Department of Justice, during the Obama administration to study how young men of color are affected by violence. Shanahan said she believes they were chosen because of their unique idea to use the young men as the researchers. She said the long-term goal of the study is to give teenagers and their communities the tools to support victims of violence without the use of the criminal justice system, which she said “doesn’t do a great job of either holding people totally accountable or allowing victims to heal.”

Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and three-time New York Times bestselling author.

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Trump Signs Law Giving States Option To Deny Funding For Planned Parenthood

Vehicles drive past a Planned Parenthood office in Peoria, Ill., in December 2016.

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President Trump quietly signed legislation Thursday that rolls back an Obama-era rule protecting certain federal funds for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide legal abortions.

That regulation, implemented in the waning days of the Obama administration, required that states pass along family-planning grants — regardless of whether the groups they’re passing them along to offer abortion services as well. The rule was intended to prevent states from withholding these grants from any organization “for reasons other than its ability to provide Title X services.”

Now that the rule has been repealed, states can effectively block Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from funds associated with the Title X Family Planning program, which was established in 1970 to subsidize organizations that offer services related to contraception, pregnancy care, fertility and cancer screenings primarily for low-income people.

Anti-abortion activists cheered the move as a way to return some measure of discretion to states, which will now have the latitude they once did in deciding how to mete out Title X funds.

“This is promise kept,” said the Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser, who attended the signing which was conducted without media present. “This puts an end to the outgoing gift that Obama gave the Trump administration which was to disallow states from being in charge of its own family planning funds.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List (right) and Seema Verma (left), administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, look on as Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Nance speaks with reporters outside the White House on Thursday.

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In a statement, Dannenfelser said she sees this as just the first step.

“We expect to see Congress continue its efforts to redirect additional taxpayer funding away from Planned Parenthood through pro-life health care reform after the spring recess.”

NPR’s Scott Horsley reports that — with exceptions for cases of rape, incest or life-threatening situations — federal law already prohibits the use of federal tax money to pay for abortions.

Yet Title X has long been in the cross-hairs of conservative Republicans in Congress. Many see it as a vein of cash for Planned Parenthood, which many Republican lawmakers have vowed to defund entirely.

As Julie Rovner notes for our Shots blog, Planned Parenthood obtains about $60 million annually from Title X, and in the group’s most recent annual report, its affiliates received $553.7 million total from federal, state and local governments — or, about half its total funding.

In 2014, roughly 3 percent of the services rendered by Planned Parenthood were abortion-related.

“People are sick and tired of politicians making it even harder for them to access health care, and this bill is just the latest example,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement:

“We should build on the tremendous progress made in this country with expanded access to birth control, instead of enacting policies that take us backward. Too many women still face barriers to health care, especially young women, women of color, those who live in rural areas, and women with low incomes.”

The law signed Thursday by the president began in the House and narrowly passed the Senate, only after Vice President Pence stepped in to cast the tie-breaking vote late last month.

It was my honor to break tie vote in Senate overturning last minute Obama rule & restoring state control over Title X family planning funds. pic.twitter.com/jebspF3F3K

— Vice President Pence (@VP) March 30, 2017

To move the measure through Congress, Republicans turned again to the Congressional Review Act — a once-obscure 1996 law that, as we’ve reported, allows lawmakers “to overturn any regulation imposed during the final six months of the previous administration, with a simple majority vote in each chamber of Congress.”

Already this year, GOP lawmakers have repealed about a dozen Obama-era regulations in this manner — including a broadband-privacy rule, a restriction on gun sales to the mentally ill, and an anti-corruption regulation on the oil industry.

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In 'My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea,' The Strife's Aquatic

Depths Perception: Dash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) knows what’s coming in My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea.

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GKids FIlms

You are not going to find a better title for a movie this year than My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea. But the new indie animated film from comics artist Dash Shaw, based on an earlier story by him, is more than its name, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s exactly as fun as its name. The film is a snarky back-of-the-class doodle about a high school collapsing on the foundation of its own stupidity, with a voice cast hailing exclusively from the cool kids table (Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph). And yet it doesn’t feel like some unapproachable in-joke. Like the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the film knows how to wield emotional power, exaggerating the anxieties of its adolescent heroes until they become actual threats to their existence.There’s nothing else like it for many fathoms.

Shaw’s Fantagraphics vision is a 75-minute collage of ideas that’s also a literal collage. He mixes hand-drawn images, paintings, and Photoshop-aided animation, conjuring sights from a stroll through a forest where every tree is labeled with its scientific name to an X-ray shot of the inside of a young man’s ear. Inside this veritable ocean of weirdness, Shaw inserts himself — or at least, an exaggerated version of himself as a narcissistic high school sophomore, also named Dash and voiced by Schwartzman with more than a little of that Max Fischer mojo.

Dash may be nearly friendless and obsessed with his own flowery prose, as all budding student journalists are, but he’s also the only person armed with the knowledge that Tides High School is in danger of ripping from the edge of its California coastline and plunging into the depths below. When the ground underneath does give out (the administration has built a new auditorium on top of an already weakened foundation without telling anyone the building wasn’t up to code), the action looks like a picture being torn angrily out of a notebook. Now Dash, his only friend Assaf (Watts), and their deadpan editor Verti (Rudolph) have to claw their way up each floor to safety, which means “graduating” through each grade level a lot sooner than planned.

The sinking high school is a rather literal metaphor, as well as an elaborate “I told you so” fantasy where the outcasts get to lord over the school ecosystem. Dash also sways popular cheerleader/gymnast Mary (Dunham) away from her sycophant pals and toward the uncool survivalists. But just because something’s obvious doesn’t mean it can’t be exciting. The earthquake jostles the students and teachers out of their senses, triggering animal instincts left and right: the bullies go hunting for prescription drugs from the nurse’s office to dull their final moments, while the upperclassmen form a doomsday cult around their charismatic leader. (Shades of this will be familiar to fans of Community, which also took delight in shuffling the social order of its school for the benefit of a gag.) And then there’s Lunch Lady Lorraine, the gruff cafeteria worker, who might cook rats into her food but proves to be the only guardian capable of actually guarding these kids. Thank Susan Sarandon’s lowest register for that delicious gravel voice; she rolls into action like General Patton with a ladle.

Gruesome deaths abound in this world, which mixes the economic style of Peanuts with the disaster movie cheese of The Towering Inferno and the darker impulses of manga like The Drifting Classroom. It’s grungy — Shaw did much of the animation himself, and tilts toward abstract backgrounds and simple, repeated movements (the film is essentially a series of GIFs). But it doesn’t cheat on the emotions, even as side characters are being eaten by sharks. As obnoxious as the in-movie Dash can be, you feel his pain upon realizing that Assaf is falling for Vinti and leaving behind his only friend for a girl. When the style gets experimental, it serves mainly to put us in the film’s headspace: one sequence in which the characters search underwater for air pockets is all the more unnerving for the mess of watercolors that infiltrates our field of vision.

When the alternative-comics boom of the last couple decades has found its way to the screen, it’s generally limited itself to live-action adaptations: your Ghost Worlds, your Scott Pilgrims. Studios might realize the big-screen potential of stories from this universe, but nobody wants to sink a ton of money into cutting-edge animated technology to satisfy a niche market. What we’re seeing with works like High School is the chance to use advancements in DIY animation to break down the financial barriers that used to inoculate this industry from the threat of independent voices. It’s the old guard sinking into the sea, and based on his killer first feature directing effort, Shaw has a good shot at emerging on top.

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An Adventurer Seeks 'The Lost City Of Z' — And Finds Himself

Post-Edwardian Homesick Blues: Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), Costin (Robert Pattinson) and Manley (Edward Ashley) in The Lost City of Z.

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Aidan Monaghan/Bleeker Street Media

Tucked deep into the Bolivian jungle — through swarms of disease-carrying mosquitoes, a river flush with voracious piranha, and hidden gauntlets of hostile natives — the elusive civilization in The Lost City of Z sounds like El Dorado or The Fountain of Youth, one of those mythical paradises that conquistadors slaughtered many to seek. Based on David Grann’s book, the film immediately calls to mind other tales of Western hubris in Amazonia, chiefly Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which had a deranged Klaus Kinski, in heavy armor, leading an expedition through the lush swelter of the Peruvian rainforest.

Yet the explorer in James Gray’s sumptuous early 20th century adventure forges his own path and so does the film, which is poised between the fragrant terrors of Herzog and the rapture of Terrence Malick’s The New World or The Thin Red Line. The epic tussle between society and savagery plays out as much within the soul of its hero as it does in the tension between British elites and indigenous populations whose culture is under threat. And as he and his fellow adventurers keep returning to Bolivia to chase this phantom in the heart of the jungle, a beautiful symbiosis develops between man and nature that envelops the film like a dream. He doesn’t want to leave it — and neither do we.

Though opening a couple decades earlier and a continent away from his last film, The Immigrant, Gray and his extraordinary cinematographer, Darius Khondji (Se7en), bathe the exteriors and interiors in the same caressing light, evoking the period with a certain Old Hollywood grandeur. At the same time, the physical toll of exploration and combat is rendered in sweat, gangrenous limbs, and what Herzog himself, speaking of jungle sounds in the documentary Burden of Dreams, called “the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.” In following a man caught between worlds, Gray’s approach isn’t as contradictory as it sounds.

As a British army officer who’s served with distinction in far-flung locales, Major Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) should be more decorated than many of his peers, but as one officer dryly puts it, “He’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors.” Given the chance to achieve higher rank, Fawcett accepts the perilous assignment of mapping out the border between Bolivia and Brazil, two countries locked in a dispute over rubber resources. Leaving his wife (Sienna Miller) and young son behind, Fawcett sets out in 1906 on a planned two-year venture with his army buddy Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) and a small band of soldiers and local guides.

The first trip upriver is a harrowing and mortally costly one for Fawcett and company, but at the farthest point, he stumbles onto an archeological find that convinces him of a great, lost civilization that’s waiting to be discovered. His argument meets skepticism and mockery from some circles back home, but Fawcett changes his approach on a subsequent expedition and develops an appreciation for the achievements of the so-called “savages” en route. Then World War I breaks out and Fawcett is thrown headlong into what “superior” peoples are capable of doing to each other.

Since his 1994 debut feature Little Odessa, about an enclave of Soviet Jews in Brighton Beach, Gray has made the intermingling (and clashing) of cultures the dominant theme of his career, revisited in classically constructed dramas like The Yards, Two Lovers, and The Immigrant. In terms of scope, budget, and locale, The Lost City of Z may seems like a major departure, but it’s essentially another immigrant story, detailing the ways in which the British import their arrogance and rigid class structure into worlds that have no place for them. Once Fawcett discards this line of thinking, nature transforms him, dignifying an obsession that puts a strain on his personal and professional life.

Fawcett imagines himself as a Rudyard Kipling character, but the realities of his family and the war keep intruding on his adventure and making him rethink his roles as father, husband, patriot, and, finally, man without a country. The Lost City of Z is neither Indiana Jones escapism nor a Malick-like reverie about nature, but something in between, a more grounded and troubled vision of human aspirations and imperfections. Gray may be working from an amalgam of literary, filmic, and historical influences, but in following Fawcett off the path, he stakes out his own distinctly bewitching territory.

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'The Fate Of The Furious' Runs On Diesel Fumes

The aptly named villain Cipher (Charlize Theron) recruits Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) in The Fate of the Furious.

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Universal Pictures

Has any movie franchise ever swole up more unrecognizably than The Fast & the Furi-ad? Its opening heat, back in 2001, was just a humble Point Break knockoff. Fourteen years later, Furious 7 overcame the death of its second banana, Paul Walker, during production to gross a billion-and-a-half dollars. By then, the series had reinvented itself as an globetrotting heist/spy/wrestling franchise, one as reliant on digital animation and unbound by verisimilitude as any superhero epic. Why just rip off Point Break when you can rip off … everything?

Vin Diesel sat out a couple of sequels before returning as producer, star, and self-described “saga visionary” with the 2009 model, Fast & Furious. (His vision for the saga did not include definite articles.) The series found its golden mean with 2011’s Fast Five, when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson came aboard as a Federal agent shrinkwrapped in GSA-issue Under Armour. If the affable, versatile Johnson wasn’t a bigger draw than the surly, one-note Diesel back then, he certainly is now. The frame is no longer big enough for the both of them: When Johnson threw an Instagram fit while shooting the new The Fate of the Furious last summer, it smelled like Universal’s (totally ripped) publicity arm was cooking up a Diesel v. Johnson rivalry to sell the movie.

In fact, the two leads’ mutual disdain is the most convincing thing in it.

Maybe if incoming director F. Gary Gray had found a way to channel their umbrage onscreen, this gears-grinding eighth chapter wouldn’t feel so bloated and listless. Instead, Gray — a journeyman whose relevant experience includes the 2003 remake of The Italian Job, but who also made the much-loved comedy Friday and the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton — uses every trick he can to avoid having Diesel and Johnson on set at the same time. It’s a hindrance that probably made his days easier, but it lets the air out of the movie’s tires, bigly.

Johnson is still second-billed to Diesel, but it’s clearer than ever that he’s eating Diesel’s lunch now. This time around, he even takes command of Dominic Toretto’s bickering band of con men (plus Michelle Rodriguez and Nathalie Emmanuel) when Dominic Toretto — everyone in this movie is in the habit of speaking his first and last name aloud, as though language has not yet invented a pronoun that can contain his full Diesiality — gets blackmailed into betraying his “family.”

I’ll withhold the specifics of how he’s blackmailed (coughcoughsecretlovechildcough); but for a franchise that wants so desperately to reek of sweat and engine grease, these movies sure are soapy.

Moreover: if this crew was anything like the family Diesel’s character is forever insisting it is, he would just tell them he’s in a jam and ask their help instead of making them believe he’s gone rogue. (“Dominic Toretto has just gone rogue!” one of them says, helpfully.) But even a sliver of vulnerability would be too much for the brittle, tatted-up ego of Dominic Toretto, nÊe Vin Diesel, Saga Visionary. We’re supposed to root for this fathead jerk over Imperator Furiosa?

Oh, right: His blackmatrix is Charlize Theron, who mumbles her way through monologues about “choice theory” when she isn’t typing and seething into a headset. This sort of techno-temp role has defeated many an Oscar-winner; it isn’t Theron’s fault that she’s no better than Tyrese Gibson here. She plays an evil hacker called Cypher, described by Ludacris as “like a digital Act of God!” Maybe he meant to say “a digital God”? Don’t worry about it. The only words that matter is this liberally body-sprayed universe are vrooooom and screeeeeeech.

Though these films lost any sense of street-level plausibility many software upgrades ago, Fate of the Furious remains true to their chop-shop aesthetic in the sense that its flashiest parts are all stolen. Its big Act Two set piece, wherein hundreds of driverless remote-controlled cars assault a diplomatic convoy in lower Manhattan, is an expansion of a bit from Terminator 3, 14 years ago. It was a good gag back then and it still is, but as with so many Furious action sequences, it’s marred by conspicuous computer animation that makes it seem about as dangerous as a screensaver, no matter how hard Diesel frowns at his steering wheel. The finale, which involves a bunch of muscle cars plus a tank chasing a hijacked Russian submarine (!) across an ice shelf, is practically photographed but glacially paced. It feels longer than The Hunt for Red October all by itself.

Of course, there are only so many permutations of how fast-moving objects can collide with one another. But the Furious-es are even less creative when it comes to their MacGuffins (Electro-Magnetic Pulse generator, nuclear “football”) and their dialogue. In this one, when a bad guy gets ground up by an airplane propeller like that Nazi strongman in Raiders of the Lost Ark did a hundred years ago, Johnson gets a inspired look and says… “Nasty.” It’s like a placeholder for a real joke no one cared enough to write. I get that these movies are not primarily targeted at English-speaking audiences, but they’ve got a writer (Chris Morgan, who’s done a half-dozen of these) on payroll. He could try writing a little. It would pass the time.

And time this movie has got: 136 minutes, and the 40 or so good ones are mostly front-loaded. The opening, wherein Diesel resorts to some unconventional driving to win a hairline victory in a Havana street race, has a clarity and tension that’s otherwise absent. Of course, the sequence begins with Diesel telling a Cuban never to lose his “Cuban spirit” and ends with him being swarmed by adoring children. (Once again: He produced this movie.)

Johnson gets a fun introduction when we see him off-duty, coaching his daughter’s soccer team. He then proceeds to discuss supposedly Top Secret intelligence outdoors, in the open, at said soccer game.

Apologists for this series insist its bone-deep dumbth doesn’t matter; and its roided-out box office tells no lies. But these movies fundamental laziness is an insult to every writer who ever lost sleep trying to make a genre movie make sense. Trying is for suckers, these movies tell us. Jokes are for chumps. Writing is for losers.

Fate’s MVP is Jason Statham, who played the villainous Owen Shaw the last time around but he’s on our team now. He’s almost as funny in this as he he was in Spy. Watching The Transporter and The Rock antagonize one another (Johnson promises to “slap that whisker biscuit off [Statham’s] face,” because hair is a touchy subject with this crowd) is as good as this movie gets — save for a two-scene drop in by a certain Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, who looks like she’s having more fun here than anybody.

Its a weird takeaway from what used to be a muscle-car franchise, but The Fate of the Furious adds up to a compelling case for energy independence: More Johnson, more Statham, and a lot less Diesel.

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Canada's Government Introduces Bill To Legalize Recreational Marijuana

Flowering medicinal marijuana plants in 2016 at Tweed INC in Smith Falls, Ontario.

Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images

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Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images

Canada has taken a major step toward legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduced legislation that would allow adults to possess, share and purchase marijuana, while also strengthening penalties for those who give or sell the products to youth.

This law has been hotly anticipated, with pot producers and the medical community watching closely.

It makes Canada “the largest federal jurisdiction in the world to legalize cannabis consumption,” according to The Toronto Star.

Here’s what the Cannabis Act would allow for adults 18 or over to do legally, according to Health Canada:

  • “possess up to 30 grams of dried legal cannabis or equivalent in non-dried form when in public
  • “share up to 30 grams of dried legal cannabis with other adults
  • “purchase dried or fresh cannabis and cannabis oil from a provincially regulated retailer
    • in those provinces that have not put in place a regulated retail framework, individuals would be able to purchase cannabis online from a federally licensed producer with secure home delivery through the mail or by courier
  • “grow up to 4 cannabis plants per residence (not per person) for personal use, from licensed seeds or seedlings supplier, with each plant not to exceed 1 metre in height
  • “make legal cannabis-containing products at home, such as food and drinks, provided that dangerous organic solvents are not used in making them”

Provinces and territories would make their own decisions regarding the distribution and sale of marijuana, Health Canada says.

Currently, “processing and selling cannabis for non-medical purposes” is against Canadian law in all parts of the country.

In fact, the Department of Justice says that “more than half of all drug offences reported by police are for cannabis possession,” and it had indicated that it was considering pardons for some of the people with cannabis offenses on their criminal records.

Health Canada states that Canada “has the highest rates of youth cannabis use of any country in the world.” The proposed Cannabis Act introduces penalties for two new criminal offenses: “Giving or selling cannabis to youth” and “using youth to commit a cannabis-related offense.”

Trudeau said during his campaign that he intended to legalize marijuana, and the government opened up the idea to 60 days of public comment last year.

Now, Reuters reports that the bill will likely have a smooth ride to become law.

“The legislation will be reviewed in Parliamentary committees, where alterations could be made,” the wire service says. “But it is ultimately all but guaranteed to pass, as the Liberals have a majority in the House of Commons.”

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Call The '90s: TLC Goes 'Way Back' On Its New Single

Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins (left) and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas’ final album as TLC comes out June 30.

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That bopping beat, that thick and wobbly synth bass, those voices — it’s like I’m back at a middle school dance in the Atlanta suburbs, not knowing what to do with my hands.

TLC successfully crowd-funded its final album two years ago, and now the as-yet-untitled album is set to release on June 30. The first single premiered via HipHopNMore, “Way Back,” is gloriously, gleefully ’90s right down to the Snoop Dogg feature. T-Boz and Chilli sing about kickin’ it with friends and James Brown and Michael Jackson records. (And if you have ideas for the name of that upcoming record, they’re all ears.)

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U.S. Marshals Say They've Rounded Up 'The Last Of The Cocaine Cowboys'

Gustavo Falcon’s arrest Wednesday was more than a quarter-century in coming.

He was indicted on drug-smuggling charges nearly 26 years ago to the day — along with his brother Augusto “Willie” Falcon, their partner Salvador “Sal” Magluta and several other accomplices. Authorities say that between the late 1970s and early ’90s, their drug ring conspired to import and distribute about 75 tons of cocaine.

Gustavo Falcon, the last of South Florida’s “Cocaine Cowboys,” was arrested Wednesday, more than a quarter-century after he went on the lam.

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And though Willie and Sal were eventually caught and convicted, Gustavo Falcon appeared to disappear entirely from South Florida.

“Nobody thought he was in the United States,” U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Barry Golden said Wednesday, according to the Miami Herald. For years, law enforcement believed they had lost Falcon to Colombia or Mexico.

That is, until last month, when officers discovered he’d been living in the Orlando area under an assumed identity for nearly two decades, together with his wife and two children. It would be another several weeks of watching Falcon’s rental property in suburban Kissimmee before marshals felt comfortable enough to move on him — and even then, officers had to wait and watch while Falcon and his wife embarked on a 40-mile bike ride Wednesday.

They finally stopped and arrested the pair at an intersection.

“We caught a break,” Golden told CNN. “It was a lot of hard work, and some luck, and it paid off.”

The Herald breaks down some of the history behind the apprehension:

“Willie and Sal, known as ‘The Boys’ since dropping out of Miami Senior High School, were recognized as kingpins among the legendary Cocaine Cowboys who turned South Florida into a deadly hub of drug trafficking in the 1980s. The partners, who grew up in Miami’s Cuban-American community, used their ocean-racing speedboats to haul Colombian cocaine from the Caribbean to the shores of South Florida.”

Gustavo Falcon’s brother and associates were taken in long before he was — but that’s not to say the going was smooth for police or prosecutors.

Both Willie Falcon and Sal Magluta earned acquittals in 1996, but as it soon came to light, those acquittals were actually purchased by bribing at least one juror and threatening witnesses. The two men were eventually convicted after a retrial. And while Magluta was sentenced to roughly 200 years in prison, the Herald reports that Willie Falcon’s 2003 plea deal means he’s on track to be released from prison this summer.

Gustavo Falcon is expected to appear at a hearing Thursday in Orlando, according to The Associated Press, before he’s likely sent to Miami for further legal proceedings.

In the meantime, Golden and his fellow marshals are marking the end to a chase that spanned decades.

“He was the last of the Cocaine Cowboys,” Golden said.

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